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Whiteness Studies
June 20, 2003 5:14 AM   Subscribe

Whiteness Studies Liberals are going the extra mile to validate economic insanity by Conservatives. Do some people have an economic advantage? Do majorities have something in common that minorities don't share? I went to Japan this year, and sure, being a minority sucks. Does that mean that there is whiteness or blackness or asianness, or the new and exciting hispanicness? No. There's no such thing. Stop the madness: Race and Gender are just more games for people who need hobbies. Insanity inside.
posted by ewkpates (83 comments total)

 
bull, ewkpates. White people in the US have enormous advantages, from hailing taxis to getting bank loans and mortgages to avoiding the death penalty if convicted of crimes to being elected to government office to being hired at abercrombie and fitch retail stores in a visible sales position....the list is really endless...

You admit that "being a minority sucks" yet don't realize how it deeply that may affect everyday lives. The madness really lies in people who deride any attempt to broaden our knowledge about the world, especially the vast diversity of the cultures and peoples who constitute it, or due to fear that they may lose their standing and position in that world--a world broader and more encompassing than they may be comfortable in.
posted by amberglow at 5:44 AM on June 20, 2003


I don't agree with reverse racism to a point. It's impossible for me to understand completely being a white male but I for the most part don't see racism or sexism as being prevalent. I do see it but I think the percentage of businesses that engage in it is small. What I do see is a very hard push to make sure that there is a class difference based on financial status. For instance money gets taken away from schools based on poor performance. These schools are predominantly in poorer neighbourhoods. Taking further money away only makes the problem worse. If you're born into this it's very hard to work your way out. You have to be a truly exceptional person to succeed under these circumstances. If you're born into a higher class it's much easier for you to succeed. Not only do you have better schools but you also have daddies money to fall back on and so on. You can have very mediocre abilities and still be successful.

Now, part of the reality of this is that in the past racism has kept non-whites (I hate putting it this way but I don't know how else to put it - there was also discrimination against the Irish, the Italians, the Polish etc) into the lower class. The extra luck, ambition and abilities that it takes to escape poverty ensures that the lower class will be very racially skewed. So in effect they're still being punished by the mistakes our ancestors made. To try and fix this the liberals try and build in regulations to force you to raise up some of these people in the forms of constraints on college enrollment, hiring practices etc.

This is wrong in my opinion since it doesn't really address the real present day problem, it just looks at the appearance of the problem. It'd be better to make sure that these schools in low income areas received sufficient books, pencils, crayons or whatever it takes to give the kids a chance at a successful education. It's still going to be rough, education won't be important to their parents for instance. Why? Most likely because of a combination of things. It wasn't important to their parents, it wasn't important to the city who thought it'd be better spend tax payer dollars on a new sports stadium rather than schools and so on. Eventually things will pick up though. By just rescuing the lucky few nothing is done to actually bring up these neighbourhoods.
posted by substrate at 5:52 AM on June 20, 2003


"...Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in the late 18th century not only that "all men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence, but also this, from his "Notes on the State of Virginia": "I advance it, as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.""

I would have thought that Jefferson no more invented racism than I did. This is about class, in-groups & out-groups, and the hegemony of the eurocentric world. This has surely been the case since the Renaisance, when the european powers began to dominate after the succesful defeat of turkish and muslim encroachments in Spain and south-east europe. The colonial period and the Industrial Revolution accelerated differences and exploited political, economic and technological superiorities over less developed tribes, nations and territories.

Now, how do we get back from that?
posted by dash_slot- at 6:06 AM on June 20, 2003


Pick your color. Now how many close friends do you have of that same color? How many close friends who are not that color?
posted by Postroad at 6:15 AM on June 20, 2003


In regards to gender, with the exploration of the Male "Y" chromosome it turns out that a man and woman are actually very similar, 98% similar. Of course that same man is 98% similar to a male chimp.

In regards to race, how does this validate "conservative economic insanity?" The ruling race does have a distinct advantage in a racially polarized society, just as the ruling religion or ethnic/linguistic group has an advantage. There are two ways to go in that instance, one is to force the lesser positioned group to assimilate and to conform to the rules or alternately you can blur barriers and make all people equal and to hold their heritage, culture and products in equal stature. Of course the latter takes much more effort, especially from the ruling group who has to stop viewing themselves as the master, although the "slave mentality" has to be exorcised as well.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:19 AM on June 20, 2003


Hispanicity isn't real? It is if your local social services aren't provided in Spanish and your kid's school doesn't offer bilingual education. In my experience as a bilingual elementary school teacher back in the 1980s, by the way, Spanish-speaking immigrants were markedly more interested in their children's education, even if the school district was not.

Advocates of whiteness studies — most of whom are white liberals who hope to dismantle notions of race — believe that white Americans are so accustomed to being part of a privileged majority they do not see themselves as part of a race.

That seems like a pretty fair assessment of mainstream American society's obliviousness about cultural difference. Sure, the academic politics of ethnic studies are Byzantine and sometimes absurd. On the other hand, it's a cold, hard fact that you are more likely to get the death penalty if you're African American, for example.

Do majorities have something in common that minorities don't share?

Safe passage along the New Jersey Turnpike without preemptive traffic stops based on racial profiling. A sense of grievance against the majority based on a shared history of oppression. People are still alive today who lived under Jim Crow, you know, even if you're too young to remember it. Notions of race may be, biologically speaking, a fiction (affirmative action in Brazil, which bills itself as one of the world's most thoroughly mixed societies, flopped miserably because of the ambiguities in the system of self-identification) but culturally they're a way to organize for survival.
posted by hairyeyeball at 6:31 AM on June 20, 2003


All right! It's about time we started bashing the Eurocentric hegemony around here!

If the goal of the course is to enlighten people about racial assumptions, then I'm not sure how it's a bad idea. The "privilege walk" mentioned at the beginning of the article shouldn't have made anyone uncomfortable if racial differences were some kind of spurious smokescreen. But race has a potent impact on our culture, and it's a mistake to say that thinking about it ought to be swept under the rug. Not discussing problems of race won't make them go away.

It's tempting to reduce all of these issues to class-related ones, because the solutions to class problems are much more straightforward (at least, they are to a liberal mindset). But if that were the case, then you would expect to see some cultural identity among people who share economic status, which is clearly not the case. Poor whites, blacks, and latinos don't seem to mix any better or worse than middle class whites, blacks, and latinos. Class differences are often subsumed within those racial boundaries.

Race is slippery: it's difficult to define clearly. It's one of those things that is intuitively understood but difficult to explain. [Insert sociobiological explanation here.] The fact that it's irrational doesn't make it less real. To me, the trick is not to abolish race, but to create a culture where we are people first, and members of a race second. I don't see anything wrong with African-American pride, Latino Pride, Korean Pride, hell, even White Pride, as long as we recognize our common humanity first.
posted by vraxoin at 6:43 AM on June 20, 2003


Hispanic isn't real? It is if your local social services aren't provided in Spanish and your kid's school doesn't offer bilingual education

Race is slippery:


It can be confusing at times. In the US if your Spanish(Espanol) you are counted as a caucasian in the census, but not a Hispanic. Then is Texas when they first stated the # of people issued handgun licenses, Hispanics #'s were grouped with the caucasians #'s.
Is America the only country that separates by race?
posted by thomcatspike at 6:55 AM on June 20, 2003


then you would expect to see some cultural identity among people who share economic status, which is clearly not the case ...
well, maybe you would. Speak for yourself: after centuries of telling po' white trash (of which I'm an anglo-irish version, so don't anybody get all high horse on me) that they are better than the po' black trash (er, look that's there for symettry and rhetoric, don't anybody get all high horse on me), why would they see the commonalities? If genetically I'm 98% chimp, the amount of genetic makeup I share with Martin Luther King must be close to 100%.

