IsraPundit

WE'VE MOVED! IsraPundit has relocated to www.israpundit.com. Click here to go there now.
News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

December 14, 2004

RACE, RACISM AND STEREOTYPING




An issue of abiding interest to all Jews


AMERICA'S MOST OFFENSIVE FOUR-LETTER WORD

There is no doubt that the most offensive four-letter word in America today is "race". I gather that my occasional mentioning of it greatly limits the readership of much that I write. It is my contention, however, that it is mainly the Left that keep it that way -- by going ballistic every time that the word is mentioned. Absurd though it is, the convention that the Left have forced onto American society by their torrents of abuse is that anyone who mentions the word "race" is a "racist". And "racist" is in fact the most potent term of abuse that there is in most of the world today.

And the reason why is no mystery. Hitler's appalling application of the racial hygeine theories that were common among the Leftists of his day have made all good people super-anxious not to have anything to do with such horrors. But because a particularly nasty socialist once used the idea of race to inflict horrors does not mean that there is anything wrong with the concept of race. Atomic bombs are horrible too but the horribleness of the idea of atomic bombs does not make the reality of such bombs go away. Putting it another way, one does not have to want to persecute other races in order to recognize that they exist.

I have always been quite unhesitating in saying that races do exist and that there are differences between them -- and it is my view that anyone who says otherwise is deliberately blind. There is even good evidence from the geneticists saying so but I do not expect that sort of evidence to be influential with people who cannot even believe what their senses tell them every day.

I am sure that the kneejerk brigade have stopped reading this by now so I presume that I am now talking to those who are capable of acknowledging that there are races and that race can make a difference. The important question now, then, is what USE does the concept have? And my answer to that is: "Not a lot". As a conservative I believe in the primacy of the individual so I believe that each person should as far as possible be treated on his/her individual merits, regardless of whether he/she is black, white or brindle.

Unfortunately, however, as in Hitler's day, the Left do not do that. They do not treat people as individuals and they do discriminate against people on the basis not only of their race but even on the basis of their skin colour. I refer of course to "affirmative action". They practice racial discrimination without using the word "race" -- generally preferring the term "minorities" instead, which is about as big a distortion as claiming that homosexuals are "gay". Sad homosexuals are apparently not allowed and the minority that suffers most official discrimination against them in America today is undoubtedly white middle class males. Such confusion of speech makes intelligent discussion difficult so I am going to call leftists what they are: Racists. And I am going to call the categories that they use "races" too. If I try to use the deliberately confused terms that Leftists use in this matter, I run the risk of falling into the sort of confused thinking that they display -- the sort of confused thinking that denies that race exists and then proceeds to base vast policies on it.

The racial category that American Leftists most focus on is of course blacks of African ultimate origin. And by constant repetition over the last 50 years or so they seem to have persuaded lots of white Americans that they should feel guilty about the problems that such blacks tend to have. White feelings of guilt about blacks appear to have been fairly uncommon before World War II. And the principal point I am aiming at for the moment is that whites should NOT feel guilty. I am not responsible for what my ancestors did nor is anybody else. We can only deal with the situation as we have it today and the plain fact is that American blacks are the luckiest of their race in the world today. If people of African ancestry in America have problems, their problems are as nothing compared to the problems of Africans in Africa. Although it was not done with benevolent intentions, the transportation of African slaves into America was in fact the best thing that anybody has ever done for Africans. The descendants of the slaves are infinitely richer and better off in a whole host of ways than are the descendants of those Africans who were not enslaved. And at least one prominent black American has acknowledged that. See also here.

So my point is that if we must use the Leftist practice of basing policy on race, the logic would be that American blacks owe whites something, and not vice versa. The guilt about blacks that many American whites appear to feel is, in other words, a giant Leftist con job. That they have managed to make people feel guilty about something that they also claim does not exist is an abiding wonder, however. If Leftists really did treat people as individuals regardless of their race, neither the guilt nor the affirmative action policies based on it would be possible.


