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Unenlightened geekdom.
January 5, 2001 8:35 AM   Subscribe

Unenlightened geekdom. It started out as a discussion about the racial discrimination case against Microsoft. It turned into an interesting (and depressing) dialog showing the ignorance of geeks (nerds, whatever) about racism in their industry.
posted by owillis (59 comments total)

 
I wonder if they will start a thread discussing our thread discussing their thread.
posted by thirteen at 8:59 AM on January 5, 2001


any specific examples? I don't know what threshold level you are reading /. at but, i would consider anything under +1 to be next to worthless. I read through most of the comments at +1, and didn't see any horrific statements. Yes there are differing opinions on the story presented, but that is to be expected.
posted by jbelshaw at 9:01 AM on January 5, 2001


Wish I had my copy of Snow Crash handy, to dig out the line about geeks assuming they're too smart to be prejudiced.
posted by harmful at 9:03 AM on January 5, 2001


I believe it has something to do with the smug, self-satisfied reliance on a "merit-based" system. "Surely, no sane comapny would pass up talent based on skin color!"

Um, guess what, geeks? Happens all the time. Even in the IT industry.

Oh, and the precious defense: "There's no racism here! There are plenty of Asians in my company!"

Ahem.
posted by solistrato at 9:20 AM on January 5, 2001


any specific examples? I don't know what threshold level you are reading /. at but, i would consider anything under +1 to be next to worthless.

Reading at +3, I would still consider "interesting and depressing" to be a valid description of the thread.

posted by tingley at 10:12 AM on January 5, 2001


I think the problem geeks have with recognizing racism in their companies is that most of us (there are always exceptions) really are meritocrats, and race just isn't something that enters the picture when talking motherboards and dip switches.

Unfortunately, there are very few geeks that really have anything to do with hiring policies at their company, or even any actual concern about the hiring policies.
posted by cCranium at 10:17 AM on January 5, 2001


A lot of people seem to point to this comment as an echo of their opinion on the subject, but I'd like to point out that the poster's being just as racist toward whites with his assumptions.
posted by pnevares at 10:30 AM on January 5, 2001


The problem is the prevailing belief that "everyone is hired based on skill, not race", and to say otherwise is to be a whining baby. Would be great if that were true, but reality says otherwise.
posted by owillis at 10:46 AM on January 5, 2001


pnevares: yup.

Perhaps Microsoft is guilty of not having enough hiring policies in place to prevent discrimination by whomever is entrusted to do the hiring. Sometimes racism isn't so much about the victim's supposed inferiority as it is about protecting one's own (possibly undeserved) privilege.

When hiring policies include criteria as open to interpretation as "ability to fit into the team" then a lot of groups are going to be SOL. John Dvorak (I know, I know) brought up the ageism thing recently. You don't have to be black to be passed over, you just have to be over 40.

I thought naiveté (and arrogance) was a prerequisite for geek-cred.
posted by xiffix at 11:25 AM on January 5, 2001


"Young white men see white men at the top of nearly every organization, court, government office, military position, university, and other powerful structures visible in our society. They are fed an unrelenting stream of history books, literature, TV shows, movies, video games, and advertisements which tell them that the place for white men is on top, in control, in power, in charge and that women, all people of color, people with disabilities, lesbians, gays and bi-sexuals, and recent immigrants are inferior, less worthy, and not entitled to the same power as white men. Many of their parents reinforce this by telling them that they are special, they are leaders, they can be anything they want, and that it is up to them to achieve and be successful. They often end up feeling entitled to special attention, to time devoted to their interests, to resources put into their activities, and to money invested in their future. The messages of entitlement leads them to expect sex and care taking from women, service and deference from people of color, and gratitude, sacrifice, and self-abasement from recent immigrants, from homosexuals, and from people with disabilities. They become angry and confused when their sense of entitlement is not responded to, when others are demanding access to what they do not want to share, and when their ability to get to the top is threatened." -- Paul Kivel (full article)

I think it's pretty accurate (and not at all racist) to suggest that most white people have this sense of entitlement which leads them to blindly act in prejudicial and discriminatory ways. That was a great slashdot comment. I'm glad to see in the original slashdot post that Rob Malda is beggining to get educated about race, too.
posted by sudama at 11:30 AM on January 5, 2001


Many of their parents reinforce this by telling them that they are special, they are leaders, they can be anything they want, and that it is up to them to achieve and be successful.

