Friday, January 08, 2016

How the left talks about race


These days American public discourse tends to feel like a giant continuous race war. Well, I guess we had that "national conversation about race" that Bill Clinton always said we needed. Oops. But anyway, I guess I might as well wade in.

The right's way of talking - and thinking - about race is just totally poisonous. The conservative movement has been recruiting working-class whites and Southern whites for decades by using anti-black dog-whistles, and by promoting the idea that government spending equals white-to-black racial redistribution. More recently, the Trump campaign has ridden - and possibly spurred - a wave of anti-immigrant xenophobia. In the online social science discussion, racial theorists like Steve Sailer have gained an inordinately huge amount of currency among right-leaning intellectuals. Then there are the Twitter Nazis and the Reddit Nazis (and let us speak no more of them). So it is basically now impossible to talk to people on the right about race in a rational way.

So people on the left are the only ones I can talk to. And the left isn't perfect in the way it talks about race (who is?), so I have some criticisms to make. And of course any criticisms I make will inevitably be viewed as "tone policing". To a lot of people, it makes no sense to complain about lefty foibles when the far more scary right is beating down the doors. But that's really all I can do, because there's just no talking to the right about this. Instead of convincing rightists to switch sides, a more realistic goal is to improve leftist racial discourse in order to make the left more appealing to the mass of mushy centrist Americans.

This is the thinking behind a recent Kevin Drum article on "political correctness". Drum is worried that thought-policing by lefties is driving people into the Trump camp. 
And let's be honest: We liberals do tend to yell racism a little more often than we should. And we do tend to suggest that anyone who likes guns or Jesus is a rube. And the whole "privilege" thing sure does get tiresome sometimes. And we do get a little pedantic in our insistence that no conversation about anything is complete unless it specifically acknowledges the special problems of marginalized groups. It can be pretty suffocating at times. 
For the most part, I don't mind this stuff...[but] Donald Trump is basically telling ordinary people that ordinary language is okay, and since that's the only language they know, it means they feel like they can finally talk again.
Liberals are excessively reluctant to "yell racism" and excessively deferential to deeply embedded structures of white supremacy...obviously it's a big country and there are some people out there who are calling something racist when it isn't. But the notion that on the whole this is a big social problem strikes me as a figment of white people's imagination.
I think neither writer captures the breadth, complexity, and subtlety of race relations in America today - how could they? But to the extent that I kinda-sorta agree with one of these people, I agree with Drum. Which is to say, Yglesias is focused on what is fair in his own value system and assessment of reality, while Drum is focused on the political effects of certain styles of discourse. Yglesias is like the kid who goes up to a woman in the mall and says "You're fat!", and when his mom gasps "Why did you say that?!", responds "Because it's TRUE!!" 

(Confession: That kid was me.)

Here's a brief, encapsulated version of how I see lefty racial discourse in recent years. In the past, anti-racism efforts focused either on concrete policies (segregation, redlining) or on individual attitudes (bigotry). But the concrete racist policies are mostly gone, and people have become very adept at hiding their bigotry when they want to. So lefties who want to eliminate racial inequalities have fewer obvious targets.

The response has been to focus on what Yglesias, employing the jargon of the day, calls "the deeply embedded structures of white supremacy". The idea is - I think - that patterns of racial inequality are supported by a diffuse and varied combination of hidden bigotry, stereotypes, subtly discriminatory attitudes, government policy, and the physical legacy of past injustices (de facto segregation, wealth inequality, etc.). That idea is correct enough. What's not as clear is how we should refer to those patterns, and - most importantly - how we should go about changing them.

Some lefties use the word "structure" to mean the pattern of inequality, while others use the word to refer to the diffuse combination of causes. Still others use the word to refer vaguely to social forces that they don't understand and have not thought about rigorously, but which they imagine must be complex, powerful, and probably directed by certain nefarious individuals. This last usage, which reminds me of how rebellious teenagers talk about "The System" or "The Man", is inevitably the most common...but hey, what do you expect?

The problem, I think, starts when left-leaning people take their idea of racist "structures" and start to apply it in the real world. How do you challenge or change a "structure"? You could try to remove policies that support continued inequality, or craft policies that try to redress the legacy of past injustices. Or you could take the lowest-cost option, which is simply to yell about "structural racism" a lot, to anyone who happens to be listening.

Naturally, I come in contact with a lot of folks who have chosen the latter option.

Declaiming against "structural racism" feels good. Racism is generally recognized as being a bad thing, and declaiming against bad things makes one feel righteous (I certainly feel that way). It also allows one to link up with like-minded people, making you feel like you have an army on your side and are not just shouting into a wilderness. 

But I think left-leaning people should think a little more carefully about the consequences of this approach. I think that it could end up pushing lots of non-committed Americans, whose hearts are in the right place, to the rightist camp.

Imagine a middle-aged, middle-class white man living in the suburbs. Let's call him Bob. Bob is not a racial bigot - he'd just as soon hire a black person as a white person, and he'd just as soon have a black neighbor as a white neighbor. He does not subscribe to Sailer-type racial theories, and is heavily skeptical of any racial stereotypes he encounters. He votes for the Democrats.

