Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Better Definition of Racism

Jacqueminot Roses-
Martin Johnson Heade (c.1890)
An interesting fact: many Trump supporters voted for Obama in the past two elections. This would seem prima facie evidence that Trump's racism couldn't have held appeal for them.

However, we need to remember that most racism is not a conscious dislike of minorities. Most people who engage in racism do not identify as racists and legitimately believe they have no problem with them. BUT. Racism is a tendency to not treat minorities as equals. For instance, having higher standards for their behavior, or not trying as hard to put oneself in their shoes, or being quicker to judge them more harshly, or not cut them as much slack as they deserve. The classic example of this for me is the grammarian who hates it when blacks say "axe" a question and demands they speak "proper english", yet ignores they many ways whites engage in improper english, such as when as saying "ummana" instead of I'm going to. To the extent that one is applying a different standard to blacks, they are engaging in racism. And we all do it, in many ways, from major to minor biases. In this way I can see someone voting for Obama, but then buying into birtherism, or ideas that he he a Muslim, or that he hates white people. All of these depend simply on cutting him less slack as a member of a historically oppressed group which he has unconscious biases against.

I can see him becoming more and more incensed at the notion that illegal immigrants are parasites who are taking our jobs and suckling at the government teet, as opposed to desperate people who merely want the best for their families who are OK with breaking a few abstract rules in order to work hard to give them a better life, all the while paying taxes and receiving zero government assistance. And yet because they are Spanish-speaking, brown skinned, and not "his people", he finds it easier to be less empathetic, less kind, less compassionate: in other words behaving words towards them because of their ethnicity.

Ditto for Muslims. Ditto for gays.

The standard definition of racism is put thusly:
"the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races."
By this definition, most Trump supporters are not racists: they do not profess this belief.

But what is the moral problem with racism?  Sure, it is an incorrect assessment of the biology of fellow man.  It is an incorrect belief.  But isn't the real problem the actual way we treat one another?  When racism was enshrined in law, it had actual effects.  But that was only a formal oppression.  The daily lived harm came when minorities were not treated as equals.  Their foibles were not forgiven at the same rate.  They were held with more suspicion.  They were kept at arms length.  They were the other.

What if instead we were to define racism like this:
"acting as if all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races."

That is to say, to treat different races differently.  There need be no master plan.  There need be no calculations and tabulations.  There need only be thought and deed.  Or maybe just deed...

This is the racism we see perpetrated all across America everyday.  This is the racism that people are accused of, and then deny.  They're defense: they are not racists: they believe everyone is equal.  But like the lover who professes his love but doesn't show it, or the friend who pledges loyalty but acts otherwise, racism is deeds not words.  As the old phrase goes, everyone is above average.  Jerks don't believe in being jerks.  Assholes don't set out to be assholes.  They believe in kindness and consideration.

They just don't show it.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Big Trouble in Little Iowa

I recently wrote at length on Trumpism viewed through a behavioral lens. I thought I'd post this as it's a more simplified, digestible version. 

What we've seen in this election, more than anything else, is the rural cultural identity of the white/Christian/heterosexual/gender-conformist reacting against the notion that they are no longer considered superior. This narrative has been playing out on the right for decades, growing in strength alongside the rise of multiculturalism, feminism, LGBT awareness and strength. To hear the mythology, one would think these different groups are somehow taking over and oppressing the WCHGCs. Yet examine the actual events and one finds no removal of rights, but rather modest requests for polite inclusion - bake a gay cake too, say happy holidays instead of Merry christmas, add a girls soccer team, build a wheelchair ramp, don't mention Jesus in your opening statement, don't bully a feminine boy, try to hire some more women and minorities. This is hardly oppression. 

As a behaviorist, I think of the term "exctinction burst". This describes the tendency for people to engage in maladaptive behaviors (anger, yelling, violence) when behaviors they have previously been reinforced for engaging in are no longer reinforced - or placed on "exctinction". It's a natural process, and ought to fade in time, as long as the reinforcement is withheld. Unfortunately, if people remain in social groups that cling to these chauvinist behaviors (we include thoughts as behaviors), they will remain reinforced, and in a perpetual state of anger. This is especially true as the cosmopolitan dominated media and academia remain dominated by progressive values that oppose chauvinism.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Strange Boots

I've struggled to place myself in the shoes of Republicans who disliked Trump, but voted for their party anyway.

I start with someone who believes in my core progressive ideology -  pro-choice, government services for the poor, regulations, climate change, healthcare, higher taxes, etc. - but then expresses paranoid, racist and misogynist sentiments.  I can kind of imagine it, however there's really nothing like that on the left, where on the right you have an entire culture devoted to it (the 50% polled who seemed to express similar feelings to Trump - the "deplorables").

I find it hard to imagine.  Much of what is frightening about Trump is not just his bigotry but his authoritarian tendencies, seemingly born out of a hyper-masculine machismo which I am also allergic too, yet which is also a popular disposition on the right.  By itself, machismo isn't necessarily problematic, but in the context of larger retrograde attitudes, it takes on a bullying, chauvinist quality.

So I imagine these non-Trumpist Republicans as disgusted by his racial bigotry (the homophobic policies I'm assuming they're quite amenable to), embarrassed by his dim-witted bloviations, his crassness making them wince.  But he's also likely much more of a recognizable type, the kind of fellow not uncommon in right wing circles, be it leather-upholstered backroom offices or at the opposite end of a construction yard.  They are used to seeing him, tolerating him, even appreciating his git-r-done brashness all-the-while shaking their heads and rolling their eyes.

So now he's been nominated and, well, as long as he's surrounded by enough good old boys, he'll generally continue policies we want: dismantle Obamacare, cut up climate change regulations, stand athwart the gun rack, appoint conservative justices who might just finally end the fetal holocaust, and with any luck nuke ISIS.

I take solace in the fact that, while I disagree with these policy choices, they don't necessarily represent moral monstrosity.  They don't actually want to violently march into neighborhoods and rip apart undocumented families.  They don't actually want to ban Muslims.  They don't actually want to waterboard-and-then-some.  They don't believe in crazy conspiracy theories.  They don't read Breitbart.

However, their party nominated someone who does.  They have to live with the fact that they are in bed with this movement, which has consumed them.  At what point do you decide to leave?  We'll see.