Monday, April 9, 2012

The latest racism kerfuffle

I daresay by now most of you are heartily sick and tired of all the fuss and bother surrounding John Derbyshire's article in Taki's Magazine, 'The Talk: Nonblack Version'. It's aroused a storm of controversy among the lily-livered pantywaists who get upset over anything remotely resembling racism or an associated evil (including the National Review, which promptly fired Mr. Derbyshire). I'm not going to bother going through the article point-by-point. There's been far too much bloviating about it all over the Internet, to the point that I'm quite sick of it. Perhaps the best and most balanced response has been by Patterico; I recommend it to your attention.

However, I would like to say a few words about prejudice in general. This applies to any form of prejudice; racial, religious, cultural, educational, whatever. My basic principle can be stated very simply:

If you're prejudiced against someone solely because of
their identification with a particular group, you're insane.

Some examples:

  • If you distrust someone because he's a Muslim, because everybody knows Muslims are terrorists;
  • If you fear someone because he's a member of a particular race, because everybody knows that 'they' have a propensity towards violent crime;
  • If you look down on someone because of the neighborhood in which they live, because everybody knows that the people there are all gangsters . . .

I could go on, but what's the point? The error in every one of those examples is the same. You're judging someone based on membership of a group - not on what sort of individual he or she may be. That makes no sense at all. Let me give you a few examples of how stupid such attitudes are.

All those points demonstrate the prejudice and lack of understanding of the person making the judgment. They identify the individual with the group, when it's patently obvious to anyone with half a brain that individuals differ, and aren't necessarily representative of every aspect of the group(s) to which they belong. For example, I'm a Christian, but that doesn't mean I support, condone or endorse terrorism; nor does it mean I support the bigotry, exclusivity and narrow-mindedness of nominally 'Christian' organizations like the Westboro Baptist Church or the so-called 'creativity movement'. I was born, raised and ordained to the ministry in the Catholic Church, but that doesn't mean I'll condone or tolerate the widespread incidence of child sex abuse by other ministers of that denomination (as readers of my articles on that subject will know).

I've been hurt and disappointed many times by the extent to which otherwise rational, seemingly well-educated people allow prejudices such as these to govern their attitudes towards and/or relationships with others. About three years ago I dropped out of active participation in an extremely useful and informative e-mail list, solely because some of its members couldn't stop chuntering on about 'Moo-slimes', Islam in general, and how all followers of Mohammed were terrorists. In doing so they defamed one of their own members. He was (and as far as I know still is) a practicing Muslim (and a senior NCO in the US Marine Corps, too): but clearly this wasn't a factor of importance to them. I protested about this on occasion, even warning at one point that I would have to withdraw if it continued, but it seems no-one was interested. After my experiences of racism and prejudice in South Africa, I can't accept or tolerate such extremism in any shape or form, so I had no moral alternative but to withdraw. I'm still sorry about that, because there are some very fine people on that e-mail list, and I learned much from them - but some principles are too important to compromise.

Please, friends, examine your own consciences. If you've gotten into the habit of judging anyone solely in terms of their membership of any group, be it racial, ethnic, national, tribal or whatever, please reconsider. You're making a grave mistake. By all means, if you know that a particular group is more likely to represent a risk, or threat, or problem, be duly cautious about its members; but accept that not all of them will be like that.

Just wait until someone judges you, not as an individual, but on the basis of the group(s) to which you belong. You'll soon find out that's no fun at all. That's one of the approaches employed by the authorities - classifying citizens in terms of whether or not they're members of, or identify with, or support various groups, or the philosophies and perspectives of those groups. Does it make you feel comfortable to know you're being assessed in that way?

It's late, and I'm tired, and I suspect I haven't done a good job of outlining this subject. I'll re-read this article tomorrow and edit it if necessary; but I think this is sufficiently important to get this out there tonight. Let me know your reactions, please.



C. S. P. Schofield said...

I would argue that there are groups that justify prejudice according to group affiliation;

If you are a member of the Westboro Baptist Church you are a cretin.

Peter said...

