Awareness of Racism and Singing to the Choir

In the past few months, I have been exposed to more works by African Americans and to more documents about the black condition in America than usual. So far, I haven’t learned anything really new, perhaps because I am a sociologist by trade with an interest in slavery going back fifty years. All the same, I appreciate the refresher. This is a good point to warn that I am at odds with many of my fellow conservatives about the debt, if any the US, owes in connection with slavery and in connection with Jim Crow. (See: Systemic Racism: a Rationalist Take; and also, my shorter: The Great American Racial Awakening: A Conservative Approach (Part One).) I also insist that mine – insisting on the recognition of some sort of debt – is the true conservative position. This position in no way entails accepting passively everything the woke movement is telling us about current racism in America.

Recently, I watched almost all of the good PBS documentary “Driving while Black.” The first part illustrates well, with both many historical documents and the memories of older people, how African Americans used to travel with the help of special guidebooks designed to ensure they did not inadvertently find themselves in hostile territory. It was worse than traveling in a foreign country whose language you don’t know, it seems. (I did this myself in Croatia, in 1962, before mass tourism spread far and wide some knowledge of English.) It was a concerted collective effort to escape the consequences of explicit deliberate racist policies (as well as of widespread racist sentiment).

Then, the emphasis of the documentary shifts to the creation of the Interstate Freeway system. The narration comments on the fact that the development of the freeways involved the clearing out, the destruction of many local black communities, including their many Mom-and-Pop businesses. I am guessing there is no doubt it did. But the commentator keeps the topic closed as if the last had been said thus giving the impression that black communities were targeted for destruction out of racial prejudice (in thematic continuity with the first part of the documentary). Some may have been so targeted, or even all, but there is another explanation that makes racial prejudice a superfluous explanation.

One of the considerable, but variable costs of public way construction (roads and railways) is the expropriation of the land on which the public way is to stand. In many cases – that, I think, have rational technical explanations – the land to be expropriated is occupied by structures with commercial value. It’s common practice, and I would argue, good practice, to try as much as is possible to find a path that minimizes the cost of the relevant expropriations. (In the US, in the past 80 years, public pathways have been financed by the taxpayers. As a taxpayer, I wouldn’t want planners to deviate from this practice.) An unintended consequence of this rational practice is that black-owned and black-leased building are over-represented among those destroyed on the occasion of freeway building. No racism has to be involved though it may be.

This is just a prominent instance of a general, diffuse problem: Authors, journalists, politicians impute authoritatively a racist cause to inferior black outcomes where racism may or may not be involved. There is often not even a pretense of causal analysis, not even of merely mental analysis. The simply plausible magically becomes reality. Yet, it’s true that African Americans, more often than whites, often end up with the some of the worst jobs, some the worst commercial services, and as of lately (2021), even with some of the worst health outcomes.

It should be obvious that any of the above, and many other noxious outcomes, may be the pure products of mere poverty or of inferior education, or of both. African Americans are, in fact, poorer than average. So, before claiming that racism, or a systemically racist policy is at work, it would be logical to figure out if the bad outcomes may not be entirely explained by poverty. Saying the same thing in a different way: If whites in similar economic circumstances experience the same bad outcomes, or worse ones, the racial explanations are superfluous. Incidentally, racism could still be at work but it would appear much less self-evident to the general sympathetic public. It would happen like this: African Americans have the same high rate of diabetes as whites at the same education and economic level but, for the latter, diabetes is a product of poverty and ignorance, and for African Americans, it comes from poverty, ignorance, plus something else. See how credible such a statement would be. Or this: Poor whites lag in vaccinations because they also tend to be uneducated but equally poor and equally uneducated African Americans lag in vaccinations because of the racist treatment to which they are subjected.

