Racism, politics, science, etc.

bautiste at uswest.net bautiste at uswest.net
Wed Jul 8 22:30:29 PDT 1998

Wojtek Sokolowski wrote:

> 1. I disagree with the folks who see racism as an important focus of the
> Left discourse.

Perhaps it should be the only focus. Racism, in the form of white supremacists or ethnic cleansing is a formidable movement in various local narratives. It provides a convenient rationale for what is wrong with the world. Because people are prone to despise the outsider, the ones who are different, racism is a very pernicious form of oppression. Whether you want to see it as parasitic on capitalism or the result of capitalist social constructions, it is with us and we do not deserve the name of liberationists if we do not see racism as the epitome of what is wrong with the world.

One of the reasons it is so difficult to handle is because it is a matter of identity crisis. Just as Marx identified systemic crises that afflict economic/social systems, identity crises also afflict persons and societies. I think that you cannot have true systemic change without also addressing the crises inherent in emerging identities. Because of the nature of modern societies, identity crises become more and more a feature of the modern political landscape, as we see in the European backyard and in our own brand, the apocalyptic-militia-survivalist types. In the crisis of forming one's identity in the face of modern anxieties related to technological and social change, it seems easy to focus on what is the same versus what is different. The different is rejected in the hopes that holding to the same will bring me certainty and peace in the midst of great uncertainty and change.

> 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").

That politicians use a term to denote some distorted form of political agenda does not mean that racism does not have a reality. I do not know your situation in Baltimore, but I can certainly see the effects of race politics close at home. In NM, Hispanics form a big minority (about 45 percent). Various politicians try to take advantage of this situation by stressing race as a fight for minimal resources. In this agenda, the emphasis is on getting what belongs to me before the other guy gets it. This is race politics in a so-called democracy. Of course, the issue does not involve this kind of free for all at all, at least if people were to recognize that the economy has been devised to evolve in such a way that people believe that this is what their suffering is all about. Yet, the fact of racism and racial hatreds still exist. What needs to be dome is for leftists to realize that race is being used to further the capitalist inequities. They also need to see that race is easily roped in as universal solution for why your or my situation is as bad as it is. With the coming economic decline (due to the downturn in Asia), I think we'll see more aggressive programmes aimed at inciting racial hatred.

> 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).

I do not follow your reasoning here. What further proof do you need than the lower wages and unemployment figures, etc. that you can find at the Census Bureau web site. That more Black males are in prison than white males, proportionately, that the median income for blacks is lower. What do you call this? Selective economics? People are STILL denied jobs BECAUSE they are black, and for no other reason. This is a cultural and social fact. And the reason they are not hired is because of an inherent racism in the minds of those who do not hire them.

> 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.

I tend to disagree with this. I think suffering creates genius (Nietzsche). Just as America was spurred to rethink its national priorities based on the Civil Rights movement, so I think America could come to greater consciousness over the plight of the poor. I disagree with Carrol in that the next movement will be led by one ethnic group as opposed to another. I think the issue will be class-based; the legitimacy of the current form of government will come more and more under attack as we see the poor suffer more and the large parts of the middle class lose their economic livelihoods.

> 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. ....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.

"[I]mbuing empirical phenomena with meaning," sounds crudely materialistic. I am interested in your view of how empirical facts "refute" what I understand as good or evil, or any other value I hold dear. How do facts refute the love I have for Rachmaninoff or for my wife and family? In the same way, how do facts refute the Nazi anti-Semite who "believes" that the Holocaust did not happen? He/she can make numerous arguments that show up the shortcomings of a purely materialist explanation of historical events. If you your interlocutor does not play with the same set of assumptions and rules, you will refute nothing. I think that ultimately we must recognize that empirical facts and their interpretation is just as much a matter of belief as religious doctrine. There is no certainty in objective facts--at least the kind of certainty that many seek in believing that "if only others saw the facts..." There are facts and then there are facts. How do you persuade the neo-Nazi that his facts are lies?

chuck miller


See my on-line journal, The Green Guitar Gazette at http://www.users.uswest.net/~bautiste/index.htm

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