It would be very easy to believe that, based on the evidence available to us: but are the children in that church also cretins? They're not there by their own choice. When they grow up, will they all remain there, or will some of them have the intelligence to realize how warped and twisted the beliefs of their elders have become, and choose something better? For that matter, are all of the members of that church fully sane, balanced, and in touch with reality? I can name fundamentalists in many religions - people I've actually met - whom I consider not fully sane.

You can't judge the individual by the group. Sorry.

Mikael said...

Right there with you Peter, with a couple of caveats.

1) I'll be extra cautious around someone from a group that has higher violent crime rates.

2) I'll totally judge by the group, if the group is a gang, or other crime organization. If they're flying gang colours or wearing a criminal biker organization vest, they've let the cat out of the bag.

Peter said...

Mikael, I take your point about the criminal gang . . . yet, in my own experience, my life has been saved (literally) by members of just such a gang. All were hardened criminals, but they helped me because I was trying to help others caught in a violent situation. In the heat of the moment, their humanity overcame their criminality. Just goes to show, doesn't it?

In the same way, working (as a prison chaplain) with members of some of the worst criminal gangs ever known, I've received warnings from some individuals that others were planning to have me 'dealt with' because I wouldn't grant their requests for special treatment. Those warning me put themselves at risk to do so. They were in jail for life, for all sorts of heinous crimes . . . yet they displayed humanity too.

Even for 'the worst of the worst' - I'll try to make allowance for the individual. I may do so with a gun in my hand, and be ready to use it if necessary, but I can still hope and pray that it won't be!

Anonymous said...

I think that you are mixing things that should be separate.

Judging people by things over which they have no control, such as race, is not very bright. Judging them based on their voluntary membership or association with whatever other groups they choose to belong to? That is not my sole criteria, but it does inform my opinion of them.

A person who believes in astrology or numerology, for instance, may be a perfectly nice person, but I tend to factor those beliefs into my ability to trust most anything they might come up with. Even if they arrive at the same conclusions that I do, the way they got there makes me nervous.

Anonymous said...

I wish your ideals applied to all kinds of generalized condemnation. For example, how often do we hear the following groups condemned by a broad brush:
welfare recipients
people of a certain age (Baby Boomers)
ghetto dwellers
employees of any fed, state, or city
rural folks or city dwellers
the French

My point is that prejudice is rampant in our country. And it seems to me that the motivation is usually some degree of insecurity or smugness--neither one an attractive attribute.


Johnny D. said...

Well said, Peter, and good, thought-provoking comments from your readers.

Shell said...

Too late. I get categorized for several reasons:

White - Just moved away from my hometown because the area had gone from majority white to majority black and I got tired of getting 'blackitude' wherever I went. Standing in line at a store and the black cashier is Chatty Cathy with the black customers ahead of me, ceases to speak or smile while dealing with me, and back to Miss Personality with the black folk behind me, is one example.

Big - before I got older and fat I was bigger than most people anyway, six feet tall and two hundred twenty pounds for most of my life. "You think you're bad because you're big, huh?!", and the fit hits the shan.

Not long ago a friend's fifteen year old daughter posted a short screed on Facebook, saying that judging someone in your mind is the same thing as bullying. I pointed out to her that we *all* make judgments about people *all* the time - because we have to or we wouldn't be able to function - but that that is different from judging (even though we do that, too). However, it's how you act on those judgments that determine whether you're a bully, or a racist, or an asshole in general, or a decent human being who gives anyone you encounter the benefit of the doubt and the respect due to any fellow human being and a chance to prove whether they deserve any more than that or only contempt.

Roy said...

I deal with everyone as individuals whenever I encounter them as individuals. However, I am still going to avoid the ghetto even though the majority of its residents are probably good people caught up in a bad situation. That's just pragmatic self preservation.

Anonymous said...

I disagree that the fact that a smidgeon of humanity can be found in an individual belonging to a group should give them a pass on the judgement of their affiliation and affirmation of the groups ideals and principles.

Fot instance, a member of NAMBLA may run into a burning house and save someone from a fire, however, it does not stop him and everything he believes from being despicable.

I pretty much feel the same way about cannibals. Anyone who belongs to a cannibal organization I'm judging and do so without apology.