There are only two races: it's the human race, and the rat race. (On that much, I can see vraxoin & I agree).

PS: I suspect that the proof that 'race' is a social construct can be discovered in the fact that different societies express 'race' differently: middle-class whites in the UK generally have a multi-culti outlook these days, and their college educated kids would be so-o-o down on them if it were otherwise.
posted by dash_slot- at 6:55 AM on June 20, 2003


Insanity inside.

In other words, "I know you all are gonna tear this thesis to shreds inside, so I'll pre-emptively call it more insanity."

"Race and Gender are just more games for people who need hobbies bank loans."
posted by soyjoy at 6:57 AM on June 20, 2003


substrate: It's impossible for me to understand completely being a white male but I for the most part don't see racism or sexism as being prevalent.

liberal academics: white Americans are so accustomed to being part of a privileged majority they do not see themselves as part of a race.

I tend ot agree with the white liberal academics on the diagnoisis (the best study on it is, IMHO, this book) , but I tend to disagree with them, and folks like Race Traitor on the prescription. It's the same with me for feminist academics; most of them can spot the problems with deadly acuracy, but none of them have proposed decent solutions. The "answer" to racism and sexism do not, IMHO, lie in "dismantling constructions of whiteness" or other such purely academic pursuits. Why? Because average people are suspicious of academics, and don't read academic writing (and who can blame them?) If, in order to be recognized as anti-racist, or anti-sexist, I have to buy the crypto-Marxism of a lot of the academics who study this stuff, I'm fine with passing under the radar, personally.

I would have thought that Jefferson no more invented racism than I did.

Wendell Berry observed that racism was a means, not an ends: racism was invented by a culture that despised real work and needed an excuse to be inhumane to the people they enslaved because of it. Howard Zinn thinks racism was created by the rich to divide the poor whites and blacks against each other. Richard Dawkins thinks it goes all the way down to the genetic level; we preference people who look like us because our genes have spent the past million years surviving by favoring the relatives of the body that carries them (a given gene one has stands a 50% chance of also being present on one's child, a 25% chance of being in one's sibling, etc.)
Whatever the root cause, I've only heard one idea that seem like it'll work. He's unpopular with the lefties, but this guy is its most famous proponent. Unfortunately, like most workable solutions, the path he wished we could walk is the most difficult path. As Sting sang, "They go crazy in congregations, but they only get better one by one."
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:59 AM on June 20, 2003


Ah, there we are. "The fact that it is irrational doesn't make it less real." - Uhh, yeah it does. There is no race problem in this country. There is a "disliking each other" problem. Sometimes its based on one category, sometimes on another.

When we pretend that race exists, we give it the illusion of substance. If you get poor people of every color in a room, they will have things in common. Are they a "race"? If you get tall people of every salary in a room, are they a "race"? Race is a made-up group. Pick a race you like and insist you are in it. Bingo.

Bottom line: Blue-eyed, Brown-eyed, fat, hispanic, its all the same. Just because we can group people into categories doesn't mean those categories mean anything or have any value. Poor people have as great a history of suffering as black people or jewish people. Rich people have as great a history of cruelty as racist people. Categories aren't real, people are. Confuse the two, and you've lost touch with reality. Your clue: You can't define your terms. Reinforcing people's belief in categories over reality: Insanity.
posted by ewkpates at 7:21 AM on June 20, 2003


Pick your color. Now how many close friends do you have of that same color? How many close friends who are not that color?

White. 1. 0.

Life is hard, suck it up.
posted by spazzm at 7:33 AM on June 20, 2003


Why can't one group be better then another? If all people are created equal then why is there such a disparity?
posted by dirtylittlemonkey at 7:39 AM on June 20, 2003


This is a touchy subject, and I didn't have the time to read anything pertaining to the thread except for the main WP article, but let me say this: whiteness is not only "race", skin pigment or nature, it's nurture. The fact remains that people are different and, throughout their lives, they'll have different levels of productivity and accomplishment; that fact is reflected racially as well.

Black basketball players, white philosophers and mathematicians from India are all known for being very competitive and skilled in their respective fields. To acknowledge that should lead to the conclusion that the opposite may be true, that is, different races may have a poor overall performance record on certain areas. That does not mean it's a fixed trait of any given race to be perpetually good at some things and bad at others; often it does reflect a socially established bias, but inequality of merit is also a real fact, documented in history and easily perceived in our daily lives if we're honest enough to judge objectively.

Another point I've already mentioned here before is that there is a pattern, a canon that is better than others. This is judeochristian civilization, mainly (but far from exclusively) an invention of white people. This cultural heritage is to be cherished regardless of who you are.

Finally, if you move (physically) and if you want to keep moving (as in getting ahead in life), you must learn to adapt. It's basically in Rome do as the Romans do, but in the sense that you must be willing to to take part in a different environment.

I once heard a hispanic teenager on a TV show about racism saying in class that his name was Renato, not "Reenuhdoe" as his american-born classmates pronounced it. He was almost upbraiding them, as if they had to bow before his ethnicity or as if an entire country was to blame for the fact that he wasn't called John Smith or something. That, of course, is delirious; immigrants and nonwhites must be realistic and not give in to the "whiteness" blame-game sponsored by liberal teachers and thinkers. Affirmative action and its many disguises are almost always unfair and counterproductive imho, but at any rate they're exceptions, not rules within society.
posted by 111 at 7:44 AM on June 20, 2003


111: Another point I've already mentioned here before is that there is a pattern, a canon that is better than others. This is judeochristian civilization, mainly (but far from exclusively) an invention of white people. This cultural heritage is to be cherished regardless of who you are.

Even if you are a hindu? A muslim? An atheist? Your prescription - yes, it does sound somewhat 'directive' - is exclusive to me, a white atheist with an interest in many different, non-canonical topics (it's why I love MeFi so much).

Can you reformulate that statement, with a similar meaning, that's inclusive of me?
posted by dash_slot- at 8:02 AM on June 20, 2003


ewkpates: "When we pretend that race exists, we give it the illusion of substance."

This is a great point. There is no "Black", "Caucasian" or "Asian" gene--- all humans share the exact same genes, so from a scientific point of view the issue of race is moot, indicating that race is a social construct rather than a biological imperative.

These genes often mutate and are expressed differently among groups of people, groups commonly known as races, but the inherent genetic makeup of all people is the same. I guess the thing with genes is that very small variations can make very large differences, but even when switched on genes express themselves differently-- take the most common indicator of 'race', skin color-- even among those who would describe themselves as African-American there are huge variations in color.

Sickle-cell anemia is often regarded as a 'black' disease, but also afflicts those of the Mediterranean region. This is due to a specific gene mutation that is closely tied to a geographical region-- why this occurs is not very well understood, but the fact remains that the genetic makeup of the individual is the same. The propensity of a member of a given population to carry the mutated gene is likely increased as the generations pile up, yet the underlying reason is not known and is likely a combination of enviromental factors.

