Racism

'Racism' Today Looks Little Like Racist Ideology of Yore

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luca savettiere/Flickr

In the British magazine spiked, sociology professor Frank Furedi looks at how our cultural concept of racism has shifted. Once understood as something ideological and systemic, racism is now frequently used to describe any act or speech that reveals potential prejudice or could cause offense. 

Furedi explains that in the lead-up to the recent EU elections, there seemed to be "a new consensus, especially in the media, which says the problem of racism is far greater today than it was in the past." You'd be hard-pressed to find many Americans in agreement about the relative problem of racism today, but Furedi's piece still has applicable insights for those of us west of the eurozone. 

Anyone attuned to pop culture, current events and social media knows how frequently charges of racism are thrown about and how fluid the concept has become. "Racism" on Twitter today can merely mean not knowing how to properly signal that one isn't racist (that there's a privilege inherent in knowing how to check one's privilege seems lost on many).

There are certainly omnipresent examples of systemic and individual racism in 21st century America. But the kind of causes and comments that most rally Internet social justice warriors tend to have little relation to these, and the concept of racism they espouse has strayed far from context or historical meaning. From Feredi:

We should recall that until the outbreak of the Second World War, racial thinking was rarely questioned in any part of the world. Even in academic circles, critics of racism were very much in a minority in the 1930s. Back then, the term 'racist' was used neutrally and sometimes even positively in Western societies. It was only in the 1930s that the word 'racism' started to acquire negative connotations. It was in that decade that the use of the word racism in a derogatory way was first recorded in the English language. But even then, the idea of racial equality had few defenders–including within the intellectual community.

Since the 1930s, racism, with its oppressive claim that some people are superior to other, 'subhuman' people, has been systematically discredited. The idealisation of the racial superiority of whites and the dehumanisation of people from Africa and Asia has been culturally marginalised. Even the most extreme xenophobic cults and parties now find it difficult explicitly to use the language of racial ideology. The notion of racial superiority is conspicuous by its absence in public discussion in the twenty-first century.

[…] Historically, racism expressed the worldview of the powerful. A sense of superiority, be it biological, moral or cultural, was integral to the outlook of the elites that dominated Western societies. Today, those with economic, political and cultural power rarely express themselves through the narrative of race. The powerful rarely express open hostility or crude prejudice towards other groups of people. On the contrary, today it tends to be those who feel they have been left behind, who believe they have been socially and culturally marginalised by mainstream society, who express some kind of racist thinking.

Racism, for the record, is defined as a "doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement; a policy, system of government, etc., based on fostering such a doctrine; or hatred or intolerance of other races." It's an entire belief system, a pattern of conscious thoughts and actions. It's not an offhandedly offensive remark or insufficient sensitivity to how your views may be culturally or racially biased.

But the redefining of racism has been long-coming, according to Feredi: 

Since the early 1980s, racism has been subtly redefined as a psychological problem. The redefinition of racism from an act of conscious oppression to an unwitting problem of the mind was boosted by the former British High Court judge, Sir William Macpherson, in his 1999 report into the Metropolitan Police's handling of the murder of a black London teenager, Stephen Lawrence. The Macpherson report defined institutional racism as something that 'can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racial stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people'. The key word here is 'unwitting'–this depicts racism as an unconscious response driven by unspecific emotions. The idea that people can be racists unwittingly means that literally anyone can be a racist–whether they know it or not.

… The complexity of the psychological motivation behind so-called unwitting racism was discussed by Macpherson in the following terms: 'A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.' In making individual subjective experience the foundation stone of accusations of racism, Macpherson ensured that 'unwitting racism' would be a problem that would expand exponentially as time went by.

Read the whole thing here

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  1. Anyone attune to pop culture, current events and social media knows how frequently charges of racism are thrown about and how fluid the concept has become. “Racism” on Twitter today can merely mean not knowing how to properly signal that one isn’t racist (that there’s a privelege inherent in knowing to check one’s privelege seems lost on many).

    Luuuuuuuuucccccccccyyyyyyyyyyy!