But Bob takes part in "racist structures". He pays lots of money to live in his mostly-white suburban neighborhood, not because he wants to live next to white people, but because he believes that the schools are high-quality and that the neighborhood is safe. He works in a company that disproportionately employs white people, because that company pays him a salary, and because he has not encountered bigotry there sufficient to make him think twice about working there.

So here is my worry. In his discussions with his Millennial kids, or on Facebook, Bob may be assailed as as enabler of "structural racism" or "white supremacy". More thoughtful, intelligent lefties may assail him because he participates in (and even benefits from) segregated housing and schooling. Less thoughtful, less intelligent lefties may simply view him as a target because he is white and middle-class (even though they themselves are also likely to be white and middle-class). Unable to identify or directly target the "racist structures" they know must exist, humans inevitably focus on doing what they know how to do - give other individual humans a hard time.

Bob's natural reaction, of course, will be something along the lines of: "What can I do? Can I be less racist than I already am? Am I expected to move my family to a poor black neighborhood? Am I expected to quit my job and join a communist revolution, dedicated to overthrowing and remaking society? What do these people want???"

In the end, Bob may simply conclude that he is a target - and will always be a target - because he is white. and because humans are inevitably drawn to the opponents of the people who are attacking them, Bob will drift slowly toward the right. He will nod approvingly when conservatives decry "political correctness". He will be just a little more irritated when the Oregon anti-government militia crazies are identified as "white people." He may even start to pick up just a little more on those Republican anti-black dog-whistles. Of course, this will only increase the degree to which he comes into conflict with lefties that he encounters, which will reinforce the cycle that pushes him inexorably to the right.

I view this as a bad outcome. No, people like Bob do not constitute a silent majority in the United States - middle-class white people are actually a minority. But they are a substantial minority, who are vulnerable to being taken in by the Donald Trumps and Ted Cruzes and Rush Limbaughs of this world. And if you think middle-class whites are the only people who might be pushed rightward by well-meaning lefty attacks on "structural racism", think again. Poor whites and rich whites are just as susceptible. And remember that more Hispanics are identifying as "white" as time goes on. Asians are probably safe from day-to-day harassment by angry white anti-racists...for now.

Anyway, this whole scenario of "Bob" was a conjecture - a fantasy. This is what I worry about happening. I see small and subtle signs of this everywhere, but that means little - I could simply be primed to believe that the world fits my fantasy. So please don't read this as a declaration that "this is what is happening in American racial discourse and American politics." Instead, read it as a caution about a negative scenario that I envision happening.

I think it is incumbent upon prominent left-leaning anti-racist writers - Jeet Heer, the folks at Gawker, etc. - to think about this possibility, and how this bad outcome can be insured against.

69 comments:

  1. You see Noah, We PERFECTLY AGREE. The difference is, I speak for Bob. I am Bob. I REFUSE to not have the better schools, the company that wins, the blah blah.

    And the one thing you do not mention at all, is that YOUR ADVICE to the lEFT is to recognize they are the C PLAYER, they are not the A Player (votes and money), the b player (elites, just money), they are the peeps who only have VOTES.

    You talk about what is "convincing" - this is wrong, you need to admit they are not convincing Bob... BOB IS DICTATING THE TERMS OF ACCEPTABLE DEBATE, you can either LOSE the debate saying what feels good, or MODIFY YOUR ASK so it works inside the boundaries of acceptable public policy.

    Just SAY to the left, "you aren't powerful enough to act tough, these people DECIDE YOUR FATE, they will not hire you, you will only get angrier and poorer, your kids will go to bad schools, your kids look at your life's work and say "my parents were dumb hippies."

    Matt Yglesias is telling China during the could war that they should pretend to be a Super Power. China had to spend years and years waiting for B layer to fall down...

    Totally doable in America, but that's another conversation.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Noah- I think this is right. Trump and other have latched onto political correctness and they are gaining support because of some of the things you are talking about.

    I disagree about Asian susceptibility- they generally are with Democrats on economic policy, guns, and certainly immigration. Republican craziness on these issues has pushed Asians into the hands of Democrats. But Asians are also law and order voters; they don't have much sympathy for criminals or terrorists. In 1992, in the wake of the LA riots and with a much higher crime rate, only 31% of Asians voted democratic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Asians split 50-50 in 2014 and also managed to notice who the affirmative action is directed against in California and killed the proposed reform. The republican nativism might be off putting to Asians, but they are guaranteed to lose under the ethnic spoils system democrats are trying to build. Not clear how this shakes out.

      Delete
  3. "Yglesias is like the kid who goes up to a woman in the mall and says "You're fat!", and when his mom gasps "Why did you say that?!", responds "Because it's TRUE!!"

    (Confession: That kid was me.)"

    Hahaha!... I did the same thing, except that because I grew up on a remote Navy test and research base in the desert with a population that was 99% white, I did it the first time I saw a black person in our grocery store. I pointed at him and yelled, "He's black!"... my mom was mortified! One of my earliest memories.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One of my (very pale) friends experienced the reverse when she studied abroad in Africa. She was in a remote village in Ghana and a baby burst into tears at the sight of her! Apparently she looked like a ghost.

