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The linguistics of color-blind racism
March 9, 2009 7:16 AM   Subscribe

As the Jim Crow overt style of maintaining white supremacy was replaced with “now you see it, now you don’t” practices that were subtle, apparently non-racial, and institutionalized, an ideology fitting to this era emerged... -The Linguistics of Color-Blind Racism.
posted by lunit (191 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great stuff. This is a case where linking to a google search (constrained by "site:metafilter.com") would actually be a good addition.
posted by DU at 7:20 AM on March 9, 2009


I find reports like that interesting, but I had a hard time getting past the author direct quoting his respondents. Yes, I understand these are quotes, but when you add in every "Uh, um, and like," you make the people come off sounding stupid, and I don't think that was his intent.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:38 AM on March 9, 2009


Yes, I understand these are quotes, but when you add in every "Uh, um, and like," you make the people come off sounding stupid, and I don't think that was his intent.

Did you even read the last section, which was on rhetorical incoherence? The author very clearly believes that those are significant.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:44 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Very good article.

cjorgensen: I really don't think it was his intent to make them come off as stupid but instead to show off their exact fits and starts to their answers, especially when they almost say one of the phrases he was focusing on. One such excerpt was, I think, "some of my friends are, uh, were just normal people."
posted by flatluigi at 7:50 AM on March 9, 2009


I don't like that he implies that ambivalence about affirmative action equals racism. Beyond that, it was a pretty fascinating read.
posted by Wroughtirony at 7:50 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


The student who used the
term “colored” was Rachel, a MU student with very conservative racial
views.


Um, what is this paper and what is a "conservative" racial view?
posted by gagglezoomer at 7:52 AM on March 9, 2009


This also struck me the wrong way:
For instance, because Carol said four times that some of her best friends were “Oriental,” it was easier for her to state all sorts of anti-minority positions that included even her preference for white mates.
I hope my preference for redheads doesn't imply some deep "anti-minority" attitude. A preference is a preference, not a prejudice.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:53 AM on March 9, 2009


If I were being interviewed by someone whose express purpose was to write a paper describing my veiled racism and my shameful attempts to hide it, and I had just been asked for the second time to explain how I could think that it wasn't a sign of my racism that my (first and only) girlfriend was "not a minority", I don't think I'd be able to answer any more coherently than "Ray" here.
posted by you at 7:54 AM on March 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


If I felt I were, etc...
posted by you at 7:57 AM on March 9, 2009


I believe the premise of the paper was a good one, but that it was not written well. I had the feeling that instead of a research paper, I was reading a piece of persuasion. I wish the author had included fewer quotes and more statistics, references to other sociological research, etc. It just seemed that the paper grazes the surface without looking very deeply at any one issue. For example, the quote from Kim, on the 15th page of the paper (Page 55 of the journal) could have been a terrific, and full, paper in itself.
posted by Houstonian at 8:05 AM on March 9, 2009


I found this absolutely fascinating. I have had several frustrating discussions with people who feel that being racist only means using a certain set of words that are now taboo in our society, and anything else is just a personal preference or political opinion which is not in any way racist. I've never been able to articulate this clearly what the new set of code words are.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:06 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I had the feeling that instead of a research paper, I was reading a piece of persuasion. I wish the author had included fewer quotes and more statistics, references to other sociological research, etc...

I think part of the reason the interview process was used almost to the exclusion of all else (although he did reference other sociological research quite a bit) is that he's trying to study patterns that are communicated through speech. It's been well documented that people tend to claim that they are less racist than they actually are, so I'm not sure what kind of statistics you could really use in a paper like this unless you were tracing specific code-phrases, which, as he is partially arguing, people tend to quit using as soon as they become cliche (some of my best friends are... is a good example). Interview-based research is pretty standard fare for sociology and can be used to capture things that statistics can't.

That being said, most academic papers that attempt to argue something are pieces of persuasion.
posted by lunit at 8:17 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


See, white people talk like this.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:18 AM on March 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Pretty tendentious stuff, if you ask me. For starters, the paper is editorialised, e.g. "Lynn went on to ponder aloud her own views on this matter in a very odd fashion" [my emphasis]

And "Rick, as most of the students who were asked to explain why the company was 97% white, could not concede that discrimination had anything to do with this situation." The interviewer may well be right, but he is begging the question.

I mean, in my company, we have two types of jobs, one of which happens to earn more (it is more commission-based). The one that earns more is attracts far more non-white employees. The one that earns less is probably 97% white. There's clearly something at play here, but to suggest that the two bits of the company are racist in opposite ways in nonsensical.

Similarly, "Kim, another SU student, projected segregationist attitudes onto blacks" - the paper's author may be right, or he may not be. But the default assumption seems to be that no blacks ever hold the same kind of segregationist views that are automatically assumed of the dumb, bigoted interviewees.

And as noted above, the equivalence of disagreement with affirmative action and racism is plain silly in what one expects to be an objective academic paper.

There's a great point to be made about people's inability to correspond their a lack of comfort about the "other" with the knowledge that their feelings are morally shaky, but in my opinion this paper makes a right old hash of it.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:20 AM on March 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


I like how there's that bit about how some respondents "had not fully absorbed the racial language and style of the post-civil rights era," to which I ask, which language? Black, Afro-American, African-American, people of color (which seems to veer comically close to "colored") and then back to black? Meanwhile, the NAACP to has yet to change its name.

As to the incoherency, if I leaned over you and was going to dissect your every word, I suspect you'd probably trip up a bit, whether or not it was a "sensitive subject." The interviewer's method clouds the issue and weakens what could have been good data. I tend to favor studies where the subject thinks they're being tested for one thing, but they're really being evaluated on something else. People on guard give weird results.

And the conclusion? "It is the task of progressive social scientists to expose color blindness, show the continuing significance of race, and wake-up color blind researchers to the color of the facts of race in contemporary United States." That's assuming the conclusion, then going on a hunt to find it. Don't see it right away? You must not be looking hard enough. Is there racism in the US? You bet. I get a sneaking suspicion, though, that if it all disappeared overnight, there would be people who were hellbent on finding it anyway.
posted by adipocere at 8:20 AM on March 9, 2009 [10 favorites]


I'm working my way through this paper; it seems interesting. But the things the writer takes for granted are setting me off: the dominant ideology of post-Civil Rights America is something called "color-blind racism"? Really? (This appears to be a premise of the paper, rather than a conclusion.)
posted by grobstein at 8:21 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


the dominant ideology of post-Civil Rights America is something called "color-blind racism"? Really?

Completely really. Some of my most racist friends are color-blind.
posted by DU at 8:24 AM on March 9, 2009 [19 favorites]


“I am a little bit for affirmative action, but...” “Yes and no, I mean...” “I
am not prejudiced, but...” “Some of my best friends are black” “I sort of
agree and disagree” All these phrases have become standard linguistic fare
of whites’ contemporary racetalk. But what do these phrases mean? For
some analysts, they are expressions of whites’ racial ambivalence (Hass et
al. 1992; Katz and Haas 1988).


Having nuanced or conflicted views about affirmative action does not automatically mean someone is a "covert" racist. Also, being put on the spot by someone in a minority group looking to parse your every last word to prove covert racism (there's also a significant class/education disparity between the professor-interviewer and the majority of his subjects) would place many people on an inarticulate defensive.

Also, this was more Studs Terkel than science. Are most soc papers like this?
posted by availablelight at 8:24 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bonilla-Silva has a full book on this topic, Racism Without Racists. It's good and is based on the same study he's using in the article. He could do with a little more depth to his study but the points he makes are very valid.

Sadly, this country has a long, long way to go on the issues of race. Despite my knowledge this, I'm continually surprised by this. I'm in a graduate level course on African-American history and some of my white classmates have been a little less than positive about the fact that we have an African-American classmate. It has been stated that they feel they can't "fully express themselves" because the African-American classmate would not "get" that they are speaking about race in an academic way.

Of course, to me, that's just justification bullshit. If you are uncomfortable speaking about race in front of members of another race, then you're probably being a little racist, no? If the words you use in front of your white classmates are different than the words used in front of African-American classmates, then, maybe...just maybe, you need to think harder about what's behind those words.
posted by teleri025 at 8:25 AM on March 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


How irritating it must be to someone who actually is "a little bit against affirmative action" to have this author interpret their statement to be veiled and to mean really "I against affirmative action" [sic] and furthermore imply that that respondent is "talk[ing] nasty about blacks."
posted by Mapes at 8:26 AM on March 9, 2009


You guys do realize that not all racists realize they are racist, right? The knapsack can be invisible to the wearer as well. In fact, if anything, the wearer is more likely to be unaware of the unconscious and societal biases than the non-wearer. They are the fish in the water whereas the excluded one is viewing from the outside.

The language study is interesting because many of these privileges and so forth are very difficult to justify when you think about them even a little bit. And that's exactly what happens when someone asks a direct question. You have to justify your behavior without acknowledging (even to yourself) that you are a functioning racist. Thus the code phrases and hesitations. You get halfway through a sentence and you semi-realize what you are about to say, readjust your point and finish with a lame rationalization.
posted by DU at 8:36 AM on March 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


I'm sorry, this is an interesting topic and one that's worthy of study, but this paper was full of question-begging and bad faith rhetoric.

Look, racial relationships are complicated in this country. The more complicated something is, the more incoherent an average person's statement on it. Not only that, but there's a language of test-taking at play here—when asked on a test whether a company whose employees are 97% white is racist, the "correct" answer is that it may be likely, but you can't prove it without more information. But when presented with the question in such obviously leading terms, there's a dissonance between telling the interviewer what they obviously want to hear ("That's racist!") and what can be legitimately held.

Other criticisms of the paper: First, the answers seem cherry-picked on the basis of concluding that a subject was racist, rightly or wrongly, and then using their responses to represent everyone who gave those responses as racist. Second, while I suspect that this is coming out of a particular academic view of racism (the allusion to "whiteness" seeping through at the end is a tip-off), since there's no control for "not racist" (against which the incidence of the responses could be charted), at least report the interviews with the non-white subjects. I guarantee you that you will find just as fraught, incoherent answers on affirmative action and inter-racial marriage. This isn't tu quoque reasoning, simply another point in which premises are assumed in order to make a rhetorical point.
posted by klangklangston at 8:36 AM on March 9, 2009 [12 favorites]


"If you are uncomfortable speaking about race in front of members of another race, then you're probably being a little racist, no? If the words you use in front of your white classmates are different than the words used in front of African-American classmates, then, maybe...just maybe, you need to think harder about what's behind those words."

No. If you're uncomfortable about speaking about race in front of members of another race, it could be because you are afraid of charges of racism regardless of their legitimacy, afraid of giving unintentional offense, afraid of doing things like arguing devil's advocate positions… There are a lot of reasons to fear racial discussion if you're white, and the significant impact of charges of racism is certainly one of them. That you would assume de facto that they're racists is part of the problem.
posted by klangklangston at 8:40 AM on March 9, 2009 [22 favorites]


This is poor scholarship and doesn't offer any new or interesting perspectives.
posted by fraxil at 8:42 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


whites’ avoidance of direct racial language

When I read that in the abstract, I didn't bother reading any further. Any paper that purports to talk about racism, then puts everyone with light skin into one category of behavior is not worth my time.
posted by eye of newt at 8:42 AM on March 9, 2009 [6 favorites]


If you are uncomfortable speaking about race in front of members of another race, then you're probably being a little racist, no? If the words you use in front of your white classmates are different than the words used in front of African-American classmates, then, maybe...just maybe, you need to think harder about what's behind those words.
posted by teleri025 at 11:25 AM on March 9 [+] [!]

When statements like, "I'm a little against affirmative action" and, "But I'm not black, so I don't know" can be used as the bedrock for academic papers about covert racism, could it be that your classmates aren't looking to bust out the "n" word, but uncomfortable that anything they say at all, down to an "um", could be used to damn them as covert racists?


Note: I'm not denying that racism exists, but I'm with muffinman:
There's a great point to be made about people's inability to correspond their a lack of comfort about the "other" with the knowledge that their feelings are morally shaky, but in my opinion this paper makes a right old hash of it.
posted by availablelight at 8:43 AM on March 9, 2009


It has been stated that they feel they can't "fully express themselves" because the African-American classmate would not "get" that they are speaking about race in an academic way.

Well, that's just them being a jackass. But...

If you are uncomfortable speaking about race in front of members of another race, then you're probably being a little racist, no?

Or, you could be worried about offending a bunch of strangers when you have no idea how they might react to something you and your African-American friends are totally comfortable with. Not all African-Americans are the same, remember? Or is it racist to point that out, too?

If the words you use in front of your white classmates are different than the words used in front of African-American classmates, then, maybe...just maybe, you need to think harder about what's behind those words.

The words I use in front of my wife are different than the words I use in front of female co-workers. Does that make me sexist?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:43 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


[or, exactly what klangklangston said three minutes before]
posted by availablelight at 8:44 AM on March 9, 2009


at least report the interviews with the non-white subjects. I guarantee you that you will find just as fraught, incoherent answers on affirmative action and inter-racial marriage.
posted by klangklangston at 11:36 AM on March 9 [1 favorite +] [!]

Amen-- and I've heard jawdropping statements from college-educated, white-collar professional African Americans in a neighborhood meeting about "how the Jews control the city".... focusing on "whiteness" as if it's the only disease that breeds racism is bad faith social science/liguistics.
posted by availablelight at 8:50 AM on March 9, 2009


Yes and no, um I guess I am a little bit against the conclusions of this paper, I um think that racism is kind of a problem in the states, um I mean definitly a problem, but, I um, think that it is a little bit less of a problem than before. You know, the people in this study were being honest, and you know maybe they really weren't sure about um issues and stuff like affirmative action, but, um, you know at least they are thinking about them and um i think it's better if they, uh, are at least trying not to be racist, um, I don't know...

some of my best friends are color blind racists
posted by afu at 8:52 AM on March 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


"If you are uncomfortable speaking about race in front of members of another race, then you're probably being a little racist."

Yes, you probably are. But then I'd challenge anyone to talk about race to an ethnic group other than their own and not trip themselves up. Race apart, not favouring people "like" you over people "not like" you is like asking for someone to hold an "objective" view on everything.

One of the things that amused me most about various activists I met at college is that they were rampant and unashamed bigots on several other issues than the ones they identified with.

As klangklangston says, there is no control for "non-racist".
posted by MuffinMan at 8:56 AM on March 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


The article purports to be about secret linguistic tics that give away racism - but most of the quotes (including the lady who didn't want her kids to marry an eye-talian even!) were about disapproval of interracial relationships - and therefore overtly racist. You'd think that'd be the bigger point... it's tricky, because when you're interviewing people (especially college students) about anything and taking it down verbatim you going to get a lot of "I dunnos" and "uh I think maybes" so while it might be more common in talk about race, the paper seems to assume that there's something special about the form of the responses without actually demonstrating it.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:03 AM on March 9, 2009


Meanwhile, my friends and I had adopted "that's racist" as a general way of putting down something we didn't like (example: "I read that Windows 7 will still have UAC" "that's racist!") I'd love to hear what the paper's author would make of that.
posted by jepler at 9:08 AM on March 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


If saying "umm" while answering questions makes you racist, I think we just elected the biggest racist in the country president.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:11 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is the opposite of SLYT, but problematic for many of the same reasons.

I love me a linguistics paper as much as the next wordnerd, but seriously, this post breaks my heart. If I plucked any random research paper from your field and posted it to the front page of Metafilter, I could very well expect a good shredding of it.

Without couching the presentation of this article in linguistic methodology, Critical Discourse Analysis aims, and prior history of the research, it only makes sense to read the following critiques:
I had a hard time getting past the author direct quoting his respondents. Yes, I understand these are quotes, but when you add in every "Uh, um, and like," you make the people come off sounding stupid.

Um, what is this paper and what is a "conservative" racial view?

And as noted above, the equivalence of disagreement with affirmative action and racism is plain silly in what one expects to be an objective academic paper.

I wish the author had included fewer quotes and more statistics, references to other sociological research, etc.

there's no control for "not racist"


I'm don't want to pick apart the article, or peoples responses to it. I also don't want to defend the article either. However, I feel I must throw a couple thoughts out there...