It comes down to how one describes themselves, which is a social issue. For example, a child with a 'black' father and a 'white' mother is generally regarded as being black. There is no basis for this outside of a social context. I once had a mother-in-law who was West Indian, by all appearences she was black--- God, help anyone who described her that way though. She made the distinction, so it was real. If she had chosen to call herself black, no scientific test in the world could have refuted it.
posted by cedar at 8:04 AM on June 20, 2003


What hairyeyeball said. Every last word.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:05 AM on June 20, 2003


Lately I've become a Wolframist about racism: very very few people are racists, but racial discrimination is an emergent consequence of the human social rules set. ("A person is smart. People are stupid." -- Agent K, MIB)

Here's an article by Jonathon Rauch along these lines. Short summary is: Cellular automata simulation. Each automaton is a cell on a square grid, with a color. Start randomly. Automata are 'happiest' if at least two of their eight neighbours are the same color as themselves, but don't care what color the others are. If they're unhappy, they will swap with a randomly-chosen, equally unhappy automaton. Run it for a while, and you end up with splotches (enclaves) of happy automata of each color, surrounded by fuzzy border zones of generally unhappy automata. So while no automaton is individually racially prejudiced, much, the consequence of this low-level prejudice is collective enclavism.

This of course assumes that the preference for at least some of one's neighbours to be similar to oneself is inborn, that these similarities don't change from generation to generation, and ignores miscegenation, but I think all of these things should mitigate racism, over time.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:11 AM on June 20, 2003


This is an important topic; unfortunately, the thread was pretty much doomed by one of the most incoherent, poorly written, inflammatory posts I've seen in a while (summary: "insanity... sucks... madness.... Insanity inside"). If you think race doesn't matter, I guarantee you're 1) caucasian and 2) not too bright. Anyone who wants to have actual ideas about this stuff might want to read and absorb (if you haven't already) these meaty and thought-provoking articles:
One Drop of Blood, by Lawrence Wright
Black Like Them, by Malcolm Gladwell
And, of course, any number of books; The Meaning of Race: Race, History and Culture in Western Society, by Kenan Malik is an excellent place to start.

immigrants and nonwhites must be realistic...

Yes, the lower orders must always be realistic. Don't get uppity, hear?
posted by languagehat at 8:11 AM on June 20, 2003


To clarify my comment a bit further, victims of prejudice are ordinarily victims of collective prejudice. Consider a plain-bellied sneech child growing up among star-bellied sneeches. He doesn't need any individual star-bellied sneech to be particularly rude to him in order for the general disdain to add up. If they treat him, say, 75% as well as they treat each other on the average, he's had a pretty rough childhood. Even though individual star-bellied sneeches may be nice to him, or nastier to each other than they are to him, it's how the average star-bellied sneech treats him that determines how he thinks of the average star-bellied sneech.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:19 AM on June 20, 2003


languagehat Yes, the lower orders must always be realistic. Don't get uppity, hear?

Everyone must be realistic. A failure to be realistic leads to uppitiness on one hand, and underachievement on the other. :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:21 AM on June 20, 2003


Race matters to some people. Hell, sin matters to some people. What we eat, what we like in the bedroom, and what we watch on the death box, it all matters to someone.

But it isn't real. Its just a preference. Its just an idea. It does MATTER. Do ideas shape our lives? Sure they do. How? When we embrace them. When we make them matter.

Cedar: great post. All you have to do now is link "race" in some way to genetics. If you say that all race boils down to is skin color, then you win. There's a genetic "sex" too, and all you have to do is link it "gender" and you're an EVEN BIGGER WINNER.

language: love ya, baby. Is "not too bright" inflammatory? Let's do lunch. More later.
posted by ewkpates at 8:33 AM on June 20, 2003


I went to Japan this year, and sure, being a minority sucks.

You poor dear, you must really have suffered.
posted by niceness at 8:33 AM on June 20, 2003


Why can't one group be better then another? If all people are created equal then why is there such a disparity?

The saying: you can't judge a book by its cover. We're all equal on the inside, but in the US society is mostly based on looks. Why is dieting a fad or plastic surgery, it will never change as long as we hold our values to good looks.
posted by thomcatspike at 8:37 AM on June 20, 2003


there is a pattern, a canon that is better than others. This is judeochristian civilization,

You mean the sullen, vicious theocracy that held most of Europe in ignorance and darkness for centuries, that suppressed knowledge and practiced ritual torture and murder to protect its power? How is this better than other "patterns" or "canons"?

mainly (but far from exclusively) an invention of white people

Could you name the some of the white "inventors" of "judeochristian civilization"? And while you're at it, explain what the characteristics of judeochristian civilization are? You speak of it as if it were a common term, as if everyone knew what it meant. But I have very little idea what you mean by it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:43 AM on June 20, 2003


ewkpates: "All you have to do now is link "race" in some way to genetics. If you say that all race boils down to is skin color, then you win."

I'm not sure what you mean. It was my intent to un-link race and genetics and express my belief that race is a social construct rather than a biological reality.

If you wanted actual relevance to the topic... your looking at the wrong guy :)
posted by cedar at 8:44 AM on June 20, 2003


Thank you, thomcatspike.

I was dumbfounded and speechless by that comment of dirtylittlemonkey, but your answer does well to meet my feelings.
posted by dash_slot- at 8:45 AM on June 20, 2003


But it isn't real. Its just a preference. Its just an idea. It does MATTER. Do ideas shape our lives? Sure they do. How? When we embrace them. When we make them matter.

Oooooohhhhh, I get it. So the black guy who gets stopped repeatedly for no reason on the New Jersey Turnpike is having his life shaped by the "idea" of racism because he "embraces" the idea. Thanks, it's all clear to me now.
posted by soyjoy at 8:54 AM on June 20, 2003


dirtylittlemonkey: "If all people are created equal then why is there such a disparity?"

Would you care to elaborate on this, or should I just jerk my knee to the left and write you off as a racist nitwit?
posted by cedar at 8:56 AM on June 20, 2003


Arguing about the differences between the races has always felt like arguing about the differences between the Catholics and the Protestants:

There is none, but tell that to the corpses.

--Dan
posted by effugas at 8:56 AM on June 20, 2003



This of course assumes that the preference for at least some of one's neighbors to be similar to oneself is inborn, that these similarities don't change from generation to generation[...]


Thanks, excellent parallel.
It also assumes, of curse, that the only parameter that regulates people's happiness is wether they have same-race neighbors or not. This is obviously not the case, so the experiment might be flawed from the start.

If we don't take care to make our experiments parallel reality, cellular automata (or indeed any simulation technique) can be used to support any theory.

A more interesting CA experiment would perhaps be comparing the relative success of CAs that like only same-color neighbors, and CAs that like any neighbor, but are otherwise identical.
posted by spazzm at 9:05 AM on June 20, 2003


Languagehat is spot on. I cannot see genes and thus am wholly uninterested on a day to day level as to what mysterious prescriptions and proscriptions for human living they are purported to contain this week. Nor is anyone else, so far as I can tell, which leaves the question of why we ought to give them more heed than any other consideration unanswered.

On a related note, one might wish to choose words other than "concrete" and "realistic" when speaking about how esoteric and abstract disciplines which no one involved in the conversation actually understands in any useful detail, "prove" or "do not prove" various things.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 9:16 AM on June 20, 2003


So, if race is simply a "notion" or "concept" that we minorities bring upon ourselves, are people saying that I willingly wanted people to say racial epithets to me?

I agree that we should all consider ourselves humans first, then whatever categories after. But somehow, I have a hard time shaking off the fact that I was either told to go back to my country or that I should have been wiped off the face of the earth when they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima...

Please, tell me who's reality I should consider here...
posted by dkhong at 9:19 AM on June 20, 2003


I went to Japan this year, and sure, being a minority sucks

Japanese racism and American racism are two completely different things. The Japanese version of racism is much more subtle, and nuanced, and if you're a white western male, no one will really say anything to your face. You'll get stared at on the trains, and maybe some kid will whisper something about a "gaikokujin", but for the most part, you'll be fine. You're not going to get beat up or denied a loan.