      Delete
  4. I agree that the structure of structural racism is often not made explicit enough by those who deploy the term, which makes rightist explanations for racial inequality more palatable. The structure exists! And it can be made palatable to Bob! Michelle Jean's writing on colorblindness and mass incarceration is a powerful example. No one at any point in the process admits racist motives, and yet it produces a racist outcome. Huh? And the explanation is multi-faceted; culture, biases, legal opinions, policies each do a small part that alone would be insufficient to bring about the outcome, but together do (the popular "birdcage" analogy).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "No one at any point in the process admits racist motives, and yet it produces a racist outcome."

      You see, this is part of the issue. Left intellectuals see "racist outcomes" and go in force to "find" the origin of that, inevitably blaming "structural racism".

      One innocent example: Yoga. Anyone can observe that Yoga is widely preferred by high-income Females as almost 75% attendees are female, over 70% are college graduates with 44% attendees having income over 75,000 dollars a year. Needless to say yoga class attendees are disproportionate white. What is the hidden racist/gender disbalance structure here? What nefarious forces are in place? I don't know, but since there are racist outcomes there must be something racist about Yoga classes, its attendees or maybe about general Yoga culture - right?

      Now I am not saying that we should stop trying to improve outcomes. But especially if we do not know any obvious reason for some outcome, it is very dangerous to start blaming some "racist structure" as you can easily go to far.

      Delete
  5. I agree, but think you could frame it this way. Yglesias says Drum is wrong about being about liberals complaining too much about racism, so says liberals are not loud enough. But Drum is saying something subtly different. Drum is saying liberals blame racism as being so causal to social problems they can at times downplay or not allow other factors. Both can be true: 1) racism should be attacked more aggressively, 2) liberals overindex on racial causes to social problems. A similar point can be made about political correctness, where I think Yglesias versus say, Chait, has a similar dynamic.

    My point here is "Bob" is alienated by any framing where racism is played (or can be misread as being played) as being the cause to all social ills. Yglesias is right in his narrow point about doing more about racism, but his framing is only impressing people who already agree with his side. Not "Bob." Sort of piling on to your post. But think this blindness to the "both can be true" framing is where things go wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous7:46 PM

    Very interesting piece. I am a 35-year-old white male whose political "team" is mostly liberal democrats, particularly on social issues. I know black people and other minorities face challenges unique to them, all else equal. I would probably even be ok with paying a small nominal tax to black people in this country. I think affirmative action was possibly still is a good idea. But I watch and read the news a lot, mostly CNN. And I see comments on Facebook on racial issues. And when it comes down to it, I feel like Bob on some level. Not even close enough to vote for Donald Trump, but I do feel like there is nothing I could ever do to make some of the black talking heads I see in the media believe that I'm not some secret racist. That there's this part of me that because I'm white I am , at least partly, somewhat spoiled. Even if it's true, and I shrug it off, I agree that not every Bob will.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Never heard someone suggest a tax to blacks. Honest question: What is the purpose of this tax? First thought was it was reparations for slavery, but didn't want to assume.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous9:52 AM

      The purpose would be to help black people in this country, since they generally experienced unique challenges in this country. I realize this isn't practical. It's more I was saying in theory I was in favor of it. In practice, this obviously would likely never pass any vote and even if it did could become a administrative burden. How do you define mixed people? Do you require DNA tests? etc.

      Delete
  7. Anonymous7:57 PM

    Bill Maher (whom I heavily dislike) kind of hit on this when he said something to the effect of "why would anyone want to be on your team." More interesting to me is the debate among us in faculty now- for the most part, we're pretty progressive, but we take the PC police thing pretty darn seriously, and seriously believe it could silence good research. I've been told that will never happen, but it's definitely salient, and in the long run might push us towards being more libertarian like our finance colleagues.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Political correctness can mean saying the right things or it can mean dissembling their feelings. I view it as the latter.

    The more productive way may be to substitute wealth inequality for racial inequality. Wealth is privilege. Wealth makes a mockery of equal opportunity. All children have to do is choose their parents well. So if the question is, what is to be done, see to it every child is safe, is treated justly, is educated, and is provided as equal an opportunity as possible. That goes for poor whites as much as poor blacks. Correcting for disparities of income and wealth are the best method of attacking racism.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That view (let's substitute class for race) tends to piss off Black people and their allies. I agree that the strategy looks good (to me) but the Black Lives Matter folks hate it (as Sanders for example found out).

      Delete
    2. A parent and his child are not individuals in every sense. They share 50% of their genes, and we are 99% sure at this point that genes greatly contribute to who a person is. Therefore some amount of a partners wealth is justly allotable to their children. A less arbitrary tax on inheritance would take into account just how much wealth is due to genetics or just how much a parent and his children can be thought of as the same individual.