1. This is a Critical Discourse Analysis paper (CDA). By nature, it does not seek to be objective. It has an agenda. CDA papers are contentious and many people do not like them; in fact, they are very difficult to get published. Generally, they are held to a higher standard, because they are highly scrutinized and tend to challenge people's beliefs (what they're meant to do).

2. This is a QUALITATIVE study, not a QUANTITATIVE one. No charts, no graphs. Sorry.

3. "ums, likes, huhs, so's," These are Discourse Markers. They have a LOT of meaning and there has been extensive study on them. It is not expected that people outside the field know about this, but linguists generally recognize the significance. The problem arises when you show this paper to the general public and don't give them the necessary background knowledge for full access to the paper's significance. Also, and probably more importantly, it is unethical for a linguist (or any scientist) to crucially edit their data in a way that significantly alters the outcome/interpretation of that data. Journalists can "pretty-up" a politician's speech; linguists doing Discourse Analysis work can't!

Gah! I'm going to stop here.

Like I said, I love to see linguisticky stuff on the front page. But not like this.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:21 AM on March 9, 2009 [18 favorites]


I guarantee you that you will find just as fraught, incoherent answers on affirmative action and inter-racial marriage.

Probably except that your defensiveness doesn't have much to do with the study that, in the first place, is about color-blind racism when it comes to Whites use of language about Blacks. Does that mean that other racial/ethnic groups are not racist? No. Does that mean your assertion in valid in terms what this specific study is talking about? Nope.

Look, racial relationships are complicated in this country.

Or maybe they're not. It's very easy to label racism as complicated because it then gives those with prejudices as out. By claiming that racial relationships are complicated, it makes the concept of racism into something that is abstract, academic, and something that a person can project outside of oneself. If race is complicated, then my personal flaws in terms of bigotry, priveledge, social conditioning, and the like isn't my fault - it's just complicated.

Language is powerful and the linguistics illustrated in this paper is designed not to label people as racism but to show that in the post-civil rights era where derogatory racial slurs have been removed from the public discourse, the most obvious public ways to identify racists and bigots has been removed from out society. But that doesn't mean that racism is dead nor does that mean that racism isn't prevalent in American society. Instead, it's appearance is different and struggling the public struggle against racism needs to embrace what is subtle in American Society which is the very things that the privileged, be it through gender, race, or class, are always the most blind at seeing.

In a sense, merely labeling racism as "complicated" is probably one of the very things that Bonilla would label as part of the problem.
posted by Stynxno at 9:22 AM on March 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


Pope Guilty, I have to admit he lost my interest before then. Like someone else wrote, this paper felt like a persuasion paper, not an academic study. And if he had a reason for preserving and transcribing ever false start, he should have mentioned it prior to doing this.

When discussing a topic fraught with land mines people are going to try to choose their words carefully. It didn't seem to me like he was trying to get at how these people actually felt, but rather a superficial focus on their word choices.

If you say it's worth reading, I'll finish, but I thought I understood his position.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:23 AM on March 9, 2009


There are a lot of reasons to fear racial discussion if you're white, and the significant impact of charges of racism is certainly one of them. That you would assume de facto that they're racists is part of the problem.


I'm not assuming de facto that my classmates are racists. What I'm saying is that their concern about how the African-American classmate reacts to their speech leads me to believe that the natural and comfortable language they use about race and specifically about blacks, could be percieved as less than respectful. And that's not the problem. The problem is that they don't think the black student can understand that they are playing devil's advocate or exploring a valid academic point. Because all those black people are oversensitive about race and so we white folks have to be careful with our words...right?

And that's crap. I don't feel that I have any difficulty playing devil's advocate in this class or any other, because I am aware of my own racial biases.

And yeah, I talk one way about race around my African-American friends than I do around individual African-Americans I don't know. But I talk differently with all my friends than I do with strangers...that's just because my friends and I share common language bonds and understandings that strangers might not get.
posted by teleri025 at 9:24 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's come to this. We're linking to somebody's homework.
posted by jonmc at 9:25 AM on March 9, 2009 [8 favorites]


I don't think it's the "uhhs" and the "ummms" so much as the equivocation that he's pointing to in the paper.
posted by Mister_A at 9:28 AM on March 9, 2009


Ed Silva has actually made some impressive contributions to the field. We could do a whole post about him that would be really worthwhile. What's up there now means well, but actually does him a huge disservice.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:29 AM on March 9, 2009


I am an antiracist activist. Let me get one thing stated absolutely clearly here. It is a very white (and I use that in the context of this discussion and of the discussion in the paper linked) assumption that it's possible to not be racist.

In antiracist circles, the first concept we all get through to ourselves (yes, it's very 12-steppy, I know) is that we are all racist.

All of us. Even the most highly though-of activists of all of us. Every single one of us is racist. Even you white people. It happens. We get over it and beyond it and still try to get some work done to make the world better.

In this sense, what I mean by racist is that we use our perception of race in other people to influence the decisions we make about them.

For some people, this happens instantly and in the next instance they catch themselves at it and right that wrong. For other people, it happens quickly or slowly but they never realize it. I think the goal for most antiracist activists is to get more people, including themselves, to be those instant, aware sorts of people.
posted by kalessin at 9:29 AM on March 9, 2009 [22 favorites]


That's so white.
posted by grobstein at 9:33 AM on March 9, 2009


MuffinMan: And as noted above, the equivalence of disagreement with affirmative action and racism is plain silly in what one expects to be an objective academic paper.

I think that you're conflating "what MuffinMan thinks of affirmative action" with "objective." This survey was done in the late 90s, the height of the affirmative action debate. I don't it's particularly contentious to argue that American's views of race was tied up in views of affirmative action.

availablelight: Also, this was more Studs Terkel than science. Are most soc papers like this?

A lot of responses in this thread were somewhat confusing to me until I realized that most people are saying that social science which uses statistics is the be all and end all of social science. A lot of social matters can't really be dealt with on a quantitative, statistical basis. How people talk about a given matter, in this case race, is precisely the kind of subject which a brute force statistical survey would give us little or no insight.

klangklangston: No. If you're uncomfortable about speaking about race in front of members of another race, it could be because you are afraid of charges of racism regardless of their legitimacy, afraid of giving unintentional offense, afraid of doing things like arguing devil's advocate positions… There are a lot of reasons to fear racial discussion if you're white, and the significant impact of charges of racism is certainly one of them. That you would assume de facto that they're racists is part of the problem.

I don't know about this. Not offending people is not that hard. I've held some fucked up views in my time and only by risking offense by talking to others about what I think have I been able to get rid of those ideas. I don't think the problem here is that people might be offended by what one might say, but rather that human beings have a tendency to get defensive and huffy when challenged. Being offensive isn't a good thing, but it's not the worst thing that can happen to a person.

availablelight: Amen-- and I've heard jawdropping statements from college-educated, white-collar professional African Americans in a neighborhood meeting about "how the Jews control the city".... focusing on "whiteness" as if it's the only disease that breeds racism is bad faith social science/liguistics.

Could you explain a little what you mean by that?
posted by Kattullus at 9:35 AM on March 9, 2009


Seriously though, I didn't read this (pdf? come on) but it sounds really repugnant.

saying "umm" makes you a racist? That's closer to Hard Copy style "gotcha" journalism than science- except they're not even actually getting anyone.

Sure, you might catch a "secret racist" trying to correct himself for fear of discovery. You also might catch someone who's nervous. Or someone with a speech impediment. Or someone who was raised in a racist environment where that kind of language was the norm, but is making a conscious effort to change himself for the better.

And the thing about Affirmative Action just sounds noxious. When you try to ostracize and shame people just for having an opinion on an issue, you end up with things like the drug war. No intelligent discussion is possible because you've pre-judged those on the "other side" as so completely immoral and inhuman they're not even worth talking to.

Personally, I am a liberal and I am against some forms of affirmative action. I think it should be illegal to admit someone to school or give them a job based solely on the color of their skin. Of course there are historical wrongs that need to be redressed, and there is a lot we can do- like outreach to minority applicants, and better public schools, which I think is the root of most of these inequities.

But straight-up, "you get the job because of your skin color?" No. That's discrimination, and I don't believe it helps anyone, including the people who get the jobs/school slots.

I do realize there are far worse inequities in college admissions, like the entire concept of "legacies" and "feeder schools" and the innumerable other ways the rich are favored. But I don't think adding another one is the answer. I also have a problem with the definition of "diversity," where two people of the same skin color are not "diverse" even if they speak different languages, one is rich and one poor, one from the city and one from a farm, etc etc. But a rich white kid and a rich black kid who grew up next door to each other and went to the same exclusive private high school- that's diversity.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:38 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


this paper felt like a persuasion paper

It probably feels that way to people who still need to be persuaded that white Americans are often unconsciously racist.
posted by DU at 9:40 AM on March 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


For instance, because Carol said four times that some of her best friends were “Oriental,” it was easier for her to state all sorts of anti-minority positions that included even her preference for white mates.

I agree with this paper. In fact, I thought, "Doesn't everyone already know this?" However, the thing about "Oriental", which I find myself saying inadvertently in reference to individuals rather than rugs, is that both "Asian" and "Oriental" are Western constructs without any clear reason other than political correctness for preferring one over the other. In fact, I found this at Dictionary.com, which seems to agree with me, at least in part, implies that it is merely datedness that makes it unacceptable.

Usage note:
The real problem with Oriental is more likely its connotations stemming from an earlier era when Europeans viewed the regions east of the Mediterranean as exotic lands full of romance and intrigue, the home of despotic empires and inscrutable customs. At the least these associations can give Oriental a dated feel, and as a noun in contemporary contexts (as in the first Oriental to be elected from the district) it is now widely taken to be offensive. However, Oriental should not be thought of as an ethnic slur to be avoided in all situations. As with Asiatic, its use other than as an ethnonym, in phrases such as Oriental cuisine or Oriental medicine, is not usually considered objectionable.
Nonetheles, I try to keep it clean.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:41 AM on March 9, 2009


In antiracist circles, the first concept we all get through to ourselves (yes, it's very 12-steppy, I know) is that we are all racist.

Which logically... makes us antieverybody circles. Which actually sounds kind of cool.
posted by kid ichorous at 9:42 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Kattullus, I am not a social scientist by training. Still, it is my understanding that many social scientists, especially sociologists and linguists (though I don't know if the latter think of themselves as social scientists) use various methods to carry out the non-statistical analyses you're talking about. Sociologists and linguists have discussions, for instance, about the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. Linguists also bring to bear a type of analysis that focuses on "paralanguage' (i.e. word order, word choice, paralanguage [the way someone talks about something], as well as non-verbal communication style, etc.).

Anyhow, there is a lot there that has nothing or little to do with statistics, you are correct.
posted by kalessin at 9:42 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Probably except that your defensiveness doesn't have much to do with the study that, in the first place, is about color-blind racism when it comes to Whites use of language about Blacks. Does that mean that other racial/ethnic groups are not racist? No. Does that mean your assertion in valid in terms what this specific study is talking about? Nope."

Uh, except that it's not defensiveness, first (thanks), and second, it's assuming the premises (begging the question) of racism. If everyone is incoherent regarding the subject of interracial marriages, that means that incoherence is not a critical marker.

"Or maybe they're not. It's very easy to label racism as complicated because it then gives those with prejudices as out."

If race isn't a complicated, fraught subject in American discourse, I expect you to prove that. That labeling something as complicated is also a way of making prejudices covert, then that's an additional point that needs to be proven. Just because something has consequences you don't like doesn't make it not true.

"By claiming that racial relationships are complicated, it makes the concept of racism into something that is abstract, academic, and something that a person can project outside of oneself."

No, it means that there aren't necessarily simple answers to whether or not a statement is racist, and that documenting such evidence takes a higher standard of care. Please leave me out of your troubles with projecting racism.

"If race is complicated, then my personal flaws in terms of bigotry, priveledge, social conditioning, and the like isn't my fault - it's just complicated."

Complicated does not mean that it's without responsibility. It does mean that causes and solutions are not going to be simple, nor are discussions of racism well suited to reductive polemics.

"Language is powerful and the linguistics illustrated in this paper is designed not to label people as racism but to show that in the post-civil rights era where derogatory racial slurs have been removed from the public discourse, the most obvious public ways to identify racists and bigots has been removed from out society. But that doesn't mean that racism is dead nor does that mean that racism isn't prevalent in American society. Instead, it's appearance is different and struggling the public struggle against racism needs to embrace what is subtle in American Society which is the very things that the privileged, be it through gender, race, or class, are always the most blind at seeing."

Yes, language is powerful. Yes, this paper is designed to uncover rhetorical racism where previously overt statements would have been the norm. Yes, racism exists in this country, and is arguably prevalent. However, this paper groups statements of different rhetorical strength together and uses that to posit certain forms of communication as de facto racist. That's the problem with the paper—not that overt racism has been replaced by coded and subtle racism, but that by the pure covert form of the expression, conclusions are inherently hard to draw, something that this paper ignores in order to attempt a polemic. It's reasoning by faulty syllogism.

"In a sense, merely labeling racism as "complicated" is probably one of the very things that Bonilla would label as part of the problem."

Are you calling me a racist? Or implying that I'm a racist because I'm making an argument that racists also make?
posted by klangklangston at 9:43 AM on March 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


drjimmy11: Seriously though, I didn't read this (pdf? come on) but it sounds really repugnant.

Well, now that you're participating in a discussion about it, it would behoove you to read it. It's not that long, just over 20 pages.
posted by Kattullus at 9:43 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hear hear, kalessin.
posted by Mister_A at 9:44 AM on March 9, 2009


But straight-up, "you get the job because of your skin color?" No. That's discrimination, and I don't believe it helps anyone, including the people who get the jobs/school slots.

"Class, please parse this statement, keeping in mind the thesis of the paper we all just read in the FPP, especially the meme of selectively applying liberal concepts to effect racism."
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:44 AM on March 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Seriously though, I didn't read this (pdf? come on) but it sounds really repugnant.

*a bunch of "examples" picked up from caricatures of the link omitted*

I didn't read your small text at the bottom, but it must have been where you explained how this was satire.
posted by DU at 9:45 AM on March 9, 2009


"The problem is that they don't think the black student can understand that they are playing devil's advocate or exploring a valid academic point. Because all those black people are oversensitive about race and so we white folks have to be careful with our words...right?"

Or, it's an understanding that the risks are so socially huge from miscommunication that it's not worth it, either in the perceived risk of being labeled a racist or in inadvertently causing hurt to a minority.

I had a friend whose mother jumped off a parking structure (her mother had brain cancer). Where I normally would have been comfortable making cancer jokes or suicide jokes, I now wasn't. That wasn't because I didn't think she'd understand that I was joking, it was because I didn't want to hurt her feelings. My black friends are my friends first, but my fellow students were not necessarily my friends. I also didn't make many suicide or cancer jokes around them.
posted by klangklangston at 9:48 AM on March 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


What a crock of bullshit.
Thus analysts must excavate the rhetorical maze of confusing, apparently ambivalent answers to straight questions, of answers speckled with disclaimers such as “I don’t know, but...” or “Yes and no,” of answers almost unintelligible because of their higher than usual level of incoherence (“I mean, I mean, I don’t know, I mean yes, but I don’t know”).
Heaven forbid that someone's answer to a complex sociological phenomenon be nuanced. And I'd like a cite for "I mean, I mean, I don't know, I mean yes, but i don't know." I seriously doubt anyone has actually said that, and straw men have no place in political discourse.
Today ... [whites] do [talk about race in public] but they do so but [sic] in a very careful, indirect, hesitant manner and, occasionally, even through code language (Edsall and Edsall 1992).
No. A study from 17 years ago does not tell us what people do today. That's a full generation ago. People born when this study was published, to say nothing of researched and written, are now having children.
Jill’s “best friend,” according to her own narrative, was “very bright” but had “terrible GMAT scores” but “did get in [Harvard]” which he deserves because “He is a nice guy” who makes up “what he lacks in intellect” with hard work.
Would this be racist if it were about George Bush? Any other legacy who happens to be earnest and works hard? Anyone who works hard but gets below a 600 on the GMAT?