    1. DON’T TALK ABOUT LUCY

      1. Don’t talk about Elizabeth!

  2. It seems pretty clear that Elizabeth Brown is a racist. Not admitting to being a racist is being racist.

  3. that there’s a privelege inherent in knowing to check one’s privelege seems lost on many

    Count me in with ‘the many’ since this just popped a circuit breaker trying to figure out what it means. Meta-privelege?

    1. If you can’t see the privilege in knowing when to check your privilege, you need to check your privilege.

    2. Like, knowing the appropriate terms to use and ways to speak about everything in order to not be considered racist or sexist or otherwise unenlightened is itself a product of coming from a certain cultural/educational background.

      1. Shhhhh, Elizabeth! You’re giving it all away!

      2. a certain cultural/educational background

        I especially like how people with this background seem to have little idea how rarefied it actually is. “People who spent time in academia in the past 10 years” is not actually that large a group.

        1. “People who spent time in academia in the past 10 years” is not actually that large a group.

          If only that were the extent of it. Any trip to Tumblr will demonstrate a fair amount of, uh, cultural leakage, shall we say, between academia and the trailer park. Either that or a lot of SJW’s got rolled by their university on their tuition.

        2. “People who spent time in academia in the past 10 years” means “People with no real-world experience.”

      3. I’m completely lost in the privilege muckity-muck at this point. How can anyone say it has a direct effect on anything when I’m very hard pressed to find a clear definition of what the hell it even is. Swiss yesterday pointed out it’s whatever they say it is at the time.

        1. It’s an ad hominem argument, and that’s all it is.

          1. Exactly. If you don’t have a sound argument discredit and silence those who do with a nebulous ad hominem that is impossible to defend against.

            1. I think it was you Suthen not swiss, sorry.

  4. Appripos of this posting, over at the Volokh Conspiracy is an article about how, in terms of racial politics, Asians have suddenly become “white people,” joining the ranks of Irish, Jews, Southern Europeans, etc., who were once considered not Anglo-Saxon, and therefore inferior, but have since been reclassified as White People. The article suggests that one’s status as a racial minority has less to do with one’s race and more to do with one’s perceived economic success.

    Another example of how “racism” seems to have less to do with actual racial animosity and more to do with politics and special pleading.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/…..ame-white/

    1. Every true Scotsman. I’ve noticed that many race-baiters treat race as an infinitely malleable concept that, when “correctly” defined, has the amazing ability to agree with whatever point they’re trying to make.

    2. That is almost entirely due to assimilation and adopting the culture of White America.

  5. There are certainly omnipresent examples of systemic and individual racism in 21st century America.

    You mean, like God?

    1. I was preparing to highlight this sentence. Said it before and will say it again – Elizabeth Brown is just a liberal moonlighting as a Reason writer (and I use the word “writer” loosely) between blog and Twitterverse gigs.

      1. I’ll take Ms. Nolan Brown’s curious deference to the notion of persistent, omnipresent racism, which seems more an article of faith than anything else, over your holier-than-thou ideological puritanism. It’s not as though our country’s a stranger to baked-into-law institutional discrimination. The twitterverse/tumbler SWJ insistence is so over the top as to parody itself, but that doesn’t mean giving credence to the notion that people of differing ethnic backgrounds still don’t get along invalidates one’s claim to libertarianism.

    2. Yeah, racism isn’t omnipresent. It show how much racism I must be exposed to that I just glossed over that sentence.

  6. “Racism” on Twitter today can merely mean not knowing how to properly signal that one isn’t racist (that there’s a privilege inherent in knowing to check one’s privilege seems lost on many).

    It’s really quite simple, though: if you’re parroting social justice platitudes or playing the game of victimological musical chairs, your privilege has been checked.

    If you invoke names like Thomas Sowell, or suggest that trigger warnings are inherently patronizing, your privilege has not yet been sufficiently checked. You’ll know because you’ll be shouted down by a din of voice from party of tolerance and free speech.

    1. I checked my privilege and found it wanting

      1. I checked mine and it looked fine to me.

        1. That makes no sense since your privilege is clearly the worst

          1. Did you wear your Blackhawks shirt last night? If so, thanks!

            1. I did, but unlike Kings fanssubjects, I will continue to wear the colors even in defeat.

      2. My bubble sheet is totally missing a box named privilege, so I’m not going to check it.

    2. Sowell’s a neocon and a socon. He’s just as bad as Al Sharpton.

      1. Yet he’s a black man espousing beliefs anathema to progressives. On the liberal librorum prohibitorum, his books would rank only slightly below Charles Murray’s in terms of prominence.

