Monday, August 31, 2009


A combination of events over the last few years has led me to think about "racism". Barack Obama's permanent campaign, to which virtually every criticism is labeled as "racist" is the most obvious. Janeane Garofalo asserts that the "tea-baggers" are "straight-up racist" because we oppose the radical agenda of a man who happens to have darker than average skin. (We don't know what she thinks about Ken Gladney, beaten by white union members who hurled the n-word at him in the process.) Even more bizarrely, Contessa Brewer and her posse use video of a black man armed with a semiautomatic rifle, carefully cropped to hide any of his exposed skin, while tut-tutting about the people who hate having a black POTUS, seeming downright giddy with the prospect that one of them will attempt a violent act.

But there were others.

  • Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant have been subjected to the ministrations of the Canadian Political Correctness Police.
  • A lifetime achievement award recognizing Bob Grant's trailblazing career in talk radio has been revoked, because of comments some have interpreted as racist.
  • Don Imus returned to radio after his proverbial 40 years in the wilderness for his racially-charged remarks.
  • People have been suspended from, and in some cases lost, jobs covering golf, because of a metaphor that evokes anger from the Black Community.
  • An elderly member of the Kansas City, Missouri Park Board was hounded out of office because of her membership in the Minuteman anti-illegal-immigration organization, described as "racist" by Hispanic activists.
  • Glenn Beck is the target of a boycott because he turned the "opposition to Obama is racist" charge on its head, and said that he thinks Obama himself is racist.

That last one cleverly exposed the double standard of what is defined "racism", and will be of great help in analyzing how the word is used. So, let's touch the Ultimate Third Rail: Racism.

First, we need to define our terms. The word "racist" has been operationally redefined to the point where it means "disagreeing with a leftist". It's tiresome. The danger is that by pretending that too many things are "racist", the word will lose its meaning, and we won't have a name by which to distinguish the real deal. I'm going to describe (if not precisely define) it briefly thus:
Racism is the belief that membership in an ethnic group determines individual behavioral characteristics, often to the point of deeming the entire group "superior" or "inferior" to others.
Even that is open to some misinterpretation, so I'll give a series of statements, and show where I think The Line is crossed:
  1. Ashkenazi Jews have an average IQ significantly higher than that of humans as a whole.
  2. People with higher IQ tend to be more successful in intellectually-demanding professions, leading to substantial financial reward.
  3. The average annual income of Ashkenazim is higher than the average of the population in general.
  4. Rita has to decide whether to hire Moshe or Malik for a job in which intelligence will be important.
  5. Since Moshe is Jewish, Rita assumes he's smarter, and chooses him.
The Line is literally drawn in above. I think it's time to make clear something with which I'm afraid many people will disagree: Factual statements about statistics cannot be "racist". That they are true trumps all -isms. I am certain that many people will say that any statement about ethnic groups is inherently racist, at least when made by a member of The Oppressor Class. (Since I am a White Heterosexual Anglophone Male [WHAM], I am consigned to that class, although economically I don't feel like I belong with The Boss Man. I personally find that characterization to be racist, but Leftists cleverly define it such that it can only be applied to The Oppressor Class!)

Those who say it's racist to even go to Step 1 may have noble intentions: Perhaps they're concerned that merely acknowledging these facts will cause people to think like Rita the Racist. But those facts won't stop being facts just because we pretend they aren't true, and not dealing with them won't help us deal with racism. Rita has committed a horrible logical error, which needs to be addressed head-on. Trying to sidestep it, by pretending that the statistical differences in various groups don't exist, is dishonest, and empowers the true racists by letting them attack that dishonesty. It cedes to the racist the moral high ground of having the truth on his side! If we lie (even to spare some people's feelings) in arguing against actual racism, it taints everything else we may say on the subject.

Others are concerned that these statistics will breed resentment among ethnic groups that aren't as blessed as the Ashkenazim. Perhaps that's true, but only to the extent that people insist on thinking of themselves first as members of tribal groups, instead of as individuals. The variation within each group is larger than it is between groups. Those with higher IQs in any group will tend to do better economically than those on the lower end. Statistical differences in ethnic/gender group economic or educational status are the basis of the "de facto" argument behind quotas, which have perverse effects that can actually worsen the economic position of those it overtly "helps". As we've seen in Ricci, the fact that an insufficient number of applicants from protected groups pass a test is often deemed sufficient to prove that the test is somehow biased.