There's nothing wrong with that, at all, unless they are told that it is by virtue of their being born white males that they are leaders, etc. I assume that's what the author meant.


posted by xiffix at 11:39 AM on January 5, 2001


Based on my own experience, working in the IT industry is a lot like living in Colorado. Since I moved to Boulder I see lots of whites, a fair number of asians, some hispanics/latinos and (every blue moon) an african-american or so...
Then I stop an think about the people I've worked with: a bunch of white males, some white females, a few asians, one latino (my current boss) and one african-american.

I can't say that either case is due to overt racism, but given the fact that I'm in teh so-called majority, I couldn't deny it either.
posted by Jako at 11:42 AM on January 5, 2001


unless they are told that it is by virtue of their being born white males that they are leaders

That's not what Kivel's saying. Read the quote again.
posted by sudama at 11:50 AM on January 5, 2001


[Paul Kivel] Many of their parents reinforce this by telling them that they are special, they are leaders, they can be anything they want, and that it is up to them to achieve and be successful.

[xiffix] There's nothing wrong with that, at all, unless they are told that it is by virtue of their being born white males that they are leaders, etc.

[sudama] That's not what Kivel's saying

So is Kivel stipulating that the fact that white males grow up in a society where they see most leaders are also white males means that their parents shouldn't encourage them? That they should tell them they have no chance, that they aren't special, that they can never be leaders? I don't get it.

More from Kivel:

From Christopher Columbus to Bill Clinton-we have over 500 years of history of white male violence. In fact, one of aspects of American history that our school history books portray well is white men's inability to use anything other than violence to achieve their goals.

Wow, this is really over-the-top. The whole article is like this. White men do this evil thing and this evil thing and are incapable of goodness. I find this kind of sentiment highly offensive. But of course I do, I suppose, I'm a white male.

The thing about this kind of propaganda is that maybe it sounds reasonable to you on the surface, but what evidence does Kivel have other than his own opinion? Seeing white males in power always makes young white boys think they are entitled to power and attention and subservient women and minorities and that violence is a perfectly acceptable means to achieve those goals? I'm not so sure.
posted by daveadams at 1:34 PM on January 5, 2001


I think it's pretty accurate (and not at all racist) to suggest that most white people have this sense of entitlement which leads them to blindly act in prejudicial and discriminatory ways.

I've come to believe that all Americans have a sense of entitlement; it's the means by which the races acquire their "entitlements" and the fashion in which they are aided or impeded that differ.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:37 PM on January 5, 2001


What I think is a bigger problem is the cycle of victimization minorities and sympathetic whites create. Excusing poor academic performance by saying that the system is biased (SAT malarky) instead of putting the responsibilty on the individual to improve themself.

Also America needs a culture where academics is emphasized over athletics and other less important matters in schools. Example: this story is not out of the ordinary for the front page of a Jamaican newspaper. When was the last time you saw that in your local paper?
posted by owillis at 1:43 PM on January 5, 2001


I'd just like to say, I'm a white male and I'm evil... but not in the opressive, mean-spirited way... more like the wacky friend who will talk you into doing that last shot you shouldn't have sort of way.
posted by tj at 1:58 PM on January 5, 2001


I think it's pretty accurate (and not at all racist) to suggest that most black people have this sense of rythm which leads them to blindly dance in talented and awe-inspiring ways.

[see sudama's earlier post if you're wondering]

Oh, but then, you're white sudama, so I guess you just can't help but make discriminatory statements. Oh, but wait, you were discriminating against white people, so that's okay, sorry, I forgot that clause.

I'm very tempted to make it my personal mission to point out every time you say something so astoundingly hypocrytical.

Fighting racism is admirable, and you usually do it well, but racism is making negative, prejudiced statements about someone because of their race, something you do every time you say "white people are racist."

Well you know what man? Fuck you. You constantly do the exact same thing that you lambast the infamous white man for doing. Am I priviliged because I happen to be male and white? Well, yeah, no shit.