STEREOTYPING

Around 15 years ago, I went to the library at the University of Queensland and looked up their PsycLIT CD-ROM. The CD was published by the American Psychological Association and indexes what has been published in all the world's academic psychology journals. I entered the search terms "racism" and "ethnocentrism" and looked at the authorship of the stream of articles that came out. There was one author who had published far more than any other -- accounting for about a fifth of the articles concerned. So, by normal academic conventions, that author would clearly be the world's leading authority on the psychology of racism. I am that author. See here

No doubt the situation has changed considerably since then. I neither know nor care nor does anybody else. My research generally arrived at conclusions uncongenial to Leftists so has always been thoroughly ignored by my fellow academics and I have therefore long since stopped doing any of it. I mention the matter only to establish that I do know the subject exceptionally well and am not talking through my hat in what I am about to say. And what I am about to say I have set out in more academic terms, complete with references, here and here.

In psychology, a "stereotype" is the word used to refer to a belief that someone has about a particular group of people. A common stereotype would be the belief that blacks are lazy. Stereotypes are therefore in general greatly condemned. The grounds for condemning them are twofold: 1). It is argued that no group has distinct characteristics; and 2). That even if a majority of a group has some characteristic, not all members of the group will have so it is pernicious to judge the individual by the group to which he belongs.

The first claim is simply silly. Of course groups have common characteristics. Most people of African ancestry have dark skin, for instance. Even if there are some or even many exceptions to the rule, the rule still exists. To say that no rule may have any exceptions would exclude most rules we use in life. The second claim is of course correct. To say that a person has a characteristic that he does not is plainly foolish and unjust and any public policy (such as the Jim Crow laws or "affirmative action") that assumes characteristics in an individual because of some group to which he belongs is also therefore foolish and unjust. The United Nations charter says that each person should be treated according to his/her individual merits and that is probably the most uncontroversial pronouncement the UN has ever made. Whether people act on it, however, is another matter.

So there are intellectually compelling reasons why public policy should not take group membership into account. Enquiries can always be made about the characteristics of the individual who might be affected by a policy instead of assuming the characteristics of the individual from some group to which he/she might belong. If a policy is designed to help poor people, for instance, enquiries should be made about the income and assets of each individual concerned before they are helped rather than assuming that because he/she is a member of a generally poor group (such as blacks) he/she should automatically be helped.

Private life, however, is another matter. In private life we very often HAVE to deal with people on the basis of very imperfect knowledge about them. A landlord deciding on whether or not to let his property to someone, for instance, will often know very little about the prospective tenant. He will of course ask for references etc but as crooks often have the best references, that will not get him far. So he will necessarily use very imperfect rules in deciding what to do. If, for instance, he has had repeated bad experiences with (say) Korean tenants, he may well decide not to accept a particular prospective tenant who is Korean. He will undoubtedly make some mistakes in doing so but he will probably make fewer mistakes that way than if he had used no rules at all. But clearly, what he has done is "stereotyped" Koreans as bad tenants. So what is quite improper in public policy may be perfectly proper in a limited-information, day-to-day environment. Circumstances alter cases and to say that stereotyping is ALWAYS undesirable is in fact to stereotype stereotyping.

So the rational conclusion from realities such as those mentioned out above is that consideration of group membership should be outlawed in public policy but allowed in private life. Needless to say, Leftists advocate the exact reverse of that.

MORAL?

"But what about the moral dimension?" someone will no doubt want to ask at this stage. Leftists advocate the policies they do to redress wrongs. Should not such wrongs be addressed?

My reply is that governments do not have to be racist to redress wrongs. If there is a desire to provide accomodation for unpopular tenants, for instance, the government could acquire housing suitable for renting out to such people (which is what many governments already do) and that should be the end of the matter. The government will realize that tenants unacceptable to private landlords are probably going to be costly for the government to accomodate but if their voters vote for that, so be it. There will be no need for government to enquire about the race of any of the tenants concerned nor will there be any need to prevent private property-owners from making such enquiries.

Similarly with education: If the government is concerned at the poor secondary school attainments of some people, the answer is not to pretend that those attainment are adequate but rather to offer extra courses -- summer schools, remedial courses or whole years of education -- to such people. Once again, no enquiry about the race of the low-achievers should be needed. And it appears that something like that is now beginning to happen. See here.