The author of this study is going to have to realize a few things: (a) a logically necessary consequence of affirmative action is that URM applicants who wouldn't otherwise get into top programs will now be admitted; (b) people don't want to dis on their friends, so any less-than-positive comment about someone's academic achievement is going to be prefaced with a compiment; (c) recognizing these things does not indicate racism.
One such move is stating that “I am not black, so I don’t know.” After this phrase is inserted, respondents usually proceed with statements betraying a strong
stance on the matter in question....
I don’t know, I’m not a black person living so I don’t hang out with a lot of black people, so I don’t see it happen. But I do watch TV and we were watching the stupid talk shows there’ s nothing else on and there's people out there. And uh, I don’t know, just that and just hearing the news and stuff. I'm sure it's less than it used to be, at least that’s what everybody keeps saying so... But, uh, I think it's less. But uh, I can't say. But I can't speak for like a black person who says they're being harassed or being uh, prejudice or uh, discriminated against.
Brian’s carefully worded statement allows him to safely state his belief that discrimination “it’s less than it used to be.”
So you question a guy about a social situation he has no experience of, and you're surprised when he doesn't know? And that's a "strong statement"? And the implication is that it's racist to think that voting rights and employment and anti-discrimination laws and affirmative action are less racist than slavery?

Look. There remain serious race problems in this country. As a society, we make racial stereotypes that severely injure people's self-esteem. When a store clerk follows the young black man around thinking he'll steal something, there is injury. That injury makes people feel like shit. It makes them less likely to stand up for what they believe in. Less likely to ask questions in class, and so less likely to learn. It gives white students a sense of confidence, an advantage they don't even realize they have. (I highly recommend Peggy McIntosh, "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," available at http://www.nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf.) It's a systematic problem with systematic effects, and it should be addressed. But pointing fingers and calling people racist for benign feelings does not, will not, cannot help.

It's poignant, and deeply sad, that a sociologist seeking to help minorities would be so viciously alienating.
posted by jock@law at 9:50 AM on March 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


this paper felt like a persuasion paper

It probably feels that way to people who still need to be persuaded that white Americans are often unconsciously racist.
posted by DU at 11:40 AM on March 9


DU, I seriously take offense to that. What, exactly, are you assuming to know about me?

I can believe that some (not just white, and not just American, btw) people are racist without believing that this was a good paper. In fact, I said that I believed the premise was a good one, but the paper was not great. I wished for more information, and fewer quotes.
posted by Houstonian at 9:55 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


You guys do realize that not all racists realize they are racist, right? The knapsack can be invisible to the wearer as well. In fact, if anything, the wearer is more likely to be unaware of the unconscious and societal biases than the non-wearer. They are the fish in the water whereas the excluded one is viewing from the outside

Good luck with that one. I've never understood the anger exhibited when this thought is expressed. The idea that accusations of racism are egregious wounds which make one a greater victim than the target of our thoughtlessness. It is thoughtlessness.

I am racist. I was brought up a racist and live in an inherently racist culture. I'm not ashamed of it because it was largely beyond my control, but I don't think it's something which I can deny. I point out the "racism" in my peers and look for it in myself in order to be a better person. But to deny it, and deny it as vehemently as some do I've always found to be somewhat self-serving a little bit too much denial if you get my drift.
posted by fullerine at 9:56 AM on March 9, 2009 [8 favorites]


No, it's just that the 200 college students he was interviewing were all David Mamet.
posted by kid ichorous at 9:57 AM on March 9, 2009 [8 favorites]


Is this a student's paper or a professor's?

I pray that it is a student's paper.

I don't see this person listed on the faculty page. And that is a good thing because this is pretty shotty scholarship, so if it was a faculty member, I'd worry for the students at Texas A&M.

If this is a student paper, they need more teaching. And why the heck is this particular poor article worthwhile?
posted by dios at 9:59 AM on March 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


"I think that you're conflating "what MuffinMan thinks of affirmative action" with "objective."

I didn't realise you knew my views on affirmative action, for what they're worth. I'm quite comfortable my own views are subjective, not objective. I'm accusing the author of bad faith by directly equating criticism of affirmative action - a means to an end among several other options - with racism.

Logically, the group "critics of affirmative action" is not the same as "racists". It's false equivalence, regardless of how tied closely correlated they are.

I would venture that the author, who clearly is not stupid, knows it is false equivalence. Perhaps he is guilty of expressing himself badly - a charge that could be levelled at some of his subjects - but to claim that the criticism of affirmative action necessarily derives from racism prejudges his interviewees as racist.

In an academic paper, which one would hope to be as close to scientifically objective as reasonably possible, this raises serious questions regardless of whether I love or hate affirmative action or hold any views in between.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:59 AM on March 9, 2009


"I don't know about this. Not offending people is not that hard. I've held some fucked up views in my time and only by risking offense by talking to others about what I think have I been able to get rid of those ideas. I don't think the problem here is that people might be offended by what one might say, but rather that human beings have a tendency to get defensive and huffy when challenged. Being offensive isn't a good thing, but it's not the worst thing that can happen to a person."

Well, y'know, I think I'm generally not someone who worries too much about offending other people. But I can also say, especially in college classes, that there were plenty of times that it just wasn't worth it to get into an argument where I knew I was right but didn't have a lot of stake in the answer. Like, say, when I was the only white guy taking the Hip Hop and African American Culture class, and didn't feel that I needed to correct my classmates on the widespread belief (in that class) that when black people give blood, they're injected with AIDS and that the Red Cross is part of the genocide on black men. I did speak up when the professor said that no black men were naturally gay, and that got me shouted down by the class.

I think, fundamentally, you have more faith in your fellow men (or at least college students) to not be total fucking dumbasses, regardless of their race. (I would also refer you to an anecdote I know I've related a couple of times about giving a lecture to the class about Said's Orientalism, only to get a response that told me that I'm not supposed to use the word "Oriental" anymore.)
posted by klangklangston at 10:00 AM on March 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


Another point, regarding self-segregation: Shelling's segregation model predicts that mild preferences (which can come from any number of factors, from wanting to live near family to outright racism) predicts segregated neighborhoods.
posted by klangklangston at 10:07 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Since a full discursive analysis of the stylistic components of color
blindness is beyond the scope of this article, I focus instead on showcasing five things.


Not be a pendant, but how could a paper that is putatively about linguistics get published--or whatever this is--and presumably edited with so many grammatical errors such as starting this sentence with "since" instead of "because"?
posted by dios at 10:07 AM on March 9, 2009


I know the author very well. I shared an office with him for a year in grad school. And jock, reminding people that they are racist for making benign comments is what Eduardo is all about. Nonstop.

His career is built on tendentious bullshit. He's at Duke now, full professorship to espouse his editorials and make people think that he, the son of TWO university professors in Puerto Rico, is disadvantaged and was hard-done-by in academia when he was handed something like four tenure-track positions in his last year of his PhD... this for a guy who had zero publications at the time (refereed or otherwise) and one conference presentation.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:08 AM on March 9, 2009 [11 favorites]


[Affirmative action benefits white women just as much, if not more, as people of color.]
posted by lunit at 10:09 AM on March 9, 2009


I don't know about this. Not offending people is not that hard.

So you're kind of new to Metafilter then.
posted by nola at 10:10 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Interesting stuff. Could people please refrain from casting aspersions at a field of research about which they have little, or no knowledge or understanding. Perhaps learning a bit about it, or listening to someone who does have some knowledge might help.
posted by asok at 10:10 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I know the author very well.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 12:08 PM on March 9


Will you please send him an email explaining the difference between "since" and "because" so that he stops making the mistake several dozen times each "paper." My High School Sophmore English teacher used to take off 10 points every time this mistake was made, and Eduardo would be deep into negative territory with this paper.
posted by dios at 10:13 AM on March 9, 2009


Every single one of us is racist. Even you white people. It happens. We get over it and beyond it and still try to get some work done to make the world better.

In my opinion, this hits to the heart of why the word racist itself is problematic. A person or thing can be racist in an extremely wide variety of ways, from minor racial assumptions to hate group propaganda. But even though the things the term can be applied to are varied, it has very negative connotations, along the lines of a word like criminal. So what we end up with is something that applies to all of us, but that we all vigorously defend against when labeled as one.

Personally, I have given up using racist to describe people or actions in favor of being more specific. For example, teleri025 said above "If you are uncomfortable speaking about race in front of members of another race, then you're probably being a little racist, no?" Predictably, this resulted in several people challenging the claim, because it's both an extremely vague accusation (even in context, it's not very clear at all what "a little racist" would be) and it's perceived as an attack on the character of the people being discussed. To me, it makes a lot more sense to skip directly to a more specific claim, which in teleri025's case was that there must have been a hidden assumption that black people would be oversensitive to normal discussions about race.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:15 AM on March 9, 2009 [11 favorites]


Go through this article.
Replace the word 'white' with 'black' every time you see it.

It is now the most racist article ever written.
posted by 5imian at 10:17 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Not be a pendant, but how could a paper that is putatively about linguistics get published--or whatever this is--and presumably edited with so many grammatical errors such as starting this sentence with "since" instead of "because"?"

I giggle at "pendant."
posted by klangklangston at 10:18 AM on March 9, 2009 [10 favorites]


Can someone explain why saying "some of my best friends are black/Asian/etc" is considered to definitively suggest the speaker's inherent racism or prejudice towards the group in question?

To me, in some instances, it indicates that the speaker is insecure about being considered a racist/bigot/what-have-you, but it doesn't necessarily mean he/she actually harbors such feelings towards the race/ethnicity in question.

Hypothetically speaking, let's say I accuse someone of being a homophobe, and he retorts that he is certainly not a homophobe, as his best friend is gay. His need to defend his comfort/acceptance towards gays by mentioning his best friend is gay does not, in my opinion, necessarily further support the idea that he really is a homophobe, and in fact might even contribute to making me question my original assumption that he was one (depending, of course, on other cues and clues).

I'm not saying that there aren't plenty of prejudiced folks out there who hide behind comments such as these; I'm just proposing that there are some instances where these comments convey insecurity, and nothing more.
posted by jeremy b at 10:18 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Klangklangston, I hear you and I think we agree to a point. Classmates can say some stupid as hell things, and college students aren't immune from the stupid. Hell, sometimes they're worse.

My whole issue with the justification of some of the language tics Silva is demonstrating is the notion that they are normal and okay. The fact that my classmate could with a straight face equate the Irish struggles with slavery on the day the African-American student was absent says a lot to me. Of course, the fact that nearly everyone else in the class called her out on it says something else. My only point was that we are all racist, every single one of us. And the only thing you can do is make an effort to minimize it and talk about it as plainly as possible.
posted by teleri025 at 10:19 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I giggle at "pendant."
posted by klangklangston at 12:18 PM on March 9


Heh. See, what I was saying was, like I, like, you know, didn't want to be an albatross hanging around this guy's neck over some grammar issue, ya' know?
posted by dios at 10:20 AM on March 9, 2009


"The fact that my classmate could with a straight face equate the Irish struggles with slavery on the day the African-American student was absent says a lot to me."

I worked with an intern who did that same thing ("Some of my friends' parents wouldn't even let me come to sleepovers because I was Irish!") and it was even more bizarre to see the black temp back her up on it. She also asserted that there's no racism in Boston, except against the Irish.
posted by klangklangston at 10:21 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


asok, this would be a valid complaint if the link had been presented with context. As it is, what people take away from it is what they take away.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:22 AM on March 9, 2009


Hell klang, I've still never taken the sign off my door that reads "No dirty, drunk, and smelly Irish allowed on premises. This means all of them, good day sir."
posted by nola at 10:25 AM on March 9, 2009


I think your intern acquaintance meant to say, "There's no racism in Boston, except from the Irish."
posted by Mister_A at 10:29 AM on March 9, 2009


Yeah, she went off on some tangent about how her mother's family won't talk to her father's because he's half-Italian (or vice versa, I don't remember), and how that's just as bad as racism against black people etc., and all I could think was, God, your family sounds retarded.
posted by klangklangston at 10:30 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


You know it's okay to "black." Really. I think we have come at least that far. The word doesn't have to be dripping with some implied bigotry or sarcasm like I feel the writer implies in use in this paper. Which admittedly I only half read as I found it insufferable and filled with bad faith assumptions and gotchas.
posted by tkchrist at 10:33 AM on March 9, 2009


I find this very interesting. Is there coded language? Yes. But isn't one of the problems that the code itself is so confused that people can't really say what they clearly intend and be believed? Example: If you say "I'm not a racist," doesn't that sort of suggest--using the professor's logic--that you *are* a racist and you are trying to hide it by saying "I'm not a racist?" What exactly does the code allow you to say to clearly indicate that you aren't a racist? Is there any clear, unambiguous words that any of the interviewees could have said to the professor that would have caused him to say "That person is not a racist." Honest question.
posted by MarshallPoe at 10:35 AM on March 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


But apparently, State College, Pa., where she's from? Totally bigoted against attractive white people. Also, she worried that she was going to have to go to a "second-tier" law school, like Stanford or UCLA, because of the bigotry that denied her opportunities. All I could think of was, y'know, you're the intern, you're not actually doing anything valuable here, and you're getting paid more than a couple of the editors. What the fuck?
posted by klangklangston at 10:35 AM on March 9, 2009


One thing the paper does that I didn't care for was it presupposed all racism was directed toward a minority. I have witnessed social level acts of racism by as many people of one group as another. The paper doesn't really admit this might even exist. I live in an area that is pretty evenly split between minority and caucasian so YMMV.

Certainly racism toward minorities is more institutionalized and damaging than other sorts, I don't know how many people I have seen on the side of the road for "driving while black" in a ritzy area. These kinds of things need to be addressed head on. People in power don't have the right to let their prejudices impact innocent people. Police might claim the stop was for a broken tailight or some such. Usually this is only because they can't put black on the paperwork, nothing more. If you ever ask them, they would never admit such. Pretty transparent when 90% of the people in traffic court are black, and 90% of your town is white.

I almost always meet people as simply people. What color they might be really isn't the least bit important. It just doesn't pop into my conciousness as something of note, other than perhaps a way of recognizing them, or if we are in a situation where we need to be on guard for others prejudices. I hope for a day when this is the norm. I got out of a friends car and took a cab home, never to speak to him again, because of vile racist statements he would not stop making. I quit a job to a large degree because my boss made a racist joke at a business lunch. Stand up for your convictions, don't acquiesce.
posted by jester69 at 10:35 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Klang is right: race relations are complicated. Particularly in America, we're coming from a severely fucked-up racial history, which is conflated with regionalism, culturalism, and most significantly, economic class. From there we get questions of more detailed origin. Did your ancestors come the America as slaves, or did you come here recently? African or Caribbean? Etc. Then on top of it all we add questions of policy, e.g. Affirmative Action, which may have problems unrelated to their intended goal. Finally, equate hateful racism with unconscious prejudice and imply that any who would wish to draw a helpful distinction there is, in fact racist.

So is more than complicated, it's a fucking minefield. What this "study" (paper? I don't know what to call this but I'm hesitant to imply actual scholarship being involved) does is takes that ever-evolving and changing minefield and then chastises whites for not instinctively knowing how to run through it without getting their legs blown off.

Also, DU: Obviously this is an important matter to you, but could you please please please stop being so disingenuous? I don't need to be persuaded that "white Americans" are unconsciously racially prejudiced. Everyone is. The problem with the paper is that it blatantly assumes its premises and is often intellectually dishonest.

And all of that sucks, because this is an important topic that needs to be discussed in terms that may actually be useful towards garnering greater discourse and fewer prejudices, but this paper, if anything does the opposite. (Seconding the greatness of "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," though.)
posted by Navelgazer at 10:35 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Can someone explain why saying "some of my best friends are black/Asian/etc" is considered to definitively suggest the speaker's inherent racism or prejudice towards the group in question?

In one high profile example of this trope, Sarah Palin, in one of the debates, stated that she was against giving equal rights to same sex couples, and then immediately told the nation that she has a close friend who is a lesbian. That's what's obnoxious - the cliche of saying something offensive about a group, and then hastening to point out that you have a personal relationship with one of the "good ones".
posted by moxiedoll at 10:39 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think it should be illegal to admit someone to school or give them a job based solely on the color of their skin.

