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Birth of a Notion
October 6, 2009 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Birth of a Notion: Implicit Social Cognition and the "Birther" Movement asks why 'white Europeans are more “American”' to many people than nonwhite Americans and includes details like this: "Horne was asked to give two concerts at Camp Robinson in Alabama, one to white servicemen, the second to black GIs. But she refused to do the second one when she saw that black Americans were sent to the back of the theater. Who got the good seats up front? German prisoners of war." Institutional Racism Ignored notes “racial bias in conviction rates and length of sentences of both juvenile and criminal courts,” “direct discriminatory practices in housing…as well as in mortgage lending,” and in the educational system, “racial bias in the type of disciplinary action given to white or minority students.” Tucson schools create race-based system of discipline and Tucson Arizona school discipline policy is not racist; Alan Keyes is right address one anti-racist solution. But anyone interested in racial justice should note The Queer, "Racist" Case of the Spank-Happy Judge.
posted by shetterly (58 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
The comments in that Scientific American piece are especially maddening:

For starters, Obama is not "black", he is mulatto. He is no more black than white; and, in addition, the "social" argument can easily be made that, if anything, Obama is "51% white" and "49% black", because during his formative years, he was raised by white family members.

I could respond to you, or I could just punch you. Both are going to be useless, but one is going to make me feel a lot better.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:33 PM on October 6, 2009 [29 favorites]


One drop of Birther makes you 100% idiot.
posted by Artw at 12:35 PM on October 6, 2009 [22 favorites]


I haven't read the others yet, but as far as the azcentral blog post, it seems to follow a pretty typical pattern of making sure that every single paragraph contains a put-down, and draws a conclusion not supported by any facts. The author quotes:

"School data that show disparities in suspension/expulsion rates will be examined in detail for root causes. Special attention will be dedicated to data regarding African-American and Hispanic students."

From this, with no other facts to bridge the gap, the author asserts "Some behavior will be met with strict penalties; some will not. It all depends on the color of the student's skin."

Given that there is no attempt made to back up any of the other assertions even to such a non-sensical degree, one can only conclude that they are entirely fabricated. To my mind it points to the conservative presumption that some race must be subjugated. The darkies must be kept down, because otherwise the white man will be. For such a tribal mindset, these are the only possibilities.
posted by HotPants at 12:37 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Arizona Republic article that started this mess in Tucson was factually wrong. The district realized that black students were being suspended at statistcally signifigant higher rates. Our idiot Superintendent of Public Ed., Tom "No Educational Experience" Horne, decided to to wade into the matter without contacting the school district or reading the disciplinary plan. Political hackery at it's best/worst.
posted by nestor_makhno at 12:38 PM on October 6, 2009


"Alan Keyes is right"?!? Alan Keyes has been hiding Obama's birth certificate under his mattress ever since the Barackman whipped his ass in the election for Senator.
posted by wendell at 12:39 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


My favorite was this:

When in 1998, the headline “American Beats Out Kwan”, the implication was that American Tara Lipinski ( a Polish connotation) was more American than an Asian-American Michelle Kwan. Yet, I, a conservative, recall pulling for Michelle Kwan to win over Lipinski.

Um... what does that have to do with anything?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:40 PM on October 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


Also please remeber that these people do a lot of meth and so might freak out at any moment naturally, it's just coincidence that they are doing it for this president.
posted by Artw at 12:40 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not going to bite on the race baiting in those articles. The birther movement is motivated by racial prejudice? You don't say.

How about we shortcut this discussion: if you are poor, you are more likely to be screwed over by the system. If you are uneducated, you are more likely to be screwed by the system. If you are not a member of the dominant/ruling class, regardless of your gender or ethnic identity, you are more likely to be screwed by the system. If you do not talk, act, or dress like members of the dominant or ruling class, you are more likely to be screwed by the system.

If your community does not value education as measured by academic success above all other objectives, your community will more likely be screwed by the system. If your community does not value saving over consumption, your community is more likely to be screwed by the system.