But if you're not a white, western male, you'll come across a very passive-agressive form of racism. racism in America isn't passive-agressive at all, it's very pro-active.

So, if race is simply a "notion" or "concept" that we minorities bring upon ourselves, are people saying that I willingly wanted people to say racial epithets to me?

Race is a social construct in which we identify ourselves with people similar to us, and form a group. The minorities didn't bring it upon themselves. Humans have been doing it for centuries. Race may not exist in a scientific sense, but anyone with 1/4 of a brain knows that race and racial identity are very tangible things in America, for everyone, not just minorities.
posted by SweetJesus at 9:33 AM on June 20, 2003


dash and George,

Even if you are a hindu? A muslim? An atheist?

Yes. Hinduism, islamism and atheism need an infrastructure to protect them from themselves so to speak. Western society, unlike the others, is inclusive, democratic, self-sustaining and nonfundamentalist.

Your prescription - yes, it does sound somewhat 'directive' - is exclusive to me, a white atheist with an interest in many different, non-canonical topics (it's why I love MeFi so much).Can you reformulate that statement, with a similar meaning, that's inclusive of me?


Only judeochristian societies can give you consistent protection as to faith (or assumed lack thereof), as well as granting freedom of choice and expression such as you find in MeFi.

You mean the sullen, vicious theocracy that held most of Europe in ignorance and darkness for centuries, that suppressed knowledge and practiced ritual torture and murder to protect its power?

George, every single civilization has committed terrible, heinous crimes, but are you sure you know where and what Europe is? We're not talking about the Aztecs or the sudanese militias. Get some education re slavery or religious persecution and you'll see world's history as it is.

Could you name the some of the white "inventors" of "judeochristian civilization"?

How about Jesus Christ, Moses, Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Shakespeare, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Saint Augustine, Cervantes, Darwin, Newton, both Mills, Adam Smith, Proust, Leibniz, Hayek, Hegel, Mozart, Raphael, Michelangelo et al?

And while you're at it, explain what the characteristics of judeochristian civilization are? You speak of it as if it were a common term, as if everyone knew what it meant.

George, please read my comments to this week's thread on the BBC poll about what the world thinks about the USA. Or else buy yourself a ticket to Havana, Harare, Port-au-Prince, Teheran or Pyongyang to see what judeo-christian civilization is not.

The greek root for the word catholic means universal. In arabic, Islam means submission.

immigrants and nonwhites must be realistic...
Yes, the lower orders must always be realistic. Don't get uppity, hear?
posted by languagehat at 8:11 AM PST on June 20


languageheat, it's your choice to quote an incomplete sentence; as it is, your interpretation ("low orders") says more about your own views and/or personal experiences than mine. Nobody is inherently better or worse than anyone else, but a society is a very closely knit structure which must not allow Trojan horses, deadweights or unrepentant barbarians. This is history speaking; I'm not going xenophobic/Meiji Revolution ("respect the Emperor, expel the foreign barbarians") on anyone.

There's a Morrissey song where he says "life is hard enough when you belong here", so it's very very important to keep in mind that you must understand how societies function and, rather than whining about oppression, do your best to fit in and earn respect as a citizen, like so many nonwhites did and do worldwide.

What I say applies equally to the USA, Mexico, France or Algeria.
posted by 111 at 9:45 AM on June 20, 2003


"If all people are created equal then why is there such a disparity?" ... write you off as a racist nitwit?

cedar:It was a discussion question not a statement of belief.

I'm more of the camp that like tends to favor like. Tall people tend to hang out with tall people. If I had a dollar and I were to chose between two people, I'd give it to the person more like me. Is that racist? What if they both had the same tastes, beliefs, and appearance except for skin color?

So is the problem that the Eurocentrists got to the dollar first? Favorable climate lead to greater development of technology and consolidated civilization which lead to a group having an advantage over another, and now millennia later it's still being played out?
posted by dirtylittlemonkey at 9:54 AM on June 20, 2003


Only judeochristian societies can give you consistent protection as to faith (or assumed lack thereof), as well as granting freedom of choice and expression such as you find in MeFi.

I think the Zen Buddhists and the Shintos would disagree with you.

So, uh, you're wrong. You don't have to have a judeochristian society to have religious and social freedoms. Japan, just to name one country.
posted by SweetJesus at 9:55 AM on June 20, 2003


There's a Morrissey song where he says "life is hard enough when you belong here", so it's very very important to keep in mind that you must understand how societies function and, rather than whining about oppression, do your best to fit in and earn respect as a citizen...

1. I must?
2. Quoting Morrissey in a sentence about 'whining' - did I miss the irony?
posted by niceness at 9:59 AM on June 20, 2003


but are you sure you know where and what Europe is? We're not talking about the Aztecs or the sudanese militias. Get some education re slavery or religious persecution and you'll see world's history as it is.

You, on the other hand, are clearly not familiar with the history of the church in Europe, or have a blind spot where the dark ages are concerned -- considering they comprise on the order of half the 2000 years of the Christian era, that's a pretty big blind spot.

It also might interest you to know that our knowledge of classical era learning and literature is principally due to Arab scholarship. And don't even get me started on mathematics.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:00 AM on June 20, 2003


i blame The Man.
posted by quonsar at 10:13 AM on June 20, 2003


judeochristian societies

So they're the ones to blame for this mess? Tell you what: we'll let the "JudeoChristians" slide on the whole slavery thing if they agree to liquidate the Church of Rome and the Southern Baptist Church and pay back the descendants of the slaves. You, know some of that "repentance" that "Bible" book is always talking about? Maybe some sackcloth and ashes would be nice too.

Jesus Christ, Moses

Weren't they, um, you know, Middle-Eastern?
St. Augustine was black.
The Muslims gave us (among other things) algebra, the rosary, coffee, and a great many of the philosophy that became Scholasticism (Thomas Aquinas was a Scholastic).

Or else buy yourself a ticket to Havana, Harare, Port-au-Prince, Teheran or Pyongyang to see what judeo-christian civilization is not.

What was it Ghandi said? Western civilization would be a good idea?
posted by eustacescrubb at 10:15 AM on June 20, 2003


But it isn't real. Its just a preference. Its just an idea. It does MATTER. Do ideas shape our lives? Sure they do. How? When we embrace them. When we make them matter. ~ewkpates

Actually, ideas are just as real as objects. And when firmly established, they can be just as, or more difficult to destroy.
posted by goethean at 10:16 AM on June 20, 2003


Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato would have been fascinated to hear that they were participating in the development of Judeo-Christian tradition (although, of course, Aristotle is a key figure in the development of patristic theology). James Mill was a spoiled Presbyterian; his son John Stuart was an atheist. And there seems to be a noticeable shortage of Christians willing to claim Darwin as part of "their" tradition (although, obviously, that varies across denominations). Moreover, not everybody agrees that Christ was "white" in any way modern Caucasians would recognize. That's before one gets into the little problem that "Judeo-Christian" is a rather useless descriptor; the hyphen between "Judeo" and "Christian" implies a line of neat continuity that is awfully hard to find once you spend any time studying either religion. If you want to lump all of these people into "Western tradition," then do go ahead.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:21 AM on June 20, 2003


so it's very very important to keep in mind that you must understand how societies function and, rather than whining about oppression, do your best to fit in and earn respect as a citizen, like so many nonwhites did and do worldwide.

