Racism, politics, science, etc.

Wojtek Sokolowski sokol at jhu.edu
Mon Jul 6 10:50:10 PDT 1998

Because of the limitations in posting, I reply to numerous arguments re. rain one single response. Sorry, if I missed something,

1. I disagree with the folks who see racism as an important focus of the Left discourse. That is not to say that I do not see a correlation between ethnicity and exploitation and poverty. I do not think, however, that 'racism' is a concept that can explain that correlation. It is too vague, full of emotive connotations, romanticized views of the 'underdog' groups (Jim heartfield's remarks re. vanguard were right on target!), hidden political and personal agendas, etc. It can mean anything the speaker wants it to mean, that is, nothing in particular.

Where I live, (empowerment zone in downtown Baltimore), 'racism' is used primarily by corrupt politicians, moral entrepreneurs, acadmicians romanticizing life in a ghetto, and merchants adveretising their products (example: a slogan in the window of a shoe store reads "Give racism a boot"). I never heard my neighbors or fellow Labor Party unionist using the r-word; instead , they talk about workfare, living wages, economic opportunity etc.

I guess those who think otherwise, like Carrol or Charles, will have to acknowledge our diffrences on that issue. That, BTW, does not imply that I think they are wrong. I simply remain unconvinced.

2. I do not subscribe to the line 'my suffering is greater than your suffering." First, it requires an empirical proof that Blacks are economicaaly worse of than Whites simply because of their skin color, and not, say, education, skills, experience etc. (being brutalized by the police is a different thing, though). But even if Blacks (or any other ethnic group) are on average worse of than other groups, that does not mean that they have a special role in the struggle for a social change. Getting a raw deal is NOT a proof of virtue or a qualification for a special status.

3. The culture of poverty is an argument about the influence of social facts, such as socialization, beliefs, expectations, norms of behavior, connections etc. on individual behavior. As such it is empirical social science that is different from culturalism which focuses on cultural narratives and myths. An example of th former is the work of Michael Burawoy _Manufacturing Consent_ which analyzes the role cultural values, beliefs and social interaction play in workers coping with exploitative working conditions.

That is different from the variety of cultural narratives portraying workers through the lenses of cultural identities and strereotypes, as racists, sexists, boorish, valiant unionists, revolutionary vanguards or whatever. The former is based on empircal observations and can be refuted by them. The latter is a cultural lens of imbuing empirical phenomena with meaning, and cannot be refuted by empirical facts as such.

Ditto for any ethnic group. It is one thing to study how their culture affects their coping with reality. It is quite a different thing to talk about those groups and their culture as a strategy of the narrator or his audience coping with reality.

4. There is a difference between psychology and psychologisms that runs along the sdame lines. Psychology is a legitimate science, if subjected to rules of emprical verification. Psychologism is is an attempt to reduce social reality to psychological or mental phenomena for political or economic expediency.

5. There is no relationship between capitalism and race (or other socio-demographic factors) other than purely opportunistic expediency. Blacks get raw deal not because they had been pre-destined to suffer on the altar of White prosperity, but because they fell through the cracks of the system that ignores those who have little to sell and exploits those who can get away with. That is it! There is no redeeming value in that experience, no special quality or deeper meaning. Those who think otherwise are fooling themselves, or rather opiating themselves with Messianistic ideologies once circulated among oppressed ethnic groups in Europe.

That, BTW, leads me to belive that Black/White unequality can be ended under the current system with a relatively few changes limited to government intervention to correct for "market failures." In other words, the current capitalist system if fully capable of ending the economic effects of racial inequality under capitalism (isn't it what Marx argued about capitalisms' potential of melting of all that is solid...?). But it is a quite different thing to end the fundamental inequality between labor and capital within theframework of the existing system, no?

6. Finally, I remian indifferent to the notion that Blacks (or any other ethnic group) are in any way special, either in their misery, or in their historical role in overcoming capitalism, saving the humanity, etc. Sorry folks, but if I belived otherwise I would not waste my time on secular humanism, but joined some Messianic cult instead.



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