If you are not a member of the dominant or ruling class, the overwhelming odds are that no matter how hard you work, no matter how much your lot in life improves, you will never join that class. Your children might, however.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:42 PM on October 6, 2009 [14 favorites]


But anyone interested in racial justice should note The Queer, "Racist" Case of the Spank-Happy Judge.

What exactly is there to note?
posted by kmz at 12:44 PM on October 6, 2009


Guess the SciAm comment section is not immune to the type of disintegration of though that occurs on nearly all comment sections of news media outlets. There is even the classic "some of my best friends are black", and yet for all the nattering on and well constructed sentences people still can't seem to differentiate between personal and societal. "I have black friends and am conservative... so all conservatives must have black friends"

Additionally, I note the Dkos/R2K poll is referred to as being wholly partisan, and yes absolutely Dkos is a (at times unreasonably so) strictly partisan blog, but they do not conduct the poll, they commission it. R2K methodologically designs and conducts the actual poll. If one wishes to attack the credibility of the poll one needs to present evidence against R2K. Perhaps there is some room for criticism of that poll, but no one yet has presented such criticism in a coherent thought.

Having said all of that, and in-general actually agreeing with most of the article itself, it does seem an odd fit for Sci-Am. It reads more like a well informed Op-ed rather than a "basic science" article.
posted by edgeways at 12:48 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


nestor_makhno, good link! I haven't dug into the TUSD story as deeply as I should. I did think this was significant: "he's been given no evidence that students of different ethnic backgrounds were being punished differently for the same offense."
posted by shetterly at 12:48 PM on October 6, 2009


kmz, I included that because the attempt to pin the charges on racism seems desperate to me, which made me wonder if anyone besides his lawyer would say racism was at work there.
posted by shetterly at 12:59 PM on October 6, 2009


I agree with Edgeways: I had to look up at the masthead a couple of times to be sure I was reading Scientific American. What a badly-written, jumbled up mess of a point.

For starters, Obama is not "black", he is mulatto.

I don't want to defend the inane comment too much, but it does say something deep and seldom-noted about America that the son of a black man and a white woman is unquestionably, 'obviously' considered black.

It's hard to see the oddness, probably, because of all the multilayered and race-loaded history and language we have to work with, here, but just imagine how hard it will be to make sense of that in a couple of hundred years.
posted by rokusan at 1:00 PM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


shetterly, I was trying to figure out why this FPP sounded so completely awkward, and then I realized that you were treating article titles as the subject of a sentence. For example, you write "Institutional Racism Ignored notes"... no. An article at FAIR, entitled "Institutional Racism Ignored", notes a set of issues.

And am I really going to bother to read an article whose portion of the title says "Alan Keyes is right" when there is no other contextual information abut the article?
posted by deanc at 1:00 PM on October 6, 2009


I get the feeling there would be a birther movement if McCain were elected, too. Not from liberals, but from the teabaggers. They really love their Palin, even more so than they like Biden.
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:13 PM on October 6, 2009


in addition, the "social" argument can easily be made that, if anything, Obama is "51% white" and "49% black", because during his formative years, he was raised by white family members.

Astro Zombie: I could respond to you, or I could just punch you. Both are going to be useless, but one is going to make me feel a lot better.

Flynn outlines an argument that parental culture does play some role in development; at the very least, it's not easily told off as racism, or uppercutted away.

Flynn then talked about what we've learned from studies of adoption and mixed-race children—and that evidence didn't fit a genetic model, either. If I.Q. is innate, it shouldn't make a difference whether it's a mixed-race child's mother or father who is black. But it does: children with a white mother and a black father have an eight-point I.Q. advantage over those with a black mother and a white father. And it shouldn't make much of a difference where a mixed-race child is born. But, again, it does: the children fathered by black American G.I.s in postwar Germany and brought up by their German mothers have the same I.Q.s as the children of white American G.I.s and German mothers. The difference, in that case, was not the fact of the children's blackness, as a fundamentalist would say. It was the fact of their Germanness—of their being brought up in a different culture, under different circumstances. (here)
posted by kid ichorous at 1:21 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


rokusan:
I don't want to defend the inane comment too much, but it does say something deep and seldom-noted about America that the son of a black man and a white woman is unquestionably, 'obviously' considered black.