111, when it comes to being treated differently because of your skin color or appearance, "do your best to fit in and earn respect" is not really applicable. Fitting in how? What Michael Jackson has done to himself thru extensive surgery and bleaching treatments...Is that what you mean?

If you are an upstanding citizen who has a good job and lives in a good neighborhood, yet can't drive down the local roads without being stopped...what, exactly is that person not doing to fit in, except for the fact that he was born with a darker skin? Where is the respect he is due?
posted by amberglow at 10:25 AM on June 20, 2003


I think the Zen Buddhists and the Shintos would disagree with you.
So, uh, you're wrong. You don't have to have a judeochristian society to have religious and social freedoms. Japan, just to name one country.
posted by SweetJesus at 9:55 AM PST on June 20


Sweet, this is not quite easy to explain, but since WWII (and thanks to the US of A), the Japanese and Western values are intertwined to a point where it's feasible to say that Japan is very much part of the Western system. Zen, as you know, is not a religion; Shintoism may partake of certain western worldviews re freedom of choice, but do not forget less open-minded varieties such as Meiji-style Shinto. Finally, where western-style democracy doesn't prevail (China for instance), Shinto is not even able to protect itself.

niceness, four words: "England for the English"! Just kidding. Whining is allowed if you don't expect governmental pampering or special treatment.
Yes you must understand, even if you intend to disagree. Otherwise there's no possibility of a logical discussion.

George no, religious wars and conflicts, including the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition are, considering sheer numbers, peanuts if you take into account how christians suffered and suffer under Roman emperors, dictators and communists. What you call The Dark Ages has much more sides than you seem to realize.

It also might interest you to know that our knowledge of classical era learning and literature is principally due to Arab scholarship. And don't even get me started on mathematics.

The often quoted exception that justify the rule, but I did mention the West wasn't an exclusively caucasian creation, didn't I? Also you seem to use the umbrella "Arab scholarship" to what is often Persian and Jewish scholarship. Again, a middlebrow, uninformed, shallow view of history.
posted by 111 at 10:33 AM on June 20, 2003


Do majorities have something in common that minorities don't share?

Well, there are more of them. So there's that.

Racism, sexism, specism, etc., and their many apologists are all about the power needed by some to assuage their own hideous, unbelievable life insecurities.

Or else buy yourself a ticket to Havana, Harare, Port-au-Prince, Teheran or Pyongyang to see what judeo-christian civilization is not.

Idiotic drivel. Why don't we all chip in and buy you a ticket to Love Canal, Prince William Sound, LA County Hospital, have a few beers and talk about the Judeo-Christian "civilization" that wiped out indigenous populations throughout the world, enslaved others, preemptively invades other countries, rapes the land, endlessly extorts money for the rich....and smells bad to boot.

Too much xenophobic, historically inaccurate, self-congratulatory, head-in-the-sand, "judeo-christian" horseshit like that from "111" above, don't you know.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 10:36 AM on June 20, 2003


Again, a middlebrow, uninformed, shallow view of history.

Too true. Yours.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 10:38 AM on June 20, 2003


Western society, unlike the others, is inclusive, democratic, self-sustaining and nonfundamentalist.

Do we all have to pretend that this is not full of shit? 'Cause that would be annoying.

I understand that for you asserting the superiority of your own culture does not look like an exclusive and irrational statement, but fortunately, it does to the rest of the world. Read Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. That book attempts to frame the dominance of Western civilization in historical and prehistorical reality, and it makes a lot more sense than "we are just better."

And "nonfundamentalist?" Ha! The fucking crusades? Certainly, if Socrates is part of "judeochristian culture," than this centuries-long campaign of murderous conquest is part of "judeochristian" history. Like all bad science, bad policymaking, whatever, you arrive at your conclusions based on your tendency to only accept or internalize that data which supports your hypothesis. That would suggest to me that perhaps you nshould back off of your "everyone but me is uninformed" platform.

If you think that there is more religious freedom in the US, Ireland, or Spain than in India (a home to literally thousands of faiths) than I suggest you begin coming to your conclusions after considering some data.

To Ignorrance!
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 10:40 AM on June 20, 2003


his name was Renato, not "Reenuhdoe" as his american-born classmates pronounced it. He was almost upbraiding them, as if they had to bow before his ethnicity or as if an entire country was to blame for the fact that he wasn't called John Smith or something.

so, when i, a caucasian, correct a caucasian as to the proper pronunciation of my name, it just a part of the conversation. but when renato corrects a caucasian as to the pronunciation of his name, he's an uppity spic demanding caucasians bow before his ethnicity and complaining that he doesn't have a caucasian name and simultaneously blaming caucasians for the fact?

you sir, are an actual piece of shit.
posted by quonsar at 10:43 AM on June 20, 2003


re: the cultural domination of Western Civilization. This has nothing whatsoever to do with any advantage provided by the Catholic church, especially in regard to intellectual freedom. I assume you're talking about the same Catholic church that forced Galileo to recant his findings and denied Copernicus? The same church that waged wars against Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries?

No, the supremacy of the west is the result of its own internal chaos. In the transition from feudal, agrarian culture to industrialized nation states, the history of Europe is that of a constant brutal land-grab, using whatever means available to conquer more land. Europe is also blessed with an abundance of natural resources that allowed it to prosper on its own. In other words, Europe from the Renaissance forward was both aggressive and well-armed. Once boundaries had been more or less drawn in the Continent, the European powers turned their focus on the rest of the "uncivilized" world for empire building. The definition, which some of us clearly still use, of "civilization" was what Europeans considered civilized. Thus, anyone who was uncivilized was simply waiting for the kiss of Europe to impel it out of savagery, whether it willed it or not. Throughout this process, Christianity was used as a cudgel and a shield, but seldom as a guiding morality--"Christian" knights in the middle ages routinely slaughtered every inhabitant of a conquered village, including women and children. And the Christian Spanish, British and U.S. saw no problem with treating other human beings as pack animals--in fact, Christain texts can be used to justify slavery. Christianity is a just, gentle and tolerant religion; it's just that it's rarely been practiced much by those in power in the West.

Europeans excelled in art, literature and music--much was made of the so-called belles lettres--but they were also convinced that their way was privileged and uniquely so. The same nationalism that forged the nation state also necessarily conferred a sense of superiority on those who were its citizens. Deutschland uber alles isn't just a battle cry, it's a way of looking at the world.

Plus, the foundation of that blessed "canon" is the sum of Greek and Latin manuscripts preserved by monks (but not shared with the populace), and absorbed by Europeans during the Crusades that brought them into close contact with the Islamic culture that had preserved much of antiquity. The supremacy of ancient Greek culture was undisputed until well into the 18th century, where you find Voltaire in the Philosophical Encyclopedia speculating on whether modernity might actually have developed a leg up.

Regardless of any of that, the notion that one culture could somehow be "better" than another is absurd. A culture is an artifact of the interactions among thousands, even millions of people. It's not controllable by a single person. It is the sum of many agendas, many points of view, and many prejudices. Both Hitler and Martin Luther King were both products of Western Culture. Saddam Hussein and Kahlil Gibran were both products of Islamic culture. Was Gibran a "better" person than Hitler? Almost certainly. Was King a "better" person than Hussein. Of course. And yet each of those people is deeply rooted in the culture from which they sprang. The world is simply too complex to make such sweeping judgments stick.
posted by vraxoin at 10:47 AM on June 20, 2003


We've wandered people, we've wandered.

1. "Racism" doesn't get you pulled over on the NJ Turnpike. Cops who are betraying the public trust pull you over. There are MANY reasons why bad people do bad things. Racism is usually just an excuse, the real problem is that people are afraid, stupid, uneducated, and mean.