People who belong to specific organizations who think it's acceptable to blow up innocent women and children on public buses or in shopping malls or on the street to advance their "cause." I'm ok with judging them too.

Peter said...

A couple of responses.

First, please note a key word in my premise, which I've capitalized below:

"If you're prejudiced against someone SOLELY because of
their identification with a particular group, you're insane."

Obviously, to cite an example given by another reader, someone who's chosen to be a member of NAMBLA has, by that choice alone, defined his or her moral, ethical and social norms so clearly that as far as almost any civilized human being is concerned, there's only one (very simple) solution to the problem of their existence.

However, the same may not apply to other almost-as-bad choices. For example, what if a young man is a member of a criminal gang? One might argue that he's a member out of his own free choice; but I've known many members who joined the Crips, or the Bloods, or MS-13, because everybody in their neighborhood did so, and if they didn't follow suit, they would become targets of the gang. They 'went along to get along'. When you're living in an area dominated by such gangs, your freedom of choice is limited in the extreme - and if you're a young teenager, you have neither the means nor the ability to escape the situation.

That doesn't mean I won't be duly careful, of course. I'll avoid high-crime areas to the best of my ability, and I'll be armed and ready to defend myself against criminal assault; but I won't automatically judge to be evil every hoodie-wearing, pants-halfway-down-his-backside scumbag-resembling youth I see walking down the street. He may be doing what he has to do to survive in the world in which he's forced to live. I can remember times when I had to do the same.

C. S. P. Schofield said...

How about; "If you make judgements based on the groups people belong to, but not of their own choosing, you are insane"?

If you are an adult member of the Westboro Baptists Church, and have not severed the connection with the alacrity of a green recruit getting rid of a live grenade, you are so likely to be a hateful cretin that checking is hardly worth the trouble.

If you belong to the Ku Klux Klan, or the Weather Underground, or PETA, and are an adult, you are so certainly some variety of objectionable nitwit that pleasant people are justified in crossing the street to avoid you.

Mikael said...

When I say I definitely judge by criminal organization membership. My main judgement is that it is someone I should stay away from, someone I don't want coming up to me on the street, and want no association with. I'm judging from a self-interest point of view.

Now since NAMBLA has been brought up, THAT is an organization where I would judge them as needing to be killed, like rabid dogs.

Diamond Mair said...

In a manner of self-preservation, I tend to treat all people with respect, but not necessarily allow intimacy {in the emotional sense, people!} until I get to know them better.

Was I nervous, transferring through Amsterdam to Prague, when someone who was treated like I imagine an imam is treated by his coterie, and they were ALL eyeballing the 3 of us obvious American women? Even though I was NOT involved with the other two, THEY were maintaining the good, old "ugly American" profile, loud & obnoxious.

By the same token, when traveling through Morocco {in 1995}, the gentleman I was traveling with & I picked up an imam, on his way to the local mosque {this was out in the countryside} - he had us drop him 2 blocks from the mosque, so his 'parishioners' wouldn't see him being driven not only by infidels, but by .................... A WOMAN!!

I understand where Derbyshire is coming from - I recently lost a job for being either too old or too white {I was one of 3 white employees out of a total of ~ 11}. But, again, one has to offer the benefit of the doubt, everything else being equal. I'm just sorry that Derbyshire, in taking up the discussion, has been so lambasted ................. what was it Holder was telling us, back in 2009? That "we're" a "nation of cowards" on the subject of race? Maybe, just maybe, Derbyshire's article will be the catalyst for an open, honest discussion of race, without the various poverty pimps butting in .................

Semper Fi'

Anonymous said...


In medicine they talk about an 'index of suspicion' for, say, chicken pox in a 7-year-old with red weeping sores (could be Ebola, or radiation poisoning, but you play the odds until they're disproven). Would you say it's unreasonable to apply the same judgment process to people and their intentions? I'd define prejudice as the unwillingness to adjust a mental model based on better data (e.g. this hardened criminal has just saved my life, I must now regard him a little differently)...

Thanks for the interesting discussion,



John S. said...

That list is diminished by your absence, Peter.
Glad I can still hear from you on this blog.
John S.