Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Race (whites are still winning)

Recently a friend of mine suggested the only topics I haven't addressed are racism and sexism.
As it happens, I did write on sexism not long ago ("...feminism is nothing more than the "radical" notion that women are people. Not that women are men. Not that women are capable of being men...Claiming that women are capable of doing anything men are is also the suggestion that men should be the standard by which people are measured.")
I had my own ideas of what to write about next, but in light of another recent conversation, it looks like he was right. Its time.

I have a few (white) friends who have complained to me on different occasions about how unfair it is that ...insert some random instance of perceived "reverse" racism here...
I am, perhaps, the friend that people can point to and say "I am not racist, some of my best friends are black", and being that friend apparently my word carries extra weight if I support them in their argument that 'such and such' is unfair.
(Never mind for now what it implies about me that such a disproportionate number of my friends are white...)

Well, first of all, you are racist. You, reading this right now. Just admit it. I'm not saying you don a white hood on the weekends, but in the very first fraction of a moment you see someone new, you make some assumptions about them based on what they look like, and skin color plays a factor in that. You may not ever act on it in any way. You might be totally willing to look past that initial assumption and give each person a fair chance to show who they really are. But it is part of how the human mind works to seek patterns, and living in our society it is impossible to not be at all racist. I know I am.
Some researchers at Harvard built a test to try to get at subconscious initial reactions, and put it online where you can try it.
If you are one of the exceptions, and score neutral, it really doesn't change anything overall. The issue is bigger than you; and the fact is that the majority of people make the same assumptions we expect. And so long as its true in society as a whole, every white individual in the country directly benefits from it.

A most simple example of what some could see as unfair is Affirmative Action.
When I was younger I saw it as just that. If we want to get past racism, we shouldn't be using race as a criteria, for anyone.
Thing is, pretending that there is equality doesn't make it true.
To call affirmative action (or whatever else) reverse racism is to ignore both history and the reality of today. Being color blind does not, can not, will never, solve existing problems, because we aren't starting from neutral.

First of all (and I wrote about this years ago, but before I had any significant readership...) reparations were never paid. This country has virtually unrestricted inheritance.
(I thought about trying to summarize, but I actually wrote pretty much exactly what I wanted to say here back then. So take a moment to read that one)

Prejudice against blacks by whites has affected a dozen generations of people, and continues to have an enormous effect on millions of people right now, today. If we start from right now, and eliminate all racism, it would STILL have an enormous effect on us, because the effects are inherited.

If someone in your ancestry immigrated more recently the same issue of a non-level playing field applies, because the US generally does not admit immigrants who can't show some level of existing financial security. One way or another, they aren't starting from zero.

So suppose your own parents were drunks or gamblers and you got nothing from your family but food and shelter, left home at 15, had to fund your own education.
You then might get the mistaken idea that you didn't have any advantages.

But the truth is, although you would never notice it, you have had plenty.

You can't tell by just watching individual situations. Because it is more subtle than that.
But you can tell by looking at the overall trends.

You can see society wide racism in the fact that a black person is 5-20% (depending on the offense) more likely to be sentenced to prison time as a white person for the same crime.
(Many studies attempt to account for this by factoring in prior sentences, but this is a circular argument. If you are more likely to be convicted the first time, obviously you are more likely to be convicted the 2nd time too)
Once convicted, Blacks face 10-15% longer prison time.
For drug offenses:

"African Americans make up approximately 12 percent of the population and are 13 percent of the drug users, yet they constitute 38 percent of all drug arrests and 59 percent of those convicted of drug offenses...Nationwide African American males sentenced in state courts on drug felonies receive prison sentences 52 percent of the time, while white males are sentenced to prison 34 percent of the time...When sentenced for drug offenses in state courts, whites serve an average of 27 months and blacks an average of 46 months" - Justice on Trial: Racial Disparities in the American Criminal Justice System, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and Leadership Conference Education Fund, 2000

You can tell from college admission rates - with or without affirmative action

You can tell from the Black unemployment rate: consistently about twice the average for whites.
Or from the percentage of Black CEOs or congress people (1% of the Fortune 500 - the highest # ever; 40 out of 435 in congress and 1 out of 100 senators - these numbers in comparison to almost 14% of the general population.)

There are two ways to explain that difference. Either Black people as a whole actually are less capable and hard-working, or else the affects of society-wide racism are still as relevant today as they ever were.

If we can point to these examples and show statistically that, even accounting for individual intelligence and work ethic, Black people are overall at a disadvantage, another equally valid way to say the same thing is, all other things being equal, White people have an advantage.
Every college application. Every job interview. Every time you walk into a store. In that very first moment that someone takes a look at you, somewhere in the back of their mind is a prejudice in your favor. You will never notice it. You will have no way to know. But it's there.

Having a (half) Black president (who's African ancestry didn't descend from slavery but immigrated here) doesn't change anything of significance, so long as there is that fraction of a second of assumption that people make when they see someone new for the first time.