2. language - You've reinforced my bias - People who disagree with me just aren't thinking clearly. I checked out the first link, and what do I find?

"Part of the difficulty is that we are dealing with the illusion of precision [in census taking]." "[Statistics] don't reflect who we are as a people. To be effective, the concepts of individual and group identity need to reflect not only who we have been but who we are becoming."

Identity, race as a part of that, is something that CHANGES BECAUSE YOU MAKE IT UP.

Again: People saying, "You're different, I'll be mean to you" doesn't necessitate the existence of race. It necessitates that people are bastards. When you allow people who do bad things to define the reasons for their badness, you perpetuate a lie.

Christians are fruit cakes. Western Civilization has been hindered by Christianity, not benefited by it. Science and Representative Government (uhh, hello, Greece? Aristotle? The Senate? Read a book!) are the basis of Western civilization. Christians, like all the other freaky zealots in the world, are just freaky zealots. Some are nice and helpful, others try to kill you.
posted by ewkpates at 10:47 AM on June 20, 2003


Sweet, this is not quite easy to explain, but since WWII (and thanks to the US of A), the Japanese and Western values are intertwined to a point where it's feasible to say that Japan is very much part of the Western system. Zen, as you know, is not a religion; Shintoism may partake of certain western worldviews re freedom of choice, but do not forget less open-minded varieties such as Meiji-style Shinto. Finally, where western-style democracy doesn't prevail (China for instance), Shinto is not even able to protect itself.

Japan may have western style business and free market values, but they have a very eastern style social construct. And as long as we're mentioning Japan, why not mention South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc. All western-style free market counties with very eastern social values. Yet, if you want to be a christian instead of a shinto, you can.

As for Meiji-style Shintoism, it was more of an offshoot of Meiji-style politics of the time. But before the Meiji revolution, when Japan was still an isolationist country, being only visited for the most part by Dutch traders, they still had freedom of religion.

And Zen Buddhism is a religion, although it's never been a traditionally organized one. But you can't discount it's importance, even if it doesn't match one to one with Christian hierarchy.
posted by SweetJesus at 11:02 AM on June 20, 2003


George no, religious wars and conflicts, including the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition are, considering sheer numbers, peanuts if you take into account how christians suffered and suffer under Roman emperors, dictators and communists. What you call The Dark Ages has much more sides than you seem to realize.

I'm not talking about isolated abuses, I'm talking about an endemic and arguably inherent system of brutal theocratic totalitarianism and wilful cultivation of ignorance and fear; a mind-numbingly vast reign of terror which wholly dominated Europe through the greater part of its history. To single out the high points that were too egregious to gloss over in the history books and pretend they were exceptional cases to an otherwise benign rule is ludicrous.

Again, a middlebrow, uninformed, shallow view of history.

The name-calling does not help your case. I might equally argue that every word you say reads like an amalgam of talking points from jingoistic, preposterously distorted right-wing revisionism and doesn't reflect any knowledge or scholarship. You're cherry-picking the things you like about modern civilization and ascribing them to "judeochristian" civilization with no other basis than because it suits you to do so. You mention Havana? Hate to be the one to tell you that modern Cuba is as fully a product of Western Civ as the United States is, and to retroactively adopt Plato, Socrates and Aristotle as authors of the "judeochristian" tradition constitutes an opportunistic and irrational selectivity.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:03 AM on June 20, 2003



Sickle-cell anemia is often regarded as a 'black' disease, but also afflicts those of the Mediterranean region. This is due to a specific gene mutation that is closely tied to a geographical region-- why this occurs is not very well understood, but the fact remains that the genetic makeup of the individual is the same. The propensity of a member of a given population to carry the mutated gene is likely increased as the generations pile up, yet the underlying reason is not known and is likely a combination of enviromental factors.


Actually, the reason for sickle-cell anemia is very well known. It's caused by having two copies of a defective hemoglobin gene. Having one copy of the defective gene confers a resistance to malaria, which is why this gene is common in the tropics. If both parents have one copy of the defective gene, 1 in 4 of their children will get sickle-cell anemia and die; another quarter will get normal hemoglobin and (probably) die of malaria; and half will get one copy which they will likely pass on to their children.
posted by electro at 11:11 AM on June 20, 2003


niceness, four words: "England for the English"! Just kidding.

No kidding, your right "England for the English", just not your stereotype. Every shade of every colour of just about every nationality, creed and denomination - that's just within a five mile radius of my house. Whiteness, blackness, asianness, hispanicness - an authentic and sucessful mongrel nation.
posted by niceness at 11:49 AM on June 20, 2003


We've wandered people, we've wandered.

Speak for yourself.

"Racism" doesn't get you pulled over on the NJ Turnpike.

Right, and guns don't kill people. Same BS, different verse.
posted by soyjoy at 12:13 PM on June 20, 2003


Fold and mutilate: what about LA County Hospital? You mean the complimentary medical service? Have you been there?
posted by shoos at 12:17 PM on June 20, 2003


I've already written too much and appreciate other people expressing their views, but please bear with me with some more highly pro-Western, eurocentric, judeochristian comments:

-Moses, middle-eastern: well yes eustace, jews did live in the Middle East, and they still do.

You know, I've read theories about Jesus, Shakespeare, egyptian pharaohs and so on being from swarthy to nonwhite to pitch black; none is substantiated. It's wishful thinking. Saint Augustine was born in Africa and there's no ascertainable fact showing he was "black; he probably had mixed blood.
If they all were black, they'd be just as great.

Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato would have been fascinated to hear that they were participating in the development of Judeo-Christian tradition (although, of course, Aristotle is a key figure in the development of patristic theology).

Not if they read Plotinus, St. Augustine and St. Aquinas first, thomas.

the hyphen between "Judeo" and "Christian" implies a line of neat continuity that is awfully hard to find once you spend any time studying either religion.

Well, right now there are plans for an European Constitution and everybody's talking about essential disparities and repeating Timothy Garton Ash's famous "Europe is a telos but not a demos" etc. If you look for differences you'll find plenty, but the similarities are overwhelming; ask a chinese and he'll probably see lots of values and traits in common, just as we usually do re the chinese. I'm one of those who feel comfortable to share values and assumptions not only with jews, but also with atheists and secular thinkers whose efforts (like Darwin's) were aligned to the original socratic project of making man virtuous through knowledge; last but not least, I agree with just about everybody regardless of race as long as there are common values to be held.

111, when it comes to being treated differently because of your skin color or appearance, "do your best to fit in and earn respect" is not really applicable. Fitting in how?

amberglow, people who are honest, who are dependable, who work hard, who take good care of their families and give their children a good education deserve the utmost respect no matter what they look like. Racism is essentially ignorance coupled with defensiveness. Nonwhites are still criminally discriminated against every single day, but the only way to fight that is through better citizenship at all levels. Prejudice is transient in history.

Like all bad science, bad policymaking, whatever, you arrive at your conclusions based on your tendency to only accept or internalize that data which supports your hypothesis. That would suggest to me that perhaps you should back off of your "everyone but me is uninformed" platform.

Ignatius, no; what I'm saying is the untold discourse materialized in real life as it is, and widely hinted at by dozens of authors from Camille Paglia to Aristotle to Jacques Barzun; I am not a relativist. Jared's book, Landes' "Wealth and Poverty etc" and Huntington's "Clash" should not be read as an apology of underachievement.

If you think that there is more religious freedom in the US, Ireland, or Spain than in India (a home to literally thousands of faiths) than I suggest you begin coming to your conclusions after considering some data.