I think the reason is that Obama's appearance (facial features, skin tone, hair) constitute a deviation from standard Beaver Cleaver Anglo-Saxon White America; even without knowing his ethnic heritage, he is immediately categorized as 'other'. There's of course the prejudicial history of the single-drop notion, but I don't think that's necessarily what's at work here: It isn't that Obama has African blood, but that he doesn't look white that matter. Obama doesn't look white, therefore regardless of the racial percentages in his family tree, he is black.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:25 PM on October 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Still, I won't defend the tenor of the Scientific American thread.
posted by kid ichorous at 1:25 PM on October 6, 2009


shetterly: but what does that have to do with the overall notion of racial justice? Oh no, somebody somewhere levied a possibly false charge of racism! So what? Are you saying anti-racists are all so gullible they'll believe all accusations? Or that all racism accusations should be dismissed? If neither of the above, then what is your point?
posted by kmz at 1:25 PM on October 6, 2009


shetterly, I was trying to figure out why this FPP sounded so completely awkward, and then I realized that you were treating article titles as the subject of a sentence. For example, you write "Institutional Racism Ignored notes"... no. An article at FAIR, entitled "Institutional Racism Ignored", notes a set of issues.

deanc, actually, I was expecting people to read linked words as article titles, but since people often link whimsically, I should've put quotes around titles. My bad. Won't happen again.
posted by shetterly at 1:41 PM on October 6, 2009


Are you saying anti-racists are all so gullible they'll believe all accusations?

No, only anti-racists who think racism can be treated as a spherical cow are likely to believe almost any charge of racism. If you start from the assumption that all whites are racist, and all human interactions are racial, and class issues are only attempts to avoid discussing racism, you don't have much of anyplace left to go.

Or that all racism accusations should be dismissed?

Of course not. I sure don't expect the last racist to die before I do.

If neither of the above, then what is your point?

That racism exists on a spectrum. Whatever you may think of the tone of the Scientific American article, what it cites is solid. The Fair article is more open to debate, I think--its take on Katrina, for example, strikes me as simplistic. The judge's case seems bogus, but either the lawyer believes his claim, or he expects others to. The TUSD story interests me because the problem it's addressing is either a class issue or a mixture of class and race issues, but it's being discussed as though it was exclusively a racial problem.
posted by shetterly at 2:11 PM on October 6, 2009


Well, the old "one-drop" rule still runs deep. How else can you explain the argument that Hispanics are a threat to our "European" civilization because they bring their Romance language and Roman Catholic faith into American discourse?

Multiple writers of "mixed-race" background have rather bluntly pointed out over the last century that "white" is largely dependent on one's ability and desire to pass for white.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:26 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, only anti-racists who think racism can be treated as a spherical cow are likely to believe almost any charge of racism.

I have a policy of not discussing racism with you, but I have to ask: a spherical cow? WTF?
posted by kathrineg at 2:35 PM on October 6, 2009


We're coming for you. Its too late to stop it now.
posted by Max Power at 2:37 PM on October 6, 2009


How else can you explain the argument that Hispanics are a threat to our "European" civilization

People are dumb?

Which doesn't in any way invalidate your point.
posted by quin at 2:41 PM on October 6, 2009


spherical cow
posted by Artw at 2:43 PM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Other is always suspect, frightening, odd, not really welcomed....Jew, gypsy, Korean in Japan, White in Africa, gringo in S. Am. and on and on. They smell differently; they talk, well, too fast often; gestures are strange; customs and culture and dress odd; accents when they use Our language indicates they do not really belong; they usually cling together and stay apart; they do well in school or not well at all; they do the jobs that we don't want or take the jobs we do want. They can not be trusted in buying or selling; their music tastes are terrible or annoying.
We were all better off before they came here and tried to fit in, mix, become one of us.
posted by Postroad at 2:57 PM on October 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


KirkJobSluder: Multiple writers of "mixed-race" background have rather bluntly pointed out over the last century that "white" is largely dependent on one's ability and desire to pass for white.