That's just as much my fault as it is someone's fault that they're facing a harder time of life because they were born black.

If you really want to combat racism I suggest you start not spewing racist comments whenever you see an excuse to.

I really really would like to know what exactly it is that makes it okay for you to suggest that as a white male oppress people, but makes it not okay for someone to suggest that as a black male, Michael Jordan is less intelligent?

Since you'll probably be inclined to point it out, yes I'm college educated, and I own my own car, and I have a good job and I don't get pulled over for driving my car at night. I don't have to put up with the excessive amounts of bullshit that every single minority person does but that does not mean that I am racist, it makes me a lucky fucking bastard who has one less piece of bullshit I have to put up with every day of my life.
posted by cCranium at 2:15 PM on January 5, 2001


As usual, cCranium makes a lot of sense. I do feel bad for people who have to deal w/ rascism & whatnot but I personally didn't cause any of that. Generalizations by any other name, y'know.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:49 PM on January 5, 2001


sudama - Kivel is talking about white men, in your comments you refer to "white people" It is a small, but important, distinction. Kivel is not proposing white women enjoy the same advantages as men.

The problem with Kivel's comments, though, is they are too general. We've all come across white men with a sense of entitlement, as well as white women, but also men and women of every other minority group.

When someone makes the kind of comments like Kivel's, too often the real discussion of how race, gender and, most importantly, class intersect to contribute to how we are perceived by society, by our peers, by anyone and everyone, is lost in a sea of he-said, she-said.

Decisions are made every day based on superficial attributes, this is a fact of life. It is more important to get to the heart of the matter, admittedly an extremely difficult thing to do, than to say all white men enjoy advantages.


posted by birgitte at 2:58 PM on January 5, 2001


Knowing you feel bad makes a world of a difference, sonofsamiam, you know, with all that racism and whatnot.

[cue pucking noises]
posted by birgitte at 3:04 PM on January 5, 2001


Pucking? Wha?
posted by pnevares at 3:10 PM on January 5, 2001


I've come to believe that all Americans have a sense of entitlement.

I've never traveled abroad -- I don't really have the perspective to see it but I suspect you're right. I've come to believe that this particular aspect of the American psyche is a uniquely destructive force when coupled with internalized racial supremacy as it is in white folk.
posted by sudama at 3:15 PM on January 5, 2001


I think it was supposed to be puking.
posted by dante at 3:31 PM on January 5, 2001


Kivel is talking about white men, in your comments you refer to "white people" It is a small, but important, distinction. Kivel is not proposing white women enjoy the same advantages as men.

You're right. I should have addressed that explicitly. White women do certainly develop a sense of entitlement in exactly the same way Kivel outlined, though not to the same extent as white men who are doubly advantaged by racism and sexism.
posted by sudama at 3:37 PM on January 5, 2001


It's okay, because black men have larger penises.
That makes up for everything.

I really hate the way that the definition of racism keeps moving around. Before, it always seemed to mean actual discrimination. Prejudice. You know, segregation and the like. But now it seems to refer to any culture where one group traditionally has power, and another doesn't. In other words, humanity at large.

Which is fine, for academic discussions. It doesn't really seem to provide any direction for improvement, though. I mean, we're all racist, we're all participating in the capitalist economy which some claim is unfair to the developing nations. We're all exploiting the environment. Basically, you're born guilty, so give up now.

The best way to eliminate racism, to my mind, is to stop considering it. Ignore it, stop keeping track of it on test scores and censuses.

Then again, since we have words for "white person that acts black," and "black person that acts white," I think there's more than race involved.

And that's about where I stopped going to Sociology class.
posted by Jart at 4:04 PM on January 5, 2001


I've traveled and lived abroad on different continents for many years, and I can easily say all nationalities have a sense of entitlement. If anything, Americans are tempered by the fact they come from a society with a many different types of members.
posted by dante at 4:15 PM on January 5, 2001