      Delete
  9. I see the problem as hard lefties failing to respect the power of calling someone racist. If someone is accused of racism on the job, they can be fired. In well meaning social circles, it's a very harsh insult. And this is good! Genuine bigots should be fired! But it also means that it's not okay to sling around the word racist casually. We don't call people Nazis in polite conversation (in real life) unless they're really terrible people. The same should be true of calling people racists. 'Bob' isn't just irritated about being called a racist for living near a good school, he's afraid he'll lose his job if someone says that around his boss.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why should bigots be fired?

      Delete
  10. Blaming critical race theory for Trump sounds pretty silly. Bob is much more likely to run into those Twitter and Reddit Nazis complaining about PC campuses.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous3:44 AM

      But those groups are not attacking Bob directly and so the attacks aren't as salient. For Bob, those groups can be dismissed initially as just "crazy rightwingers" who are going to say dumb things regardless. And even then, that exposure can lead Bob to notice some of the reasons those fringe groups exist even if he condemns them on a surface level. Being on a campus that was the center of one of the recent controversies, many of my generally liberal friends began separating themselves from the progressive wing when they felt personally blamed for the problems even if they would support anti-racist policies in general.

      Delete
    2. Critical race theory is very much part of the neo-liberal problem, but it's an effect not the cause.

      Now I'm not a liberal, I associate liberals with the people who support a prison industrial complex and then cry black lives matter. I'm a leftist, the author who wrote this is clearly liberal, and associating this with leftism is part of a decades long anti-leftist silencing effort.

      It wasn't racist theories that created a populist backlash, it was the removal and suppression of all material analysis that left a vacuum filled by academic bigots.

      With nowhere else to turn, Trump's reactionary populism is all that exists left of Hillary.

      Delete
  11. I enjoyed the article and I think you are making a relatively strong observation but It was a little hard to synthesize at first. Had to read a few time. I'm white. My girlfriend identifies as black(Haitian) and we discuss this often. She's helped me understand the institutional structures and layers more clearly After many heated arguments in which I felt the way you describe. I told her that her approach to the issue is too far the other way and it pushes me away when I do in fact want to listen. I feel accused and defensive and I have no idea what for. So your point resonates.

    On a separate note , is it possible that Trump is just taking advantage and using that feeling you talked about to secure the republican nomination in a party that is borderline sociopathic and then flips the whole script once he doesn't have to pander to the RNC? Trump has been a self described social liberal In public interviews for 30+years until now, and he has called out the party for being too far right all the way back in interviews in '88 Oprah and '99 Larry King and stone Phillips. Does anyone think it's possible he is playing the Republican Party games to get the bid and then goes all the way back to the center against Hillary so that he can get where he needs to go. I think there is something there that it's hard to explain that Trump is behaving in ways in which he is simply navigating the path he needs to take. i dunno, while he has certainly created a lot of controversy, I feel like it's all a sham to steal the republican nomination bc there's no other path. Food for thought.

    ReplyDelete
  12. This so reminds me of an argument I often hear for religion. It is not really about what is the case as it is about how to obscure the case in a way that might have favorable consequences. I don't know which way to go on this. My instinct is to start by stating plainly the truth, at lest as we see it. The United States is in fact deeply racist. Sorry if that turns off Bob. I would urge him to get over himself. But you may be right that that might not lead to progress. If sociologists used evidence, maybe they could weigh in on this. The aspect you discuss is probably beyond your competence, and mine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "The United States is in fact deeply racist."
      Exactly ONE European-descent-majority country in all of history has elected someone of African descent to its highest elective office. Guess which one?
      The reiteration of the "deeply racist" charge is a way for liberal elites to batter poor whites and keep them in their place.

      Delete
    2. Which completely ignores the fact that most European-descent-majority countries didn't have huge influxes of Africans populations due to the slave trade.

      It's pretty hard to elect an African to highest office when their percentage in the population lies far below 1%.

      Delete
    3. I notice Callahan did not actually say I was wrong. If I wanted to make the case that America was not racist, I sure as hell would not bring up the Kenyan Muslim from whom "we" want "our" country back. America may not be above average racist, but it is certainly racist.

      Delete
  13. My take is a little different from most of what I’m hearing. I don’t think lefty discourse on race is much different from discourse on gender or the environment or whatever. Social science-type thinking on the left has been severely marginalized and instead the predominant lefty position is that social problems are due to unmediated flawed consciousness. Racism is due to microaggressions committed by insufficiently aware whites, just like climate change is due to environmentally non-conscious drivers of SUV’s, and the financial crisis was due to greed and corruption. And consciousness is viewed in a highly moralistic fashion: people with flawed consciousness are guilty of not taking the available steps to fix it.

    Now it is true that individual attitudes, if they are pejorative or simply unreflected, can cause big problems. Microaggressions are bad. So is men interrupting women and not letting them speak. And driving a road-hogging monster when a normal car will do is a wasteful form of acting out. Sure. But between the individual brain and the social outcome lie layers upon layers of social mediation—politics, economics, communication networks and so on. There is a lot of inertia in these structures, so history matters.

