The power of III

Summum ius summa iniuria--More law, less justice

21 March 2011

On "Racism" and human nature

In the recently released video of the NPR executive, Ron Schiller said that the current Republican Party has been "hijacked" by a group that's "not just Islamophobic, but really xenophobic" and suggests the tea party movement is comprised of some "seriously racist, racist people."

I've been looking for a reason to write a post on racism for a while. Xenophobia is a word of modern construct, just over 100 years old, that is simply defined as fear of foreigners.
Race, meaning "tribe, nation, or people regarded as of common stock" dates from around 1600, while racism wasn't used as a word until the eugenic movements of the Nazi's in the 1930's, according to the online etymological dictionary.

The term "Racism" has been in overusage for my adult life, and is bandied about whenever it suits a party who feels threatened by another party.  Most commonly these days, it is used to disparage any opponent of our current President, as if that is the only possible grounds to oppose the man's policies.  

It is applied, as noted above, to any leftwing or Statist opponent of the Tea Party movement.  Everyone knows that, applying usual public school education, the wish to diminish the power and taxing ability of the central state is only advocated by neo-confederates who want to bring back slavery--you know, racists.  Just ask Jeanene "racism straight up" Garofalo. (I apologize to my readers for any resultant nausea or vomiting if you watch this video.)

That anyone buys this kind of hogwash is reason to despair of our society.

The power of accusation is much more powerful than the power of the truth.  Labels are used simply smear another's reputation with a horrific label, whether it is "racist", "xenophobic", "antisemitic", and the like, as well as the flip-side of such labels, depending on the society in which the labels are cast about: "nigger-lover", "jew-lover", "capitalist", "kulak", "Tory", etc.,. 

The mere association of an individual with the label is enough to taint the person in the eyes of many, quite separate from the truth or accuracy of the label.  With such a label- damaged reputation, the person's or institution's influence will wane.   Such is the power of using public labels--the accuser is elevated, the accused is diminished.

In fact, this is a commonly used courtroom tactic:  say something outrageous about the accused, or a potentially powerful witness, then withdraw the statement to avoid the objection, and the damage is done.  The jury has heard the words.  Their opinion is tainted, despite the judge's instruction: "The Jury will disregard..."  As a lawyer friend of mine is fond of saying: "Just ignore the big pink elephant in the back of the room..."

Fear of those different from yourself is inborn.  Stranger anxiety on the face of infants is a commonly noted milestone of development.  As stranger anxiety is inborn, extrapolation of this concept to fear of those outside of your immediate family, ethnic group or larger community doesn't take a great intellectual leap to understand. Fear of strangers/outsiders/people of another race (for example) can be rationally unlearned, but the unlearning process goes against this innate aspect of human nature.  Different facial characteristics, clothing, skin color, manner of speech, etc., can all set off this deep human fear. If the "xenophobia" [using the term in its most general sense] is nurtured in the family unit, it leads to a strong sense of identity within the individual.  A strong sense of identity may be for good or evil (e.g. adherents to a religious group with a strong sense of community on the one hand, or on the other hand, the creation of an environment in which genocide is possible).

Throughout most of human existence, people lived in extended families or tribes, ranging through large areas and interacting with other more distantly related families.  Only recently (last 10,000 years or so) did humans start to concentrate in cities, and much more recently did we begin to have "national" identities.  Once humans had the technical ability to travel great distances, it became possible to encounter people of different races.  Humans have not had enough (geologic/evolutionary) time to overcome our innate fears when it comes to other cultures and races.

I believe that fear of outsiders is normal, natural, and inborn. You can define "outsider" narrowly or broadly.

I also believe that we should teach our kids not to fear based on simple externals.

For me, I don't care if a person is Mexican, black, Chinese, Canadian, or (insert your favorite here);  what matters to me is that person's character. An individual's character seems very much tied up in their socioeconomic class and their culture of origin.  I have black friends that I am close to, and I attribute the closeness with the fact that they are middle class and well educated. In other words, they talk like me, they sound like me, and when we have a conversation, we have no trouble understanding one another.  Usually, if I meet someone from an unusual country of similar socioeconomic background, I find myself questioning them about culture, history, and current events of where they're from.