Hmm. Ignore the problem and it will go away?
So the the next time a brother gets pulled over for DWB, or gets passed over at work, or dragged for several miles behind truck, or shot 19 times while pulling out his wallet, or for even attending a Halloween Party we should just ignore that-it didn't happen?!
Every time I see a so-called discussion on race it ends up like this. Endless hair-splitting, getting defensive and throwing in the towel.
I have a lot of white friends, both my roommates are white. I don't think they're racist. I don't think every white person is either. And usually when the term 'white people' is used, perhaps 'Current Power Structure Largely Dominated By Unenlightened Folks Who May Or May Not Be White, But Most Likely Are' should be used instead.
I work my ass off to improve and educate myself. To do a good job at my place of employment.
Does that mean I should just be OK with it when I see an obvious historical bias against people who look like me?
cCranium, you're obviously an intelligent person, so why do you wanna punk out like that? If you consider yourself 'lucky' for not having to deal with that one less piece of bullshit, can't you see how sad that is? You don't think black folks would like to be 'lucky' too?!





posted by black8 at 4:28 PM on January 5, 2001


black8, please allow me to clarify.

I don't think the issue of racism should be ignored, I don't think that even comes close to solving the problem.

I think sudama and Kivel are close to being right, I do think that white males are definitely more inclined towards racism in western society because it's still out there and still dramatically affecting a lot of people.

To say that every white male lacks the control to see how those messages are wrong just flips the hating and stereotyping around, and that doesn't solve any problem, it just changes it.

Assuming that a white man is going to expect a black man to be his Man Friday just because of skin colour is just as bad to me as assuming that a black man is going to mug a white man walking down the street.

It's wrong on all counts.

When I say that I'm lucky, I'm lucky because it isn't something that I have to deal with every time I walk into a store or drive a car, it isn't something that wears on me day in and day out.

I'm most assuredly not saying that I'm lucky because I'm white, and therefore I have the advantages and that's just the way things are let's be happy tra la la. I sincerely apologise for implying that, I should have been much more clear.

posted by cCranium at 5:04 PM on January 5, 2001


is Kivel stipulating that the fact that white males grow up in a society where they see most leaders are also white males means that their parents shouldn't encourage them?

Nothing I've ever read by Kivel would lead me to believe that he thinks parents shouldn't support their children. He simply discussed some of the many ways in which young white men are told that the world is theirs, and then suggested that this is reinforced by their parents' praise and encouragement. I think Kivel mentions it in part because white children tend to receive different messages even from their parents: it is not uncommon in Black households for parents to teach their children at a young age how to behave in the presence of a police officer -- with the clear instruction that it is a matter of life and death. These children are often told (from their parents' experience) that they will need to work twice as hard to achieve half the recognition that a white person will get. You've seen this stuff on TV and guess what, it really happens. A responsible parent prepares their child to face the harsh reality of a racist world.

I suspect this is some of where Kivel is coming from.
posted by sudama at 5:08 PM on January 5, 2001


To say that every white male lacks the control to see how those messages are wrong

I would only say that every white male has a responsibility to discover not only how those messages are wrong, but how they have infiltrated his consciousness. White racism runs deep. As a white person (I'm not addressing cCranium directly), unless you've had the extremely traumatic experience of being confronted with your own racism -- and spent a good deal of time struggling with it -- I will not accept your assertion that you're not prejudiced, that a feeling of entitlement and, yes, superiority does not influence every one of your behaviors and interactions.

I do my best (not good enough) not to assume that any individual person hasn't had this transformative experience, but I've found it to be pretty damn uncommon among white people I've met.
posted by sudama at 5:15 PM on January 5, 2001


I would only say that every white male has a responsibility to discover not only how those messages are wrong, but how they have infiltrated his consciousness.

That I would agree with. It's something that really applies to everything, a lot of self-examination can only make you a better person.

I think our differences are from our outlook. I'm more inclined to believe that people aren't inherently racist, that they judge someone as a person, rather than as a preconception.

I've been burned many times for that world view, and disappointed even more often, but it's not something I'm willing to give up.