    If you think that problems like racism and climate change are due only to bad brains, “policy” takes the form of compulsory enlightenment or, failing that, censorship. (A little bit of that is OK actually.) But the balance is way, way off. I work at a college that is beating itself up over small deficiencies in white racial consciousness while failing to do anything at all about the immense disparities in educational background that students bring with them from their high schools—disparities that are racialized as well as the product of class and other inequalities.

    I don’t know if rebalancing activism toward the structural causes (which are very specific for me) of racial inequality is good politics, but simply telling people that the reason the world sucks is that they have inadequate consciousness is very bad politics.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent comment. Thank you.

      Delete
  14. Anonymous10:24 PM

    Noah, read up a little on race and structure first. W. E. B. DuBois Souls of Black Folk is a classic and great place to start--if you read it carefully (i.e. taking off the economist's usual blinders).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Have you ever read it wearing the economist's usual blinders?

      Delete
  15. Structural racism is the cry of those who can't point to any actual racism, but who are actually upset about plain old Marxist inequality, and so they use the language of race to guilt-trip liberals into supporting them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous12:18 PM

      And you can support this absurd claim...how?

      Delete
    2. Support the claim? Why? Liberals claims of structural racism have exactly the same level of support.

      Delete
  16. Your imagined "Bob" is puzzling. Do left-wingers go around "assailing" this kind of person? There are millions of them, and for the post part I think they're just left alone.

    Liberals might be too likely to jump on the latest bit of internet outrage–though certainly on this front nearly everyone is at fault. But I really just haven't seen any kind of targeting of white people who benefit from social structures that perpetuate racial divides, like residential segregation.

    People in the anti-racist camp do try to go out of their way to appeal to these people sometimes to acknowledge the racial divides in our country. They may even explicitly criticize people like Bob, but only as a way to try and get them to recognize their privilege (a cliche at this point to be sure, but a meaningful one nonetheless.) I think too often they don't take the next step and give an answer to the question, "What should I do about it?" But they don't thereby "give these people a hard time." Hopefully getting them to recognize that there is still a lot of racism around can help promote the kinds of policies that groups like BLM think will help. And if you look at opinion polls, you do in fact see a greater recognition by whites of the plight of black Americans since Ferguson: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-race-poll-20150805-story.html?utm_source=nextdraft&utm_medium=email#page=1

    Looks to me like the tactics are working. I come from a town of "Bobs," and I see nothing like the dynamic you're describing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What happens when Bob gives up his privilege? The party privilege world would presumably still consist of various identities, but their powers would be somehow balanced. Who enforces this social balance? Can Bob trust this enforcer not to turn on his group? You privilege checkers need to have a better vision of this privilege-less future if you want Bob to trust you and give up his privilege. Afterall, from Bob's point of view, you could be "the greatest Trojan horse of all time".

      Delete
    2. Typo: the post privilege world. Stupid phone spell checker.

      Delete
    3. "They may even explicitly criticize people like Bob, but only as a way to try and get them to recognize their privilege (a cliche at this point to be sure, but a meaningful one nonetheless.)"

      This is the sort of thing that makes at least some Bob's feel assailed, rightly or not, and I have yet to be convinced of the political effectiveness of it. "Privilege" seems to be essentially a reframing of "discrimination", where you're talking about the same stuff but instead of focusing on the victims you tell it as a story about all the other lucky duckies who don't have to deal with that crap. So what exactly makes this useful? I suspect the message of privilege resonates with some upper middle class white people who have plenty of reasons to feel privileged and maybe don't respond as much to messages about discrimination just because they tend not to know many people of disadvantaged minorities and so don't relate to them much. However it's a lot harder to convince a lower middle class/poor white person that they're privileged, and they tend to be more defensive about this and more concerned that the message sounds like "we think these people deserve a better life and for that to happen yours needs to get worse."

      And I don't think this is effective. You give BLM as an example of effective anti-racism, and I agree, but I don't think their message revolves primarily around privilege. They are "black lives matter" not "white lives aren't so much more precious." They have brought attention to lots of news stories of unarmed black men being shot, and made sure we all learn their names. They focus on the victims to create sympathy rather than defensiveness; to the extent they focus on white people it's on the people who shoot, not all the other white people who have the privilege of not getting shot.

      Delete
  17. The accusation of "racism" only ever gets applied in one direction. In South Africa, with the power structure having been reversed and genuinely racist laws pointing the other way from the past, whites are still on the defensive against these charges, even as they (white South Africans) are regarded by Genocide Watch as being at risk for genocide.

    Tiny Israel, with one diminutive country to the Islamic world's fifty, must contend with more charges of racism than the entire Islamic world, even though the Jewish people experienced the world's most infamous genocide in the recent past, and even though it is the Islamic world that seeks to wipe Israel off the map.