Exploring this kind of issue, the relative weight of self evident factors in determining bad outcomes is comparatively easy. Such quest would rely on fairly available public data and on methods (multivariate analysis with econometric evaluation) that were already not new when I was pursuing a doctorate in the 1970s. There must be hundreds of sociologists and of economists equipped to conduct this kind of research in the USA. I am following multiple media in a haphazard manner, it’s true, though with a conservative bias, from the Wall Street Journal to internet trash. I do this every day for hours. Yet, I never bump into the fruits of such reasonably principled research. Of course, Stanford and Hoover Institution black economist Thomas Sowell has conducted just such analysis for many years but he is never cited by anyone to the left of dead center. Instead, his existence is sometimes acknowledged as that of beloved but slightly screwy old uncle who may even have passed on. In my book, the seeming absence in the public arena of reasoning guided or influenced by such obvious research should be enough to make one suspicious. I think this stream of public reasoning is being suppressed. (Please, go ahead and show me that it’s abundantly represented, via any media, contrary to my impression.)

Technical note: I hate to break the hearts of my possible liberal – and even progressive – readers but the following is correct: If proper analysis demonstrated that income level, level of wealth, and educational status together are not sufficient to account for inferior black outcomes, that would not be enough to pin the blame on racism, be it of a personal or systemic nature. This is another issue that’s being kept in the dark as far as I know.

The end of the documentary, “Driving While Black,” mentions briefly the possibility that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also destroyed thriving black communities. It did so by suddenly giving black shoppers attractive alternatives such as (then) Safeway. I am not sure how I would bet about this right now, as I write, but it’s possible to imagine that the Civil Rights Act was more destructive in this respect than the construction of the Interstate Freeway system. The documentary had the opportunity to raise the question. It did not. This good document would have gained immeasurably in intellectual credibility if it had. My impression is that currently, there are few critics of any race that would have the intestinal fortitude to do so. (Again, please, show me that my impression is wrong.)

I am concurrently reading a novel by a prolific African American author: The Son of Mr. Suleman, by Eric Jerome Dikey. First, it’s delightful novel and I enjoy every minute of it. The writing is effervescent even if it often verges on being in a language I don’t quite understand. (For me, it’s a bit like reading Portuguese, a language I have not studied but that is close enough to my own native French and to the Spanish that I have studied that I can usually make it out.) The reading is also a bit jarring for one strange, specific reason. The novel accomplishes with ease what good novels do: through action, dialogues, monologues, and disquisitions, they transport the reader into a world that he would otherwise likely not discover. In this case, the hero is a vigorous black man in his thirties plying his ill-defined trade in the second-rate academic venues of Memphis, Tennessee. Except for the academic setting, this is pretty far from this California old white man’s experience.

The jarring starts in the first few pages with a Trumpdetestation statement that appears utterly unrelated to anything beginning in the story. Thereafter, every so many pages, appears a politically, cliched affirmation about racism that ads nothing to the story. It’s as if the author felt like – or had been ordered to – assert with an imposed frequency, his membership in the mainstream of conventional African American struggle against racism. These interruptions are all the more ludicrous because, again, the normal course of the novel does a talented job of describing racism from the inside, so to speak. Bizarrely, the hero is being periodically sexually exploited by a rich, powerful, attractive, white, and, you guessed it, blonde woman. And, as one might almost expect, the hero blames his troubles mainly on racism. But the fact that he is an adjunct professor would be enough to explain his misery. Let me explain for my overseas readers: That’s a category of university faculty members who carry full course loads but are slated to never get tenure. (Yes, in American universities, tenure, “titularisation” is neither automatic nor a function of years taught. It’s competitive. It’s an “up-or-out” process. A teacher who does not win tenure has to find a job somewhere else.) In the last school were I taught, there were dozens of such adjunct personnel. They were all white. At any rate, in spite of all this, I warmly recommend this book.

At this point in the year, I am pleased to have been exposed to material on race relations that would normally not have been on my menu; nevertheless, I am struck by the many failures to take advantage of the situation to gain intellectual heft with other than whining and guilt-devoured white liberals. I suspect there is a convergent attempt, a cultural movement of the left, to remain vague in order to avoid revealing or admitting the obvious: that the past 60 years have seen enormous progress toward racial equality and justice in America. There was a chance to sing to other than the choir and it’s being largely wasted.

