Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What Is Racism?

Steve Browne at Taki Magazine shares some thoughts on racism. Specifically, he wonders exactly what it is:
It has to be evident to all thinking people by now that racism is the new witchcraft. Once you’re branded with the Scarlet “R,” some people do not regard it as immoral to assault you…or worse.

Calling someone a racist is sufficient to brand them as outside the pale of civilized company. In academia, the accusation is a career-wrecker. Socially it is enough to get you dropped from the A-list of the best parties.

But has anybody bothered to tell us what this vile thing is?
Browne goes on to consider some of the definitions of racism commonly employed and finds all of them inadequate. Little wonder. The term is so protean it can mean just about anything from harmful acts against another motivated solely by the other's race, to something only white people are guilty of, to any disagreement with Barack Obama.

Many people live in fear of being labelled a racist because, as Browne points out, it can kill one's career and do almost as much damage to one's reputation as being called a pedophile. Indeed, in some places it's worse than being a pedophile judging by the show of support among the celebrated glitterati for people like Roman Polanski and the alleged epidemic of pedophilia in Hollywood.

Browne is also dissatisfied with the dictionary definition of the term:
"A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race."
But, Browne asks, which traits and capacities?
Is someone a racist who believes different races have different abilities — not superior or inferior, but different?

“Asians/whites/blacks are better than (blank) at (blank).” Racist?

Did Paul Robeson have such a magnificent voice because of his African ancestry? Do the Irish produce better tenors and the Welsh better baritones?

Excellence in athletics? Then we’d have to wonder if there is a superior race, and not the melanin-deficient one.

But away with sophistry! Everybody knows that when we speak of superior, we mean one trait among many — intelligence.

So is a person a racist if they believe a race other than his own is more intelligent?

John Derbyshire has noted that though black people have measured average IQs a full standard deviation lower than whites, Asians have average IQs higher than white people. Derbyshire got called a racist for the first observation, but what about the second?

Is it not racist if a white person says Asians are smarter, but racist if an Asian says it?

What about someone who thinks that one race might have on average lesser intellectual gifts than another, but that does not in any way justify oppressing them? Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln both might fall into that category, at least at some point in their lives.
The epithet "racist" is used primarily, it seems, as a means of discrediting one's opponents. It's a way of insulting people, of throwing them on the defensive, a justification for dismissing their opinions and concerns, without ever having to explain what one means by the word. Perhaps it would be illuminating, the next time you hear someone use it, to ask what, exactly, the user means. I doubt that one in ten people could give a reasonable answer.