Monday, February 10, 2014
The Important Lesson of Racism
NOTE: These posts have been reproduced from my old blog, "Random Notes", because I plan to cite their contents in an upcoming essay. I have finished the essay, but, unfortunately, it cites a lot of essays I have not yet reproduced. So it may take time to find and post all of them. Until then, you will like see a handful of these essays popping up on my blog amid a few new essays.
There is one lesson of racism that some minorities in the US seem to have never learned. Some have, Jews, many Asians, Italians, Irish, and a host of others have learned the lesson. On the other hand, some Hispanics, blacks, and a few others seem to have missed the point.
The lesson is this: racism always harms a minority, whether it is the racism of the majority or the minority.
It is obvious how majority racism harms a minority, so much so that I can pass over it in a few words. Obviously if the majority wants to hold down a minority and keept hem from achieving it will do no good for that minority. Whether Jim Crow, laws against the Chinese, or the Nazi treatment of Jews, the racism of the majority does obvious harm.
What is less obvious is the harm done by a minority to itself when it adopts racist views. In fact, recently, many blacks seem to think that adopting their own racism empowers rather than harms them.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The first harm is probably the most subtle, but the most destructive. When the minority adopts the view that their position is due to the hatred of the larger society, it may not do those espousing the views that much harm, but they are not the only ones who hear those words. The children who listen, who grow up in the environment of assumed oppression, learn the lesson that nothing they do can better their situation, and adopt an attitude of apathy. By portraying themselves as eternal victims, minorities breed generation after generation of apathetic children who feel no need to try as their failure is preordained.
Of course, that is far from the only harm, there is also the harm of forcing a group into an insular existence. This is worse for a minority than a majority. Yes, the racism of the majority still cuts them off from whatever benefits the minority could provide, but that is small compared to the harm done to a minority which cuts itself off from the larger society. Because the group constitutes only a minority, the drastic reduction of options in all spheres of life limit their choices disastrously. If you doubt this, imagine trying to do business, speak, and date only redheads or people with blue eyes and see how much harder your daily life would be. Keeping to one's own racial or ethnic group is almost as hard.
Then there are the perverse incentives such racism entails. As the myth of perpetual oppression forces the conclusion that any success comes form selling out to the oppressors, there develops a culture which sees success as shameful. Rather than peer pressure driving one to succeed, there develops the opposite, peer pressure to fail. Nor is that all, as even those things which might lead to success begin to come in for criticism, so things like good grades, an interest in cultural pursuits outside of one's own culture, even any interest in literature or music, can be seen as betrayal of racial identity.
Nor does the racism of a minority lack repercussions in the larger society. Once a minority adopts a racist, separatist attitude this does not pass unnoticed by other groups, including the majority. In some cases, this apparent hostility in the minority will be met with hostility form the majority. But there is no need for a hostile response for the racist attitude to do harm. Between the racist attitude, the disdain of success and the opposition to any expression of the majority culture, the minority will do everything possible to make themsleves appear both belligerent and ignorant to the majority. This will hardly help those few minority members who overcome their ingrained fear of success and strive to better themselves.
And the list could go on an on. I could examine the way an insularity and opposition to the normal avenues to success encourage criminality, or the way placing racial identity above all else leads to a protection of criminals even when detrimental to one's own community, and so on. But I think the point has been made.
When one belongs to a minority group, racism of any kind, whether for or against one's won group, will inevitably lead to nothing good. The only solution for a minority group is to encourage pluralism, rather than trying to adopt their own racism to counter the racism of the larger society. When a minority group adopts a racism of their own, they simply end up doing to themselves what a racist majority would.
To those who will accuse me of thinking only of blacks when writing this, in reality I was thinking mostly of both Italian and Irish immigrants during their insular phase as well as Chinese immigrants. Of course their insularity was largely involuntary, being the outcome of discrimination on the part of society at large. On the other hand, other ethnic groups, facing similar discrimination did not always adopt a "retaliatory" racism. It is interesting to see how the two different attitudes produced very different results.
It is interesting to note how similar the growth of criminality was in both black and Italian societies when they were cut off from mainstream success. Actually, the Italian experience is particularly interesting as the Italian experience paralleled the black experience almost perfectly. The Italians and blacks both suffered from discrimination and adopted insular attitudes which persisted in some quarters even after the legal discrimination ended. The outcome was quite similar as well, small closed communities with a surplus of menial, low paying jobs and a strong criminal class. The only difference being that the Italian communities seem to have abandoned most of their insularity while black communities have not.
And before I get any letters from angry Italians, my wife's father was first generation, and her mother came from Italy, so I have no dislike for Italians, I simply recognize an interesting parallel in their history. Had my Ukranian ancestors been more insular, I am sure they would have done the same. Instead they largely accepted the lot they were handed, took coal mining jobs and sent their children to schools, hoping they might do better. As several many of my cousins ended up mining engineers, I guess they succeeded, though I don't know if the world at large would consider moving up from miner to mining engineer a success or not. But to my relatives it is a major victory to work in the office instead of the mines.
Since I gave Best of the Web a hard time for saying something I did earlier, I have to admit that something they said reminded me of this post. I had thought of writing this earlier, but finally did it today because of their comments today about Reverend Wright. Otherwise it would probably still be sitting on the "To Do" list along with my essay about ending state funding of education or the one comparing the petroleum market today to the crises of the 70's. So, while not inspired by Best of the Web, Best of the Web did spur me into finally finishing this one.
Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/05/01.