The fact that you (not that you're alone here, drjimmy11) think that's how most affirmative action programs work shows how ignorant people are of them. The completely unqualified black guy walking in the door and stealing the job/seat from the Nobel-worthy white dude is a situation less common than AA opponents seem to fear. That outreach-to-minorities you wrote of? Already a big component of AA and diversity programs. Cognizance of other kinds of nonracial diversity? Already in there, too. You want to know the actual effect affirmative action has on admissions these days? A simplified example:

Academic program ranked number 1 in the country has 100 seats. The 100th most qualified guy (according to standardized tests) is white, and is bumped for the 102nd most qualified guy (according to standardized tests), who is black. The 100th most qualified white guy's life isn't ruined. He's actually the 74th most qualified guy applying to the number 2 program, and cruises in. If he's really great, he'll shine even more in that program. If it somehow turns out the black dude wasn't actually cut out for the top program, he won't make it through the first year.

Honestly, that's what these programs look like these days. Someone who still believes the bogeyman version is embarrassingly ignorant. A white person who can't dial down the outrage (or in the case of this study, stammering) about that really does have some issues worth examining.
posted by aswego at 10:44 AM on March 9, 2009 [12 favorites]


dios:: according to the OED, hundreds of years of history disagree with your -- ahem -- sophomoric English teacher.
c1450 Old Treat. in Roy's Rede me, etc. (Arb.) 174 Syns Christ bought vs as he did other. c1489 CAXTON Blanchardyn liv. 213 But since all humane flesh is mortall,..what auailes my sorowful grones and passions? 1540 PALSGR. Acolastus II. i. Iiij, Go to, let it be,..syns it lyketh so. 1577 B. GOOGE Heresbach's Husb. i. (1586) 7b, Sins it is not yet dinner tyme, let vs walke about. 1611 A. STAFFORD Niobe 152 Whereunto I giue credit, since his succeeders do the same. 1664 BUTLER Hud. II. ii. 483 But since no reason can confute ye, I'll try to force you to your Duty. 1711 ADDISON Spect. No. 215 {page}4 Since I am engaged on this Subject, I cannot forbear mentioning a Story [etc.]. 1766 GOLDSM. Vic. W. xxvi, What signifies..courting his friendship, since you find how scurvily he uses you? 1833 H. MARTINEAU Briery Creek iii. 59 You shall have them cheap, since there is but a poor demand for them to-day. 1895 Manch. Guardian 14 Oct. 5/6 All the tunnelling has to be done..by the pick, since boring machines cannot be used.
posted by jock@law at 10:52 AM on March 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


This paper seems pretty meaningless to me. I admit to not reading the entirety, but at no point did the author explain what qualified a person's attitudes as "racist" or "conservative." There's a lot of assumptions here that are clearly rooted in the political views of the author. The topic itself has legs, but the author makes too many assumptions (without telling us) about a topic that is very difficult to parse. In fact, you could say that there is some verbal hedging on the part of the paper, using terms like "conservative" in a highly ambiguous manner to imply racist attitudes on the part of the subject.

Also, isn't it important for something like this to define what is means by the word "racism"? Bonilla-Silva defines "color blind" racism (calling Orwell?) as, among other things:
(2) cultural rather than biological explanation of minorities’ inferior standing and performance in labor and educational markets
In my mind, this is plainly not racist in any sense of the word, unless it is racist to explain differences in performance as being due to anything except racism. To me, this is an incoherent mess that is heavily distorted by unstated political opinions on the part of Bonilla-Silva.
posted by Edgewise at 10:53 AM on March 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Leave the retarded out of this one.
posted by josher71 at 10:57 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


ethnomethodologist:

In addition to dios' email, could you pop one off to Eduardo asking him for a list of his past sexual partners and common fantasies? If it's not an even mix of men, women, and trannies, then I'd like to know why he's such a homophobe and/or woman-hater and/or tranny-hater, as per his assessment of Carol.
posted by CKmtl at 10:59 AM on March 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Edgewise, I interpret "cultural rather than biological explanations" as statements like, "Blacks don't have strong family values because the cultural baggage of slavery put women in the forefront of the family." Or "Blacks can't excel in educational or economic settings because their culture does not strongly value education."

Those statements are still racist because they are making a generalization about an entire group of people based on some superficial characteristics.
posted by teleri025 at 11:02 AM on March 9, 2009


aswego, that's patently false. Rightly or wrongly, racial disparities in standardized tests are absolutely huge.
posted by jock@law at 11:06 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


(and I think wrongly, and I suspect it has to do with poorer preparation in underfunded schools, and/or different psychological effects of the testing environments)
posted by jock@law at 11:07 AM on March 9, 2009


Those statements are still racist because they are making a generalization about an entire group of people based on some superficial characteristics.

I think this is just silly. Obviously, such a statement isn't attempting to describe every single member of a given race. Let's back up a step. Obviously, there is a difference in scholastic outcomes between white and black populations. How are we to explain this? For the sake of this example, let's leave out genetic explanations, and explanations that blame everything on racism. Is there any way to explain this without being racist?

Sure, you can say basically the same thing as your example ("Blacks can't excel in educational or economic settings because their culture does not strongly value education."), but throw in a hundred caveats to make clear what should be perfectly honest to anyone except an excessively liberal academic.

Do we apply these standards to all instances where we talk about groups in an academic setting? I mean, I've read textbooks that said things like "In the middle ages, Europeans were far more religious than they are today." Is that racist or something-ist? Do we need to rephrase to make it clear that we're not talking about every single European ever born?

I think in these situations, it's necessary to take a step back, and see if you're applying the same logic to non-racial situations. Obviously, race is a highly emotionally charged topic, especially in the US. However, it is in an academic situation where our discourse should be the most open and freewheeling, not constrained by excessive sensitivity.
posted by Edgewise at 11:10 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


The 100th most qualified guy (according to standardized tests) is white, and is bumped for the 102nd most qualified guy (according to standardized tests), who is black. The 100th most qualified white guy's life isn't ruined. He's actually the 74th most qualified guy applying to the number 2 program, and cruises in.


You don't think that the white guy getting bumped to an inferior program (2 places) solely because of his race isn't racist?
posted by 5imian at 11:10 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Interesting, but the author seems to draw a lot of broad conclusions from a few specific examples of rhetoric.
posted by HumanComplex at 11:18 AM on March 9, 2009


according to the OED, hundreds of years of history disagree with your -- ahem -- sophomoric English teacher.

Thanks jock@law. I'm totally going to email that son of a bitch and throw that at him. I always hated that prick anyhow.
posted by dios at 11:19 AM on March 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


You don't think that the white guy getting bumped to an inferior program (2 places) solely because of his race isn't racist?

I don't understand why you think that guy's getting bumped "solely because of his race." The guy right above him might be white, and didn't get bumped. The guy at the top of the admissions list certainly didn't. So no...I don't accept the premise of your question. Regardless, I'll concede the act obviously isn't color-blind, though it also isn't "racist" by any definition of the word I find useful. I mean, isn't the "color-blind and let's leave it at that" approach to racial discourse one of the things Colbert mocks every other week?
posted by aswego at 11:28 AM on March 9, 2009


@ aswego

I am trying to understand your example. Why did the 102nd guy take the 100th guys place? Was it because the initially 100th guy was white, and the initially 102nd guy was not?
posted by 5imian at 11:37 AM on March 9, 2009


I love it when white people complain about affirmative action as if whites are the people being disadvantaged by it instead of Asians.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:43 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Navelgazer, I'm just trying to understand aswego's example. Judging form his response i might have misunderstood him.
posted by 5imian at 11:46 AM on March 9, 2009


MuffinMan: I didn't realise you knew my views on affirmative action, for what they're worth. I'm quite comfortable my own views are subjective, not objective. I'm accusing the author of bad faith by directly equating criticism of affirmative action - a means to an end among several other options - with racism.

What then would be an objective view of affirmative action?

jock@law: aswego, that's patently false. Rightly or wrongly, racial disparities in standardized tests are absolutely huge.

Could you please give me a citation for this? Preferably one that also has data for other factors, income, region etc.
posted by Kattullus at 11:50 AM on March 9, 2009


"You don't think that the white guy getting bumped to an inferior program (2 places) solely because of his race isn't racist?"

Well, y'know, I'm gonna counter and say that statistically, it's more likely that the non-white guy had the equivalent of two places worth of discrimination prior to the test, and that pretending that the competition starts immediately at the outset of the test is naive.

But I'll also say that I'd favor affirmative action based much more on class than on race (though I do think there's a place for race in the discussion). (OH NO CODED LANGUAGE FOR RACISM!).
posted by klangklangston at 11:53 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


5imian, I wasn't directing that at you, but I see now that it came directly after your comment. As far as your point goes, I think aswego wasn't trying to deny a racial bias, but was trying to say that it isn't between the phenomenal white guy and the walking-in-off-the-street black guy, but rather something which can sometimes tip the scales in very close cases.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:54 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


5imian- the 102nd guy replaced the 100th guy because the 100th guy 1) had practically the same test scores, and 2) happened to be white. To the people running AA programs, both of those components are key. That is why it is not "solely about race." If it were solely about race, the 400th guy, who happened to be black, could replace the 4th guy, who happened to be white. In reality, that doesn't happen. Really awful candidate doesn't replace really good candidate. Mediocre candidate of one race only replaces mediocre (if ever-so-slightly-better) candidate of another race.
posted by aswego at 11:54 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


And also, 100 and 102 are a bit misleading here, as they assume that the measures that made those rankings were entirely quantifiable. They never are.

Not saying that AA is perfect or evil, but just agreeing that it doesn't work like a lot of people might have in mind.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:04 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or yeah- what Navelgazer said. I realize that the slight tipping of the scales is still too much for some people, and I even kind of respect that position in the abstract. But it seems like opposition to the AA and diversity programs, while led by people who would even fight against drjimmy's outreach-to-minorities program, is largely people who just wildly overestimate the "edge" given to the minority applicant. That they don't know the minimal extent ends up becoming a big factor in how uncomfortable they are talking about it.
posted by aswego at 12:06 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read the paper and most of the comments here. FWIW, I pretty much agree with Klang. The thing that I found interesting is the incoherence section of the paper. I've seen this grading student papers before. Suddenly a student who writes perfectly well writes like a moron when it comes to any kind of racial issue. The first time I saw it it freaked me out. What amazed me is this comes across in writing not just in speech.
posted by ob at 12:12 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


it's more likely that the non-white guy had the equivalent of two places worth of discrimination prior to the test, and that pretending that the competition starts immediately at the outset of the test is naive.

Right, the white guy could have been from a rural farm family from Pink, Oklahoma ( the only one to attend college from 11 brothers and sisters), and the Black guy could be ..say... Will Smith's grandson.

I think that the criticism that Affirmative Action might seemingly 'help' the whole while hurting the individual is a pretty objective opinion. How well you tan or where your grandparents were born, just isn't a good indicator of..well anything.. I think economic strata might be a better place to start when providing equal opportunity.

----

I'm sorry aswego, but if i had a store, and I told all for whites they had to pay 10 cents more for each item (a white tax) , it wouldn't be wrong in that its ruinous economically for anyone, but wrong in principle. Ignorance is thinking that "all white have it better, or all blacks have it worse.. or anything along those lines." It just isn't true in every case, to warrant an every-case policy.

because the 100th guy 1) had practically the same test scores, and 2) happened to be white.

Maybe you'll think I'm racist.. i really don't care. But when I decide whether something is racist or not, I usually mentally insert, some OTHER race, to see if its really about race, of if that was just a descriptor.

"John can't tan for shit because hes really white"
Well, if it were.
"John can't tan for shit because hes really Asian" I don't think any Asian would be offended. This statement? not racist. Its just an objective fact about his skin. Johns white. The sun hates him. End of story.

Another example:
"White people love macaroni and cheese". I can't really take this offensively. There's no hate... "Jewish people love macaroni and cheese". Same thing. Silly, but not racist. Even the most like.. blind silly generalization of this nature i really could care less about. So what if you think all whites automatically love country music? You're wrong, but not racist.

But when i take your statement:

"because the 100th guy 1) had practically the same test scores, and 2) happened to be Mexican." I would think. Why is the Mexican being graded down? Is that really fair to him? This seems like a strange decision/ observation to make about race. You are going to a worse school because you were right on the border line score wise and also happen to be "X" race. Honestly that would make me uncomfortable to say about any race, even my own, with a straight face.

I don't see how that's not a reasonable criticism of your example... which now that i am CERTAIN i understand more clearly... I think is kinda racist. Grading anyone anyway (even better) because they "happen" to be a certain race is really unfair. its wrong.
posted by 5imian at 12:15 PM on March 9, 2009


How well you tan

really?
posted by moxiedoll at 12:22 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


How well you tan

really?

As in, a superficial attribute- like skin color. yes. It a hyperbole, i hope you understand my point.
posted by 5imian at 12:24 PM on March 9, 2009


"Right, the white guy could have been from a rural farm family from Pink, Oklahoma ( the only one to attend college from 11 brothers and sisters), and the Black guy could be ..say... Will Smith's grandson."

Right. Well, y'know, that's one of those reasons that I think moving to class-based affirmative action makes AA more defensible, though you can still say that a black guy of equal means is more likely to experience harm through discrimination.

However, that's moving the goalposts. The question is for two folks who are functionally the same in terms of academic performance, one white and one black. Sure, the black guy might be coddled, but that's not all that likely, is it?

"I think that the criticism that Affirmative Action might seemingly 'help' the whole while hurting the individual is a pretty objective opinion."

Let's reframe this: Say that in a hypothetical system we set up, AA unquestionably helps the whole, but hurts the individual. What's the best way to determine whether it's worth pursuing? Where you come down on this will tell you what assumptions you start out with regarding individual rights versus collective good, and idealism versus practicality. But I think there are compelling arguments to be made that diversity is both valuable as an ideal and practically valuable, meaning that, say, I think people get a benefit from being around (and having to work with) people from different backgrounds than themselves, and I think that there are demonstrated economic benefits that come from the same experience. I think that an educational institution can make a fair claim to the first position, that it furthers the educational mission to encourage diversity, even at the cost of some individuals, and I think that businesses are more likely to be swayed by the latter argument.
posted by klangklangston at 12:37 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thats a great point klang.
posted by 5imian at 12:44 PM on March 9, 2009


5imian- I'm at least glad we now understand each other more clearly, and I take responsibility for any earlier ambiguity. Like I wrote before, I do kind of understand the absolutist color-blind approach, and would only suggest that those who subscribe to it follow it to its logical conclusion and steel themselves for the consequences (would that person object to drjimmy's suggestion of spending extra money for minority outreach, which isn't exactly a color-blind allocation of resources?). I have no idea if that's where you are or not, but I have no interest in calling those people or anyone else racist (I specifically avoided calling anyone the term, I believe). It's nice that you have your own substitute-X-for-Y test for racism, but the truth is Mexicans aren't the ones being denied spots in schools by AA programs, your white tax isn't real, and neither is the bogeyman version of Affirmative Action in most people's heads. That matters, because that's how the debate is framed and it's one reason why these students sound incoherent.

You are going to a worse school because you were right on the border line score wise and also happen to be "X" race. Honestly that would make me uncomfortable to say about any race, even my own, with a straight face.

And yet it happens, with the support of many a white, albeit bleeding-heart liberal person. Many people in the majority make small "sacrifices" to fight what they see as injustice, and feel perfectly comfortable about it. You obviously see the solution to be more of an injustice than the problem. If I thought all the students surveyed had thought this through as much as you, and reached their conclusions as confidently as you did, I wouldn't so readily dismiss them as ignorantly wishy-washy.
posted by aswego at 12:49 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Will Smith's grandson

Will Smith's grandson (what?) or any person of color is still more likely than you to get pulled over and get the shit kicked out of him because of his skin color, no matter how rich he is. That's why it's called white privilege. Even rich blacks and hispanics get shit on.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:53 PM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


AA unquestionably helps the whole, but hurts the individual. What's the best way to determine whether it's worth pursuing?

