A Reminder To White People

King Beauregard, a frequent contributor to this blog, made an interesting point about Bernie Sanders in particular, but really about privileged white people more generally:

I don’t think Bernie has a single drop of malice towards blacks or Hispanics in him. It’s not just the decades of not interacting with blacks, but (I suspect) the much subtler failing of not personally feeling their pain and therefore not feeling any motivation to investigate their issues.

He then followed up with this:

It’s about realizing that racism manifests in all sorts of subtle ways, sometimes through what DOESN’T happen, and it’s the easiest thing in the world for white people to ignore it because it doesn’t happen to affect them. Worse, the measures to do something about that subtler racism WOULD affect them, and that’s where a great many progressives fall down on the job. Not just because (for example) prioritizing BLM issues means not talking about single payer for a minute, but the very humbling awareness that white progressives and white racists are all used to benefiting from an unfair system.

It is always useful to remind white folks, across the ideological spectrum, that our system, despite the progress we have made, still tolerates and in some cases encourages discriminatory and racist practices. And because whites need to be reminded—again and again—I thought I would post here my response to King Beauregard:

K.B.,

It’s very easy for white people to criticize obvious manifestations of racism in our society. Heck, there are still some Republicans left who will do that. But you are right that a system contaminated by a more subtle form of race-based discrimination is harder to get white people, even white Democrats, to care about. Your point about “what DOESN’T happen” is exactly right. That’s harder to detect and then explain. When people of color are negatively affected by the subtle racism you suggest, white people tend to think those particular negative outcomes are solely or largely the result of a lack of effort or talent, as opposed to something in the system itself that helps determine those outcomes.

Worse, though, than missing or ignoring the more subtle forms of discrimination in our society is this sad and depressing fact: today a significant majority of white people think it is they who are suffering from discrimination! You’ve probably seen this already by way of Vox, but when I saw it the other day I was sort of not surprised:

Americans are split on whether they believe “reverse discrimination” is real.

That “white working class” result probably explains Trump’s mystifying appeal to 40% of the population better than any one factor, perhaps even better than innate preferences for his clownish authoritarianism. Just think about it for a minute. Members of the white working class—who have in large numbers supported Republicans for years now—think their existing problems aren’t because (or just because) they have embraced right-wing economics and anti-union fervor through the ballot box, but because people of color are “taking” their jobs or getting into the best schools and so on. It’s really amazing.

But more amazing is the “white college educated” response. More than four in ten white people with a college education think the system is essentially “rigged”—a term Trump uses with some effectiveness—against them!  That result makes me think some college degrees aren’t worth all that much.

And we shouldn’t ignore the responses from blacks and Hispanics. I can think of some legitimate reasons why those numbers are higher than they should be, but it still is troubling that around one-third of minorities in this country think white people’s problems are related to reverse discrimination. When you put all of this together, it illustrates your point about subtle racism and how it is built into our system in ways even some people of color don’t immediately recognize.

That Vox article also recognizes and explains an important distinction between discrimination and racism:

Discrimination refers to the biases one exhibits against a racial group. Racism, by contrast, reinforces discriminatory attitudes with social, political, cultural, and economic institutions that have historically disenfranchised a group of people simply because of their racial identity.

Using the terms without the necessary distinction (as the study did that produced the graph above), racism simply becomes “a set of attitudes without the power dynamics that give certain biases salience over others.” Those power dynamics that favor whites are what white people either purposely fail to see or are culturally conditioned to ignore, despite the fact that, as the article points out, there is so much evidence out there to prove some forms of racism are still very much with us, whether it be in hiring practices or in our criminal justice system or in redlined neighborhoods or in our education system’s tendency to overlook intellectual giftedness among black students.

Finally, the article notes how belief in “anti-white bias” has been on the rise among white people since the beginning of the civil rights movement in the ’50s, which is no surprise. And Vox asks a question at the end that is very easy to answer:

How will white Americans adjust to an America that cannot and does not focus on their rights alone?

For a big chunk of them the answer can be expressed in one word: TRUMP!

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25 Comments

  1. This reply does not intend in any way to detract from the points you made about racism. The same exact attitudes and built-in biases apply to females of the human race. They are so subtle that males do not even recognize they exist. That means if you are a female and a person of color, you have two big hits against you. Throughout my career in business, I have observed these things happening. When I brought them up as a more-or-less senior manager, I was told that I was wrong and very subtly told to stop making waves or I would lose my job. More than once I went to bat for females who were being laid off or persons of color who were being discriminated against and received this very veiled threat, was told I was wrong, and basically got no support or understanding. My perception is that these biases are slowly, slowly being recognized, but not corrected. I believe this is because people can recognize this bias in others, if they really concentrate, but cannot recognize it in themselves. It is difficult for people to be that objective about their own way of thinking.

