A definition of racism, itself racist

Posted: May 21, 2006 12:05 PM

If you are against something, you should know what it is, right?

So why do today's professional anti-racists have trouble identifying the basic concept of racism, and why do they keep supporting and encouraging some rather nasty forms of it — real, degrading, and violent?

I'm looking at a Web page perpetrated by the Seattle Public Schools, a page dealing with "Equity and Race Relations." I'm peering at one definition in particular:

Racism The systematic subordination of members of targeted racial groups who have relatively little social power in the United States (Blacks, Latino/as, Native Americans, and Asians), by the members of the agent racial group who have relatively more social power (Whites). The subordination is supported by the actions of individuals, cultural norms and values, and the institutional structures and practices of society.

Apparently, blacks and Latinos and Native Americans can't be racist. So the next time a kid of minority color pulls a knife on a white kid, calling him "Whitey" or worse, we'll know that this wasn't racist. The next time a minority rights champion flies off the handle and says that all whites are racists, we'll know that statement isn't itself racist.

How will we know? Because according to the people who teach our children, only white people in America can be racist!

Latinos and Latinas, Burmese, Chinese, Africans, Indonesians — not one member of these groups is racist. Thanks for the info, Seattle Public Schools.

Crayola Logic
The idea that only individuals belonging to a culturally dominant group in a given area can have racist opinions, express racist thoughts, and judge and act in racist ways, is idiotic on the face of it. That a bunch of educators in the Pacific Northwest would institutionalize this idiocy is truly sad. They've even dumbed down the notion to a very specific "White America" fixation.

It almost makes you wonder about the IQs of the educators. But lack of intelligence isn't the likely problem. Take a look at this doozy:

Cultural Racism
Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as "other", different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers.

It's interesting that of the five examples of "cultural racism," only one speaks to the usual key identifier of racial categorization: skin color. The others address ideas and speech patterns and cultural achievements, things that non-racists wouldn't normally attribute to racial factors at all.

It's worth remembering that for a "white" person a pinkish hue is "flesh," just as to a "black" person darker shades of brown would qualify. It's not racist to call some shade of pink "flesh" if you yourself are white. Nor is it racist to call "Burnt Sienna" "flesh" if that crayon is closest to your skin color. In these cases it's not racist, but apt.

What's racist is, upon seeing the relativity, to deny to the person of a different skin the term "flesh" for their color.

Some white Americans may have been a bit shocked to witness Crayola change the names of one of its crayons, back in the '60s, but it would have been racist for the company, upon noticing that their "flesh" didn't fit a huge segment of their clientele, to continue. "Peach" was more accurate.

Philosophers like to remind us to distinguish between fact and value. So let's do that here. It is a fact that "peach" is closer to the color of my flesh, or skin, than is "Burnt Sienna." It is also a fact that "peach" is nowhere near the color of Walter Williams's skin. Most of us can see the relativity of the terms, and most Americans have outgrown this issue.

But what of the facts involved in, say, the question of a great composer?

I'm more likely to listen to James Brown than Beethoven, but I'm not going to try to make the case that James Brown was the greater musician. The everyday values that determine our personal preference differ from our appreciation of greatness in art. And I don't let race have anything to do with my judgments of preference.

Or "greatness."

I have friends who love Schubert and Sibelius — and Mozart, and more of that crowd — and who don't place one Asian or African-American composer on their list. Does this make them "culturally racist"? No.

Music evolved to greatness as a fine art tradition in Europe, not south of the Sahara or in the wilds of the Americas. That's just a fact. Most of the great composers — whom most of us don't listen to, anyway — were white Europeans.

The RZA and the Duke have written some amazingly good music, but I doubt if even they aspired to compose on the level of, say, Bach. Offenbach, maybe. To suggest a higher level of greatness takes quite a bit more chutzpah than I have.

The very idea makes my head hurt so much I'll probably turn on Top 40 Radio.

That's the Way the Crayon Crumbles
That "individualism vs. collectivism" example in the "cultural racism" definition suggests the likeliest source of the Seattle educators' foolishness.

These seemingly well-meaning numbskulls obsess over two things: racism against non-whites, and the continued economic success of those who adopt the standards of civilization that evolved largely in Western Europe.

Now, racism is indeed vile, especially in its extreme forms. But it's been practiced by nearly every group throughout human history. And it was in the West that there arose an ideology that opposed this racism. That ideology was . . . individualism!

Racism is, after all, a rather thickheaded collectivism. Like all collectivisms, it tries to make an individual's belonging or "not belonging" to one group or another the most important thing about that individual. In this case, what's seen as most relevant is what is most obviously seen: skin color, color of eyes, jaw structure, etc.

Individualism, however, promotes the notion that what a person does and says is more important than "where he comes from" or "who were his parents" or "his skin color." (Please pardon my "sexist" use of masculine pronouns; female public school teachers taught that to me.)

What most troubles the professional class of self-selected, self-designated — and politically appointed — anti-racists in America is that most of the individuals hurt (at one time or another) by racism in America come from groups and cultures that did not develop individualism. They want to "defend the underdog," so they take up the underdog's cultural background as if it were a part of his race . . . even though the anti-racist's own definition of racism precludes that ploy: "People of one race can vary in terms of ethnicity and culture." And yet, they assign to race a cultural trait: the morality of individualism for whites, the morality of collectivism for Africans, for example.

But in doing so these anti-racists keep coming back to that racist idea that an individual's life and values are determined by his biology, and that individuals don't "vary in terms of ethnicity and culture." If a person hails from a collectivist hunter-gatherer tribe — five generations back as opposed to fifty-five generations back — they seem to think it somehow wrong and racist to expect this person to behave in an individualistic fashion here in America.

They ignore the big truth: individualist morality is color-blind on principle; collectivism isn't. And the individualistic standards we use to criticize racism also condemn some forms of collectivism. Either our professional anti-racists haven't figured this out, or they lack the courage to stand up for race-independent morality.

And that's how they can go so far as to turn a blind eye to some real instances of racism, while calling other values racist that aren't racist at all.