[lbo-talk] Are Conservatives Racist?

SA s11131978 at gmail.com
Sat Aug 20 14:50:48 PDT 2011

On 8/19/2011 11:12 PM, Miles Jackson wrote:

> In an oblique way, Julio's post reiterates SA's fallacious position:
> racism is an idea in individuals' heads.

My fallacious position? Throughout this thread I've only been responding to other people's claims about what goes on in individuals' heads. I didn't write this subject line. I didn't bring up the Tom Coburn quote.

There's a weird tail-chasing quality to the anti-racism discussion. A person or group is described as racist. A discussion ensues over whether they are in fact racist. Some bright mind interjects with the sage observation that racism isn't about individual attitudes. This prompts a round of head-nodding approval until the next person is inevitably accused of racism, and the cycle restarts.

Why does this pointless cycle persist? Partly because the word racism, as used, is deliberately ambiguous. The savants insist it's "fallacious" to define racism as an idea in people's heads, while the dictionary, following common usage, defines racism in exactly that way. In practice, the ambiguity is not just an unfortunate source of confusion - the confusion is part of the essence of the concept's utility. The word racism is a verbal bloody shirt waved in the air that makes the shirt-waver feel virtuous exactly in proportion to its ability to indict the verbal target. Over time fewer and fewer people are willing to openly express the attitudes, or openly engage in the behavior, associated with it; that's a good thing. But paradoxically it only increases the use-value of the word: the more universal the rejection of racism, the more powerful the shirt-waving effect. Since the impulse to feel virtuous persists, the domain of the concept's application has to be continually expanded to ever more abstract formulations.

Why does it matter? The interjection of racism often introduces a hysterical and distracting element to discussions about concrete questions. The calculated ambiguity of the word instantly triggers discussion not about the grievance at hand but about the meaning or application of the word racism -- or as Reed says, it only produces "more taxonomic argument about what counts as racism." It's hard enough getting people to care that the US incarcerates one thousand percent more of its citizens than other countries. It's hard enough getting them to care that this has appalling consequences for blacks and their lives and neighborhoods. (And for whites: did you know that the incarceration rate for U.S. whites is five times the level for Frenchmen, all races included?) It's all the harder when the argument is stopped in its tracks by a definitional debate about whether objective disparities = racism.

A good while ago, me and Eric Beck had a disagreement about "Keynesianism." I said that his anti-Keynesian position, if acted on, would have negative real-world consequences. Although I didn't mention it, in practice those consequences would be much worse for blacks than for whites. By the logic of state-of-the-art anti-racism, that would mean Eric's position (in my understanding of how the world works) was racist, and I not only could but should have accused him of advocating a racist position. Obviously I would never have done that because it would be insane. In so many obvious and predictable ways, it would have added nothing to the debate while detracting from it enormously.


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