Why Is Racism Unacceptable?

by John Holbo on August 7, 2013

Greetings from the road. I’ve been chivvying little girls around the globe for a few weeks, which interferes with keeping up one’s CT duties. So our text today is taken from one of the few literary works I’ve had a chance to read with real discernment, at leisure. The August issue of the Delta inflight magazine! 

The article in question is a celebration of the 50th anniversery of King’s “I Have A Dream Speech”. A number of prominent Atlantans reflect on its significance, generally and personally. (Hey, you can read it online. Who knew? Who ever links to articles in inflight magazines?)

It’s the sort of feel-good, unlikely-to-offend fare you expect from an inflight magazine. But the fact that MLK, his legacy and most famous speech, are fodder for such fare is noteworthy. In 1963, who would have expected that, a mere 50 years on, MLK would be not just a moral hero to many, but a non-polarizing, nominal hero to nearly all. Democrats love him, of course. And Republicans – although they may vote against MLK day and try to chip away at his pedestal every couple of years – are really more interested in making out, rhetorically, how they, not Democrats, are the true heirs to his legacy and philosophy (which has been so cruelly betrayed by the Democrats). As Orwell said about Dickens: MLK is a figure well worth stealing. 

So my question for you today is: Why isn’t MLK personally subject to the sort of angry backlash you would expect – given what he did and said? Social justice and all that. Them’s fighting words! Why isn’t ‘the civil rights struggle’ kind of like ‘feminism’: a thing you are allowed to hate on publicly? Let’s narrow it to a point. From Kasim Reed, mayor of Atlanta: “Once you decide that vestiges of racism are wrong and inappropriate, there has to be a legal framework for how those changes come to life.”

How did Americans collectively decide/publicly resolve at some point after 1963 that this really high moral and legal bar is the bar we have to clear? I mean: Americans are still not sure how they even feel about the Reconstruction period. (The Civil War was awesome, obviously. Glory all around. But I’m not holding my breath, waiting for a Spielberg film about Reconstruction. If Tarantino is brave, he’ll make a sequel: Django Unreconstructed. But I don’t think he’d know what to say, really.)

No racism. How did this proposition acquire the unarguable, morally axiomatic status it now enjoys? It’s so vague and so demanding, particularly in America. Whatever induced us to agree to submit to such a heavy yoke of virtue? I’m not complaining, and I’m not suggesting that if only the likes of MLK had wisely and moderately asked for less, there would be less ‘the only racism in American today is Charlie Rangel calling us crackers and we can’t use the n-word’ boo-hoo nonsense. It’s a better world we live in, if the racists are compelled to live public moral lives consisting exclusively of anti-racist pretzel logic. I think ‘no racism’ has been a very salutary moral ratchet, in Peter Singer’s sense.

But it’s remarkable, all the same, that ‘no racism’ has such moral bite. It’s so obvious to us, now, that ‘don’t be racist’ is a categorical imperative. How did it get that way? In our public morality? In our personal moral self-conceptions?

Now obviously my question is nonsense. There wasn’t ‘some point’ at which this happened. There never is. (Give me some credit for not being a huge idiot about the nature of history and human life and psychology. Or rather: believe what you like. But still pretend you don’t believe the absolute worst about me, just for thread purposes.)

And obviously moral attitudes are not blandly homogeneous, cross country, any more than moral shifts are sharply and cleanly punctuated. (To mix Gibson and Faulkner. History is still here, it’s just not evenly distributed.) And we must distinguish between public and private norms and attitudes and expressions of such. And obviously there isn’t any simple cause for such a complex effect. MLK’s speech, for example, wasn’t some sort of magic bullet that cured us all.

Why didn’t America settle on a more moderate proposition, like: a little racism is only natural, but dogs and firehoses are not ok. Or: every race gets to think it’s superior. You can take the boy out of the tribe but you can’t take the tribe out of the boy. Something like that. No. We went for: no racism.

Who has written well about this superficially morally simple but obviously complex historical question: how did racism come to be considered totally unacceptable, at first publicly and increasingly even in private? (Did LBJ think racism was categorically wrong, even as a private sentiment, even as he championed the Civil Rights Act?) I can think of about a dozen obvious candidates for major causes. Let me just list a few quickly, and you can tear them down and add your own. 

