Saturday, July 20, 2013

Is America a Racist Society?

“You’re prejudiced! You’re prejudiced! You’re prejudiced!” –“Mike Stivic, through Rob Reiner to “Archie Bunker”, portrayed by Carol O’Connor

In the aftermath of the George Zimmerman trial, Americans from coast to coast are discussing race and the criminal justice system more than they have in recent years past.  The trial has sparked the issue of how much racism is left in America and whether or not America is post-racial.  It is clear to everyone that America is not a post-racial society, but how racist is it?

In common parlance, racism is indistinguishable from prejudice.  Both are based on stereotyping.  However, racism is a different phenomenon from prejudice entirely.

Racism is the ideology of innate intellectual or moral inferiority of one race vis-à-vis another.  It is predicated on the notion that humans can be classified into different races via racial taxonomy.  Common racial classifications include:

-Negroid, Mongoloid, Caucasoid
-Negroid, Mongoloid, Caucasoid, Australoid, Congoid, KhoiKhoid
- Homo Africanus, Homo Europeaus, Homo Asiaticus, Homo Americanus
-Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Native American/Pacific Islander
-African American, Caucasian, Asian, Native American/Pacific Islander

Under the rubric of racism, not only can one classify humans into races, but each race evolved to be different due to the conditions of their original continental environments.  Asians developed slanted eyes to protect them against Mongolian blizzards.  Whites developed long body hair to protect against European cold.  Blacks developed tightly coiled hair to block the African sun.  Once it is established that races evolved differently, one then has to posit that races aren’t equal because they evolved at different paces.  Therefore Jews are more intelligent than Asians, who are more intelligent than whites, who are more intelligent blacks, who are more intelligent than Aborigines.  To racists, there is a clear hierarchy of races based on consistent patterns.  Genitalia: Asian, white, black. Temperament (passive to aggressive): Asian, white, black.  Brain size: Asian, white, black.  IQ: Asian, white, black.  Intelligence: Asian, white, black.  Sexual habits: Asian, white, black.  Law abidingness: Asian, white, black.  Welcome, you have arrived at racism.

Prejudice is entirely different as you can see.  Prejudice is attributing a behavioral characteristic to an entire group.  It is predicated on the notion that stereotypes are on average true, because they have existed across time and space.  For example, blacks have been associated with musical talent for centuries.  Ancient Greeks commented on how Ethiopians were musical as did ancient Arabs such as Ibn Khaldun.  Liberals often use the mantra “not all X are Y.  I’m X and I’m not Y”.  But stereotyping is based on thinking that all X are Y.  Rather it is about assuming that X are Y ordinarily, in general, or often.

Granted, racism and prejudice can dovetail.  Take the stereotype that black people are aggressive.  As mentioned above, racist people believe this to be true, as do prejudiced people.  The difference is that racist people believe it’s natural.  But racism and prejudice are not the same.  Martin Luther King said that racism is “the sense of the congenital worthlessness of a people.”  The key word here is “congenital.”
So how racist is the US?  After all, the pattern established by racists, today known as “race realists”, is very compelling and seems to ring true.  But statistically speaking, only 12% of whites think blacks are naturally stupid.  Personally speaking, aside from the fact that the president and first lady are black, the most startling element of progress in my mind is the fact that blacks are overrepresented on every TV channel in a wide variety of roles from criminal to anchorman.  They aren’t even tokens, there are often several blacks on the same show or in the same scene.
Sure there are still a lot of problems.  For example, there is the “stop and frisk” method of the police.  And there is the neighborhood watch volunteer killing a 17-year-old armed with Skittles and Watermelon Flavored Arizona Iced Tea.  But racial profiling is not racism.  In fact, to those who believe that stereotypes are usually true, racial profiling is rational discrimination, due to the fact that blacks and Hispanics commit crimes out of proportion with their percentage of the population.
In closing, we must put things in perspective. Racism is out there, but where would you rather live?
On the contrary, just a cursory examination of recent history and the state of the world bears witness to America's unsurpassed level of charity towards all. For instance, in Ruanda, a claim of prejudice would not have to be based on an inter-race wage-gap whose cause is debatable, but on the genocidal murder of one-million people in a war between the Hutus and Tutsis, which could have only one cause: hatred. And the same could be said of what occurred in the Balkans and a plenitude of other nations on our planet. Or, America's critics could try to buttress their position by pointing to the infamous Rodney King incident and claiming that the Los Angeles police were motivated by racial hatred when they used harsh measures to subdue a criminal who had been fleeing from them at 105 miles an hour. But while King became the poster-boy for American racism at the time, in most other nations he wouldn't have made it past the first audition. No, not when you have atrocities like the one involving the feuding Armenians and Azerbaijanis, wherein an old woman was put in a sack and then burned alive. The fact of the matter is that it's hard to find a nation in which such a diverse people lives as harmoniously as do those of us who inhabit this land betwixt the two shining seas.

In spite of the fact that while blacks and brown people make up 48% of the population and none can be found on TV in any but the most degrading roles such as maid or thief, Brazilians often say “every country has its problems and challenges.  Look at South Africa for racism.  Look at Iraq for sexism” and “black white it doesn’t matter, we’re all just Brazilian.  We’re all just Brazilian.”  Why can’t we think like that?  Be positive about your circumstances.  Be grateful for the tremendous amount of progress that has occurred in a single generation. Be optimistic.  End this neurotic fixation on race.  Be proud to be simply American.