I'll take "Invisible Option No. 3" and suggest that if there's a non-zero chance of hurting individuals, and it's reasonably in our power to correct it, we should do so. I think it's reasonable to insist that organizations such as universities that take public money should not use race to determine anything. Private institutions can do whatever they like.

it furthers the educational mission to encourage diversity, even at the cost of some individuals.

Until it happens to you. Then it sucks.

I defy anyone to try to keep a straight face when explaining to their child, who didn't get into Big State U because of the color of their skin, that, "Honestly, sweetheart, it's all for the best. Now close your eyes and think about multicultural values."

AA gets an A for effort and an F for execution. Even if you try to score it quantitatively, I'd wager that AA breeds more bitter resentment than it does good diversity karma.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:55 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


In the real hypothetical world, coveted chair #100 is auctioned to a hypothetical rich kid from England, South Korea, or UAE, and, unlike both American examples, he pays in full. If we're really going to hold American universities to some model of social accountability, campus diversity is probably secondary to slaying the myth that these creatures are, underneath the ivy and stone, functionally different from other corporations in the eight (plus) figures. Why should American students fight for seats at a billion dollar table?
posted by kid ichorous at 1:06 PM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I will take this opportunity to bitch about white people who whisper the word "black" when there are other people around.

Example: "While I was working today, this black guy came into the store and started complaining."

If it is irrelevant to the story that the guy was black at all, then you probably don't need to whisper the race. You need not mention the race.

If it is relevant to the story that the guy was black, then go ahead and say it in a regular voice. Black people don't care when the word "black" is being used in a relevant way.
posted by flarbuse at 1:06 PM on March 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


"I'll take "Invisible Option No. 3" and suggest that if there's a non-zero chance of hurting individuals, and it's reasonably in our power to correct it, we should do so. I think it's reasonable to insist that organizations such as universities that take public money should not use race to determine anything. Private institutions can do whatever they like."

Well, that's not really an invisible option: You're saying that the rights of the individual should always trump the collective good. That's fine, but it's an idealistic principle, one that can't be applied universally in any modern society, and one whose outcomes are often undesirable (we'll leave aside the fact that it's also easy to use to disguise racism).

"Until it happens to you. Then it sucks."

Well, yeah, I already said that, didn't I? But I also think that I should get to do whatever I want and it sucks when I don't get to, even as I realize that it's not a great way to structure a society.

"I defy anyone to try to keep a straight face when explaining to their child, who didn't get into Big State U because of the color of their skin, that, "Honestly, sweetheart, it's all for the best. Now close your eyes and think about multicultural values.""

Right, but it's OK to tell them that they didn't get in because they're not good at sports, or don't have a legacy admission or that their extra-curriculars were unfashionable this year ("They just said that they didn't need any more violinists. If only you'd taken up the oboe!"). Furthermore, I note that conservatives are often the first ones to point out that the world isn't fair and advise people to suck it up. Except, of course, when things aren't fair to their detriment, in which case THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN.

I also believe that I'm a good enough driver to speed, but think that the rest of you morons out there should all pull into the right lanes and drive the speed limit.

I'd also wager that the number of white kids who are denied opportunities due to a faceless minority getting "their" (entitled much?) spot seems roughly analogous to the number of people alive in the '60s who were at Woodstock—my girlfriend's cousin didn't get into U-M business school because he's a bit of a dumbass, but from his point of view, there's some unreconstructed Negro from the jungles of the Congo learning management techniques right now in his place.

But, like I said, it's complicated.
posted by klangklangston at 1:12 PM on March 9, 2009 [10 favorites]


"Will Smith's grandson (what?) or any person of color is still more likely than you to get pulled over and get the shit kicked out of him because of his skin color"

You mean the cops?
They just pull over black people, and Latino people, and Asians and Native Americans and anything NON white and just...fucking WAIL on them for fun??

Then that cop/cops needs to be put in jail! (I assume that's who you mean.. the cops that is)
Do you really think there's some good old boy system, enforcing this kind of behavior? I mean, we debate affirmative actions because its a societal fact, and everyone practicing it definitely owns up to it. Does anyone really condone what you posted? If they do, they have a lot of WHITE people to answer to, in addition to their victims. Noone agrees with this.

Pulling someone over and beating the shit out of them is wrong.
Pulling someone over for their race and beating the shit out of them is more wrong.
And your point in context of affirmative action?

is probably secondary to slaying the myth that these creatures are, underneath the ivy and stone, functionally different from other corporations in the eight (plus) figures

Quoted for truth.
posted by 5imian at 1:16 PM on March 9, 2009


"Until it happens to you. Then it sucks."

I'm preparing to enter a field (teevee writing) which strongly encourages diversity, at least at the entry level, and I'm pretty astounded by the number of professionals in the field who have told me that being a white male is a significant disadvantage at the start of my career. (However, it's pretty clear that it's no disadvantage at the higher levels).

You know what? I'm fine with it. As Louis C.K. says (NSFW), being a white male is an easy ride all around, and if I don't get one or two jobs because of it I still feel like I'm coming out ahead.
posted by Bookhouse at 1:21 PM on March 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


@ aswego and @ klang and Papabell

I think you have a lot of good ideas and I'm glad I got to read what oyu have to say about all of this. I also think klang opened up my eyes to some additional ways of looking at the issue. It is indeed a COMPLICATED issues, we can all agree on that. I think his suggestion- the economically driven AA is spot on. If minorities are indeed economically underprivileged (and i do think in many cases they are) then they will benefit most form the model. the good news, is the non "minorities" that also need outreach aren't left in the dust. I'm really thinking of rural folk mainly... here. There's not a ton of them comparatively, but growing up in the absolute middle of nowhere in a poor area just kills your opportunities.

I personally am idealist in that i want to protect individual rights, but sometimes that does mean oversight. I hope technology, cheap affordable technology have help a lot of people teach themselves and level the playign field.

As bad as it is these days, it still better than its ever been in history.

Anyways, thanks for all the good info
posted by 5imian at 1:26 PM on March 9, 2009


aswego, that's patently false. Rightly or wrongly, racial disparities in standardized tests are absolutely huge.

That's right. And that's why the 102nd most qualified black guy according to the standardized test is really the 50th or 25th most qualified. Research done on the relationship of admissions tests to success in school indicates that lower scores among economically disadvantaged individuals are predictive of success equal to that of higher scores among advantages individuals. (If you needed any more evidence that they are biased.) This book does a pretty good job of explaining not only that the pitfalls and weaknesses of standardized tests that make them nearly useless in predicting success in school and how when applied blindly to all individuals without taking into account their backgrounds they really are useless for ranking them for probability of success.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:46 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


On topic: Article sucks; author should feel bad, and, um, you can tell I'm a racist because there are no racial slurs in my post.

On the more interesting conversation that's developed: Link to months-old comment of mine which discusses relevant research on Affirmative Action taking seats from Asians, not Whites, and one attempt to quantify the AA bonus which finds it, for Blacks, about equal to 230 SAT points when it was out of 1600.

While I'm busy and not going to get into the debate too much, I would like to see backup for the "Affirmative Action is a tiny bump" idea. College admissions are opaque and shady as fuck. Besides that 230 SAT point estimate, the other evidence I'm aware of was Michigan's 150-point undergraduate admissions score (scroll down to where someone's gathered what I only found in snippets elsewhere), which gave a 20 point racial bonus, equal to the difference between a 3.0 and 4.0 GPA. That AA mechanism was overturned and of course there was other crap, like an 10-point "parents paid a shit ton of money for a name prep school" bonus or the 8-point "challenging courseload" bonus which would just be unavailable to many of all races, but yeah, being Black/Hispanic did get you a full letter grade bump.

In general college admissions is a complete shitshow in this country and there are reasons they're hiding how the sausage is made. I think everyone would find something to be outraged about.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 1:55 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Affirmative Action taking seats from Asians, not Whites

Isn't it odd how Asians qualify as a minority for AA programs except when it comes to admissions where the focus switches to "underrepresented" minorities? There's an "Animal Farm" reference just waiting to be made right there.
posted by MikeMc at 2:35 PM on March 9, 2009


I think it was Mr. Lif who said something to the effect of, "Culture exists to keep us from meeting each other." I like to think the same about skin color.

I'm racist sometimes, sure. But that's never, ever, not once, stopped me from treating other people like I'd like to be treated. Other things have, but not racism.

I hope that's enough.
posted by saysthis at 2:57 PM on March 9, 2009


being a white male is an easy ride all around, and if I don't get one or two jobs because of it I still feel like I'm coming out ahead.

This statement and the homeless people I've met cannot be mutually real. One of them is just light smeared on the glass skin of a television.
posted by kid ichorous at 3:00 PM on March 9, 2009


I think it was Mr. Lif who said something to the effect of, "Culture exists to keep us from meeting each other."
Whoa, I thought Mr Lif was only famous in Boston.

posted by kid ichorous at 3:03 PM on March 9, 2009


being a white male is an easy ride all around, and if I don't get one or two jobs because of it I still feel like I'm coming out ahead.

This statement and the homeless people I've met cannot be mutually real. One of them is just light smeared on the glass skin of a television.


White people also sometimes get cancer or slip and break their necks. I didn't say it made me bulletproof.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:07 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


and Mr. Lif is known outside of Boston, but I wouldn't call him famous.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:08 PM on March 9, 2009


That's fine, but it's an idealistic principle, one that can't be applied universally in any modern society

Why the hell not? I just provided an example -- no public money used for affirmative action. That's something that can literally be applied in seconds. In this one narrow slice, it's not complicated at all. Race is either a factor in admissions or it isn't, no matter how furiously we wave our hands.

I'd also wager that the number of white kids who are denied opportunities due to a faceless minority getting "their" (entitled much?) spot seems roughly analogous to the number of people alive in the '60s who were at Woodstock

Funny, I actually agree with you there. There is not a massive injustice being done, despite the histrionics. But I'd say there is not a massive injustice being done in either direction. There are not tons of white kids being turned away from Big State U. At the same time, there are not tons of black kids with mediocre test scores being turned away by evil admissions directors, either (if there were, I imagine it would be easy to prove, especially in states with sunshine laws). The world is neither as racist nor as color-blind as people imagine it to be in the darkest corners of their Mom's basements.

But this is a bell-clear case of the institutionalization of non-color-blindness. In this one instance, race is a matter of policy. I mean, it's simply mind-boggling that it's happened at all and that it's so-called "progressives" that are the ones that can't move past it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:10 PM on March 9, 2009


That paper is racist. Period. I am tired of "racist this" and "racist that". BS!

If you are talking about differences and you say "whites do X" or "blacks do Y" you are being racist by the very nature of racism.

The blacks that scream "Racism!" are being racist, and vice versa.

The inherent problem is that if you want to destroy racism you have to destroy culture. Not an easy or good thing to do.
posted by Drasher at 3:22 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


so, what about this ethiopian in the fuel supply?
posted by kitchenrat at 3:28 PM on March 9, 2009


Katullus: What then would be an objective view of affirmative action?

I answered your point before, namely that "critics of affirmative action" were not identical with "racists". One does not need to have a view on affirmative action to see the false equivalence.

If you disagree with that point say so. Or are your rather odd comments some obscure linguistic code for "I have no clue about logic but I'm going to call you a racist anyway"?
posted by MuffinMan at 3:46 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


“The inherent problem is that if you want to destroy racism you have to destroy culture. Not an easy or good thing to do”.

If it destroys the element of culture that keeps harping on an outmoded method of classification it would be a good, albeit hard, thing to do.
But I agree - “Race” is really a superficial set of physical traits. If we’re talking biology, it’s way more complex. If we’re not talking biology – then we’re talking culture. So we’re talking ethnicity. And even if we’re not, we should be.

Much of this is looking to balance what some other people are doing in response to those traits.
I agree with you though, it is a dull way to go about it pointing to ‘white’ people’s hidden racism when – what the hell is ‘white’ anyway but a social construction?
There used to be signs “Irish need not apply.” So the Irish weren’t ‘white’ until fairly recently (historically speaking).
So I’d question the veracity of the study as well – given there’s an inquiry here into the nature of the change in language about something that’s an arbitrary social construct in the first place (whiteness) and one that many people feel ambivalent about being included in. Even if the language is modified – that could be because the divisions between white and black are not as socially rigid as they once were. No separate drinking fountains and such. Ergo the language would change anyway, whether there was some covert racism going on in veiled terms or not. Especially if not, because, as I’ve said, it’s an arbitrary difference. Racism is learned. Not the noticing ‘hey, my skin is a different color than yours’ thing, but the actions predicated upon that and how people group themselves.
My best friend is black and most of his friends are black and there are groups within that I feel are more ‘our’ kind of people versus ‘other’ kinds. And it’s got nothing to do with race (mostly with how one thinks and communicates). And yet – I’m white. And as long as that classification holds – and I think this kind of work reinforces that – there’s going to be, at least externally, this division seen between us.
Which is funny because we think almost exactly alike and yet you see folks expecting he or I to agree with them based on this assumed common classification or background or shared experience which doesn’t really exist in the 'race' form.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:54 PM on March 9, 2009


"Why the hell not? I just provided an example -- no public money used for affirmative action. That's something that can literally be applied in seconds. In this one narrow slice, it's not complicated at all. Race is either a factor in admissions or it isn't, no matter how furiously we wave our hands."

Because individual rights include things like property rights, which, if absolute, would mean essentially no government. I realize that I'm in danger of going after a straw man here, but universal Liberalism is pretty much a fantasy. And from a more practical standpoint, trying to remove prejudice by eliminating Affirmative Action seems rather like saying that because crime is bad, we should have no prisons. Everyone would support a world where prisons are unnecessary, but that doesn't mean that we're near that world.

At the same time, there are not tons of black kids with mediocre test scores being turned away by evil admissions directors, either (if there were, I imagine it would be easy to prove, especially in states with sunshine laws). The world is neither as racist nor as color-blind as people imagine it to be in the darkest corners of their Mom's basements.
"

No, though I think that the perception of college as being not for them, as part of a larger question of institutionalized racism directed toward minorities is part of the harm, and it's something that has a real cost and consequence (just as do unconscious biases). Basically, the system as it stands is afflicted with a fair amount of subjectivity, and the tendency of folks to prefer folks like them reinforces an institutional unfairness.

Back when what was called, if my memory serves, Prop 2 was going through in Michigan, banning Affirmative Action (on the Ward Connely tip), I was an opinions columnist and got a lot of shit about this from both sides. My biggest beef with folks who supported AA unquestioningly was the sense that they saw it as an eternal truth, to which any thought of ending it ever was akin to supporting slavery and Jim Crow. But on the other side, folks seemed to be arguing that everything Affirmative Action was supposed to remedy had already been fixed and that it was only making things worse by maintaining a racist system when we were all beyond that. I think that AA should ideally be tied to the notion of opposing the accretion of aristocracy, spreading out power as far as possible, and that race-based AA is a necessary evil and should explicitly encourage its own obsolescence, ideally by some sort of external, objective metric. Instead, we got a crappily-written anti-AA amendment to the constitution, the same way we did when we got a crappily-written anti-gay amendment added to the constitution. (It always amazes me how willing conservatives are to embrace bad law in order to maintain their social position. If conservatism includes skepticism, neither law would have been supported by conservatives.)
posted by klangklangston at 3:56 PM on March 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


"White people also sometimes get cancer or slip and break their necks. I didn't say it made me bulletproof."

You didn't get the bulletproof power? What did you get instead? Super-capitalism? Flight? X-ray vision?
posted by klangklangston at 4:00 PM on March 9, 2009


They just pull over black people, and Latino people, and Asians and Native Americans and anything NON white and just...fucking WAIL on them for fun??

Well, mostly young black males, but yes. Your argument from incredulity is inappropriate and embarrassing to watch.

Do you really think there's some good old boy system, enforcing this kind of behavior?

There is, and it does.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:01 PM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I gave up at the spot where he argued that the phrase 'I'm not black, so I don't know what it's like' was code for 'I am strongly racist and disbelieve all that whining about discrimination cos like 'sif it actually happens man it hasn't happened to me and so you know like yea amirite?'
posted by jacalata at 5:15 PM on March 9, 2009


One thing that much of this arguing about AA is missing is that there is no clear "best choice" student for any college slot. Not even the people who really, really like the SAT would argue that SATs should be the sole basis by which one decides who gets into which college.