I think we agree on many, many things, and will have to agree to disagree on our methods of achieving the same goal.
posted by cCranium at 5:38 PM on January 5, 2001


cCranium-I understood you. We're cool.
Curt Flood said, "I am grateful that God made my skin black, I only wish he'd made it thicker."
What I'm saying is that I'd like to be 'lucky' like you. Not have to worry about getting shot for a traffic stop or that my coworkers think I'm there 'cause of some quota. To have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To not have to deal with it. I'm not saying that I feel like a victim, but to deal with these issues...its like a psychic weight that all of us bear. Although I wouldn't change my skin for anything-Wouldn't it be nice to be free of that weight?
I appreciate everyone's willingness to participate in such discussions. Maybe by getting people to confront it, we can find a way to deal with it and move forward...
posted by black8 at 5:53 PM on January 5, 2001


black8, I think you may be missing a vital point in your last statement :
Maybe by getting people to confront it, we can find a way to deal with it and move forward...

That's really the problem, the people who most need to confront it are either in deep denial about or take pride in their ignorance.

I'm a person... nothing more, nothing less
posted by tj at 6:14 PM on January 5, 2001


The funniest thing about this whole discussion is how all the white males keep asserting their innocence, how it's not fair, etc...

and not realizing that that in itself is a huge symptom of their disease.

By focusing instead on the supposed injustice you will face if you are forced to confront your privilege, you completly ignore the REAL injustice that exists for your average person of color. Your whiny little complaints about "what racism is supposed to be" and that injustice is really a matter of 'outlook,' and that you shouldn't be forced to do ANYTHING outside of the safe belief contructs you've created for yourself, shows more than anything your total immersion in a racist culture, and indeed your active participation in that culture.

Wake up, be a man, and have the strength to put yourself down just the tiniest bit, you and our country will be stronger for it
posted by cell divide at 6:42 PM on January 5, 2001


So what you're saying is that if you believe yourself not to be racist then you must be? So how does a person prove to themselves (let alone anyone else) that they aren't racist? Or is that not possible?
posted by davidgentle at 7:07 PM on January 5, 2001


cell divide:
The funniest thing about this whole discussion is how all the white males keep asserting their innocence, how it's not fair, etc...

Which white males? Who are the white males in this thread? How do you know?
posted by pnevares at 7:13 PM on January 5, 2001


I count six people who have identified themselves as white and at least five white men. I'll leave it to the reader to pick them out.
posted by sudama at 7:29 PM on January 5, 2001


>The funniest thing about this whole discussion
> is how all the white males keep asserting their
> innocence, how it's not fair, etc...

...and...

> I would only say that every white male has a
> responsibility to discover not only how those
> messages are wrong, but how they have
> infiltrated his consciousness. White racism runs
> deep.

Oh dear god.
posted by holloway at 7:43 PM on January 5, 2001


I'd just like to note here that essentially every person who has posted in this thread - black, white, asian, male, female, Jew, what have you - has discriminated against the overweight all their lives, both personally and professionally. Probably 3/4 of you often do it quite consciously, intentionally and gleefully. Until and unless you start agitating for an end to discrimination in principle, instead of merely for an end to discrimination against certain groups (usually only those groups you yourself belong to), you will never truly succeed. And you will not deserve to succeed.

Have a nice day!

Short people got

No reason

Short people got

No reason

Short people got

No reason to live

posted by aaron at 12:12 AM on January 6, 2001


Well put, aaron. I remember a couple of discussions about ample people which produced a few comments even more fucked up than some of those in this thread.

But I don't remember seeing Cecily's size acceptance weblog, phattitude, linked before. It's a great resource for those fighting the good fight.
posted by sudama at 1:58 AM on January 6, 2001


Stereotypes, Prejudice and Discrimination: The Case of Anti-Semitism. It's a non-controversial, easy read. Go right ahead. I realize there hasn't been any anti-semitism in this thread, but some of it does directly relate.


Basically, the article outlines two theories regarding prejudice. One says prejudice rises from individuals trying to attain “scarce resources.” The other says that humans are naturally predisposed to maintain a positive self-image, and a shortcut in doing so is by disparging others: If you are worse than me, then I am better.

If you agree prejudice can occur in any society, then you must conclude that prejudice can arise in any individual, regardless of that person’s upbringing, class or experience. Everyone is liable to experience or maintain prejudice.

The Kivel article (I have serious problems with his logic but basically agree with him) brought up a problem endemic to the US: If white males are shown in the media, reinforced by their parents and by their role models that they can achieve — that they should achieve — positions of power in society then they will believe they are due those positions of power. Minorities, on the other hand, are shown relatively few role models and are told by their parents that they must work twice as hard as their white counterparts, when in reality they really shouldn't have to. This cultural difference is brought about by the simple fact white men historically hold positions of power. There is no reason minorities and women should hold just as many positions of power in porportion to white males, but it simply isn't the case. If it were the case, there would be more white female bosses than male.

