Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Racism Never Dies, It Just Fades Away for Awhile and Then Returns

I decided to read Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life, by Professors Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields, after Ta-Nehisi Coates recommended it, and so far, a hundred pages in, I'm very glad I did.  Just about every page has something instructive on it.  For example:
One of the present authors some years ago tested the limits of the free market in racist ideas.  A crotchety yet likable right-wing colleague approached, looking disquieted and in need of moral support.  He was "having trouble" with a certain black student in his bio-psychology class.  What was wrong, he wondered, with saying that "black people may, or (mind you) may not, prove to be intellectually inferior to white people?  In science, you frame a hypothesis, devise an experiment, find out."  The student raised her hand and, when recognized, blasted him.  "Do you know So-and-So (the student in question)?" asked the bio-psychologist.  (The author did happen to know the student in question, an eighteen-year-old single mother of twins who was as bright as they come and not one to brook insult.)  "Why can't she grasp that there's a scientific approach to things, blah, blah?"  Finally, the author put a question, "If, as you say, there is no hypothesis that science excludes, why not try this assignment?  Let your students pick any white ethnic group and any stereotype commonly applied to it, greedy, mendacious, dumb, drunken, gangsterish, and so on then formulate a hypothesis, design the experiment, find out."  The colleague's face froze.  [page 47 of the e-book]
Sounds like a great idea to me!  As it happens, I'm "multiracial" myself.  From what my parents told me when I was a kid, I am a mix of Teutonic, Celtic, and Mediterranean races.  I wonder what my fellow Irishman Andrew Sullivan, who likes to whine that Political Correctness has inhibited 'scientific' research into intelligence and race, would say to research investigating (and thereby legitimating) the link between the Celt and drunkenness, criminality, etc.  After all, we must follow Science wherever it leads, and in the good old days when (as Sullivan fantasizes) research into intelligence hadn't yet been "politicized," the mental and moral inferiority of certain white ethnic groups was considered not merely a suitable subject for scientific inquiry, but a proven fact.  And as Barbara Ehrenreich pointed out in a 1988 essay, ''In fact, there is clear evidence of black intellectual superiority: in 1984, 92 percent of blacks voted to retire Ronald Reagan, compared to only 36 percent of whites."

Racecraft isn't just entertaining, though: it shows the persistence of racist notions that I'd thought were abandoned, such as the "racial" classification of blood, which the Red Cross revived in 2010, and which has been championed by Project RACE, a group that seeks a US Census classification of "multiracial" because, it claims, it would "help to prevent mistaken diagnoses and thus 'save lives.'  In the early 1990s, a researcher repeatedly asked activists how a state-sponsored racial classification could possibly accomplish any such thing.  No one proffered an answer.  Indeed, no one seemed to have thought much, if at all, in terms of workaday cause and effect" (page 65).  And that reminds me of a white liberal pundit I read a few years ago (blessedly I've forgotten his name) who declared race is "as real as nappy hair."  Most of the people to whom I mentioned that absurdity couldn't see anything absurd about it; they thought it was obvious that hair texture is a "racial" trait.

Probably I'll have more to say about Racecraft soon.