What is a college admissions office doing? Are they looking for the "best qualified" students? Well, "best qualified" in what sense? Are they looking for the ones who are likeliest to perform at the highest academic level across their time at the university for example? Well, there's good evidence that SAT scores aren't very predictive of that. In fact, relative rank at the student's high school is a much better predictor (one that would, obviously, allow in a lot more minority students than most current systems).

But is that, even, what college admissions is about? What is the college for? What is it's social purpose? It's not, surely, simply to ensure that people with the highest possible grades emerge from the other end of the sausage factory, is it? Maybe the college admissions board should be thinking "who will make the greatest contribution to society"? But if that is part of the basis on which they're deciding, then isn't it fair for them to say "we need to make sure that our students contribute to society across a wide spectrum of races, classes and other social groups"? After all, surely there's more room to make an impact among the traditionally underrepresented social groups than among the typically high-achieving?

In short, to pretend that "who has the highest scores" is some kind of "fair" and "straightforward" basis on which to select people for college is simply to misunderstand the basis on which colleges are composing their classes and, worse, to misunderstand the social role of universities in the first place.
posted by yoink at 6:00 PM on March 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


This debate bears out a couple important things that came out of RaceFail '09. First, one of the big elements of White Privilege is the ability to deny that White Privilege exists. That is, the beneficiaries of White Privilege white people are easily able to overlook the swarm of benefits and assumptions that surround them and give them advantages. As the man said, nobody ever says to a white man in America "You're a credit to your race". White privilege allows it's beneficiaries to handwave away advantages in everything from schooling, to job placement, to depictions in the media. This is one reason why it is so frustrating for activists to try to educate people on race: they have to make the same arguments over and over again, and even then the majority of listeners will still have their blinders on.


Secondly, people of color and whites tend to have radically different views of the term racist. Whites tend to use it in terms of Klu Klux Klan members and Archie Bunker; almost a cartoon image of a racist running around looking for blacks to oppress. PoC tend to use the term racist as a term for people who have been brought up in a racist society, and who therefore have its considerations of privilege embedded in their conscious or subconscious minds. So from this point of view if someone asks if they are racist, then the answer is: did you grow up in this society? Then yes, you are racist. The only question is whether you deny it, and thus perpetuate the system, or acknowledge the attitudes it and try to change yourself and the culture.
posted by happyroach at 6:18 PM on March 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


As the man said, nobody ever says to a white man in America "You're a credit to your race".

Uh, yeah. Someone on Metafilter (present in this thread) did say that (s)he had White friends, and was very proud of how well almost all of them behaved themselves. Want me to dig it up for you?

Personally, I'd rather just note that making cute assertions about some few hundred million people is an open window to counterexample, and that I'd rather we just not employ these nesting dolls of insulting, racist generalizations, academia-approved or not.

posted by kid ichorous at 6:57 PM on March 9, 2009


Do you really think there's some good old boy system, enforcing this kind of behavior?

There is, and it does.


Does that mean I can expect my Ol' Boy Network welcome packet to show up soon?W00t!

You didn't get the bulletproof power? What did you get instead? Super-capitalism? Flight? X-ray vision?

What did you get? I, like all of the Irish diaspora, got the Super Mega Liver which allows to metabolize huge amounts of Bushmills without being obviously drunk .
posted by MikeMc at 7:38 PM on March 9, 2009


did you grow up in this society? Then yes, you are racist.

And then the only question is: how many seconds until ~95% of white people will smile politely and tune out.

This is one reason why it is so frustrating for activists to try to educate people on race: they have to make the same arguments over and over again, and even then the majority of listeners will still have their blinders on.

Perhaps "activists" should stop trying to make the same tiresome arguments over and over again. Just because activists think they're right and their argument is compelling doesn't make either true. Sometime it's just the same tired "invisible knapsack" being trotted out to make it's mandatory appearance (like it has in this thread) and, frankly, that was worn out years ago.
posted by MikeMc at 8:14 PM on March 9, 2009


> So from this point of view if someone asks if they are racist, then the answer is: did you grow up in this society? Then yes, you
> are racist. The only question is whether you deny it, and thus perpetuate the system, or acknowledge the attitudes it and try
> to change yourself and the culture.

And since "racist" equates to "monster," that's why we can't have the (supposedly) much-desired "frank and open" conversation on race. Under these terms it reduces to "You have two choices. Admit you're a monster, or falsely and culpably deny it." Well, fuck that. Offer better terms.
posted by jfuller at 8:27 PM on March 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


Perhaps "activists" should stop trying to make the same tiresome arguments over and over again. Just because activists think they're right and their argument is compelling doesn't make either true. Sometime it's just the same tired "invisible knapsack" being trotted out to make it's mandatory appearance (like it has in this thread) and, frankly, that was worn out years ago.

Wait, wait, so because it's been said several times before, that somehow invalidates it?
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:53 PM on March 9, 2009


And since "racist" equates to "monster," that's why we can't have the (supposedly) much-desired "frank and open" conversation on race. Under these terms it reduces to "You have two choices. Admit you're a monster, or falsely and culpably deny it." Well, fuck that. Offer better terms.

So basically you refuse to discuss race unless it's done in a way that puts no blame or guilt on you. The issue of race can be discussed, but only as long as it's done in the terms established by white people, and not just white people generically but white people who refuse to listen when they are told that what they do or feel or think is wrong.

Um, no, fuck that.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:57 PM on March 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Don't listen to Pope Guilty. He's a racist.
posted by Snyder at 10:54 PM on March 9, 2009


"our argument from incredulity is inappropriate and embarrassing to watch. "

Funny i was thinking the same thing, and you missed my point entirely to boot.
posted by 5imian at 11:49 PM on March 9, 2009


Mikemc: And then the only question is: how many seconds until ~95% of white people will smile politely and tune out.

And it is part of White Priviledge that they are able to smile politely and tune out any discussion that might make themselves the least bit uncomfortable, consider their advantages, or you know, make any progress toward a solution. Because the "solution" in the case of White Privilege is "Why don't we just ignore what those angry colored people are saying."

And since "racist" equates to "monster," that's why we can't have the (supposedly) much-desired "frank and open" conversation on race. Under these terms it reduces to "You have two choices. Admit you're a monster, or falsely and culpably deny it." Well, fuck that. Offer better terms.

You missed the point, naturally, and possibly deliberately. The "Racist = monster" is the white definition of racist. The people of color I've talked to are more likely to define racist as "Someone who has grown up in this society", as they see it as an endemic set of unquestioned privileges and attitudes that may be completely unconscious.

But this is part of White Privilege that we're talking here: the ability to set the term for the debate in a way that actually avoids or destroys meaningful change. You say that "racist = monster", and therefore because you're not a monster, you're not a racist. And so you get to trot off, happily dismissing anything someone else may have to say about race.

And it's ALSO a part of White Privilege to make this whole thing about "offering terms" instead of fairness and justice. Because "offering terms" is so much more convenient for the beneficiaries of White Privilege then actually listening to what people have to say.

SO are you willing to actually LISTEN for a change, instead of telling People of Color what racism is?
posted by happyroach at 12:22 AM on March 10, 2009 [9 favorites]


Linguistics and sociology need to ditch this opinion stuff and do a lot more SCIENCE, this is barely rigorous enough to be a long blog entry - let alone a paper.

When I was young I found it uncomfortable to talk about race, due to a feeling of immense cultural guilt about the past (I'm white, and British). I'd have sounded awful to this guy!
posted by dickasso at 12:36 AM on March 10, 2009


jfuller: And since "racist" equates to "monster," that's why we can't have the (supposedly) much-desired "frank and open" conversation on race.

I don't think the equation of "racist" and "monster" should pose any problems, since at least one self-identified antiracist has already advanced the idea (with which I'm inclined to agree) that everyone is, to a degree, racist. That settled, there remains the promise of "frank and open," as well as the of airing and comparing of grievances privileges. When, in college, a rich Korean kid, while contemplating the purchase of some economy-warpingly expensive jeans over the internet, explained to me how the construct of Whiteness gave me power; or when, in college, a good friend explained how his parents giving him a trust fund was "White privilege;" in both cases, the distance in our backgrounds strained to fit in one rented room. I'm White. I didn't get those particular privileges. My father, among other things, drove a cab for years, works concrete, and was at Polaroid to catch the collapse; theirs owned import-export businesses, had university tenure. I went to public schools where that meant something. And while I'd never had any particular reason to call these guys out on their advantages, once they'd tried to nail me on some real or ridiculously assumed privilege, they burst the polite silence, created the aperture by which we would compare just what we carried on our backs.

Before I go on, I want to say something nice. I want to comment on the beauty of an invisible knapsack as a motif, because spectral "pendulums" slung around the neck have a certain history, as Dios alludes to upthread. The 'corpse slung over the shoulder' is a figure several myths and stories and even a few legal systems employed to signify guilt, not to forget that Hellboy comic. Rather than a sociologist, I'd expect to have a Roman Centurion or some shamanic type balance ghosts across my collar bones, but the image has undeniable power either way.

But the other peculiar thing about an invisible knapsack, the more Douglas Adams-ish thing, is that it is a good visualization of the concept of a mathematical set, but a very bad formal definition of one. In fact, McIntosh’s original paper tries to fill it, postulates some 50 of them (some are absurd, like #23, while some are not) then invites readers to make lists of more, to fill up this pocket universe. And for the last forty years I imagine that's what some of them have been doing. It's there, it's real, it's universal, we just have to count all the ways. Maybe it's Cantor diagonalizable.

Okay, back on topic. There was a time when I'd put up with the conservative who claims that most people in America, except for a small number of radical outliers, start out on even footing. He was a useful counterpoint in the right conversations. But I must acknowledge the flaw Mefites would be quick to point out: he's also naively imposing - dumping - the conditions of his own life, or of some artificial pink house pattern of American life, onto a set that looks more like unfiltered noise. In a similar way, I've also come to suspect that well-to-do liberals (such as my college friends) use arguments about Social Privilege to offload their own (bulging) metaphorical knapsacks onto the shoulders of the great anonymous. That is, "It's not that I'm rich, it's that We're White," or that "your Whiteness is the real issue, and not my being rich and Asian." Even though there's so much of it that is uniquely theirs, they generalize and dissolve it into a crowd of fictional people, White or otherwise, and enlist us as dramatis personae. Because nearly any exercise is preferable to owning up to a personal demon.

Did you go to a high school that didn't have police and metal detectors? Are you fortunate enough to not have any family members in prison, or on the street? Did you have a trust fund? Even a little one? You are *privileged,* and in tangible ways that leave behind all this hair-splitting and spoon-bending of the invisible knapsack: because money unearned is privilege made empirical. And if by this we're all condemned, because a fluke of geography puts us all in that position, we're still not all the same.

If we have that frank conversation about race, or privilege, it's not going to end with everyone kowtowing to a little book. I just know there's an awful lot of White people who didn't have college professors for moms, and Asians who didn't grow up with pediatricians for fathers, and Hispanics who are the goddamn cops. We have friends and/or family that have gone to prison, so we don't need your Chris Rock jokes about how White people never do that. And yeah, we do have bodies on our backs. Have you seen the one on yours? They aren't the same. Ach, there goes that grand unifying knapsack theory.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:55 AM on March 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


An interesting article. I don't know how people can have such a problem with it. It seems pretty non-judgmental. I don't think it's saying "This is how we weed out the evil racists.", but "This is how language has changed to allow racism (either explicit or implicit) to be expressed in a society which frowns on conversations which overtly reference race.

For my part, I'm guilty of a couple of the noted verbal tics. I'm a bit wary that knowledge of the tics will be used against people who just aren't used to dealing with people who are a different colour. It's hard for people who try to be non-racist, who try to do and say the right things, to be told that they're still racist.

However - there's some pretty damning stuff in there. It does appear that a good percentage of the people interviewed still see PoC as being lesser, and the article did highlight how they still manage to propagate these beliefs whilst using colour-blind language.

On balance it's useful to know this stuff.

For a while now, I've been pondering whether there needs to be a rethinking on the use of race in language. I find it increasingly difficult (within the context of racially sensistive language) to just be curious and try and improve myself, whilst the actual racism I see seems to have adapted quite easily to these new rules of society.

Pope Guilty: This isn't (b.t.w.) me trying to avoid blame and guilt - It's just that I find that with the blame and guilt I've got; coupled with the constant double checking to make sure that I don't say anything which could possibly be seen as bad; coupled with my own lack of knowledge, I can't actually open my mouth to ask the questions.

I've got no answer to that one. I don't want to go back to the language of 20 (maybe even 10) years ago. But I'm now in a situation where if I ask "Is it racist if I ...", a positive answer is going to see me feeling humiliated and blackballed.

I've got an example of this. Tesco's recently released some Tortilla Chips which were highlighted (by MeFites) as being racist. I just hadn't seen it, hadn't even considered if they were racist. And I wanted to ask British PoC if they considered the image racist. Because I was trying to work out if my own blindness was a cultural thing (The UK doesn't have a large Mexican population, so there isn't the same sensitivity to American stereotypes), or if it was something in my white upbringing.

Not the most important question in the world, but I was curious.
I asked one black person about this. Barely. In an offhand way, with plenty of diminutives (thank you posted article). And it was a difficult and embarrassing question to ask. I can't even begin to list the reasons I ultimately concluded that my behaviour was wrong. And even though I got a straight answer, and I wanted other data points, I shut up & never asked the question again.

So - That's a problem. It's maybe my problem, but it's a problem.
posted by seanyboy at 1:14 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Something I'm seeing in this thread is the idea that privilege is unitary or fungible; that because a particular white person lacks a particular privilege, they must not have any privilege, or that because a particular nonwhite person has a particular privilege, they must not be suffering from a society in which whites are privileged.

There are many privileges. White privilege, class privilege, heterosexual privilege, ablebodied privilege... it goes on. "[x] privilege" is the set of unearned advantages that you get just for being part of set [x]. Just because you're poor doesn't mean that you don't get white privilege. The "well my parents had to work therefore white privilege isn't real" line of bullshit is obnoxious.

Pope Guilty: This isn't (b.t.w.) me trying to avoid blame and guilt - It's just that I find that with the blame and guilt I've got; coupled with the constant double checking to make sure that I don't say anything which could possibly be seen as bad; coupled with my own lack of knowledge, I can't actually open my mouth to ask the questions.

Then don't. Just listen for awhile. Or hell, go ahead and ask questions, with the full knowledge, understanding, and acceptance that you are going to fuck up and get called on it. White people who talk about privilege and racism a lot tend to be people who spent a lot of time listening and asking questions and getting called on our shit. Would you rather have somebody say "Hey, that's racist", get your feelings hurt, and learn, and work on excising it from yourself, or would you rather never learn and keep saying racist shit, and hurt people by doing so?
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:07 AM on March 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


Something I'm seeing in this thread is the idea that privilege is unitary or fungible

The power of money, at the very least, is unitary.

As for White Privilege, I'm not sure it can be called unitary (or even well-defined) as presented. #23 is simply irreconcilable with American history. Others, like #21, do not even mesh with the practices of identity politics as linked on this site, since they frequently demand this very thing from members of all races.

The advantages and disadvantages of membership in a particular race are so highly contextual that two experiences of the power of Whiteness, in different situations, might fall anywhere between perfect correlation and perfect dissonance. The power of Whiteness in the Hamptons is not perfectly translated to a college application, nor to the correctional systems of the various states.

The power of a sum of money means the same thing in these three places, and almost everywhere else. There's a much more solid case to be laid out that my wealthy collegiate peers - of all races - have access to a better America and better world than almost anyone in this thread. In light of that I find all this dithering about subjective points to be quite far off the mark. Money is the best objective measure of power, and, if we're to have any useful, concise definition of privilege, my vote is "unearned power."

The most effective way to invite race into privilege discussions, as I see it, is to look at meaningful and empirical data - individual earnings, household earnings, conviction rates, life expectancies - and figure out how much those are costing people, and how much they'll cost to improve. The "linguistics of color-blind racism" isn't doing that any more than, say, praying to Hermes, god of economics, would. It's a creative diversion, infinitely distracting, if you let it be, on the road to what must be done.
posted by kid ichorous at 3:17 AM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


There's a much more solid case to be laid out that my wealthy collegiate peers - of all races - have access to a better America and better world than almost anyone in this thread.

