race & murder

Wojtek Sokolowski sokol at jhu.edu
Mon Apr 26 10:08:06 PDT 1999

At 10:44 PM 4/25/99 -0400, maggie coleman wrote:
>I agree with Rakesh's message (printed below) and Charles Brown's comments
>the issue of race. All the victims could have been white, that is not what
>mattered. And it also doesn't matter that 'real' nazis would see the
>shooters as spoiled and inadequate. The shooting took place because the
>black trench coat gang BELIEVED that blacks are inferior to whites and saw
>nazism as a way of expressing that. It was the racist concepts which drove
>the action -- 'how dare those white jocks accept blacks before they accept
>us'. For instance, Colin Fergusson didn't shoot just white people on the
>Long Island Rail Road, he also shot blacks -- but his motivation was hate of
>whites. That makes it a racist issue. AND denying that it's a racist issue
>is wholeheartedly white, liberal americana. These kids are a product of a
>racist society--and their actions were driven by the world around them.

maggie, I think arguments like that really neutralize the critical thrust of the concept of racism. If cops target ethnic minorities for systematic harassment because of "profiling" (read: racist stereotypes) or shoot a Black man on the assumption that he might be a suspected criminal - that is racism pure and simple. Claiming racism in such situations has a critical thrust because includes a specific institutional context that takes advantange of and reinforces individual attitudes toward minorities.

On the other hand, if we take the fucked up rationalizations of deranged or alienated individuals for their face value (i.e. as a true motive of their actions) - that is essentially ignoring the specific institutional aspect that makes racism a socially dangerous thing. That sounds like bourgeois "mentalism" (i.e. actions being guided by ideas) rather than marxist materialism (i.e. ideas being a reflection of material/social conditions). Bringing that institutional context back in by cliches like "the entire US society is racist" furter obfuscates the issue.

To be empirically meaningful, a concept must denote a class of objects that can be effectively distinguished from other classes of objects. All-embracing concpets might be full of emotive connotations, but are generally devoid of empirical meaning. That devalues them as tools of social critique.


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