It's no different than if an Aboriginal American were to make some blanket statement about Americans taking the Indian's land. I am an American. I was born here. I worked for what I have now and am a generally good person. I never harmed an Indian American, never took anyone's land, never deliberately spread disease.
But the fact remains that every day I directly benefit from the people who did do those things.
I have no intention of giving up my own property or abandoning my home on the grounds that Oakland should rightfully be inhabited by Aboriginal Americans, but I certainly have no grounds to be indignant or self-righteous about the issue. As far as the actual effects go, I benefit just as much from Europeans having committed genocide against the people who lived here before them as someone directly descended from them. And merely by choosing to accept that benefit which I was born into, in a way, albeit small and indirect, I share in the responsibility for the fact that Aboriginal Americans today are by and large confined to reservations of land that no one else wanted, living largely in poverty.

We may not be directly at fault, but we are all complacent in receiving the benefits, which are at someone else's expense. So if an American Indian makes a blanket statement about Americans (which includes me) which may be technically unfair, all I can say is "your right, and I'm sorry". I have no counter-argument. I have nothing to complain about. I have no right to be indignant.

And so to, if someone makes a blanket statement such as "white people are racist" or "white people repress others", you don't get to be offended. You don't get to point out the logical flaws in generalizing. You don't get to call double standard or reverse racism.
It may be "unfair" that you are born into being seen as an oppressor, but it is even less fair that I have to prove myself just that much more than you do.
I have had friends "jokingly" say that I am not "really" Black, or not "that" Black because of how I talk and dress and act. Those same associations, those stereotypes, they are racism, even if they aren't inherently negative, and accepting any one association implies all the others to be valid. The fact that I can trace my own family lineage directly to American slavery on both sides of my family makes me Black. The fact that every time I meet someone new, for at least an instant they will make certain associations and therefor assumptions about me makes me Black.

Have I experienced racism first hand? Not overtly. It would be hard to know for sure, since the person it was coming from is likely not conscious of it. Chances are, not so much. All it takes is a few minuets of talking to me and I can dispel any stereotypes pretty thoroughly, make a case for myself as an exception even with someone who is generally (subconsciously) racist, and I live in a place where it being overt is unacceptable (I learned in my travels that this is far from universal in this country).
But the point is I shouldn't have to.
Between being thought of as an oppressor and actually being oppressed, you have the better end of the deal. So suck it up and get over it.

Being color blind is not a solution. It is a cop-out. Pretending that slavery didn't happen, that racism has not been an enormous factor, and just focusing on the basic equality of man will not do anything to change things. If you need to here everything logical and fair, take a logic class, or a justice class, or a love everybody class. If you don't want to hear people say white people are racist and that's a bad thing, don't take a racial studies class.

Is it unreasonable for people to make blanket statements? Yeah, of course it is. But focusing on it isn't much different from telling a holocaust survivor that some Nazis didn't hate Jews, or stopping a conversation about rape because of improper grammar.

I don't want to end without offending everyone equally, so now is as good a time as any for another rant I have.

This one is directed to Black Americans.
Stop acting like jackasses.
We have centuries worth of stereotypes to put behind us.
Don't deliberately jaywalk extra slow just to make people wait for you.
Don't evade the fare on the train.
Don't drink or smoke weed in pubic.
Don't play music on the bus. When is the last time you saw a white person playing a boom box in the back of the bus?
Don't get into fist fights. People tried to make the shooting of Oscar Grant by BART police into a race issue. There were no white people involved in fist fights on the train. If he wasn't fighting on a crowded train, he wouldn't have gotten shot. Simple as that.
I have a 400watt stereo system with a separate powered sub-woofer behind the seat. I like my music loud, and to roll around with my windows down and my system bump as much as anyone. But when you are in a residential neighborhood at 11pm, turn that shit down. What the hell is wrong with you?
Years of oppression and poverty don't change the basic rules of being a decent respectful human being.
Remember earlier when I pointed out I have to prove myself each time I meet someone new? That's not because of a legacy of slavery. That's because of you.
People build impressions based on what they see, and each time you act a fool, it makes us all look bad.
Its true that Blacks are given disproportionate prison sentences, but it is also true that Blacks commit a disproportionate amount of (non-drug-related) crime
So when there is a statistic like 35% of the prison population is Black or 1/3 of black males between 18-29 has been, is, or will be imprisoned, part of that is systemic racism, but part of it is Black people committing crimes. It seems it has become un-PC to say so.
That's not OK. No amount of history or social issues can excuse individual behavior.
Obviously this behavior is the minority of the Black population, (although it is, inherently, a very visible minority). But if it isn't you, chances are its your friends, or your children, a family member or neighbor. And if you don't say something, no one else will. The single best way to change the perception of us is to eliminate unfavorable associations at the source.

I think its actually pretty simple and straight forward. We just need to eliminate all forms of inheritance, standardize education from preschool through university for everyone, make all hiring blind, and change young Black culture to emphasize respect of others. Those 4 steps and all this will become a non-issue in no time.
And when that happens, then we can finally have a purely logical and intellectual discussion on the subject.