19 thoughts on “Awareness of Racism and Singing to the Choir

  1. Do not the once comparable but now divergent experiences of Asian versus black Americans suggest that their respective societal attitudinal differences present another suppressed opportunity for productive investigation?

    • I don’t know. Go ahead and write on this very topic. I think the experiences of African Americans and of Asians are not comparable. Form one thing, “Asians” is a kind of made- up category wheres “African Americans” is a category with historical reality. For another thing, all Asians in the US are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. This fact alone implies a tremendous amount of self-selection. I am an immigrant myself. I had four siblings who stayed pu. The fact that I left and they did not implies certain personality traits.

    • Innocent American and Canadian residents/citizens of East Asian heritage have been unjustly made to pay for something China’s government may have done; they’ve suffered increasing verbal and/or physical assaults during the last 16 months, the perpetrators seemingly assuming their targets are willful creators/spreaders of the coronavirus (etcetera). Many assault victims have no Chinese lineage, ironically, though their assailants seem to not care, maybe due to a hateful perception that they are ‘all the same’. I find it to be inexcusably horrendous treatment of fellow human beings who’ve done nothing at all to merit such vicious abuse. Also, overlooked is that there’s a good chance the assault victims came to the West to leave precisely that which many Westerners, perhaps including the hate-crime assailants, currently dislike about some authoritarian East Asian nation governments.

      I’ll bet that the unprovoked hatred can be even more intense if the target happens to be deemed professionally successful and/or has managed greater savings (etcetera), regardless of it all having been through hard work and/or thrift budgeting. Sometimes the victim is a convenient political football or scapegoat.

      The 2007-08 financial crisis resulted in the biggest, and perhaps the most culpably corrupt, mainstream U.S. bankers not being criminally indicted; instead, they were given their usual multi-million-dollar performance bonuses (as though nothing ever happened) via taxpayer-funded bailout. Yet, the feds, in a classical cowardly move, only charged some high-level staff with a relatively small-potatoes Chinese-American community bank as a figurative sacrificial lamb that couldn’t really fight back and who looked different from most other Americans.

    • I erroneously perceived your response to Jack Curtis’s comment as somewhat lessening the racism East Asian American citizens/residents suffer. My apologies.

  2. Blacks are a net drag on American society. Why would you pay reparations to a group that is responsible for most of the gun violence and crime and welfare problems, a group whose intellectual prowess is inversely proportional to its success on the basketball court? It boggles the mind.

    — Catxman

    • It’s an astonishingly malicious and callous BS-line. …

      Beginning as a young boy watching the original release of the 1977 TV miniseries ‘Roots’, I can recall how bewildered I’d always get just by the concept of Black people being brutalized and told they were not welcome — while they, as a people, had been violently forced to the U.S. from their African home as slaves! And, as a people, there has been little or no reparations or real refuge for them here, since. In Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, the narrator notes that, like the South, the Civil War era northern states also hated Black people but happened to hate slavery more.

      After 3.5 decades of news consumption, I’ve found that a disturbingly large number of categorized people, however precious their souls, can be considered thus treated as though disposable, even to an otherwise democratic nation. When the young children of those people take notice of this, tragically, they’re vulnerable to begin perceiving themselves as beings without value. (I’ve observed similar cruel devaluation of indigenous-nation people, especially those living with substance addiction.)

      While the inhuman(e) devaluation of such people is basically based on their race, it still adjacently reminds me of an external devaluation, albeit a subconscious one, of the daily civilian lives lost in protractedly devastating war zones and heavily armed sieges. They can eventually receive meagre column inches on the back page in the First World’s daily news. …

      Thank you, Jacques, for allowing me to say so much.