    We see from these examples that accusations of racism will be perpetual against certain groups no matter what.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Noah,

    When you say it's "impossible to talk to people on the right" because you feel they are too stubborn, don't you think your message is turning off a large portion of the population in the exact same way as you feel many leftists are in your posts? Surely you know conservatism is aan extremely broad term, with many people calling themselves who are just like your Bob, of which the only difference might be they vote Republican, most likely for tax reasons. You must realize there are actually those who call themselves conservatives out there who can't stand Trump, Cruz or Limbaugh, yet in your view only liberals can have differing opinions amongst themselves. Why even have a dialogue in the first place if you immediately shut out those that disagree the most with you?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Noah mentioned why at the top of his note. He thinks their perspective is poisonous and that it is pointless to engage with them. In my opinion he is demonstrably right. The right's perspective on race needs to be defeated, not aired. Of course, we could be wrong about this. But in Noah's case his premise is stated right up front and kind of hard to miss.

      Delete
    2. This is my point exactly. There is no one "conservative view of race." You may see a pattern of similar perspectives coming from, say, a well-known conservative mouthpiece such as Fox News or the Limbaugh show and think "oh, that's the conservative viewpoint on race," and therefore think they're all the same. That's obviously false.

      Delete
    3. This entire post just seems hypocritical as it vilifies stereotyping throughout, yet engages in it from the very first paragraph.

      Delete
    4. Gerard finds it much easier to demonize everyone who disagrees with him than engage them: Intellectual sloth.

      Delete
    5. Gerard is "demonstrably" biased beyond the point of a meaningful discussion if he, like Noah's ridiculously stupid comment to start this post, believe the entire conservative base is racist or can't be engaged on the topic. Noah's working on being is absurdly stupid as Krugman on political issues.

      Delete
    6. As a ridiculously stupid intellectual sloth, I find it hard to keep up with the high standards of objectivity and respectful dialogue advanced by Callahan and Donk.

      Nick, I accept the criticism. You are right that there is no such thing as THE conservative view on race. To the extent there is a side, though, that side is racist and must be politically defeated, not coddled. I just am not sure Noah is actually wrong about how to do it. Maybe recognizing the truth, as I see it, pisses too many people off and does not advance the cause. My instinct is to start with the truth, and like all here I have an opinion about what that is. But maybe an indirect approach would work better.

      Delete
  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  20. This post makes a great point. I think "structural racism" along with (sometimes even unknowing) stereotyping account for a lot more of the racial inequality in the US than overt or conscious racism now, but vague accusations about people like "Bob" being a part of this evil machine are divisive and make the Bobs defensive. I don't know if Bob will ever join the Donald Trumps of the world, but it's bad enough for them to hear him talk and ever say, "that makes sense!" Of course, it's probably too much to demand that everyone on the internet point with specificity to the problems underlying the profound inequality they see -- segregated housing? education? income disparity? laws that have a disparate impact? policing policy? etc. etc. etc. -- but when people are observing something like this, it would be better for them to focus on the problem rather than the people who are part of the system. It's important for people to realize when that system is benefitting them at someone else's expense, but saying "check your privilege" isn't going to accomplish that, it's just going to make them feel attacked, and no one is their best self in that position.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I do like Kevin Drum’s understatement: “We liberals do tend to yell racism a little more often than we should.”

    In the UK, I’ve read hundreds of articles in supposedly intelligent broadsheet newspapers which AUTOMATICALLY castigate those opposed to mass immigration as “racists” and “xenophobes”. I have NEVER ONCE seen the beginnings of an attempt to justify those insults.

    Xenophobia is defined in dictionaries as hatred or fear of foreigners. The fact of not wanting high levels of immigration does not prove hatred of anyone. And as to racism, which is defined as the idea that one race is superior to others, not wanting high levels of immigration doesn’t prove racism either.

    And as is entirely predictable, other countries with very restrictive immigration policies and whose inhabitants have brown faces (e.g. Saudi Arabia) are never described as racist by lefties. In short, what seems to motivate lefties (as George Orwell pointed out long ago) is simply a desire to destroy their own country and culture.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Anonymous2:41 PM

    "Asians are probably safe from day-to-day harassment by angry white anti-racists...for now."

    Recently on Twitter, I had someone on the left call me white (as a pejorative) for my political views, yet I am bi-racial Chinese American. After I corrected her, she blocked me. I guess all it took to ignore my race was having the wrong political perspective.

    Ironically, it is the neo-Nazi Trump supporters who are better attuned to my mixed race status, quick as they are to point out my "half-breed" status.

    Anyway, I hope my anecdote is the exception, rather than the rule. Thanks for your post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The analysis of the right in race send salient because it IS. You will never see someone on the right dismiss the left's view on race as poisonous, not to be engaged with. That is because to live in the modern world means you must pretend to hold the lefts view on race, so they are intimately familiar with the lefts views. The right is simply more open to uncomfortable truths. The kind which have significant support in the field of genetics, or at least far more proof than the idea of structural racism, which has only vague hints in the form of job application tests and such things.

      Delete
  23. See, I used to believe that the (far) Left's obsession with race, or with gender, or identity politics at large was just a difference in tactics and concern. But once I expressed concern to a self-identified communist that high levels of immigration, H1Bs and guest worker programs during a poor economy and job market could be counter-productive both to depress wages and lead to more unemployment, is itself an exploitative process, and moreover that it would lead to more xenophobic sentiment among the native-born population (ironically something, by the way, Marx himself expressed), I was summarily denounced as a racist. It struck me that it wasn't a difference of wrongheaded tactics, but an outright difference in motives and goals. It was fighting a different beast altogether.