You either haven't read my comment, or you're purposely ignoring its meaning. Yes, money is great and it creates power, none of this is fucking controversial. But between two people of equal economic status, the white person will receive advantages over the black person, the man will receive advantages over the woman, and the heterosexual will receive advantages over the homosexual. There is not a single scale that goes from -100 to +100, upon which each of us is plotted.

Similarly, translating everything into "how much money has this person been cost" excludes most of the specific manifestations of, let's say, racism: how much money does being watched extra-closely by grocery store employees, or being called by a racial slur in the street, or having other parents refuse to let your kids come over and play because of their colour of skin actually cost you? If you changed our current society such that race did not affect your economic station but changed nothing else, this would still be a deeply racist society.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:27 AM on March 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


Pope Guilty, not that I'm downplaying anything you've said with my derail, but I occasionally wonder about the point you raise of the cost of harassment, ostracisation and so forth for ugly people, and the corresponding privileges for beautiful people. There are studies on the economic benefits of beauty, for example, but most people would see the true value as non-economic.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:50 AM on March 10, 2009


Wait, wait, so because it's been said several times before, that somehow invalidates it?

The point being that if you present the same argument year after year, decade after decade and your target audience ignores you perhaps the argument itself needs some tweaking. I think jfuller summed it up well; when you start a discussion with the premise that the person you're speaking to is a "bad person" you shouldn't expect much in the way of a positive response. Now, you might say we're "missing the point" but that most likely means you're not making your point very well.
posted by MikeMc at 6:32 AM on March 10, 2009


when you start a discussion with the premise that the person you're speaking to is a "bad person" you shouldn't expect much in the way of a positive response.

We are all racist--being racist doesn't make you a bad person, it makes you human. We all have privileges, none of which we did anything to deserve. We all also have disadvantages, which we equally do not deserve. Some of them derive from race, some from other traits. This set of facts does not make anyone a bad person.

What matters is what you do with this knowledge. Do you let it sit there, unexamined? Do you even revel in your privilege, and act as though you earned it? Or do you do work to correct the inevitable inequities in our society? Do you try to understand the perspective of other people who have a different set of privileges and disadvantages from you? Do you, perhaps, do research about its effects on our society? Or read such research thoughtfully, rather than automatically dismissing it?
posted by hydropsyche at 6:43 AM on March 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


Losing privilege is incredibly jarring. I am a white male immigrant in the US who doesn't have an accent and odd name aside does not come across as an immigrant. However, when I was in DC for the inauguration one of the people I traveled with was given a button that says "Reform not raids – I am immigrant America" which she passed on to me. I put the button on my coat and have worn it since. I've gotten hassled quite a bit for it. Most have been perfectly innocuous but a couple have been very uncomfortable. I was going through a metal detector to go into an IRS office and the security guy who scanned me asked me a lot of questions about it, getting a bit heated and suggesting that I was showing ingratitude by wearing the pin and holding the views I hold. Recently I was in Boston and took the bus. A guy who sat near me got up and stared at me for a good while and looked like he was seething. Eventually he asked me where I had gotten the pin. I told him. He kept staring and fidgeting and I started to feel somewhat threatened. If I hadn't been on a crowded bus I would have been afraid. Eventually, thank God, the guy rushed out of the bus. I've taken many a bus in my life but I've never had anything like this happen. I've been accosted by strange men and women, sure, but nothing approaching this level of hostility. I've never felt hate from a complete stranger before. This was incredibly jarring. I was aware that it was a privilege to never have to worry that complete stranger stare at you with hate but having that privilege disappear, admittedly because I wear a particular message on my coat, but it's a message that is important to me because of who I am.
posted by Kattullus at 8:14 AM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


"And since "racist" equates to "monster," that's why we can't have the (supposedly) much-desired "frank and open" conversation on race. Under these terms it reduces to "You have two choices. Admit you're a monster, or falsely and culpably deny it." Well, fuck that. Offer better terms."

In that way, it feels a lot like the enduring policy of self-criticism, as practiced by Stalinists and Maoists.

And much as folks are projecting the immediate "White Privilege" response onto that comment, they're missing a couple of things: The charge of racism IS powerful. This delightful notion that if we all embrace our inner jonmc and talk about how we're all racist, man, that somehow there will be harmony and light is pure bullshit. There are prominent talking heads that make careers out of shouting "Racism!" at the drop of a hat. Sure, sure, I'm a bad person for saying that, but it is true. Allegations of racism ruin careers, receive lawsuits, have real financial and emotional cost. And since the more subtle racism is, according to this paper at least, the dominant form, it becomes something where every public action can be labeled as racist whether or not it is. Because of the power of that allegation, it can shut down discussions. Think about the recent flap about the chimp writing the bailout bill—there's a pretty compelling non-racist argument for that cartoon. But, because folks who have been empowered with the weapon of racism allegations oppose the content, it doesn't really matter whether it was racist or not.

Arguing that this is purely a white perspective born of white privilege doesn't matter—that's ad hominem reasoning. And it ignores the real rhetorical way that charges of racism are used, legitimate or not. No public voices ever say, Yeah, that was racist, but we're all racist, so who cares. Let the guy keep his job. We don't need an apology.
posted by klangklangston at 8:48 AM on March 10, 2009 [8 favorites]


I've never been comfortable with the "everyone's a little bit racist" school of thought. Yeah, every living human in the world is inundated with media that teaches us that, for instance, Asians are geeky strivers and Eastern Europeans are shifty drunks. We've seen enough murders on TV to have ingrained into us a fear of being alone on unfamiliar streets, especially in black neighborhoods. That does not equate with being a racist. Racism is not an original sin that infants are born with, goddamnit, and saying that is surrendering to the status quo. Society can be changed. Yeah, it's hard and it takes decades but even the slightest bit of historical knowledge will teach us that change has been made happen by people, not always for the good, mind you, but things can change.
posted by Kattullus at 9:26 AM on March 10, 2009


Racism is not an original sin that infants are born with

No, it is not. We teach children from a young age to be racist. Accepting that we have done that does not mean accepting that it must remain that way. As adults some of us learn that was wrong and work to change ourselves and the world around us.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:17 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


...ingrained into us a fear of being alone on unfamiliar streets, especially in black neighborhoods. That does not equate with being a racist.

Yes. It does.

The fact that racism is taught - and not innate - doesn't refute the point that people raised in a racist society are racist. Here's a great book about it, aptly titled Learning To Be White.
posted by lunit at 10:36 AM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


And, while I concede the argument that this is a discriminatory society, flatly asserting that people raised in a racist society are racist is tautological.
posted by klangklangston at 11:28 AM on March 10, 2009


I think that AA should ideally be tied to the notion of opposing the accretion of aristocracy, spreading out power as far as possible, and that race-based AA is a necessary evil and should explicitly encourage its own obsolescence, ideally by some sort of external, objective metric.

Yep. As soon as public education is equal for all classes and races, we can probably kill affirmative action. I don't expect to see it in my lifetime, though.

Many people here are likely aware of modern-day segregation in the U.S., but Savage Inequalities by Jonathon Kozol is an elucidating read.

Some of the most stunning inequality, according to a report by the Community Service Society, derives from allocations granted by state legislators to school districts where they have political allies. The poorest districts in this city get approximately 90 cents per pupil from these legislative grants, while the richest districts have been given $14 for each pupil.

Cultural color-blind racism is sort of interesting, but it seems like systemic, color- and class-based educational discrimination is a problem that we can actually fight and track progress against.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:30 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


We teach children from a young age to be racist

racism is taught - and not innate

No we don't need to be taught racism. Not everyone lives Mowgli's life. Skepticism of things that are unfamiliar - a soft version of racism - actually is innate: it is an essential survival strategy that kept your ancestors from being eaten by sabre-toothed tigers or plucking deadly berries from the hedgerow.

I'm not arguing that racism is acceptable, tolerable or even reasonable to adults with a moderate degree of brainpower, but the view that if only people's parents taught us properly we would walk about, not form groups or clubs based on defining themselves in one way and everyone else in another is staggeringly naive.

As I mentioned upthread, several activists I have known were rampant bigots - so busy breaking down gender, sexuality, race or class barriers that they didn't notice how quickly they were building walls elsewhere.

Unlearning that skepticism and ignorance is what breaks down racism. And fattism. And disabledism. And every other ism. It is accepting that people are different and at the same time accepting they are the same - in some cases quite a difficult cognitive exercise. That, and removing insecurity around resources, status and so forth. There isn't a quicker way to dig out one's inner bigot than threatening his quality of life.

Kids lucky enough to have a rich and varied cultural diet early on they don't have to consciously unlearn their skepticism: it gets chipped away before they can process it was ever there. That is a big difference from parents "teaching" their kids to be racist.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:51 AM on March 10, 2009


lunit: The fact that racism is taught - and not innate - doesn't refute the point that people raised in a racist society are racist. Here's a great book about it, aptly titled Learning To Be White.

One of my favorite quotes is the following by Obsidian Wings blogger hilzoy: " It's easy to be cynical. If you're cynical, you are never disappointed. You will never look like a sucker or be played for a fool. No one will ever call you naive. Cynicism is safe that way: safe and cowardly. Hope, by contrast, is risky. But it's absolutely necessary if we want to do anything great: if you don't believe that it's possible to achieve great things, if you never risk disappointment, you cannot do much that's worth doing." If you assume that "people are racist" then you're being cynical. There's a world of difference between being taught racism and being innately racist. A lot of people still think that people of different races shouldn't date, that people get along better with people of the same race and/or background. I know enough happy, long-term couples of different raced and enough offspring of such relationships to know from experience that it's a dumb attitude. "Everyone's a little bit racist" is the same kind of cynicism. It's surrendering to the status quo. It's letting inertia rule your world-view.

To go back to my example of being afraid to walk around in uncertain neighborhoods. People have been told scary stories for as long as we know. Folk tales warned people from going into the forest lest they be eaten by wolves. Now we know that walking in forests is very safe and that wolves pose no threat to us. Hell, people go hiking through the woods for pleasure. Kids are still told the same scary tales but we've learned as a society that going into the woods isn't certain death. Just because people today are affected by modern scary folk tales doesn't mean that kids born tomorrow will be. Racism isn't innate, racism is taught. That means racism can be overcome as a force. It's not going to be easy, I'm not even particularly hopeful that it can be ever done, certainly not in my own lifetime (though I'll admit that in my heart of hearts I still have hope it can be done). Don't surrender to cynicism. It sounds like wisdom but yesterday's cynicism is today's idiocy.
posted by Kattullus at 12:51 PM on March 10, 2009


To go back to my example of being afraid to walk around in uncertain neighborhoods. People have been told scary stories for as long as we know. Folk tales warned people from going into the forest lest they be eaten by wolves. Now we know that walking in forests is very safe and that wolves pose no threat to us. Hell, people go hiking through the woods for pleasure. Kids are still told the same scary tales but we've learned as a society that going into the woods isn't certain death. Just because people today are affected by modern scary folk tales doesn't mean that kids born tomorrow will be. Racism isn't innate, racism is taught. That means racism can be overcome as a force. It's not going to be easy, I'm not even particularly hopeful that it can be ever done, certainly not in my own lifetime (though I'll admit that in my heart of hearts I still have hope it can be done). Don't surrender to cynicism. It sounds like wisdom but yesterday's cynicism is today's idiocy.

I find your analogy well intentioned but really niaive.

We killed all the wolves and bears. That's why it's "safe" in the woods.

There are still lots of woods where it's decidedly unsafe and people get killed. I my self witnessed a man badly injured by a moose of all things and have had to shoot a charging bear in Alaska. Some places ARE dangerous places.

There ARE places you cannot stroll through without a serious risk of harm. Especially if you stand out. Especially if you don't look or sound like the people around you. This is not a folk tale. I have also been to these places.

The "other" used to be universally dangerous. Most of the time. Historically speaking. Wandering too far from your clan or village alone was likely to find you raped, robbed, or murdered. The more people looked like you the more likely it was you could find cultural common ground, shared values, shared language. You could communicate. You could compromise. you could flourish. The less people looked and sounded like you the more likely you were in competition and had interests that conflicted.

Since it's very recent that we have grown form clans, tribes, and city states to larger non-homogeneous nation states we have come to understand that we can all share certain values and interests. But because resources are still, even within these national boundaries, so unequally distributed you are going to find some people in conflict. And the greatest protection people with low resources who find them selves in conflicting interests have is to band together. By clan. By tribe. And by race. Is it inherent? Is it learned? Irrelevant. You see it every where where shared interest breaks down. Prison is good example. You can call it racism. But I think that is simplistic given the baggage of the word itself.

None the less the desire to make a tribe or clan is real. Which isn't always bad. And the drive itself will remain necessary until people are materially equal. Which unfortunately is very unlikely.
posted by tkchrist at 1:58 PM on March 10, 2009


One thing that's odd about this thread. The defenders of this paper are unanimous in claiming that "everybody's racist." The reason that is odd is that if it is true, then the paper is meaningless. If "everybody" is racist then there is no way that specific speech markers can correlate with the "racism" of the speakers. That would be like saying that using the word "hamburger" is a sure sign of having a pulse: it's true enough, but meaningless.

In order for the author's claims to have meaning, there must be racists and nonracists. Racists, he argues, use certain forms of speech to mask their racism. The problem with his argument, as many have pointed out, is that his evidence for racist attitudes is "they use these forms of speech." Thus his argument is entirely circular. It would be like saying that everyone who voted for Obama is a communist, and that your evidence that all these people were communists was that they voted for Obama.

All of which leads me to the most significant point: this thread is full of instances of people using the phrase "begging the question" in it's historically correct form, to describe precisely this kind of circular argument. Suck on that all of you haters who claim that "no one ever uses it in that way except when castigating others for misusing it."
posted by yoink at 2:22 PM on March 10, 2009


yoink, your worldview is overly simplistic and stuck in the mode of "the awful racists go over there, and the wonderful nonracists go over here."
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:29 PM on March 10, 2009


yoink, your worldview is overly simplistic and stuck in the mode of "the awful racists go over there, and the wonderful nonracists go over here.

No, but that does appear to be exactly the worldview of the author of this appalling "study," however.
posted by yoink at 2:38 PM on March 10, 2009


By the way, PG, I take it that what you want to argue is a kind of "gradations of racism" position. "We're all racists, but some of us are really bad racists and some of us are self-critical 'good' racists"--right?

Well, let's assume that this is Bonilla-Silva's position (despite it being nowhere stated in the paper). Great. So what he's doing is exposing the correlation between "really bad racism" and certain kinds of deflective speech strategies. Excellent. A valuable thing to study. So...he goes out and finds lots of examples of the deflective speech strategies that, his hypothesis states, are used by the "really bad racists" to cover up their "really bad racism."

Now...how does he go about showing that it is in fact the "really bad racists" who are using these strategies, and not the "self-critical 'good' racists"? Why, he shows that the people who use these strategies...wait for it, you're going to be shocked by this...USE THESE STRATEGIES!!

What more shocking indictment could you ask for? Case closed. QED. The people who use those speech strategies are clearly the people who use those speech strategies. And, oh yeah, they're totally "really bad racists." Because I said so.
posted by yoink at 2:49 PM on March 10, 2009


He did not sort his study participants into "bad racist" and "good racist". He is not calling those people names.

He described a phenomena where people use different language when expressing racist ideas than they do when expressing less racist ideas. They are also different from the way racist ideas were expressed in the past, and numerous people across several different subsets of American life all use similar phrases.

That is interesting in and of itself--that language use seems to have shifted from using overt racial slurs to these very oblique phrases.

Perhaps we can learn from it. Perhaps even we can catch ourselves using these phrases and examine what we're saying. Maybe it can help us.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:07 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


"He described a phenomena where people use different language when expressing racist ideas than they do when expressing less racist ideas. "

Which he fails to do. What he showed was that people use different language (uncomfortable) when they discuss race. He then assumes racism is the cause.