Furthermore, the mere possession of an ability doesn't automatically translate into performance. Everyone can learn to improve performance; hard work and sheer determination can compensate for a lack of native talent. But we have to be honest with people, and let them know that they may very well have an uphill battle to fight, rather than pretending that things will come equally easy to all. We also should admit that the task will prove too difficult for many. No amount of hard work has broken the dominance in the Men's 100m sprint by people of West African descent, and in the 10K by Kenyans and Ethiopians.

On the other hand, that can't be an excuse for giving up. It's up to each of us to be the best we can at whatever it is we do, no matter what handicaps we may have. For instance, I am near-sighted to the point that the tests optometrists normally perform to measure near vision are affected by my problems with far vision. So I wear contact lenses. But I don't complain that it isn't fair and demand that it is my right to have LASIK provided at government expense. I don't insist that the speed limit on streets and highways be reduced to the point where it would be safe for me to operate an automobile without my contacts. I don't consider it discriminatory that Major League Baseball won't hire someone with my lack of visual acuity to work as an umpire.

Rita isn't just a racist; she's also intellectually lazy, and stupid. The difference in group statistics doesn't mean that all members of one group have higher IQs than all members of the other. Rita's greatest crime is that she hasn't examined Moshe and Malik as individuals. Malik may be brilliant, and Moshe functionally illiterate, but in her prejudice she will never bother to find out.

Not only has she hurt Malik's opportunity to earn a living; she's also hurt her company's chance to hire the best person for the job. If Malik gets a job with an intelligent competitor, turns out to be better at the job, and they gain market share at the expense of Rita's company, the owners/stockholders will lose money due to her stupidity. Rita and her co-workers may not get the raises they may have gotten with Malik on the team, and some may lose their jobs. As competitive as some fields are, the whole company could ultimately go out of business, all because of one bad managerial decision.

I've deliberately chosen Ashkenazim for these examples so as to deconstruct some ideas that are easily conflated: "Jewish" refers to religion, ethnicity, and culture. Comedian and actor Rowan Atkinson discusses this quite seriously in his speech to the UK House of Lords opposing new "Hate Crime" legislation:
. . . Jews and Sikhs are protected from religious hatred on the basis of their race and that this Bill seeks merely to extend that protection to others. The problem that that ignores is that race and religion are fundamentally different concepts – you cannot choose your race, you can choose your religion – and even if for many the line dividing their race from their religion is blurred in the eyes of the law. A sharp line can and should be drawn.

If Jews and Sikhs are protected from criticism of their religious beliefs or religious activities, then that is a wrong and the idea of extending that to other religions is also a wrong. To criticise people for their race is manifestly irrational but to criticise their religion, that is a right.
Disagreeing with or criticizing Judaism (or related ideas such as Zionism) isn't anti-semitism, but hatred of people of Jewish ethnicity (which may be based on envy of their economic success) simply because of that ethnicity is. So it isn't fair for Malik to invoke "Islamophobia" as a parallel to anti-semitism. There is no such thing as the "Muslim race".

It also isn't reasonable for for those who complain that other ethnic groups don't do as well economically to conclude that "de facto discrimination" or some vague Zionist Conspiracy must be the cause. As much as we may like ethnicity and intelligence to be statistically-independent variables, the fact is that they are not. If we want to help Malik's ethnic group, we have to start with an honest assessment of the facts as they are, not how we'd like them to be. What part does the culture to which Malik belongs play in these statistical differences? Are there elements of Jewish culture that could help them to do better, were Malik's community to adopt them? We know that Jewish culture places a high value on education; scholars have traditionally had high status in Jewish communities, allowing them a better chance to attract mates, and pass their genes along to the next generation. Even if there is a genetic component to this phenomenon, it can be shaped by culture. (But we must tread lightly here; we are perilously close to talking about eugenic effects, which fact if noticed tends to cause brains to short-circuit due to some sort of Godwin Governor.) By contrast, Malik may have been accused of "acting white" if he did well in school, and been physically menaced for it.

