Friday, August 05, 2005

Are charges of racism losing their impact?   posted by TangoMan @ 8/05/2005 05:39:00 PM

I'm sure we've all witnessed incidents of people putting others down in order to feel better about themselves. This is an all too common behavior yet it surprises me that when a judgement must be made between the impulse to lash out so as to achieve the feeling of moral superiority and the need to assess whether the charge can be substantiated, too often we bear witness to, what appears to be no such judgements being made by the accusers. OK, this is a long winded way of wondering if the charge of racism is seen by many to have completely lost its currency, and if it has, why people still modify their statements to avoid being on the receiving end of such a charge?

Here are three cases in point:

1.) A follow-up to the Eating their Own post where the Ultra-PC brigades call the merely PC crowd of Jared Diamond supporters racist. Brad DeLong offers a hilarious follow-up. He quotes David H. Holberg, Chair, Department of Anthropology, Cornell University:

From what I have read so far, I would conclude that Diamond's representations are fundamentally misrepresentations which, unconsciously perhaps, disguise a racist and ethnocentric position...

DeLong offers this analysis:

It's beginning to look as if people like Ozma's calling Guns, Germs, and Steel "quasi-racist" and Tak's saying that it "perpetuates racism" may simply be aping their elders. It appears to be a thing their sub-group does in order to close the circle of discourse against outsiders--just as economists close the discourse to outsiders by saying "they don't have a mathematical model" and historians close to discourse to outsiders by saying "they don't have any new primary-source evidence." If so, Ozma's and Tak's claims that Diamond is "quasi-racist," or "perpetuates racism" should not be understood as empirical claims about the world but merely as markers of their own commitment to a group that seeks to close the discourse to outsiders.

2.) The reception the Cochran, Harpending & Hardy paper received on Kuroshin. The loudest and most offensive comments were by the faction screaming racist and Nazi and yet 49% of the respondents to the associated poll believe "Race and IQ are valid concepts, and there are genetic differences in intelligence between races." It seems that those 49% didn't feel the need to be so over the top with their opinions on the matter and saved themselves from the charges of racism.

3.) Coach Brown taking a teacher professional development course on multiculturalism this summer observes:

So I'm 4 weeks into the class and I've been called the following:
-a racist
-a bigot
-a capitalist pig
-a supporter of American imperialism (I have no idea why)
-a symptom of the institutional Racism so prevalent at American schools.
-a supporter of corporate America (then he listed Enron, WorldCom, Bechtel, and Halliburton as my choice picks)
-an ignorant supporter of racial profiling

and that is only from answering one question, What are the implications for today's immigrants?

With few exceptions, the common thread I see connecting these three cases is that the charges of racism are wholly unwarranted yet in the game of "feeling superior one-upmanship" throwing out the racist charges seems to be more important to the self-esteem of the accuser than the downside of looking like a jack-ass for making a ludicrous charge and the commensurate diminishment of one's reputation. Of course, I recognize the sample universe is completely biased because we're not measuring the judgements that lead to restraint and thus avoid uttering slapdash charges of racism, but still, this is almost comedic to me rather than shocking. I'd much prefer that a charge of racism actually had some shame and injustice associated with it rather than being a tool for tools to whip out without thinking.