That's exactly what I meant.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:01 PM on October 6, 2009


The TUSD story interests me because the problem it's addressing is either a class issue or a mixture of class and race issues, but it's being discussed as though it was exclusively a racial problem.

What makes you think this?
posted by kathrineg at 3:02 PM on October 6, 2009


KirkJobSluder, yup. Folks south of the border get the whole US prejudice package: language, religion, skin color, and a big dose of class prejudice because they're poor.

Postroad, you reminded me of Randy Newman's "Short people". Here's an especially impressive version:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JnkHYTWxCw
posted by shetterly at 3:08 PM on October 6, 2009


But anyone interested in racial justice should note The Queer, "Racist" Case of the Spank-Happy Judge.

That is just the strangest confluence of events and concepts I've ever read about. If it were in a fiction work, it would be a "jump the shark" moment, I'm sure.
posted by hippybear at 3:21 PM on October 6, 2009


kathrineg, I need more info on TUSD before I can conclude anything. I say it's either class or a mixture of class and race because of these two things from nestor_makhno's link:

"minority students have higher rates of suspension than Anglo students"

"he's been given no evidence that students of different ethnic backgrounds were being punished differently for the same offense. "

Have they compared rates of suspension for poor "minority" students with those of poor "Anglo" students? Have they done the same with their middle-class counterparts? When you look at both class and race, the more important factor is usually revealed--the US's death penalty, for example, doesn't seem to be racist once you factor in class--the racial proportions of people on death row and those in poverty are remarkably comparable--but the drug war is astonishingly racist no matter how you run the numbers.
posted by shetterly at 3:23 PM on October 6, 2009


rokusan: "I don't want to defend the inane comment too much, but it does say something deep and seldom-noted about America that the son of a black man and a white woman is unquestionably, 'obviously' considered black."

FWIW, Obama self-identifies as black:
Asked how he defined his own racial identity, Mr. Obama said he considered himself African-American.

''The reason that I've always been comfortable with that description is not a denial of my mother's side of the family,'' Mr. Obama said. ''Rather, it's just a belief that the term African-American is by definition a hybrid term. African-Americans are a hybrid people. We're mingled with African culture and Native American culture and European culture.

He added later: ''If I was arrested for armed robbery and my mug shot was on the television screen, people wouldn't be debating if I was African-American or not. I'd be a black man going to jail. Now if that's true when bad things are happening, there's no reason why I shouldn't be proud of being a black man when good things are happening, too.''
posted by Rhaomi at 3:49 PM on October 6, 2009 [9 favorites]


A tiered disciplinary system with punishments based in part on ethnicity obviously runs afoul of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. How do they plan to get around that? That's what the Arizona Republic link says the school district intends. If, on the other hand, they simply want to examine the disproportionate suspensions of minority students and see if there may be bias at work there and attempt to correct it - that's legitimate. It may be that minority students have actually commit more offenses than other students.
posted by Tashtego at 3:56 PM on October 6, 2009


I work in the petroleum industry. We recently sent one of our Mexican-American employees to a Middle Eastern country to provide customer training on one of our products. Our customer was quite satisfied with the training, but essentially said that they felt like they got a second-stringer because the guy we sent wasn't white.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:42 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


A tiered disciplinary system with punishments based in part on ethnicity obviously runs afoul of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. How do they plan to get around that? That's what the Arizona Republic link says the school district intends.

Maybe they don't have to worry about it because it's obviously not what they actually intend to do, but rather a hyperbolic misinterpretation based on crazytalk from right-wingers?

What they intend to do is monitor the punishments being given out for whatever infractions to ensure that minority students are not punished more heavily.
posted by delmoi at 4:48 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


What they intend to do is monitor the punishments being given out for whatever infractions to ensure that minority students are not punished more heavily.