People have seriously described Bill Clinton as the "first black president", and questioned the "blackness" of Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Michael Steele, and even President Obama! In the last case, it's not his white mother that is of concern; most people identified as "black" in the US have some European ancestry. He's actually excluded from being "black" based on his African father! According to this definition, "black" isn't about ethnic origin, but about family experience; someone without ancestors enslaved in the United States doesn't qualify.
"Black," in our political and social reality, means those descended from West African slaves. Voluntary immigrants of African descent (even those descended from West Indian slaves) are just that, voluntary immigrants of African descent with markedly different outlooks on the role of race in their lives and in politics.
I made similar points about the difference between voluntary and involuntary immigrants myself. That definition of "Black" excludes not only Obama, but also Powell, whose Jamaican parents came to the US long after their forebears were freed from slavery there.

While Rice and Steele don't share Obama's and Powell's pedigree problems, like Powell they belong to the "wrong" political party (although Powell's endorsement of Obama may have helped him to gain some cred). Perhaps the best-known epithet applied to such people is "Oreo" (black on the outside; white in the middle). Again, they "act white". "Black" and "white" in this context clearly refer to culture, as well as (instead of?) ethnicity. Dr. King's Dream of a day when his grandchildren would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, has become a nightmare, in which people who have a certain color of skin are told that they must behave in a certain way as a result thereof, lest they lose their "authenticity".

We expect Political Correctness from the entertainment, political, and educational elites. But there is also a civil war between Anti-Idiotarian factions involving charges of racism. As part of his effort to distance himself from "right-wing extremists" such as "Nirthers" and advocates of Intelligent Design, Charles Johnson has gone after various people as racist-by-association, for the sin of appearing at anti-jihadist conferences attended by representatives of organizations he has decided are "racist". In my opinion, many of those groups do indeed have racist members, (virtually every large group will have one sort or another) but also have many others who would more accurately be called "culturalist". But the "mainstream" is afraid of being labeled "racist" by the Johnsons, Garafolos, and Brewers of the world, so people must either choose to work with "racists" or with those who walk on eggshells lest they have that tag applied to them.

It doesn't help that some of the "racists" involved have used racially-loaded terminology. Some of them explicitly decry the assaults on "white culture" by immigrants that refuse to assimilate into it, or a President who hates it. But before we declare these people to be actual racists, we ought to try to understand what they mean. Then we might even helpfully suggest better ways of expressing themselves on the subject.

If "Jewish" and "Black" can refer to culture as well as ethnicity, isn't it possible that some of the "racists" who wish to defend "white culture" aren't racist after all? When we paint them with the same broad brush as the actual racists, we aren't helping out. We're abandoning the people who want to defend what they believe are positive cultural values, to be lumped in with the true racists. This may come back to haunt us. When the populace of a country finally tires of politically-correct multi-culturalism, perhaps due to widespread economic troubles that a politician can blame on the outsiders, they may react as the Germans did in the 1930s, by installing an actual fascist, racist, and ultimately murderous regime. That would be a huge step backward for us all.

Let us take care that when we identify specific individuals, who have made specific statements that are demonstrably racist, that we limit the criticism to those items. Let us be clear that we don't support judging people by their ethnicity, but we may find ourselves on the same side of some issues with those who do, when it comes to defending ourselves from another threat. That doesn't mean we endorse their entire platform.
If Hitler invaded Hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons. -Winston Churchill
To attack an entire political faction by association is the same sort of intellectual laziness that Rita the Racist committed by ascribing to the individuals attributes of others in their groups. We can do better than that.

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  1. Racism, as the word is now used by liberals in the west, now seems to mean "against higher taxes".

    So Monster, by the liberal definition of the word, you sir are obviously, a racist! I know I am.

  2. Monster, you've given us another fine example of critical thinking. I like having these little islands of sanity available, to which I refer friends and family when my own abilities fall short.


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