    You have to realize that most of this stuff comes from those who believe in post-modernist, post-structuralist, "critical theory-wielding" wings of Academia. They tend to be Radicals, or at least largely sympathetic with Radicals. To a post-modernist, truth is relative, and evidence is only presented as a means of trying to "win" a debate and eventually gain power. I think it's worth listening to Noam Chomsky about post-Modernism and post-structuralism:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzrHwDOlTt8
    As post-modernist and critical theorists were largely (former or current) Marxists, it shouldn't come as a surprise that their overarching goal is the overthrow of Western Civilization. Whether it's their fervor towards blaming all undeveloped and developing nations' progress on Western neo-colonialism, instead of their own internal political deficiencies for example, they'll choose to focus on the instances where there IS western blame and magnify it to become the entire picture, the Iraq war, for example, which is very significant, as the cause of the Syrian crisis. They'll choose to ignore Assad's brutality against the population, or the drought that rose internal tensions, or the fact it was a minority regime to begin with. But where does it come back to before that? That the French are to blame for their two and a half decade protectorate mandate (nevermind that they were governed by centuries by the Ottomans who had just completed an Armenian genocide of their own!).

    Take how Feminists compare white fraternity boys to ISIS and want "always believe the victims", but then suddenly turn into MRAs when it comes to mass assault committed by mostly non-white Migrants in Cologne, who suddenly believe in (Western) Due Process. Take also how these "anti-racists" almost exclusively ignore the reality of Asian, Indian, and even Nigerian immigrants play in this "White Supremacist" society when all these groups earn more than white people and are outeducated. Culture can never play a role, neither can class, only racism!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is along tradition of that pattern in left wing thinking going back to communists. There's nothing new under the sun, it's just the red guards in hipster outfits.

      Delete
    2. I think the big differences are that it's now divided by gender and race instead of by class, and that this is now mainstream within "The Left" and among many liberals. Furthermore, because being called racist or sexist holds more weight than being a "greedy exploiter", it's socially a lot more powerful, and I'd argue, dangerous and nefarious.

      Delete
    3. It's the same logic. Being a kulak or propagator of four olds was tantamount to being fundamentally excluded from any political presence ( and obviously worse). This is a fundamentally illiberal (in the classical sense) attitude. Nothing new under the sun. Fortunately the little red guards don't have the power. Yet.

      Delete
    4. The french and English models of colonialism were drastically different yet we see the same results in their former African colonies. A their variable must then be to blame and my money is on the people themselves.

      Delete
  24. In the end, Political Correctness is just a covert form of gaining power and control within the political process by using people's good intentions (being against racism, sexism, bigotry and being nice) against them to become superior. Notice how "privilege" is not used as a recognition that some people have advantages over others, but rather as a blunt weapon to be use to silence opinions that are "less valid" on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation. The irony is that this "anti-racism" and "anti-bigotry" ends up being one massive psychological projection - that they instead become racist, sexist and bigoted themselves against the remaining socially acceptable group to be bigoted against - white men. And don't get me started on the self-hate involved in white male leftists involved in this regard, that extends well beyond white liberal guilt to tacitly accept these narratives. Have you ever seen the "Progressive Stack"? This is discrimination at its best, but supposedly for a "good purpose" (once again, trying to exploit our better intentions): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCwhlZtHhWs

    Ultimately, this radicalism only serves the reaction - i.e. the "other" side of identity politics who views people not as individuals but as a collective, meaning the Alt Right, the White Nationalists and Supremacists. It's like the Horseshoe theory, these people have a lot more similarities at the extreme than they do with moderates. But also they both reinforce each other. Donald Trump gains on resentment towards Political Correctness, and PC Police gain because Trump shows his true xenophobic colors.

    Which ultimately sucks for the 80-90% who want to just live in a polite, reasonable, egalitarian society. It certainly is a great way too to divert focus away from income inequality and towards "The Others" (be them "rapist" immigrants or evil privileged oppressing white men). But as being on the center-left, I feel it's my responsibility to defend Western Civilization, the Enlightenment, rationality, individuality, egalitarianism and reject the Radicalism and Post-modernism cancer that has crept into the mainstream over the past 2-3 years.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Hi Noah,

    I like you man. Don't agree with you on much of anything, but you seem reasonable and willing to engage with my ideas instead of just calling people like me a racist. I'm 30, had an argument with some of my Millennial friends last night, and it seems like they think that I'm a racist too because I think immigration is hurting vulnerable Americans. My feelings come from a sense of patriotism, from believing that Americans are more important than non-Americans and it's important to protect them, even if that's harmful to non-Americans. For what it's worth, I don't think a majority of Millennials believe that. Thanks for engaging!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, man!

      Actually, personally, I'm pro-immigration because of patriotism. I think of immigration as recruiting people for Team USA.

      Delete
    2. Keep up the thoughtful posting, appreciate it!

      Delete
    3. Keep up the thoughtful posting, appreciate it!