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    • Political correctness was formulated to avoid conflict by making racism and other forms of discrimination harder to recognize and easier to cover up. It was believed that by suppressing conflict, it would make it easier for racism to gradually disappear on its own, as if by magic, but it backfired. It pushed racism underground where it has festered. As many people are at least as racist today as they were at the beginning of the civil rights era. The illusion that race relations have been improving has been shattered. People never learned anything about racism over the past few decades because no one was allowed to discuss it out of fear someone might be offended by the discussion itself. Now, with political correctness dead people don’t know how to talk about race, they have no choice but to either shut up or be openly offensive and lots of them are choosing to be offensive.

      “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” –Elie Wiesel

      Everyone who does NOT take action against racism is a racist. Claiming not to be a racist is not action. Issues like single payer, which Duane whines about constantly are exactly the kinds of issues that affect racism directly. This is one of many ways that Duane pretends not to be a racist.

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    • You are exactly right, Michael. Racism is a product of our white-dominated history and sexism is a product of our male-dominated beginnings. Detecting the subtle forms of both is indeed hard, especially, as KB pointed out, if we are personally benefiting from the racism or sexism.

      I’m guessing most of the folks you were talking about in your management career, those who basically suggested you knock off the attempts at workplace fairness, were males. But I’ve even seen females in management treat other females poorly and unfairly, in most cases simply because they were females.

      Your last sentence is something we all should think about: “It is difficult for people to be that objective about their own way of thinking.” That’s the insidious part of all this, isn’t it?

      Duane

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  2. I’m going to take a wild stab and guess you haven’t seen a professional about your mental health issue yet. If you’re assuming that everything is fine in your head you are mistaken. King Beauregard (who I assume is too cowardly to use his real name) is not a wise reference for mentally healthy. I don’t have as large a window into King Beauregard, but he’s reinforcing your delusion and does NOT express any interest in helping you personally.

    “Bernie Sanders was volunteering with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and getting arrested in Chicago during a demonstration. Hillary Clinton was a Young Republican and volunteering with Barry Goldwater, who voted against the Civil Rights Act.”

    Clinton still supports the death penalty, which overwhelmingly selects for non-whites.

    Your description of the illusion of discrimination against whites is all wrong and more typical of what you would hear from actual racists. Since the civil rights era began, racists, not white people in general who are mostly racist, just plain racists, have systematically chosen, not rigged, not conspired, just chosen through the existing political infrastructure, to eliminate their own benefits out of spite against non-whites. That’s all there is to it.

    Now that things have gotten so bad, it’s possible for some racists to realize that they’ve cut too much and for their own sake have to tolerate letting non-whites getting some benefits. But still racist. Drumpf supporters are just those extreme racists who want to find a way to get benefits but without non-whites getting any. That’s the magic.

    The race issue wasn’t the only issue which Sanders was a better candidate, but it’s really all beside the point. Sanders never really had much of a chance from the beginning yet somehow you’ve kept beating that dead horse past the point of all sanity. You’re insane. That’s the point.

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    • King Beauregard

       /  July 3, 2016

      Sanders LOST, and he went to his humiliating defeat because blacks and Hispanics see defects in him that you don’t. So is it because they’re stupid, or because they’re right? Take you time on that one.

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      • In your opinion Black people prefer to be executed by Mrs. Superpredator than support Mr. Interrupted-by-BLM-Once. Meanwhile in Canada, BLM is getting their asses handed to them.

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        • King Beauregard

           /  July 5, 2016

          It’s not my opinion; numbers back me up.

          But we all know numbers have an anti-Sanders bias.

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          • Aside from your delusional statement, it’s true that black people vote Democrat as a bloc and Clinton’s victory was pre-established. The remarkable thing is that Sanders’ got as many votes as he did, but your delusion prevents you from seeing that for some odd reason. I honestly wish you could share with us what’s wrong in your head.

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            • King Beauregard

               /  July 7, 2016

              So blacks aren’t capable of independent thought, is that it?

              God you are a racist piece of shit.

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    • I’m not sure what it is with your endless fascination with my mental health. Are you taking an online course in psychology or something? If you are, how about jumping to the chapter on projection? Jesus, man. 

      Your paragraph, essentially accusing me of expressing racism by describing non-existent reverse discrimination, is, well, weird, and itself worth studying as a possible symptom of some kind of disorder. To think that there was a conspiracy among racists to cut themselves off from government benefits in order to “spite” folks of color is ridiculous. You don’t have the slightest evidence for it, but that obviously doesn’t matter to you. You have a conspiracy and that’s all that matters.