Every stat I've ever seen regarding the number of blacks in the upper-echelon of management — from the military to politics to academics to IT — shows they fall far behind compared to their white counterparts. Economic disenfranchisement is the root cause of poor education, but the cause of that disenfranchisement is prejudice.

Not every white man is responsible for all prejudice all the time, but every white male does reinforce the image that they are superior — the myth that whites are due positions of power. It is up to individuals to challenge this myth in the name of social justice, not debate the reality of it’s existence.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 2:48 AM on January 6, 2001


>Not every white man is responsible for all
>prejudice all the time, but every white male
> does reinforce the image that they are
> superior

As a white male... I'm starting my drinking binge. You'll soon see me naked and incapacitated in a gutter filled with bile in south-auckland - barely a dollar to my name and drunk a $2 bottle of wine.

Holloway - "proud to be doing his bit"

posted by holloway at 4:28 AM on January 6, 2001


cell divide: injustice is really a matter of 'outlook,'

I never said that.

I said that sudama and I have different outlooks on people. He assumes that white males he encounters are racist, on whatever level.

When I meet someone I assume that race is irrelevant to them. That perspective is where we differ, and that is the 'outlook' I was referring to.

posted by cCranium at 8:02 AM on January 6, 2001


Something's been bugging the hell out of me as I read this thread: WE'RE THE SMART KIDS, DAMN IT!

The MeFi community is, by and large, the brightest, most open-minded Web community that I know of. If we (MeFi'rs) can't have a discussion on race without resorting to name calling, finger pointing, and dumbass generalizations, then maybe we (as a society) truly CAN'T all get along. What a depressing fucking thought.


posted by Optamystic at 8:08 AM on January 6, 2001


well put Optamystic, I'm waiting for someone to say "Oh yeah, well you're a big stupid poophead". At which point I will weep openly.
posted by tj at 10:46 AM on January 6, 2001


He assumes that white males he encounters are racist, on whatever level.

I would simply say that any white person who hasn't come to terms with the role whiteness plays in their life -- that is, the privileges and enhanced status it grants them -- is condemned to reproduce that whiteness.

When I meet someone I assume that race is irrelevant to them.

Unfortunately, there's not a person alive today (in the US, at least) for whom this is the case. In a society fraught with racial injustice, it's not possible for an individual to be untouched by it. I believe that any intellectually honest person would after careful consideration have to conclude that race is not irrelevant to him or herself.
posted by sudama at 12:55 PM on January 6, 2001


If you agree prejudice can occur in any society, then you must conclude that prejudice can arise in any individual, regardless of that person’s upbringing, class or experience. Everyone is liable to experience or maintain prejudice.

This is a dangerous assumption. We are talking mainly about one prejudice in this thread, and that is racism in America. The rise of racism is not a mystery but a historically documented phenomenon; we do not need to divine the psychological processes of our forebears to determine whence our current state of injustice arose. If I may quote Howard Zinn from chapter 2 of A People's History of the United States:

"...in spite of special subordination of blacks in the Americas in the seventeenth century, there is evidence that where whites and blacks found themselves with common problems, common work, common enemy in their master, they behaved toward one another as equals. As one scholar of slavery, Kenneth Stampp, has put it, Negro and white servants of the seventeenth century were 'remarkably unconcerned about the visible physical differences.'

"Black and white worked together, fraternized together. The very fact that laws had to be passed after a while to forbid such relations indicates the strength of that tendency. In 1661 a law was passed in Virginia that 'in case any English servant shall run away in company of any Negroes' he would have to give special service for extra years to the master of the runaway Negro. In 1691, Virginia provided for the banishment of 'any white man or woman being free who shall intermarry with a negro, mulatoo, or Indian man or woman bond or free.'

