CrookedTimber is one of my favorite blogs because of the depth and breadth of thought and discussion that occurs on nearly any topic imaginable.
Anyhoo, in the topic “Let’s bury – I say, let’s bury the hatchet, but not in anyone’s head, boy” (by John Holbo on April 19, 2014), the subject is: is anti-same-sex-marriage stances comparable to racism?
I appreciate John’s attempt to establish a starting point for behavioral, political, traditional, and psychological discussion of racism. He basically starts by saying racism is about hierarchical dominance and bigotry is about hate.
Bigotry is an inherently negative attitude. But racism is, essentially, just a hierarchical notion. It really has nothing inherent to do with hate. Bigotry says someone is bad. Racism says ‘I am better’. Which implies someone is worse. But it doesn’t necessarily dwell on it, darkly, let alone violently. Racism can walk on the sunny side of the street, in its mind.
What he [Senator Sam Ervin] felt was love of hierarchy and order and preservation of social status. [not hate for Negroes]
Pulling it all together: animosity towards blacks – wishing them ill, for ill’s sake – is not the center of the picture. What is important is that good things for blacks should flow down from a morally and socially hierarchical peak, inhabited by the likes of Ervin. There is also an intense just world hypothesis-grade refusal to admit anything really bad could be happening, and have happened.
Civil rights need to be resisted, not because good things for blacks are bad, but because good things cannot come to blacks in a way that suggests that bad things came to them before.
That is, Ervin does not want bad things for blacks but wants it to be the case that things that are (we see so clearly today) bad for blacks, are good for blacks. This is a very normal type of racism. But it doesn’t fit with our paradigm racist case: hate.
But I think that the dichotomy presented as a preliminary scaffold for discussion routes our thinking to aspects or manifestations of racism rather than the -ism itself. In fact the pages and pages of awesome comments to the post seem to rest on one of two sides of a fence: either super-reduction to a simple facet (say, bigotry) or a super-complexity that so explodes the notion of racism that it becomes un-analyzable in a coherent fashion.
Unfortunately, commenting was closed before I had a chance to weigh in, but here is what I would contribute.
To try to do what John attempted — identify a good starting scaffold — what can we use that provides us with a simple workable starting point while acknowledging complexity?
-ism, to me is really the place to start. I grant that that this is more on the psychological side of things, perhaps, but getting mired coming out of the gate with complexity that includes “unbiased” social-structure preservation isn’t providing us with a trajectory for discussion.
-ism: theory, condition, characteristic, doctrine/belief, manner, system, act. (See examples here.) These terms represent expressions of -ism — the form the -ism takes. They are aspects of -ism.
I think, however, that nothing would exist without a foundation, so what would that premise be. How about: fundamentally, racism is (any sort of) distinction (or discrimination?) made between races that affects or becomes any one of the expressions of -ism.
More recently, I wrote this with regard to the Black Pastors declaring people who support same-sex marriage as enemies of God and therefore their enemy:
The primary element in racism is the -ism part: the segregationist & elitist beliefs and laws. It’s in the struggle against -ism where the true comparison lies. Race is the pretext. Blacks weren’t the only slaves in the world — slavery is not a “black” thing. “Black” was a characteristic of the enslaved, not the vital node in the concept of ‘slavery’. Rac-ism was the necessary attitude for the U.S. brand.
It illuminates a bit more on the manifestation of an -ism. But there’s more than just expressions of -ism; there is the cognition of -ism.
I found Malcolm Gladwell’s discussion in Chapter Three of his book, “Blink,” revealing about what the atomic structure of the -ism premise is. Here is a sample:
Over the past few years, a number of psychologists have begun to look more closely at the role these kinds of unconscious—or, as they like to call them, implicit—associations play in our beliefs and behavior, and much of their work has focused on a very fascinating tool called the Implicit Association Test (IAT).
These are our stated values, which we use to direct our behavior deliberately. The apartheid policies of South Africa or the laws in the American South that made it difficult for African Americans to vote are manifestations of conscious discrimination, and when we talk about racism or the fight for civil rights, this is the kind of discrimination that we usually refer to. But the IAT measures something else. It measures our second level of attitude, our racial attitude on an unconscious level— the immediate, automatic associations that tumble out before we’ve even had time to think. We don’t deliberately choose our unconscious attitudes. And as I wrote about in the first chapter, we may not even be aware of them. The giant computer that is our unconscious silently crunches all the data it can from the experiences we’ve had, the people we’ve met, the lessons we’ve learned, the books we’ve read, the movies we’ve seen, and so on, and it forms an opinion. That’s what is coming out in the IAT.
The disturbing thing about the test is that it shows that our unconscious attitudes may be utterly incompatible with our stated conscious values. As it turns out, for example, of the fifty thousand African Americans who have taken the Race IAT so far, about half of them, like me, have stronger associations with whites than with blacks. How could we not? We live in North America, where we are surrounded every day by cultural messages linking white with good. “You don’t choose to make positive associations with the dominant group,” says Mahzarin Banaji, who teaches psychology at Harvard University and is one of the leaders in IAT research. “But you are required to. All around you , that group is being paired with good things. You open the newspaper and you turn on the television, and you can’t escape it.”
The IAT is more than just an abstract measure of attitudes. It’s also a powerful predictor of how we act in certain kinds of spontaneous situations. If you have a strongly pro-white pattern of associations, for example , there is evidence that that will affect the way you behave in the presence of a black person. It’s not going to affect what you’ll choose to say or feel or do. In all likelihood, you won’t be aware that you’re behaving any differently than you would around a white person. But chances are you’ll lean forward a little less, turn away slightly from him or her, close your body a bit, be a bit less expressive, maintain less eye contact, stand a little farther away, smile a lot less, hesitate and stumble over your words a bit more, laugh at jokes a bit less. Does that matter? Of course it does.
Suppose the conversation is a job interview. And suppose the applicant is a black man. He’s going to pick up on that uncertainty and distance, and that may well make him a little less certain of himself, a little less confident, and a little less friendly. And what will you think then? You may well get a gut feeling that the applicant doesn’t really have what it takes , or maybe that he is a bit standoffish, or maybe that he doesn’t really want the job. What this unconscious first impression will do, in other words, is throw the interview hopelessly off course.
Anyway, I side with the implication that race–ism comprises race-based judgments that can both translate to tradition, social structure, and laws and lie along a continuum of extremes from a clinical (“sophisticated”?) attitude to a mostly emotional one (hate), such as reacting with revulsion upon touching.
I would also extend Gladwell’s atomic structure of association to include what one considers value and valuable. It’s still “association” in the sense that I ascribe value to certain positions about which I’m particularly partial; and the valuable things I associate with myself compose my identity (singular or group) as being distinct from “you” (in either a good or bad way).
In fact, in all of the slander against gay people, you see an attempt to create associations, both in what pairs with being gay and what not to be associated with.
Control of any type, then, is more about structuring one’s environment to reflect attitudes (granting that there is a feedback loop) and associations and about asserting authority toward the end of conserving values.
It is in the -ism way that anti-SSM and racism are the same.