As I wrote, that's a legitimate thing for the school district to do but not what the link said they were doing. I wonder if this school district, or schools across the country would find if they compared punishments by gender. I'd be willing to bet there is a fairly large discrepancy there. Periodically reviewing punishments and comparing them by the race, class, and gender of the offenders would help administrators (or judges) examine their prejudices. Then again, the cynic in me thinks it could simply confirm their prejudices. You would expect more problems from %OutGroup%.
posted by Tashtego at 5:29 PM on October 6, 2009


As I wrote, that's a legitimate thing for the school district to do but not what the link said they were doing.

So? What makes you think the link isn't full of shit? The only actual quotation of anyone from the school district is this:
"School data that show disparities in suspension/expulsion rates will be examined in detail for root causes. Special attention will be dedicated to data regarding African-American and Hispanic students."

The board approved creating an "Equity Team" that will oversee the plan to ensure "a commitment to social justice for all students."
The only thing they said they were going to do was collect data and examine it, and then with data in hand "commit to social justice for all students", which has no concrete meaning at all.

The rest is rightwing crazytalk. Try turning your brain on when you read.
posted by delmoi at 5:57 PM on October 6, 2009


Dude, I am not looking for a flamewar here but if you are going to throw rocks about turning on your brain when you read you might look at the third and fourth lines of the comment that seems to have offended you. I simply said,"That's what the Arizona Republic link says the school district intends. " That doesn't tip you off that I am not convinced of the accuracy of link? IF that was what the school district intended it would be unfair and illegal. However, in the very next line of my comment I suggest a different possibility, "If, on the other hand, they simply want to examine the disproportionate suspensions of minority students and see if there may be bias at work there and attempt to correct it and that isn't so very different from "What they intend to do is monitor the punishments being given out for whatever infractions to ensure that minority students are not punished more heavily." The main difference is that you seem convinced that is what is happening while I think it is the most likely explanation but don't am a little more tentative based on the information in the links.
posted by Tashtego at 6:17 PM on October 6, 2009


I'll probably continue to research the TUSD situation. Here's what seems pertinent so far:

TUSD's Mexican American/Raza Studies
appears to be successful, but Superintendent Tom Horne claims it's divisive and a waste of money:

June 10, 2009: Horne, TUSD at Odds Over Ethnic Studies

June 12, 2009: Tucson lawmaker's bill seeks to outlaw ethnic studies at TUSD (Updated)

Now Horne's opposing the discipline plan. Based on Editorial: TUSD discipline plan holistic, not racist, Horne's wrong. I like this in particular:

The question isn't, of course, how to increase the number of Anglo students who get into trouble or to arbitrarily cut the number of non-Anglo students who are disciplined.

The challenge is to view the data as an indicator that something is wrong. The district must fix the overall system so all students are treated equally.

Viewing discipline holistically is a reasoned approach. Suspending a student from school because he's been skipping classes is antiquated and has not proved effective.

posted by shetterly at 6:48 PM on October 6, 2009


I work in the petroleum industry. We recently sent one of our Mexican-American employees to a Middle Eastern country to provide customer training on one of our products. Our customer was quite satisfied with the training, but essentially said that they felt like they got a second-stringer because the guy we sent wasn't white.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:42 PM on October 6 [+] [!]


Saudis are flat out the most racist people I have ever met. Other Khalijis aren't far behind.

I work in the region and we had a client (a national petroleum company) for whom we were doing a project, one of the people working on it from our side was a Canadian Procurement expert who they really liked - over email.
They hadn't met him in person until two months into the project, and one day they asked us to bring this guy who they liked so much to our next meeting.
Now this guy was a Canadian citizen, but born in Nigeria (with an Anglo name like many Nigerians), they spent the whole meeting basically making fun of him. Some choice remarks:

"So, that's an unusual Canadian accent"
"Let's ask our *Canadian* expert about this"

To this day, six months later, whenever I go there to meet them they still make jokes about our "Canadian" expert.
posted by atrazine at 11:16 PM on October 6, 2009


I've heard about Saudis being racist, which makes me wonder if Malcolm X was completely duped by the folks he met on his hajj, or if he was lucky enough to meet the best of them, or if their culture has just gotten more racist in the last forty years.
posted by shetterly at 11:40 PM on October 6, 2009


To this day, six months later, whenever I go there to meet them they still make jokes about our "Canadian" expert.