Why compartmentalize freedom? In India you may have religious freedom, but if you belong to the lower castes be prepared to have your marital/social options severely restricted.

the supremacy of the west is the result of its own internal chaos.

Absurd nonsense. vraxoin, Christianity is not only the driving force but the main underlying factor supporting the rise of the West. The chaos you describe was a global rule; Europe raced ahead because it did have the geographic means and a common blueprint.

I'm talking about an endemic and arguably inherent system of brutal theocratic totalitarianism and wilful cultivation of ignorance and fear;

George, I know what you mean. It's called communism.

You mention Havana? Hate to be the one to tell you that modern Cuba is as fully a product of Western Civ as the United States is

Oh boy.



I offer the following: the world is there for those who want to know it; literature is abundant regarding differences on the Western/non-Western ethos; turn on the news and you'll see the process in action right now. Educate yourself and let your senses lead you to a conclusion that's neither supremacist nor populist. Ignore skin, faith and accent but not the facts of life; take history into account and work for a better world for all.

Am I prejudiced? Unfortunately, yes. Since this is the Internet, I'll confess:
I'm quonsarphobic. If I ever meet her, I'll pry her mouth open and ask (rethorically): "is there a soul in there?"
posted by 111 at 1:00 PM on June 20, 2003


111: remember those scary women wrestlers? Quonsar was one of those. ; >
posted by amberglow at 1:39 PM on June 20, 2003


George, I know what you mean. It's called communism.

Let me get this straight: the force behind theocratic domination of Europe over the course of a millennium or so was Communism? Dang, somebody wake up Marx and Engels, boy did they ever miss their train.

It's like pushing buttons: say a "good" word and out comes "Christianity". Say a "bad" word and out comes "Communism". Totally knee-jerk.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:49 PM on June 20, 2003


Wait a minute, Quonsar is woman?
posted by pjgulliver at 2:03 PM on June 20, 2003


Whiteness Studies - as colors go, white is the absence of color.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:05 PM on June 20, 2003


add: pigment
posted by thomcatspike at 2:07 PM on June 20, 2003


You mention Havana? Hate to be the one to tell you that modern Cuba is as fully a product of Western Civ as the United States is

Oh boy.

George is right. Go read about the Spanish-American war, and our "liberation" and occupation of Cuba from the Spanish (Which was really just an excuse to go to war over resources and land in the Philippines) during the early 1900's. I'm sure you've heard of the Platt Amendment, which basically extorted control of Cuba away from the Cuban people.

So that went on for about 50 years, until the revolution against Batista in 1959. So yeah, the United States did have huge hand in modern Cuba.
posted by SweetJesus at 2:12 PM on June 20, 2003


I'm beginning to think 111 is doing some sort of performance art piece in here.

Fascinating.
posted by zaack at 2:57 PM on June 20, 2003


111 wrote:
There's a Morrissey song where he says "life is hard enough when you belong here", so it's very very important to keep in mind that you must understand how societies function and, rather than whining about oppression, do your best to fit in and earn respect as a citizen, like so many nonwhites did and do worldwide.
This is a reference to the song "Bengali in Platforms," a song which always struck me as breathtakingly racist at worst and thoughtlessly patronizing at best. The theme is the apparent ridiculousness and futility of attempted assimilation into an adopted culture: "Shelve your Western plans."

As a Vietnamese American, I can attest to the lived reality of racism. The fact that race itself is a biological fiction unfortunately doesn't change this. To argue otherwise is to flaunt a level of privilege that I don't enjoy.
posted by cobra libre at 3:30 PM on June 20, 2003


Sweet Jesus, I don't know if you've ever tried to get a loan in Japan, or a credit card, or an apartment, or a job, but rest assured, the likelihood of you being a victim of rascism is about 99.5%.
posted by dydecker at 5:26 PM on June 20, 2003


The whole "race doesn't exist" crowd really gets under my skin. You can say that racial differences are superficial, or shouldn't matter, or whatever, but the fact is there are differences.

Does that mean that races have to be cut-and-dried and only a certain number? No. Does it mean that the existence of persons of mixed race proves the whole thing doesn't exist? No.

My own working definition of race goes something like this: a race is a group of people with a shared origin in a specific part of the world, who share several distinctive genetic characteristics, some of which are visible.

The boundaries can be drawn as sharply as you like, with as few or as many groups as you like. But differences do exist.
posted by beth at 6:38 PM on June 20, 2003


It's a stupid argument, really: race matters because some people want it to matter. And they make damn sure it matters to the rest of us, because as long as they make it an issue, we can't make it stop being an issue.

It makes no difference if it's merely a social construct, because it's real enough to the people who want it to be real, and who make it real by their actions. Race matters because there are racists, and people are racists because they want to be, because it validates them in some way that real life and an honest assessment of themselves and their condition will not. These people affect society in ways we can't easily shrug off, because they have, at minimum, one power: the power to make others miserable.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:12 PM on June 20, 2003


beth-
there being differences between people does not automaticlly mean that any groups into which people are put based on those differences is valid. yeah, black people have darker skin than white people. But such relative statements are hardly the stuff of taxonomy.

i have said it many times on MeFi, but it is still true: when the variation (in terms of a given trait) within a given group is greater than than the variation between the mean of two groups, you have an invalid classification. Such is the case with all physical characteristics that could be used to define "race," not to mention the absence of genetic data.

that something is intuitive or seem natural is likewise a poor criteria for accepting that is objectively useful or valid. plenty of people in the US could tell you what a terrorist looks like. they are full of shit.

the real answer, beth, is that race exists for some people, but not for others. for those of us that see it as a social construct, we will be glad to change our minds if some...oh i don't know...data gets presented.

george:
i agree that it may not matter much if race is "real" or not, in the immediate term, but just as it took people a while to accept that the Earth wasn't flat, motherfuckers will come around. someone said earlier that science was the real story of western civ. I hope they're right.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 10:52 PM on June 20, 2003


"when the variation (in terms of a given trait) within a given group is greater than than the variation between the mean of two groups, you have an invalid classification..."

by this standard you could argue that gender is a social construct, and hence an invalid classification. (as some scientific illiterates do).
Ignatius-do you believe gender has a basis in genetic reality?-and if so-on what do you base that conclusion?
posted by quercus at 7:26 AM on June 21, 2003


by this standard you could argue that gender is a social construct, and hence an invalid classification. (as some scientific illiterates do).

What? Dude, women have vaginas and men have penises. I am talking morphology/anatomy. The genetics thing was an aside, hence "not to mention." While I think that sex is a biological fact, I would say that gender, and all it connotes, is a social construct. But that is a side issue.

Show me a physical/morphological trait that serves as a race marker which does not fit the model of greater variation within a group than the difference between means. You can't. It is quite telling that people are sure that these groups exist, but no one can profer a definition.

A naturalist/biologist can tell you definitively the difference between different kinds of chickadees. Want to have some fun? Ask a biologist for the definition of a black person.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 7:50 AM on June 21, 2003


Actually women and men have differing genomes which respectively express vaginas and penises, and can thus be classified according to the particular genome. As can all human populations.
I agree black is a vague term, but any competent biologist should be able to reference studies which would show into which population a person of African origin (based on genome-not phenotypic skin color) can be classified. See. e.g. “A Back Migration from Asia to Sub-Saharan Africa Is Supported by High-Resolution Analysis of Human Y-Chromosome Haplotypes” by Cruciani, F., et al. American Journal of Human Genetics, 2002, volume 70, number 5, pages 1197-1214, in which the variation of 77 biallelic sites located in the nonrecombining portion of the Y chromosome was examined in
608 male subjects from 22 African populations. The analysis shows that three main clusters of populations can be identified: northern, eastern, and sub-Saharan Africans. Among the latter, the Khoisan, the Pygmies, and the northern Cameroonians are clearly distinct from a tight cluster formed by the Niger-Congo–speaking populations from western, central western, and southern Africa.
This isn't a social construct-this is genetic reality.
You want data: Here's a page of recent publications of the Stanford Human Population Genetics Laboratory. Tell me exactly what you think these folks are researching?
posted by quercus at 9:28 AM on June 21, 2003


Pick your color. Now how many close friends do you have of that same color? How many close friends who are not that color?