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      • I’ve studied psychology for a couple of decades but I didn’t make it a career. I’ve also studied all forms of discrimination in the context of intersectionality toward alliance building, though there are a few special cases that are outside most Westerners’ experiences.

        Back when George W. Bush was running for re-election a number of his supporters openly expressed that they were willing to make sacrifices to ensure his re-election. By that point of course most of the damage we are trying to correct now had long since been done. I suppose your pretense of denying that there is any evidence comes from your lack of objectivity from within your union position. If you ever want to talk about projection or racism in general you need to get the plank out of your eye first.

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        • King Beauregard

           /  July 5, 2016

          “I’ve studied psychology for a couple of decades but I didn’t make it a career.”

          Yeah, that’s probably for the best.

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          • If I didn’t know better I’d assume that meant you would see an actual professional. That would be for the best. Unfortunately someone in your mental state is incapable of determining what is best for yourself.

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      • Here’s a book that might interest you if you aren’t really as mentally ill as you seem.

        “southern legislators could be quite economically progressive if the only beneficiaries were white people”

        https://www.amazon.com/Fear-Itself-Deal-Origins-Time/dp/0871407388/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1467675794&sr=8-1&keywords=fear+itself+the+new+deal

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        • Again, do you really think I’m going to engage someone who begins with an assertion that I’m mentally ill? Huh? What does that say about your mentality if you think you can rationally discuss complex issues with someone with a misfiring brain? Jesus, bru.

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  3. Duane,

    Tragically, racism is the cross all of us must bear until there are no more white, black, brown, red, or yellow Americans and the races have intermixed until we are all gray. And that will be a long time coming.

    I don’t know where this idea of “discrimination against whites” is coming from. On the contrary, as a white man, I feel white privilege every day. I can drive or walk down the street with no fear of a cop stopping me. I can go shopping without a store clerk giving me the evil eye. I can apply for a job or a bank loan without feeling apprehensive. I have almost total freedom to do as I please as long as I don’t break the law and not be questioned because of my race. But I can only intellectualize what it must be like to be a person of color; I can never actually have the experience itself, empathy notwithstanding.

    In any case, I’m not so sure a discussion of racism is very helpful. Each side is going to have to deal with elements of denial and confirmation bias. In dealing with a particular issue, once the implied or explicit notion of racism enters the conversation, progress is most likely going to stop. Imagine having a discussion about college admittance standards without regard to race.

    I find it easier to approach differences, not just racial, but a host of social and cultural issues, in the context of tribalism. Therein lies our identity, our history, our values, our worldview. The tribe is an extended family, protective of its own, suspicious of outsiders. And tribal loyalty gives rise to the mistrust of others, sometimes intolerance, and even war. The tribe can be comprised of a particular religion, or political philosophy, or economic theory, or neighborhood, or school, or sports team. On that basis, I find it easier to find common ground than assigning blame.

    As far as I know, we homo sapiens are the only species that can hate. Other animals can love, be angry, be sad, be happy, even be moral. It’s only humans that can hate. And that seems to contradict evolution. What need is being satisfied through hate? Seems like a bad survival strategy to me.

    But I digress – and have gone on for too long.

    Herb

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    • Herb,

      The reverse discrimination nonsense has been around for as long as I can remember. It was, in sometimes a more subtle form, part of the conservative movement I was wedded to for so long. And, as I have noted, too many Democratic voters buy into aspects of it.

      Even though we somewhat disagree about how helpful a discussion on racism is, I don’t disagree with you about tribalism and its importance. My worry is that we have lost the ability to see our entire country as part of a values-sharing tribe, those values being ones we can all generally agree on. We seem to have separated into two national tribes with two sets of national values, with some overlapping. Not good for our national future.

      In any case, evolution and hatred is an interesting topic. Is it adaptive? Did it confer advantages? And is love closely associated with it for a neurological reason? Is it mostly a learned behavior or instinctive, like when horses or deer instinctively stomp on snakes when they see them? Perhaps a combination of both? Maybe our nervous system has evolved to fear certain shapes like snakes because they can potentially harm or kill us, and that has, as we learned to live collectively, somehow morphed into hate for others we might fear. Beats me. I tend to think hate was advantageous, at one time in our evolutionary history, because it seems to be related to aggression, and it could have helped determine whom to fight and whom to merely marginalize and ridicule as unworthy of fighting. That would make it related to survival in some way. Regardless, though, it will take a lot of research into it to come to any kind of conclusions. And we have just begun closely examining the origin of our hate—the brain.

      Duane

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      • King Beauregard

         /  July 3, 2016

        Seems to me, as well, that hate was once a survival strategy; certainly it was more likely to pass on genes than being slow to violence towards outsiders.