The question, she is begged.
posted by klangklangston at 3:35 PM on March 10, 2009


that language use seems to have shifted from using overt racial slurs to these very oblique phrases

And once again, his evidence that the forms of language he is analyzing are proxies for "overt racial slurs" is that they use the forms of language he is analyzing.

I think some people are finding it hard to grasp that dismissing this guy's crappy paper is not the same thing as dismissing his hypothesis. Almost nobody in this thread (certainly not me) is arguing that it is inherently unlikely that people do, in fact, cover up racist thoughts with this kind of language. It seems intuitively true and also seems to gibe well with out everyday experience.

If this were a blog entry, I doubt anybody would care (much) about the absurd question-begging of the argument. But it's not. It's a scholarly paper. The point isn't that he's making a self-evidently false claim, it's that he makes a self-evidently circular argument--one which does nothing to help us dig any deeper into the issues at hand than would a "hey, don't you hate it when people say some of my best friends are black" blog post.

And, just to anticipate one possible response, that is not to say that we're quibbling pointlessly. Because just as we all know, intuitively, that some racists dissimulate their racism by using these kinds of ploys, we also all know, intuitively, that some perfectly well-meaning people fall into this kind of language out of all the motives of social embarrassment, uncertainty etc. that klangklangston et al. have so eloquently described above. If this guy is to make a useful claim about specific linguistic codes then he needs some non-circular way of correlating usage with the actual racial attitudes of the speakers. That he didn't bother to do that step, and just claimed a quasi psychic ability to know what they speakers' "really meant" is the mark of an extraordinarily irresponsible researcher.
posted by yoink at 3:44 PM on March 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


tkchrist: I find your analogy well intentioned but really niaive.

That's okay, I find your cynicism adorable :)

I suspect our world-view's are sufficiently at odds that we'll never agree in full. However, I think you'll agree with me that if you know the basics (don't leave food exposed, make a campfire, etc.) walking in the woods is pretty darn safe. Certainly safer than crossing a city street. My point wasn't that nature is all hello kitty and big eyed bunnies but that it isn't as dangerous as one would think judging by folk tales. Same goes for TV shows and unfamiliar streets.

Furthermore, if being a traveler back in the day meant certain death we wouldn't have all those travelogues from antiquity and medieval times. True, it is an instinct to form close-knit groups but the trusting instinct is also very much real.
posted by Kattullus at 7:38 PM on March 10, 2009


You either haven't read my comment, or you're purposely ignoring its meaning. Yes, money is great and it creates power, none of this is fucking controversial. But between two people of equal economic status, the white person will receive advantages over the black person [...] how much money does being watched extra-closely by grocery store employees, or being called by a racial slur in the street, or having other parents refuse to let your kids come over and play because of their colour of skin actually cost you?

I'm not only saying that money creates privilege; I'm saying that any privilege worth consideration in the modern world manifests in coin, in law, or in some direct, uniform and measurable form, or it isn't much of a privilege. If people want to concern themselves with picking through language and polishing away all the cultural ugliness, fine. I think it's an immense waste and a distraction from more serious needs. There are more efficacious, and less factional and selfish, stances on poverty and human rights. If there were half as much blograge over Yaser Hamdi's habeas rights as over the racism encoded in some nitwit Hollywood melodrama, I guess I'd call that progress.
posted by kid ichorous at 8:49 AM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


And if anyone has to google "Yaser Hamdi," but knows what the hell "the linguistics of color-blind racism" is all about, I guess I'm saying that's the problem right there.
posted by kid ichorous at 8:54 AM on March 11, 2009


Parents will refuse to let your kids play with their kids for any number of asinine and unjust reasons. How much does it cost you to grow up and realize that the world isn't perfect? None. How much does it cost you to let it bother you so much that it becomes the center of your life? A hell of a lot.

Oh, and AMEN to kid ichorus.
posted by jock@law at 10:20 AM on March 11, 2009


walking in the woods is pretty darn safe.

That really depends. How close are you to clandestine methamphetamine labs, meth dealers, and the like? If near these, are you a local, do you look like a cop? What color or sexual orientation are you, how tolerant is the local community, and will you be near intolerant people. Do you stand out in a stereotypical way from a rural crowd. When discussing camping I always say the two legged animals are the ones that scare me the most. I have friends that are terrified to go in the woods certain rural places because of their race, and knowing the areas, I don't blame them.
posted by jester69 at 10:54 AM on March 11, 2009


Walking in the woods isn't that safe even when you discount all the human dangers. We tend to think wilderness excursions are safe because by and large, we only practice them under tightly controlled conditions: we know exactly where we're going; our time in the woods is clearly limited, and we have supplies for the whole period; we only hike in areas where high human traffic thins out most of the wildlife that could be dangerous; etc. In fact, human society -- especially "civilized" society -- is much safer most of the time.
posted by grobstein at 1:30 PM on March 11, 2009


I'm saying that any privilege worth consideration in the modern world manifests in coin, in law, or in some direct, uniform and measurable form, or it isn't much of a privilege.

I'm doing something special here: Choose your own comment!

If you would rather the comment read, "So not being subjected to countless reminders that you are not fully human is not a privilege. Gotcha.", turn to page 145.

If you would rather the comment read, "White people claiming the right to decide what is and is not privilege is a mix of frustrating and amusing.", turn to page 15
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:00 PM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


So not being subjected to countless reminders that you are not fully human is not a privilege. Gotcha.

There are certainly classes in America that are deemed subhuman, legally and culturally, and I think my positions on them couldn't be more clear. Among them: convicted felons, whose voting rights are abrogated in 48 states; Sexually-Dangerous Persons, who are subject to harassment and to legally mandated job and housing discrimination, not to mention abuse in prison; those who fall under Yu & Addington neologisms like "enemy combatant," for whom we have not enough oubliettes this side of Jupiter; the homeless, who, deprived of one single piece of property, live in a state of null identity, a prison of dislocation; and the severely mentally ill, who are often relegated to the former category.

If there were a single earthly comparison between simply being non-White and having automatic membership in these classes, I'd have had that eureka already, but there isn't. Certain low income non-White groups are disproportionately and unjustly incarcerated (thanks to the WoD, 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act) - and so are low-income Whites, though not to the same extent, or for the same types of crimes - while wealthier non-White groups are not. Whites, on the other hand, are the most often assaulted and raped in prison. And it's no surprise to anyone that Arabic descent singularly qualifies you for honor #3, but not the others. The homogeneous People of Color is a myth.

I take all of this pretty seriously, having had close ties to people in some of those categories. I think you, and most Metafilter users, take them seriously too, but it's not White privilege, and trying to shoehorn it all into that minimal construct is massively unhelpful. College was listening to a cadre of rich American Studies kids chatter about phallic gaze and Jon Stewart and invisible privilege. It broke my heart to graduate to an America where the same soft-scienced, divisive, windmill-slaying "activism" was juxtaposed with the efficient evil that weaves these laws. The linguistics of color-blind racism? The Colbert Report? That's what we're gonna get them with? Really? Even John McWhorter (while we're on linguistics), in the throes of all of his retrograde crap, can dismantle the War on Drugs in a way that puts progressives to shame. That's plain sad.

White people claiming the right to decide what is and is not privilege is a mix of frustrating and amusing.

What's amusing, and what should be ringing your alarm bells, is a political model with the ad hominem fallacy baked right in.
posted by kid ichorous at 8:37 PM on March 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


...can dismantle the War on Drugs in a way that puts progressives to shame.

* well, except Chomsky, but he's an anarchist, not a progressive.
posted by kid ichorous at 8:44 PM on March 11, 2009


Certain low income non-White groups are disproportionately and unjustly incarcerated (thanks to the WoD, 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act) - and so are low-income Whites, though not to the same extent, or for the same types of crimes - while wealthier non-White groups are not.

And this is disconnected from Pope Guilty's point?
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:09 AM on March 12, 2009


I'm not sure what you mean, Wimp. That the War on Drugs adversely affects some non-White demographics doesn't support the idea that all non-Whites are seen as "not fully human," legally or culturally. Furthermore, the most pernicious factors at play here, such as charge stacking, are not addressed by forcibly translating this issue into the language and idioms of the 1960s civil rights struggle, much less by the likes of Peggy McIntosh and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. Over ninety percent of criminal defendants don't even receive due process.
posted by kid ichorous at 6:32 PM on March 12, 2009


I'm not sure what you mean, Wimp. That the War on Drugs adversely affects some non-White demographics doesn't support the idea that all non-Whites are seen as "not fully human," legally or culturally. Furthermore, the most pernicious factors at play here, such as charge stacking, are not addressed by forcibly translating this issue into the language and idioms of the 1960s civil rights struggle, much less by the likes of Peggy McIntosh and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva.

My impression from my casual reading about the criminal justice system is that its flaws are most heavily visited upon the non-white population, predominantly due to what I would call racism in society. Here, I don't mean angry white males who feel threatened and angry at blacks for their presence, but rather socially inculcated images and prejudices regarding non-whites that bias judgment of the operatives in the criminal justice system toward stronger presumption of guilt in the absence of clear evidence. If I recall correctly, objective analyses of arrests, conviction, and sentencing show this sort of systemic racism even after controlling for economic and social background. Not having done a specific study of the literature though, I am open to this impression being erroneous. However, your comment would seem to divorce the operation of these flaws in the criminal justice system from racism per se. Was that your intent? Or did I misunderstand?
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:15 PM on March 13, 2009


Wimp, sorry I haven't been able to attend to this until now.

MW: My impression from my casual reading about the criminal justice system is that its flaws are most heavily visited upon the non-white population, predominantly due to what I would call racism in society [...] socially inculcated images and prejudices regarding non-whites that bias the judgment of the operatives in the criminal justice system

Well, before we get into the details, I want to reiterate that some ethnic groups are incarcerated at a lower rate than Whites, so casting the whole issue of prisoner rights as a binary of White versus People of Color will not be realistic.

That said, within the scope of the War on Drugs there are major disparities between White and Black arrest rates and sentences. Human Rights Watch offers a number of causes, at least two of which involve racial bias. But qualifiers such as "predominantly" are avoided:

There are numerous factors that help account for drug arrests that are racially disproportionate to drug offending. Of considerable significance is the fact that blacks are more likely to live in cities than whites: according to the US Census Bureau, 51.5 percent of blacks in the US live in a metropolitan area, compared to 21.1 percent of whites.[75] As a general matter, illicit drug use is higher in urban areas,[76] there are more law enforcement resources per capita in urban areas,[77] and there are more drug arrests in urban than in non-urban areas.[78] Drug law enforcement is not, however, evenly distributed within urban areas. Instead, it has focused on low-income, predominantly minority neighborhoods. This is not a "race neutral" factor. Press attention and community concerns about crack cocaine and political imperatives to be "tough on crime" made those neighborhoods the principal "fronts" in the so-called war on drugs.[79] (My edit: more on this to follow) Practical policing factors have played a role as well: drug transactions in poor minority neighborhoods are more likely to be in public spaces and between strangers, making it easier to undertake arrests, such as via "buy and bust" operations, than it is in the bars, clubs, and private homes where drug dealing by whites is more likely to occur.[80]

Although it is difficult to quantify the extent, racial profiling no doubt plays some role in higher black drug arrests.[83] In Minneapolis, for example, blacks constituted 18 percent of the population but experienced 37 percent of police vehicle stops; whites were 65 percent of the population, but experienced 43 percent of stops. [...] Thus, for example, researchers have concluded that legitimate race-neutral reasons do not explain all of the stark racial disparities evident in New York City police "stop and frisk" decisions.[85]
[Targeting Blacks, Human Rights Watch]

Even this list is not exhaustive, as there are other factors working to the disadvantage of the urban poor. Low-income communities spend less money on treatment and education programs. The public dollar is a long-distance force, and (in most cases) one decoupled from any deep sense of community interest or collateral damage. Its gains in the War on Drugs are telegraphed in captures, kills, assets seized, trophy tables dense with cinema - neat white kilos, stacked hundreds, mac-10s parked as orderly as surgical tools. This is the language of an occupying force.

Beyond this, our crowded cities invite a crowdedness of the law. We have criminalized, separately from mere drug possession, possession within so many thousand feet of a church, or a school zone, or a library or playground. We've criminalized the ownership of common chemicals, such as rat poison, as precursors in drug synthesis. This is all of little consequence to the inhabitant of a trailer park; it is fatal to the city-dweller, for whom a possession charge can be transformed (three charges later) to a 20 year sentence. Try finding a residential zone in Chicago a mile from a playground or church. Find me a tenement where the renters don't care about rats or roaches.

One could reason that stacked charges would exert a pressure to forgo due process and accept a plea bargain, even if innocent. This is an understatement. Over 90 percent of convictions in the US arise from plea bargains:

Evidence of sentencing disparity visited on those who exercise their Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury is today stark, brutal, and incontrovertible.… Today, under the Sentencing Guidelines regime with its vast shift of power to the Executive, that disparity has widened to an incredible 500 percent. As a practical matter this means, as between two similarly situated defendants, that if the one who pleads and cooperates gets a four-year sentence, then the guideline sentence for the one who exercises his right to trial by jury and is convicted will be 20 years.

Charge stacking - a product of blind over-legislation and willful abuse - is a systemic flaw that goes well beyond this subject matter, but its role here is cannot be downplayed. [The Case Against Plea Bargaining, PDF, Cato Institute]

I think if there is any harmful myth at work here, it is not the more archaic notions underlying Jim Crow, but the ascendant idea that drugs mean war: one that twists narcotics, their precursors, and their paraphernalia into weapons, the crowded city block into a ground zero, the police action into a paramilitary occupation. I've discussed before the state of moral panic that led key figures in the Black community, such as Charles Rangel, to champion mandatory minimums for crack cocaine, the gutting of treatment programs, the dismantling of communities block by block:

Mr. Rangel argues that there was no problem with the 1986 bill [ACLU] (my note: the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which he cosponsored and took personal credit for) except the refusal of the Administration to carry it out vigorously. ''The lesson I've learned from that,'' he said. ''is you can shove money down an Administration's throat but when they don't want it they cough it back up.'' [NYT, 1988]

(Rangel) is outraged because a number of heroin addicts who seek help are being "pumped up" with methadone. "It's a crime to give these kids a drug that is more addictive than heroin itself," he says. [Ebony, 1989]

It is inconceivable that figures such as Louis Stokes and Charles Rangel, founding members of the CBC, acted on anti-Black assumptions; but it is entirely possible that they acted on a grave misunderstanding of the costs incident to a second Prohibition, and of the effectiveness of bringing a siege mentality to public policy.

Would a systemic reversal of the War on Drugs include addressing racist practices? Yes. Is racial bias a keystone to unlocking the War on Drugs? Well, as I've argued, it wasn't even the cornerstone of our disastrous mandatory minimums. But to the extent that it actually unlocks a problem, fine: anti-racism is useful. To the extent that it usurps attention and masks core legal and social malfunctions, it's not. And to the extent that it steers us away from analyzing issues and urges us to identify with them, it needs to be dropped. Nobody, on any side, is suffering from a lack of passion.

Generalizing this: I consider the five aforementioned categories the most serious domestic civil liberties issues going, and while I don't suggest that they trump all other political interests, I'm fairly certain that none of them would generate half the sensational interest of another FPP with 'racism' in the title. I lament the feeling - carried intact from the activist vs activist bullshit of college - that unless a serious and nuanced issue can be reduced to a punch-and-judy of identity politics, one half of us won't give it priority; and unless we can declare war on it, neither will the other half.
posted by kid ichorous at 2:19 AM on March 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


But qualifiers such as "predominantly" are avoided.
Instead, it has focused on low-income, predominantly minority neighborhoods.

...political imperatives to be "tough on crime" made those neighborhoods the principal "fronts" in the so-called war on drugs.
Not to be pedantic, but they didn't exactly avoid forms of the word "predominant" nor its equivalent "principal". I also sense, as you must, that HRW is being extremely cautious, almost academically so.

So your conclusion is that the existence of all these don't constitute evidence of systemic racial bias? I guess we'll just have to disagree, but jeez, it does raise the question of what evidence you would accept for racial bias. I mean it's not like police, lawyers, and judges are going to be testifying about how their subconscious impulses finger blacks disproportionately.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:42 AM on March 16, 2009


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