    • You are quite welcome but here, too, you are skirting an issue. I don’t know where you live. I live in the US myself. I think that if I tried really hard I could find five people who really hate and devalue blacks. I am in a liberal part of the country. So, elsewhere, I migth find ten, or even twenty . My point is that active racism that is also current has become very rare, There is almost no way to practice it. There are severe laws against racial discrimination in employment, education, and housing. At the same time, everyone knows the fact (fact) that blacks are disproprotonately engaged in criminality. The big problems are due to what happened long ago through white agents and to what black agents are doing now. PS Contrary to Roots, slaves for America were not procured by the crews of slaving ships kidnapping millions. That’s ridiculous.

    • I reside in Canada. I haven’t watched Roots since that original airing in 1977. I have, however, watched every other film dealing with Black Slavery and the Civil Rights Era, not that they necessarily are fully accurate renditions of actual events. I’ve also watched as many documentaries and docudramas on these subjects as possible. A couple of the films even revealed, to my astonishment, that many slaves in Africa were brutally rounded up by fellow Africans.

    • All slaves landing in America were slaes in Africa. There was not way the meagre crews of American and other slaving ships could conduct wars to round up large numbers of captives against a warlike and well armed populations. Also take into account malaria and yellow fever. Incidentally, I am on record as describing American slavery as a long series of atrocities. My beef with you is not much about slavery but about the contemporary period. You seem to be uninformed about the current racial situation in the S. We are very far from 1955! Do you remember who was elected president before Trump?

    • Perhaps shamefully, I know more about U.S. history than that of my own nation, including elected leaders.

      I can vividly recall then-president Barrack Obama (Trump’s predecessor) capitulating — like so many other neo-liberal presidents before him and likely after him — to big money politics by drinking (at least what supposedly was) a glass of Flint, Michigan water. This signified that the Flint water was entirely safe to drink, which he must have known was not really true.

      As a then-admirer of Obama, I muttered ‘Say it isn’t so’. I henceforth saw U.S. presidents, along with Canadian prime ministers, mostly as large corporate and power interest puppets.

      I know that the lead-tainting was not his doing; however, what he did was a major shock to and disappointment for the lead-poisoned Flint folk, who’d expected far more/better from him. To a lot of people, he had behaved like some TV-promotion actor hired by an (in this case) seriously ethically/morally challenged corporation. Though I would expect it from a Republican president or even then-president Bill Clinton, I found it very disappointing of Obama (maybe because he is Black, as were many/most of the lead-water-ingesting Flint folk), regardless of the big business and/or political pressure he probably had on his head.

      This was yet another disappointing fact about Barack Obama’s presidency and, by extension, perhaps about his own nature, considering the immoral/unethical subject matter involved.

    • You are taking me farther afield than I want to go. I try to write only about limited topics about which I know something and that I think are ill-covered by others. The general idea that presidents are puppets of broader interest is very well covered by others than me, have been ad nauseam. One point and two questions. The word “neo-liberal” is ambiguous. What’s the difference with a liberal? And do you use the latter word in its American meaning, or, more likely , in its old English meaning? What reasons do you have to believe that the Flint water Pres. Obama drank was very dangerous. You are referring to what seemed to me, at the time, a murky story. And, by the way , if any misdeed was committed , it was the local Democratic elite that should have been held responsible. None of it was the province of the ederal Govt, even less, of the president himself.

    • 1) My understanding is that the Flint water was still not truly safe to drink, as its lead content was still above the ‘safe’ level. Yet, I’ve read/heard many experts state that no amount of lead is safe to ingest, since it accumulates in the body, particularly the brain, and remains within body tissue for life.

      2) When I use the term “neo-liberalism”, I mean the new or faux/fake liberalism; that being, I believe, the old school liberalism that decided to adopt pretty much the same big-business-friendly policies long utilized by conservative parties/governments. I guess the old school, or true, liberalism became referenced as “progressive” or “left-wing”.