"There is enormous difference between a feeling of racial strangeness, perhaps fear, and the mass enslavement of millions of black people that took place in the Americas. The transition from one to the other cannot be explained easily by 'natural' tendencies."


posted by sudama at 1:11 PM on January 6, 2001


Good point sudama.
One of the saddest things about the current state of affairs is that we actually have so much in common.
Whatever the reasons-the only language I speak is English, not Bantu or Swahili.
I went to the same public schools most of you did, watched the same TV shows and movies, ate the same candy, dug the same music.
What group has been more assimilated than black Americans?
On an individual level, I'm sure I'd get on fine with just about anybody on this list.
So where does the breakdown start?
Perhaps when we shift our indentities from the individual to that of a larger group?

posted by black8 at 1:57 PM on January 6, 2001


Thanks sudama, and thanks for the link to phattitude; I'd not seen it before.

Optamystic: That is an ... um ... a brainist statement!

(On a barely-related note, if somebody could explain the /. posting system to me, I'd be grateful. No matter what I do I just can't get the hang of nests and ratings and all that. I'd be happy to just get a straight, chronological list of responses like we have here.)
posted by aaron at 2:34 PM on January 6, 2001



I made several points about institutionalized racism in the West. I decided to add to the discussion by talking about the roots of prejudice, hoping to add some context.

However, I don't believe any individual is immune to prejudice, just as I don't believe any individual is immune to other biological or sociological forces. Nor do I really see how the Zinn example (thick book!) is in conflict with any of my points.

In the context of the article I quoted, your example fits with the “scarce resources” theory. You had three groups: blacks slaves, white indentured servants and white slave owners. The slaves and servants had no, or little, conflict amongst themselves because they weren't competing. There was, I assume, direct conflict between the slaves/servants and owners, since people don't naturally want to be property. The “owned” group could direct their anger to the “owners”.

You said in the previous comment, “I believe that any intellectually honest person would after careful consideration have to conclude that race is not irrelevant to him or herself.” Then critiqued me by saying, “anyone can be prejudiced” is a “dangerous assumption.”

I’m afraid I don't know why our two statements are intractable.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 2:36 PM on January 6, 2001


captain: Like you with Kivel, I have some problems with your logic but also agree with much of what you said.

It's not the idea that anyone can be prejudiced, but the idea that prejudice is an innate behavior rather than a learned behavior which I consider dangerous.

The Zinn quote begins to explain how racial prejudice was institutionalized and legislated, and dispels the notion that prejucide will always arise naturally due to differences between people.


posted by sudama at 2:47 PM on January 6, 2001


That article is interesting; I'm sorry I didn't read more of it before responding. The danger is in concluding that spontaneous prejudice will always arise between people of different skin color. I don't think that idea follows from any of the research cited.

The article does lend direct support to the idea that the most problematic category of all is "white": consider that the concepts of a white person and a white race arose with the singular purpose of defining who would have legal rights and protections in the new world and who would not. This artificial distinction has been maintained very effectively across several centuries and is in full force today. Noel Ignatiev's How the Irish Became White (interview with author) is considered a great study of the process by which various immigrant communities made all sorts of sacrifices for access to that Great American Bootstrap, whiteness.
posted by sudama at 3:49 PM on January 6, 2001


This basically exmplifies my thoughts on the human capacity for prejudice (not western racism):
“...he nods towards two closed doors, one marked "PREJUDICED" which lights up in alarming red neon, the other "UNPREJUDICED" in calmer green. Our flesh-and-blood guide asks us to choose one, but almost immediately informs us that the "not prejudiced" door is locked, and that we should think about what it means to enter under the epithet of prejudice. This trick, our guide tells us, underscores that everyone harbors hidden prejudices.”
Experiencing the Jewish Holocaust in Los Angeles: The Beit Hashoah—Museum of Tolerance


On western racism:
There simply isn’t a good way to clue the patriarchy in on the fact that, you know, maybe the power structure, as it stands, is racist. People get really defensive about it, which is sad. Racism, in regards to the US, works best as a critique of the social contract. The founding fathers were racist, the western expansion was rife with genocide (particularly Madison's creation on the Trail of Tears for mining companies). The fact that this country actually had to have a civil rights movement speaks volumes about how the country views itself. And it isn't neccesarily positive.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 6:02 PM on January 6, 2001


I have a few thoughts to add here.