        1. Sowell’s a neocon and a socon. He’s just as bad as Al Sharpton.

          Huh – I assumed that statement must surely be sarcasm.

          1. Might be; to be honest, I’m more familiar with Sowell’s orthogonal views on race and cultural division. His political precepts may tend toward neoconservatism, for all I know.

            However, he’s an educated black man who has slipped off the progressive plantation, and is therefore a thorn in the side of liberals who would lay claim to the entire black ethnic franchise.

      2. I take it that you haven’t actually read anything by Sowell.

        1. Nope I have. He’s a cultural conservative and a warmonger.

  7. “any act or speech that reveals potential prejudice or could cause offense.”

    So anything, then.

    1. Except for presuming how privileged someone is based on their sex or color of their skin.

  8. BTW, what does “check” in “check your privilege” mean, anyway?

    A. Examine your privilege?

    B. Restrain your privilege?

    C. Give your privilege to the person at the door?

    D. None of the above?

    1. Examine your privilege and make sure it’s restrained before you give it to the person at the door.

      1. So maybe we can get little plastic privilege-check numbers to prove that we’ve checked our privilege.

        I wonder if tipping the privilege-check girl person is frowned upon.

        1. Or justwere a white tshirt with the word Privilege with a checked box next to it.

          1. Wear. Or maybe a black tshirt with white letters would be more appropriate. Its so hard to know.

      2. Cuff it with a hockey stick.

    2. Seeing to it that your privilege is well fed and taken care of so that it will continue to thrive?

      1. That’s what I do. Much like a farmer checking his crops, or a rancher checking his livestock. My privilege is a carefully cultivated asset, after all.

        1. I hope you’ve diversified your privilege. It’s important to keep a heterogenous portfolio of privileges, so even if your privelege suffers in some markets you can always depend on healthy privilege in others.

        2. The government pays me not to grow my privilege.

    3. “Examine.” Hilariously, it always makes me think right away of, “Check your premises.”

      1. I think we’ve found the ideal come-back.

        1. I don’t think they’ll get it, but yeah.

        2. Beautiful.

          It’s like the parody bumperstickers of the “BELIEVE” campaign that read “BEHAVE”.

        3. Just flip it around: “I’m in possession of the privilege here. I’m the only one in a position to know what it is! Since its mine you don’t get to define it, only I do!”

          1. Kind of like, “You are the only one who has any control over whether you will be offended by something. Don’t blame me for what happens in your brain.”

            1. This is the most racist comment on the whole article. And since I agree with it, I must be a double-secret racist.

      2. I hadn’t made that connection before. Now I can’t escape it! Thank you.

  9. Anybody who is not a Democrat is a racist. Democrats haz teh FEELZ.

  10. Today, those with economic, political and cultural power rarely express themselves through the narrative of race.

    WTF is he talking about? From where I sit, there are people with scads of political and cultural power who won’t shut the fuck up about race.

    1. Yeah, but they hate the right people, so it’s cool. Oppressing the oppressors is liberation.

  11. You’d be hard-pressed to find many Americans in agreement about the relative problem of racism today

    Yeah, not that hard-pressed

    democraticunderground.com
    balloon-juice.com
    commondreams.org

    1. Whitehouse.gov

  12. Once, using a troll persona, I said that preferring to date people of your own race is racist, that preferring to date people of other races is racially fetishizing and therefore racist, and that dating people regardless of race is colorblind, and if you know anti-racist discourse, you know that colorblindness is a form of racism. Almost immediately, someone praised my perceptive comment. *sigh*

    1. Poe’s law in full effect.

  13. “Racist” has been defined downward so much by Obama apologists that it is effectively meaningless.

    1. I was recently told that being racially blind was racist. Not kidding.

  14. It’s pretty clear to me how the privilege narrative started up. The left generally tends to view things from a completely materialist perspective, holding economic success up as the end-all be-all hallmark of a successful life (without realizing that for many, there are more important considerations in life such as a strong family or a greater acquisition of knowledge and understanding).