      3) I realize many people have trouble perceiving our highest-level elected leaders basically as puppets of the largest corporate interests. So did I, originally.
      Nonetheless, while authoritarian governances like China’s hold much sway over the corporations within their borders (and even without, to some degree), Western governances like those of Canada and the U.S. (though especially the less-democratic Canadian system) are essentially steered by corporate interests, sometimes through economic intimidation. Anyone who doubts the potent persuasion of huge business interests here need to consider how top elected officials can become crippled by implicit/explicit threats to transfer or eliminate jobs and capital investment, thus economic stability, if corporate ‘requests’ aren’t met. [Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s integrity-compromising and reputation-ruining dealings with SNC-Lavalin is but one good example of this.]

      Also, corporate lobbyists actually write bills for our (Canada’s) governing representatives to vote for and have implemented, supposedly to save the elected officials their own time. (American lobbyists may similarly write bills for senators and congressmen to vote on, but I’m not certain.) I believe the practice has become so systematic here that those who are aware of it (which likely includes political writers) don’t bother publicly discussing it. It has become the norm.

    • Thanks. I address this issue in detail in my essay, “Systemic Racism….” I do it from a conservative standpoint. I am not sure you are rigth in “most.” I would guess you are not. “Disproportionately” is more likely to be correct.

  3. Although there’s research indicating that infants demonstrate a preference for caregivers of their own race, any future racial biases and bigotries generally are environmentally acquired. Adult racist sentiments are often cemented by a misguided yet strong sense of entitlement, perhaps also acquired from one’s environment.
    One means of proactively preventing this social/societal problem may be by allowing young children to become accustomed to other races in a harmoniously positive manner. The early years are typically the best time to instill and even solidify positive social-interaction life skills/traits, like interracial harmonization, into a very young brain. Human infancy is the prime (if not the only) time to instill and even solidify positive social-interaction characteristics into a very young mind.

    At a very young and therefore impressionable age, I was emphatically told by my mother (who’s of Eastern European heritage, Croatian specifically) about the exceptionally kind and caring nature of our Black family doctor. She never had anything disdainful to say about people of color; in fact, she still enjoys watching/listening to the Middle Eastern and Indian subcontinental dancers and musicians on the multicultural channel. I believe that her doing so had a very positive and lasting effect on me.

    Irrational racist sentiment can be handed down generation to generation. If it’s deliberate, it’s something I strongly feel amounts to a form of child abuse: to rear one’s impressionably very young children in an environment of overt bigotry — especially against other races and/or sub-racial groups (i.e. ethnicities). Not only does it fail to prepare children for the practical reality of an increasingly racially/ethnically diverse and populous society and workplace, it also makes it so much less likely those children will be emotionally content or (preferably) harmonious with their multicultural/-racial surroundings.

    Children reared into their adolescence and, eventually, young adulthood this way can often be angry yet not fully realize at precisely what. Then they may feel left with little choice but to move to another part of the land, where their race or ethnicity predominates, preferably overwhelmingly so. If not for themselves, parents then should do their young children a big favor and NOT pass down onto their very impressionable offspring racially/ethnically bigoted feelings and perceptions, nor implicit stereotypes and ‘humor’, for that matter. Ironically, such rearing can make life much harder for one’s own children.

    • I don’t disagree with much of what you say but you are skirting a big problem: Today, tomorrow, unilke your kind black doctor, young black thugs witll kill and rob much beyond their numbers. What do we do between now and the moment racist sentiment is eradicated from American society?

    • Crime-wise? The law must be enforced; although, the racial makeup of law-enforcement personnel needs to be proportionate to the racial makeup of the populaces they police. Equally important, live-streamed police camera bodywear (as well as the cameras currently mounted in/on police vehicles) needs to be universally mandated, especially when there’s an absence of proportionate law-enforcement/populace racial makeup.

      Of course, there likely are other factors and details to consider here, and I’m definitely no expert, but those are my layman’s thoughts.

  4. fgsjr2015 Thank you for answering my questions on Flint water. I have said everything I wanted to say on the matter: Again, an issue for local Dem authorities. On the general proposition that presidents are puppets of corporations, I am not that interested. I encourage you to write essays on the topic to post them here.

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