        But while a tendency to divide the world into Us vs. Them is a matter of our ape evolution, a tendency to do it along the lines of skin tone is not; that has everything to do with our history of slavery. The British attitude towards the Irish has been much like the American racist’s towards blacks, and in fact even in America the Irish were once known as “niggers turned inside out”. We of course eventually let Irish into the “whites” club, but it all goes to show how arbitrary this all is. Check out this super-sensitive magazine cover:

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        • “Skin tone” discrimination, racism, may not be arbitrary. In fact, it may also have causes associated with our evolutionary past, stored away somehow in our brains. I wish we knew more about our brains, not just in terms of our personal psychology, but in terms of social psychology. Someday, long after we’re gone, maybe mankind will have a better understanding of all this nasty stuff.

          And that magazine cover is something else.

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      • In primitive societies there was often not enough resources for everyone. What we think of as tribalism was their way of forming alliances for basic survival, but they could just as easily “hate” their own family members who split off to form a new tribe for basic survival. Hate is actually a rationalization for alliance-selfishness, because people don’t know how to identify allies in societies with thousands or more people, it gets reduced to the lowest common denominator: skin color, dialect, religious group.

        The psychological tendencies of individuals are what distinguish groups of people who commit acts of “hate”. The primary tendency is paranoia which is the desire for sources of fear, enemies (people to hate). This tendency alone explains almost all Republican/conservative tribal behavior. We see this in groups which should be progressive as well to some degree. Only a small percentage of people are actually paranoid. Most people have normal or passive personalities but get dragged into tribal conflicts due to fear of the dominant members of the group.

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    • I agree with Herb about tribalism, but it seems to me it doesn’t work well nationally because it evolved when homo sapiens were hunter-gatherers in small tribes. Tribes would have been important to survival when they competed for scarce food, as in droughts and ice ages. This would also explain the evolution of different languages and races. Even in the middle ages it was damn dangerous to stray outside of one’s village.

      One other factor not yet mentioned in this interesting discussion: it is fundamental to human psychology that deprivation trumps acquisition. In other words, taking something away arouses much stronger emotion than does the denial of acquiring something. In that sense, the “white privilege” that Herb describes so well is easily, even if subtly, perceived as something that can be eroded.

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      • Jim, maybe the metaphor “tribalism” is actually a negative in the case of racism. We have “Black Lives Matter” and now we have “Blue Lies Matter.” But withdrawing into those “tribes” only exacerbates the problem. It’s them versus us, good guys versus bad guys, etc. A productive conversation is difficult at best when the binary barriers are raised.

        One thing I thought of as I watched the reactions to the Baton Rouge and Minnesota police shootings is what may be an understandable, but not justifiable, perspective from the black community. In the subconscious of many African-Americans is the ugliness of 350 years of oppression, pain, humiliation, and loss of freedom – 250 years of slavery and 100 years of Jim Crow. There have been riots, segregation, poverty and abuse, both physical and mental. Those memes may be hard wired into their souls. It’s easy to understand, then, that when some blacks see a uniformed law enforcement officer, they may subconsciously see a slave owner or a KKK member with a hanging noose or a whip.

        In contrast, you have cops who know the statistics of crime rates by young black men, which is very high in proportion to their race. So, it’s understandable that, from the cops’ viewpoint, approaching a young black man presents more danger than, say, a young white man. That said, I believe the vast majority of the black community appreciate the duty of cops to protect and serve. The Dallas incident is a good example of that. And cops decked out in military gear looking like storm troopers ought to stop and go back to wearing blue.

        There are an estimated 750,000 uniformed law enforcement officers in the U.S. And there are probably more than a handful of bad actors among them. But that is for our justice system, however imperfect it is, to sort out. Otherwise, there is mob rule.

        Maybe we should all remember the old saw, “Freedom without responsibility is anarchy.” In fact, that may be a good starting point for the conversation about race.

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        • Herb, I agree with everything you say here. Tribalism is a negative for sure, nationally speaking. National political cohesiveness is increased by external threat, as in WW II and the Cold War, or decreased by sharp cultural and economic differences, as in the Civil War. It began to break down with the Korean War, and did so completely with Vietnam. War in the future is not likely again to have this effect because it will be fought by what are essentially mercenary forces. Thus, we may well be approaching, as you say, anarchy. The looming election may just be the most important of our lifetimes. On one side, it’s every man for himself, and on the other, one nation indivisible.

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        • You are right to point out that the vast majority of the black community appreciate cops. They are often in the best position to appreciate them. And that also puts them in the best position to point out their failings. Criticizing bad behavior by cops is to give them respect as a vital institution in our society, not to diminish their value. That point gets lost among right-wingers who are now trying to exploit cop-killings politically.

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      • Very good point, Jim. Needs some exploration.

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