Ironic, since "canadian" has somehow managed to become a codeword for "black" in the U.S.

Also, African slavery was actually started in Arabia, and it wasn't abolished until 1962
posted by delmoi at 2:43 AM on October 7, 2009


FWIW, Obama self-identifies as black...

Oh, I realize that. But it doesn't change the oddness of the frameworks we use. In other words, imagine the shitstorm the crazies would be having if he self-identified as white.

It's just as defensible, right? Do you think that would fly?

America is very deeply fucked up, is my point. Aliens couldn't make sense of it.

I also like the point about Hispanics being treated as a threat, somehow, to our European-founded culture. That will also earn a historical WTF?
posted by rokusan at 3:30 AM on October 7, 2009


delmoi, was Saudi slavery exclusively African in its last years? Racist slavery began as a European obsession, but I suppose they could've pressured middle-easterners into adopting that standard. Historically, of course, slavery has always been multicultural in that region--as late as the turn of the 19th century, the Barbary pirates were very happy to sell "whites".
posted by shetterly at 9:42 AM on October 7, 2009


Racist slavery began as a European obsession, but I suppose they could've pressured middle-easterners into adopting that standard.

Nope, actually Europeans got it from the Arabs. Maybe it was less "racist" (for example, women were used in harems, men were made into soldiers, etc) but the African slave trade began in Arabia, and Europeans picked it up from them.
posted by delmoi at 4:19 PM on October 7, 2009


delmoi, was the Arab slave trade exclusively African? I always thought racism came into the equation when the idea of race evolved in the 1800s and Europeans decided that they wouldn't quit slavery entirely--they would just sell the people they decided were a little less than human. If you've got any links or recommended books, I'd be grateful for the chance to look into this more.
posted by shetterly at 4:38 PM on October 7, 2009


shetterly: the wikipedia article seems like it's pretty comprehensive.
posted by delmoi at 7:35 PM on October 7, 2009


delmoi, the Jean-Léon Gérôme painting would seem to argue against you. :)

It is an interesting article, but what it offers is a bit mixed. Some parts suggest Arab racism came early. Others don't:

"Later, toward the 18th and 19th centuries, slaves increasingly came from East Africa, until slavery was officially abolished by the end of the 19th century."

"Mistranslations of Arab scholars and geographers from this time period have lead many to attribute certain racist attitudes that weren't prevalent until the 18th and 19th century to writings made centuries ago."

In any case, an excellent pointer, and more to ponder. Thanks!
posted by shetterly at 10:09 PM on October 7, 2009


Shetterly, Delmoi's point seems to be born out in The slave trade: the story of the Atlantic slave trade, 1440-1870
By Hugh Thomas.
Race became an idee fixe in the 19th century as both an explanation for the rapid and overwhelming growth of European (and American) empire and a justification for it. Robert Knox published Races of Man in 1850 which proposed that humanity was made up of different "species" that had fixed characteristics that defined the nature of the people of which they consisted. The late Victorian period was the time frame in which racism as an idea reached its most extreme conclusions. It is obvious though that throughout history people everywhere have differentiated themselves, you could say constructed themselves in opposition to the Other. Subsahran Africans appeared to Medieval Arabs distinctly other.
More to the point, Africans were probably marked for slavery for two reasons. The Portuguese copied the labor intensive Arab sugar plantations in the Mediterranean. Breaking the Muslim monopoly on the sweet spice was one the goals of their early exploration so that makes sense. Secondly, their early voyages took them to West Coast of Africa where there was already a thriving slave trade.
posted by Tashtego at 10:52 PM on October 7, 2009


Tashtego, I may just be seeing a bigger change in the nature of prejudice once the idea of "race" was codified. I went looking in the Oxford English Dictionary a few years ago and found the oldest recorded example of the modern use of "race" is from 1774, when Oliver Goldsmith wrote in his History of the Earth and Animated Nature, “The second great variety in the human species seems to be that of the Tartar race.”