      Delete
    4. I personally have problems with the legitimacy of patriotism. I appreciate the great good fortume of being born in America, and the opportunities I've been given as a result. But I can't see how I deserve that more than anyone else. You might be right that immigration hurts vulnerable Americans, or Noah might be right that it helps them (I tend to think Noah's right, within reasonable limits). That's a legitimate intellectual question, but the underlying rationale, that Americans are to be preferred over non-Americans is an ethical one. I wouldn't think of your as attitude racist, because that term is loaded with too much baggage, but I might call it tribalism. How do you justify that distinction on what is only an accident of birth? I didn't invent the world and I know I can't fix it by myself, nor can the person I might be arguing with, but I have a hard time with patriotism being used as a justification for minimizing other people. I hope I'm not falling into the trap Noah describes in the blog piece, but I hope there's a possibility of making arguments without shouting past each other.

      Delete
  26. Anonymous11:21 PM

    This comment thread is really ugly. There is something about race that seems to bring out the crazies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nope. You're just close minded.

      Delete
  27. I thought that the POUM lost out to Stalin's friends especially after the May Day fighting in Barcelona. But modern day Catalonia wants independence and how much of it goes back to these early days.

    ReplyDelete
  28. While there's something to the phenomenon you describe there's little to no indication that your "Bob" is a typical Trump voter. Someone like Bob is more likely to get disillusioned and engage in that most honorable American tradition of simply not voting (except in local elections). The Trump voter is an entirely different specie. They are not "converts" from anything, reluctantly driven into the arms of a populist candidate with racist views because of "political correctness", "academic leftists" or whatever. Rather they are folks who live in an alternative reality (go through some facebook pages of your Trump-liking friends, if you got any). Their world view is so warped and grotesque - not going to apologize for stating this or mince this - that there's just no way that these are individuals who gradually "drifted" to these positions. The common sense interpretation is that they are people who've always held messed up views, it's just that there for awhile it was socially stigmatized to express these social views. Then internet happened. Then Trump happened. All of sudden it's okay for them to be obnoxiously and loudly racist again. That's really all there is to it.

    So here is an alternative hypothesis - people enjoy their racism. Bigotry is in our utility functions. We *like* looking down on others, even if it's for stupid and baseless reasons. Human nature's messed up and honestly, we're all just looking, waiting for an excuse to hate on someone who's different. What keeps all this nastiness inline is... civilization and culture. And when there are big cultural changes (internet, again) the ability of these social constructs to keep this stuff under-wraps gets compromised. Maybe temporarily, or maybe it goes off on some new, path-dependent trajectory.

    And I also don't get the POUM reference. Something to do with Orwell?

    ReplyDelete
  29. Bob doesn't exist.

    The real Bob is as imbued with racial stereotypes and prejudices as the rest of us (including all of us lefties care about these issues), whether he knows it or not, that cause him to be less likely to hire black people, more likely to be "uncomfortable" around them, and far more likely to find any excuse for the death of a black person at the hand of the cops that keeps him from having to confront the uncomfortable truths about America.

    Bob can't be sweet-talked into supporting change. Bob needs to realize that he's part of the problem and in doing so realize that all the other normal, decent, not-raging-bigot people he knows are also part of the problem. They aren't evil, they're just Americans and we all have work do to.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous7:05 AM

      Yep, that's just the problem: What you're saying is that Bob just has to wash with gasoline and light a fire. Is that progressive?

      Delete
  30. jerseycityjoan5:52 PM

    Purity is very hard to achieve -- and even harder to maintain.

    I think a lot of the self-identified very liberal white people who focus on the "lapses" of other white people are economic, intellectural and/or moral elitists who have a great track record of protecting the privileges that they, their family and their friends deem essential.

    Even when I agree with whatever principal they espouse, I think this group of people are a great weight on the rest of us. They are so influential, so self-referential and so utterly disconnected from the rest of their fellow Americans.

    What is good for them is often NOT good for the rest of us.

    Their fingerpointing and tsk-tsking, the contempt they show for their fellow Americans and their self-righteousness alienate tens of millions of Americans.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Anonymous8:33 AM

    "So it is basically now impossible to talk to people on the right about race in a rational way".

    That seems excessively pessimistic. Does it apply to Russ Roberts? I don't think he is on the left by any definition.

    ReplyDelete
  32. >>diffuse and varied combination of hidden bigotry, stereotypes, subtly discriminatory attitudes, government policy, and the physical legacy of past injustices (de facto segregation, wealth inequality, etc.).<<

    Where is MLK? "Judge people on their character, not their color."
    Oh, wait. Affirmative action judges people on their color, not their character.
    Affirmative action is a racist policy.
    Virtually all democrats, the KKK Jim Crow party, support the racist policy of Affirmative action.
    Further, those who want to end all official racist policies are falsely called racists.

    If you can't talk about real racist policies that exist today, you're not talking about real racism.

    It is your own unwillingness to talk about the truth, because the truth is not politically correct, that is driving more folks who want the truth to support the anti-PC Trump.

    ReplyDelete