    The problem they confronted was that this eventually led to a cognitive dissonance when contrasted with the realities of aggregate economic performance among the various races. That reality would otherwise lead them to espousing racist thoughts (though the really should check the damaging influence of their own policies on lower income communities). So in an effort to bring that reality into line with their belief in the inherent equality of ability of people with disparate racial backgrounds, they offered this white privilege meme, a sort of belief that any accomplishment by white Americans is the direct result of a greater institutional bias in their favor. It therefore serves the same pernicious effect that a black graduate of an elite institution with an affirmative action policy, where it delegitimizes any hard work and individual merit the person who accomplished may have evidenced.

    But it reconciles their feelz worldview with realities on the ground, and so it must be true.

  15. The premise of privilege is so transparently bigoted I’m surprised, or perhaps not at all surprised, that it’s found such traction among the in-crowd of social-justice dweebs. All white men can be judged against the “southern racist homophobe” trope; all white people of either gender can be judged against the “upper-crust suburban” trope; all men can be judged against the “unwitting rapist or rape-apologist” trope; all women, and all people of color, can be judged against the “historically oppressed victim” trope; and so on.

    This is not a method of opening dialogue. It’s a method of shutting down voices they find inconvenient.

  16. There are certainly omnipresent examples of systemic and individual racism in 21st century America.

    Individual racism, sure. “Omnipresent” examples of systemic racism? I’ll perhaps need an example of such. If it really is omnipresent that shouldn’t be too hard.

    1. “Omnipresent” examples of systemic racism? I’ll perhaps need an example of such.

      No prob. Affirmative action as practiced by many universities and many governments.

      1. Not sure if that’s what ENB was getting at, though even then I would hardly call the college experience “omnipresent”.

    2. The fact that you don’t *see* pervasive racism is evidence of just how perniciously pervasive it is!

      1. It’s dark racism, like dark matter and dark squirrels.

        1. To speak of squirrels is to invite squirrels into your home.

          1. If you stare into the squirrels for too long, the squirrels will stare back into you.

  17. Fucking squirrlez need to check their privilege

  18. The difference occurred because back then they really did believe that if the races could play on a level playing field, they would be equal in both the rates of relative achievement and pathology. Now they see that despite all their liberalism, despite the decades of liberal rule, the races are not equal. So “racism” cannot focus on an ideology when such ideology no longer has any power. But racism must be an explanation for the inequality of the races. So racism must be redefined. I wonder how libertarians explain the inequality of the races. They love to blame “government” for it but do any of you actually believe that? Look who runs government. Liberals run the government.

    1. They love to blame “government” for it but do any of you actually believe that?

      Yeah, I blame government for slavery, Jim Crow, the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, the Fed, and the regulatory state. All of those serve/served to fuck over poor people.

    2. I blame political patronage that either subsidizes behavior or criminalizes behavior. The war on poverty and the war on drugs are the two most destructive examples, and they’ve hamstrung black achievement.

    3. I guess it was a pretty safe bet that ‘Murikan wouldn’t be able to resist this thread.

    4. You’re here too? Just tell them put a bun in the oven.

    5. Race is a construct. I think the word you’re looking for is culture.

    6. Even if I take at face value the notion that The War On Poverty incentivizes poverty(I don’t) does it incentivize poverty among Black people more than it does among Asians? Same with the “War On Drugs.” Yes, Black people are more likely to commit drug crime and be punished, but they are also more likely to commit murder, theft, rape, ect.

      http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cj…..ta-table-3

      1. Poverty was already higher among blacks due to slavery and segregation.

        Yes, Black people are more likely to commit drug crime and be punished, but they are also more likely to commit murder, theft, rape, ect.

        Wow, the group with the highest poverty rate also has the highest crime rate? Amazing!

        1. So the incentivizing poverty thing only works for those who are already poor. Can I get one shred of evidence for that?

          The usual “poverty causes crime” argument. Tell me, are Black people the majority of the “poor” in America? But since you believe that, tell me what you propose be done about it? Nothing.

          1. So the incentivizing poverty thing only works for those who are already poor.

            Well, why would it affect the rich?

            Tell me, are Black people the majority of the “poor” in America?

            Non-sequitur. Poor whites have a higher crime rate than rich whites too.