Despite my assertion that "I don't care" if a person is of a certain race or origin, there are always triggers that set off my internal sense of fear (I use the term fear, but I could also say "sense of caution" or "wariness").  Sometimes it is an obnoxious demeanor, an accent, sometimes it is a person's skin color, sometimes it is a disturbing outward appearance, like a burn victim or cancer patient missing half their jaw.  

I need to make a mental effort to overcome the initial sense of caution, in order to get past the superficial, to get to know the person.  Because it takes effort, I might not be able to do it if I am tired or very distracted.  

Does this make me a racist or a human being?

I have also crossed paths with men and women of several "races" that I had no interest in knowing after a short encounter. Lots of things turned me off; the people of which I speak were pleased to be on welfare and Medicaid, enjoyed playing the public system to their economic advantage (though still pathetically poor), and didn't care who knew about their scams. We didn't share similar cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds, and had very different philosophies of personal responsibility. It just so happens some of the people to whom I refer were black. Some were Hispanic. Fewer were white or Asian--I'm not trying to generalize, that's just been my experience. 

My point is--the difference is primarily cultural and not racial.

I have no idea if I am at all unusual in my approach to other people of different races or religions.

I try to follow classic Judeo-Christian tenents in my approach to people I consider different or foreign to myself: 

I think of the golden rule, and try to treat others the way I want to be treated.
I try to overcome my caution and give the person the benefit of the doubt.

I try not to throw around disparaging terms in public because I know public smears can "kill" a person's income, reputation, or self-esteem. 

As a libertarian, I don't push my culture or religion on anyone not interested. 

(None of the tenents listed above would apply to people who are physically/economically/emotionally encroaching on my person or property--that's when offense is called for--libertarians are not passive.  F*ck with me, you'll get the sharp end of the stick...)

For better or worse, we live in an ethnically and culturally diverse nation, and it behooves us to make the effort to get beyond the superficial, to know, to work with, and to love one's fellow man.  You never know who you might learn from. 

I close with a quote and a link to the League of the South's statement on racism, which I also affirm:

The League of the South has never before issued a statement denying that it is "racist" because racism is a wax nose charge. Those who resort to this charge can never be satisfied. The more we deny it, the more we will be forced to deny it, until at last all that we will have time to do is to repel the latest charge of "racism." However, we make this one statement, to satisfy strangers of good will, that we bear no ill will or hatred to any racial, ethnic, or religious group.

As always, constructively critical comments are welcome.


  1. A truly honest, righteous, and well-written appraisal of your own motivators and of what we face as a nation in dealing with each other. If you were employed by NPR you would be getting your pink slip within the next few minutes.

    I have zero respect for people like Ron and Valerie Schiller at NPR. They demonstrate that education - especially in today's Fabian-controlled colleges and universities - will never substitute for either intelligence or character. Both of which you obviously possess in abundance. Thank you for this post.

  2. Reg, Thank you very much for the kind words. I am very grateful.

  3. "Humans have not had enough (geologic/evolutionary) time to overcome our innate fears when it comes to other cultures and races."

    You assume that as time goes by natural selection will increase the numbers of people with less innate fear of those unlike them and reduce the numbers of people with more innate fear of those unlike them. But how do you know that?

    How could fear of unlike others be an evolved piece of psychology in the first place unless those who had more of it had more descendants than those who did not have fear?

    It must have been an advantage. And how could it have been an advantage unless dissimilar people encountered each other often enough to make an evolutionary difference?

    If dissimilar people are encountering each other more now through mass immigration and urbanization, then whatever payoff led the more more fearful to have more descendants in the past might apply more often today, leading to a further evolution toward a predisposition to fear others unlike oneself.

    Imagine two otherwise identical White families in Detroit in the early 20th Century. As the neighborhood changes color, one family gets nervous and flees, while the other has no fear of others unlike itself and stays where it is.

    Are you sure the family with no sense of fear of dissimilar others would have more descendants by now?

    You might like the family with no "stranger danger" feelings more. They might feel "more evolved" to you. But unless that's the family with more descendants, time will not lead to more families having that inherited trusting predisposition.