I had believed earlier examples of prejudice were tribal, not racial. But the writings by Arab thinkers suggest they were thinking in racial terms.

Humans just find a lot of ways to Other.
posted by shetterly at 11:17 PM on October 7, 2009


Shetterly, the word "race" was used pretty loosely back then. I was researching late Victorian imperialism and kept coming across examples of shicking racism applied not only to blacks, Amerindians, and Asians but to the Irish, Scotch, Slavs, Germans etc. It was reciprocal too. There was this social Darwinian concept of history as a contest for survival and domination among races (in a pretty narrow sense) and Knox asserted that the Anglo-Saxon "race" was the preeminent one. After all the British had an empire on which the sun never set and their cousins across the Atlantic had not only taken a continent from the natives but also the remnants of the Spanish Empire. Anglo-Saxonism was a popular belief in the U.S. as well. This was the time when Jim Crow was introduced, when Eugenics programs were first introduced, and I think this strand of thought directly influenced nazi ideology. However, the idea of categorizing people this way is a lot older and more widespread than the 19th century western world. My uncle used to tell me, man is a depraved ape. The more I study history the harder it is to dispute that.
posted by Tashtego at 12:40 AM on October 8, 2009


Tashtego, I think the Irish are a fine case to look at in trying to decide what's racial and what's tribal. When people first talked about "the Irish race", they used it in a tribal sense--they would also talk about the race of women, the race of wine, etc. Though I suppose it does make sense to talk about cultural racism as a virulent form of tribalism, because that's certainly what was going on in Angle-Saxonism and Nazism.

I try to balance your last point by remembering there have always been good people in the world. But they've never managed to keep the greedy ones in check.

Google Books has Knox's book. For a modern reader, it's appalling or hilarious or both.
posted by shetterly at 8:14 AM on October 8, 2009


I don't see why you're making a distinction between "tribalism" and "racism". The effect of widespread, systematic bigotry against the Irish was the cause of suffering and death. They were regularly dehumanized and othered in mass media and by the English government.

You are taking their non-adherence to our current racial schema (which sees all Western Europeans as white) and using it for an argument that racism was actually tribalism. It was the same thing, it was just between two peoples whom we now see as belonging to one race. Calling both things racism emphasizes, correctly, the arbitrary nature of race.
posted by kathrineg at 9:40 AM on October 8, 2009


kathrineg, I think the difference between racism and tribalism is extremely important. Under tribalism, what you look like is irrelevant--the Romans, for example, weren't racist, but they were extremely tribal. What matters to tribal people is culture, so someone like the playwright Terrance was seen as fully Roman. The native peoples of the Americas were tribal until the 19th century, when some of them, like the Cherokee, picked up the idea of race from Europeans, and you end up with obscene things today like the debate over whether black Cherokees should share in casino wealth.

We do agree that race is arbitrary.
posted by shetterly at 10:06 AM on October 8, 2009


P.S. I do sometimes think it's a good sign that the definition of "racism" is blurring, because what underlies the blurring is a distaste for being prejudiced against anyone who is different. I can be too much of a word nerd.
posted by shetterly at 10:42 AM on October 8, 2009


The concept of race has always been amorphous. Obviously, it has never meant a truly separate species. It's not even clear Neanderthals were unable to interbreed with modern humans much less any of the superficially different groups of the later. It's really a humpty dumpty word that means whatever the speaker wants it to mean in order to fit their prejudices and agenda. I'll bet the Angles used to look down the road at the Saxons and say, "Oh no, I hope no more of those people decide to move in."
posted by Tashtego at 11:46 AM on October 8, 2009


Especially considering that there is more human genetic diversity across Africa than there is in the rest of the world combined. So from the standpoint of molecular biology, it's impossible to put all people of primarily African ancestry in a basket, without putting Europe, Asia, the Americas, pre-colonial Australia, and the Pacific into a much smaller basket.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:54 AM on October 8, 2009


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