            But since you believe that, tell me what you propose be done about it?

            End the Fed, the War on Drugs, and all regulations not related to protecting people from force and/or fraud. Gradually scale back and eliminate the War on Poverty.

            1. “Why would it affect the rich”

              Because it incentivizes poverty. Duh.

              No, it’s not. And is that because poverty causes crime or bad behavior causes poverty.

              How would that make the “poor”(a meaningless term in any case) wealthier?

              1. Because it incentivizes poverty. Duh.

                Yes, among the people it targets. Like not the rich.

                How would that make the “poor”(a meaningless term in any case) wealthier?

                By not devaluing what little wealth they manage to acquire, not imprisoning them in record numbers and subsidizing criminal gangs, making it cheaper to hire them or cheaper for them to start their own business, and not subsidizing bad behavior like having kids you can’t take care of.

                1. Oh, and it would make all of the goods they purchase significantly cheaper.

    7. Are all white people equal? Asians? Blacks? The solution to your problem is to stop collectivizing people.

      1. It is natural to collectivize people. When there is a list of the 400 richest Americans and includes one black person, people are going to notice. Is it “evil” for them to notice?

        1. No, but it is evil to “do something” about it.

          1. Why is it evil to do something about it?

            Because it FEEELS evil to you.

            1. The desire to remake the world in the image that you see as fair and just is pretty much the definition of evil. That you would force the world to bow to your whims, your sensibilities. Well I will not bow to you Zombie Shane! I will not be a part of your sinister vision of a world where outcomes are decided by the color of your skin!

  19. The premise of privilege is so transparently bigoted I’m surprised, or perhaps not at all surprised, that it’s found such traction among the in-crowd of social-justice dweebs.

    Exactly. The icing on this shit cake is the plain fact that these idiots are gleefully engaged in exactly the sort of lazy collectivist tribalism they pretend to be outraged by.

    1. Not suprising at all. Their main motivation is always to feel morally and intellectually superior to others. Just like white supremist including the lack of irony.

      1. It goes further than just feelings. It’s a new attempt at cultural hegemony.

        1. I think that’s true for a lot of the true believers that make a lot of this crap up. For the facebook/twitter parrots I think it is about feelings or even for many if not most, it’s that they want others to perceive them as “enlightened” even though they don’t have a clue what their even parroting.

          1. It’s Hey, Look at me, I’m down with the cause ’cause I’m awesome like that.

            1. And then when they try and one up each other, that’s when maximum derp occurs.

  20. I feel sorry for Black People. Everywhere they go, someone else messes their life up. First, they lived under “segregation” which made them poor. Then, as soon as they got out of segregation, as soon as they achieved political power, liberal tricksters convinced them into support SOCIALISM, which really had the effect of making them poor. And their trickery was so complete that over 90% of Black voters supported it. You see it was very clever trickery, you give them money, but giving them money really makes them poor. White people, with their voodo “economics” say so. With all them voting for SOCIALISM, is almost as bad as when they were not allowed the vote.

  21. Once understood as something ideological and systemic, racism is now frequently used to describe any act or speech that reveals potential prejudice or could cause offense.

    The weird thing is that I’ve recently encountered people arguing kind of the opposite: “racism”, according to them, can only be expressed by people in a position of social power and privilege, so minorities can’t be “racist” by definition.

  22. So is anyone from Reason going to review Nicholas Wade’s new book?

    1. Reason is too PC and anti-science.

  23. Just checking =

    No ‘Murkin here yet?

    I thought stories like this were supposed to drag him out so he can lecture us about his fantastic almost-sex-life with ‘jewesses’

  24. See the guy with the mustache in this Times photo?:

    http://static01.nyt.com/images…..log427.jpg

    He believed blacks to be so biologically inferior to whites that they would always require special consider’n. However, he did not consider himself racist because he believed that consider’n should be given, in perpetuity. In other words, not racist to believe they were inferior, only racist to be mean to them or to fail to give them special consider’n.

    1. We had a black friend in common who also believed blacks to be biologically inferior. However, Dave (shown in the photo) didn’t believe blacks could qualify as racist for believing themselves to be inferior, even if they disdained each other for that reason, because only the superior racial group could be racist.

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