Black. 0. 5.

Like the UN, without Kofi.
posted by owillis at 9:47 AM on June 21, 2003


No matter how often this discussion occurs, it always veers off from the social into the genetic: as if the ability to distinguish the races on a genetic basis in some way makes it valid to discriminate against individuals on the basis of perceived race.

Move to divide the question, Mr Chairman. No individual can make genetically based distinctions of human worth or behavior predictions with the naked eye.

Therefore racial discrimination as a social and cultural phenomenon is a complete crock of shit. The genetic thing is a red herring. Slave-takers did not have access to genetic analysis, nor did the authors of the Jim Crow laws, nor do Klansmen with ropes.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:15 AM on June 21, 2003


Quite right, Spiggott. However, the posit that human populations don't have distinct genetic histories and hence specific variations of the common human genome (the "social construct" idea-) is just scientifically illiterate. It's the Metafilter equivalent of the constant "evolution is a myth" refrain you'll encounter at right leaning sites e.g. Free Republic.
Apparently rightists reject human evolution and leftists reject its corollaries.
posted by quercus at 11:48 AM on June 21, 2003


Slave-takers did not have access to genetic analysis, nor did the authors of the Jim Crow laws, nor do Klansmen with ropes.

Nor does the University of Michigan admissions committee. Another interesting paradox is that the right, who accept the reality of race, are opposed to affirmative action and adopt a "colorblind" rhetoric, while the left, who deny the reality of race, support affirmative action and adopt a "diversity" rhetoric. Humankind is a fascinating species.
posted by quercus at 7:39 AM on June 22, 2003


Sure, genes match up to some racial traits, and also to eye color, hair color, etc. You did present a bunch of data, but none that suggests that race is anyhting other than ar elative and arbitrary taxonomic classification.

Another interesting paradox is that the right, who accept the reality of race, are opposed to affirmative action and adopt a "colorblind" rhetoric, while the left, who deny the reality of race, support affirmative action and adopt a "diversity" rhetoric.

Can't something be both "real" and bullshit? Why skin color and not eye color?

Again, no one disputes the central tenet of debunking the myth of race: the morphological variation within "race" groups exceeds the variations between the means of different race groups. They are not valid distinctions. Black people have brown skin, green-eyed people have green eyes, but to use those traits as the basis for categorical statements of any kind is untenable and biologically irresponsible.

Again, if race is real, give me some numbers or whatever that I can objectively use to define different "races." It is funny that you insist these categories are valid but can't evne say what they are. That is backwards science.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 8:12 AM on June 22, 2003


Can't something be both "real" and bullshit? Why skin color and not eye color?

eye color & hair color are racial characteristics, just ones that are a little more fluid than skin color. Since the world is really interbreeding more and more, I think skin color will eventually just be seen as another random characteristic, but at this stage it still carries more cultural significance. At one time there were no blue-eyed or red-haired black people; now there are occasionally people with traits mixed like that. It's still unusual though.
posted by mdn at 8:46 AM on June 22, 2003


The Japanese version of racism is much more subtle, and nuanced, and if you're a white western male, no one will really say anything to your face. You'll get stared at on the trains, and maybe some kid will whisper something about a "gaikokujin", but for the most part, you'll be fine. You're not going to get beat up or denied a loan.

WHAAAT? Beat up, probably not. But denied a loan? You bet your Sweet ass you're gonna be denied a loan, or the right to rent an apartment without having a Japanese "guarantor" who may well be less solvent than you yourself. You may well be denied an apartment entirely, if the fudosan has a no-gaijin policy.

You may be denied entrance summarily to places of business or other public accomodations. You may, once inside a place of business, be denied service or selectively denied grades of service. You may be permitted to enter, e.g. a swimming pool, but once inside be subjected to an extraordinarily minute investigation of your person and your effects designed to bring to light the most miniscule violation of the swimming pool's policies, and thus offer management a pretext to eject you.

Sure it's polite, but absent this hypocrisy it's just as vile as Jim Crow, founded on just the same underlying belief that I am something other than fully human, and I call bullshit on it.
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:19 AM on June 22, 2003


eye color & hair color are racial characteristics, just ones that are a little more fluid than skin color.

so what are the non-fluid characteristics? skin color is sure as hell fluid. My Sicilian friend is darker than one of my black friends. I know an Irish guy with curly black hair.

mdn's comment above shows me that there can be quite a gap between cultural and scientific reality. I have no illusions that if we could all agree that racial science is bunk, racism would disappear. But it is part of the process.

Racism came to be because of bad science. Henry Huxley et al applied what was then a new idea about evolution and Darwinism to what they already identified as racial groups. Having arrived at their conclusion ahead of time, these men were able to bastardize data (be it consciously or otherwise) in order to substantiate their ideas.

People like quercus bring a lot of information to the table, but none of it suggests that there is any sense or reason--aside from arbitrary and pre-existing social divisions--for "races" to be defined as such. That a distinction can be understood by many does not it taxonomically valid.

This discussion is just going in circles. If anyone wants to address the real reason why race is bullshit, feel free, but I am done. One more time: variation within race groups is greater than variation between the groups' means. I have said this three times in this thread, so I am out of here now. If anyone wants to explain how in the world a classification system with that feature can be workable, email me. I strongly suspect that there is a reason why no one has taken issue with that point: there is no definition of race at all. How can you all believe in something that you can't even define? Isn't faith reserved for religious shit, and not divisive and historically harmful inventions of white, colonial power structures and the scientists that served as their apologists?

I do want to say that the last day or two of this thread have been exactly what I loke about MeFi, people being respectfully and intelligently contentious. I would be honored to disagree with any of you again.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 11:14 AM on June 22, 2003


so what are the non-fluid characteristics? skin color is sure as hell fluid. My Sicilian friend is darker than one of my black friends. I know an Irish guy with curly black hair.

it's not that some fluid=yes and some fluid=no, it's that some are more so and some less so. Two white people are very likely to have a white child; two people with brown hair will be less surprised if they have a blonde or red-haired child, mostly because they probably already know they're related to people with those traits.

Racism came to be because of bad science.

It was bad science to claim that any race was superior to any other, but are you saying it's bad science to claim that different groups of humans differentiated in different ways? Norse people were blonde; chinese people had dark hair - these may be totally irrelevant pieces of information, but you wouldn't try to claim that they have no basis in fact, would you?

Look, obviously the differences are blurry enough, since we can all mate with one another - it's like dog breeds; there's no absolute inherent border that keeps them separate, but we can also all see that a german shepherd and a poodle are different from one another. They're both smart, strong, aesthetically pleasing animals, but they're not identical (although, I think they're both german). What is wrong with being aware of your genetic history?

It's also interesting to question how much of that is intrinsic to the dna - that is, if there are certain potential 'breeds' that can be triggered, or if any set of characteristics could be created if the right combinations were made. (this is interesting on triggering genes, if you're interested.)
posted by mdn at 12:12 PM on June 22, 2003


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