A lot of people think of racism as an obvious outward act of discrimination. To effectively combat it, we need to define racism as an equation like "prejudice + power." Anyone can act with prejudice or discrimination, but in the United States, the people with the real power are "white," and their prejudices rule the system. They, as a group, have both the prejudice and power.

Yes, some people of color have positions of power, but we all know that the overwhelming majority of politicians, chiefs, judges, lawyers, corporate CEOs, etc are white [males].

Racism (again, the reinforcement and enforcement of discrimination and prejudice) therefore is a white problem. White people need to address their own racism and help other white people address theirs.

Having the option to feel lucky and not have to worry about your "white privilege" is yet another "white privilege" (obviously). A white "good person" who has allegedly never thought a racist thought, but hasn't at least questioned his/her privilege is not even close to being anti-racist. As a white person, sitting-quietly-and-enjoying-your privilege-while-doing-nothing-else is still a racist act, simply because you're enjoying the benefits of the racist system.

I'm not trying to point fingers at anyone here - I'm pointing one big finger at the system as a whole. If you really think you're not racist, and you're "white," I URGE you to read "Uprooting Racism" by Paul Kivel and "A Race Is A Nice Thing To Have" by Janet Helms. "Uprooting" is pretty easy to find, but you'll have to look a bit harder for the Helms book (it's short and cheap though). Both are must-reads, in my opinion. Then read "Education Of A Wasp" by Lois Mark Stavley. At least read one of the three!

Then come back here and see what you think. Please! Think of it as an investment (both financially, mentally, and time-wise) in humanity. It's well worth it. No matter what you think of the Kivel article quoted above, or the things some people have said here, JUST DO IT!
posted by go vegan at 9:54 AM on January 8, 2001


It's not about white guilt. It's not about how you feel about race, or racism. It's not about whether it's your fault.

That's your business. Lie awake at night, or sleep like a babe.

The problem isn't whether we feel guilty. The problem is injustice. The problem is that people are discriminated against because of the color of their skin.

You've probably never spat on a stranger. You've probably never addressed a quiet, respectable person who was minding her own business as "nigger bitch."

But that isn't good enough, not as long as enough people ARE doing these things that they are a daily occurrence for ordinary Americans who have dark skin. Not criminals, ordinary employed people who want to get on a bus or buy their groceries, the same as everyone else.

What I feel isn't guilt, mostly. It's sorrow and rage, that these things happen and *I hadn't even noticed* because they weren't happening to me.

And a combination of anger and weariness, that a news story about charges of specific discrimination has led so quickly to the usual tangle of "but I'm not a racist" and "maybe there aren't that many qualified blacks." A convenient diversion, that, when the lawsuit is by specific black people who are qualified for the jobs they were denied. There are things that go deeper than the dislike of Microsoft, things that are more painful and dangerous, and less justified.
posted by rosvicl at 12:18 PM on January 8, 2001


The problem is that people are discriminated against because of the color of their skin.

No. The problem is that people are discriminated against, period.
posted by aaron at 2:42 PM on January 8, 2001



The only way massive attitude change happens in a society the size of ours is by the old guard dying off and a new generation, which grew up in a slightly more tolerant environment, coming into power. The old racists are well-entrenched in their power and attitudes and are beyond changing. I know it'd be nice to have change happen faster than it is, to see more of it in our lifetime, but these things can only happen so quickly and I think that, as a society, there's very little we can do to further accelerate it. While there is obviously still much work to be done, on the other hand we have really made tremendous progress in recent decades. Forty years ago it was still common to have separate restrooms for blacks! Forty years is the blink of an eye for changes like the ones we've seen.

What I'm saying, I guess, is that sometimes I get cynical about race (and other) relations and think that we'll never work it out. But there is definitely reason for hope as well as room for improvement.
posted by kindall at 4:00 PM on January 8, 2001


there's very little we can do to further accelerate it

I share your hope for a brighter future, but I believe it's a good thing for humanity that the countless people who dedicated their lives to the struggle -- from Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Cesear Chavez to the members of the American Indian Movement and the Asian American Movement to the untold many who sat-in and marched, agitated and advocated for human rights -- didn't feel the way you do.
posted by sudama at 10:30 PM on January 8, 2001


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