1. The liberal mass media rammed it down our throats. If they’d had blogs back then, racism would still be acceptable.
2. Northerners did it. ‘No racism’ got axiomatized before it became clear that it wasn’t basically just a horrible, isolated thing you saw happening in the South, on the news.
3. Conservatism did it by adopting a particular rhetoric of reaction. You give ground dramatically on one point, in hopes of holding the line very strongly a few steps back – lest the retreat turn into total route. You want to be able to stop affirmative action and so forth, so you need to concede the ‘no racism’ point, explicitly and categorically; then you argue that, perversely, affirmative action is racist. ‘No racism’ becomes a major premise in everyone’s arguments, no matter what they are arguing for.
4. The optimism of the liberal 1950’s paved the way. The liberal consensus. The future looked so bright that ambitious moral stuff seemed not so difficult. (Plus, you don’t want the Soviets to have such an easy target, complaining about moral failures of capitalism.)
5. The radicalism of the 1960’s did it. Overton Window shifted by dirty hippies and commies.
6. It’s a Shining City On A Hill thing, and Americans are natural born suckers for that.
7. A few moral heroes like MLK were just really, really persuasive, so people changed their minds. Also, he was a martyr, and it’s harder to hate on martyrs. (See also: Bobby Kennedy.)
8. Blame Nixon! He devised the Southern Strategy, making for steady, subterranean erosion of MLK’s dream, long-term. But his stock fell so low that, for a period of years – and they were key years, in which attitudes were shifting – conservatism didn’t have the moral wherewithal to mount a frontal assault on the the MLK social justice line. (See 3, above.) By the time Reagan showed up, ‘no racism’ was an axiom, so no turning back for conservatives.
9. It wasn’t just the domestic civil rights situation. In the 60’s and 70’s Americans were also becoming more conscious of the Holocaust, as an event in its own right. (Yes, they knew about W.W. II before the 70’s. I’m not saying that.) Consciousness-raising about the horrors of that, combined with images on the nightly news, rendered white Americans incapable of publicly espousing white tribalism as a political justification or excuse for anything.
10. Weirdly enough, it’s a case of people being won over by argument. Racism is just arbitrary and bad, and really all it took was a bunch of people articulating the pretty simple and compelling argument for this conclusion.

I’m sure I could think of two more, to make it a dozen, but ten is a fine and traditional number for lists. I honestly don’t know what I think about my candidates. I don’t think any of them are wrong but I really have no confidence in assigning relative weights.

None of this is to say that “Sweet Home Alabama” was never actually a song – because how could it have been? – or that the Dukes of Hazzard didn’t have that painted on the hood of their car. Just so we’re clear on that.

That’s probably enough to get comments going.

{ 207 comments }

1

Mark Field 08.07.13 at 10:18 pm

I’m confused. Are you asking why it is that admitting to racism is taboo even while people continue to be racist?

2

Bruce Wilder 08.07.13 at 10:41 pm

There’s dog and then there’s tail. Racism and white supremacist ideology served an economic institutional structure of exclusion and oppression, from which some profited mightily and many more derived some grudging status satisfactions. When the country was willing to let much of the “infrastructure” go, the rest was a task for propaganda and identity politics. The legal milestone of the Civil Rights Acts was important, but it coincided with a huge expansion of the economy, which entailed a substantial reduction in the number of people in poverty, or excluded from realizing their ambitions.

The willingness of much of the black establishment to abandon MLK’s passion for the economic content of social justice is an easily overlooked shadow factor. Supporting neoliberalism reduced the economic bite, making the “no racism” rule more abstract, for those, whose economic ambitions focused on the new means of extraction. Look at the recent post on the politics of payday lending.

3

Eli 08.07.13 at 11:03 pm

Overt racism is dead. Long live unconscious racism.

4

Random Lurker 08.07.13 at 11:08 pm

I’ll propose that there were two historic accidents that made racism unacceptable :
1) Hitler! (Your point 9)
2) decolonisation
Those two elements destroyed “scientific” racism, and the rest was just a long fight against acquired but outdated tradition .
Plus, the logic of capitalism in itself is antiracist .

5

Rich Puchalsky 08.07.13 at 11:14 pm

While I think there’s something to be said for most of your ten points (except #1), I favor one that I didn’t see listed as such. Overt anti-black racism is the continuation of the longest-lasting and most damaging conflict in America history, and when the Civil Rights Movement finally broke the last governmental discrimination, there was a sense that this conflict had been definitively won and couldn’t be fought again. Not that racism went away, of course, but since racism could no longer lead to official racist discrimination, it had to be denied. Otherwise the racists would have been openly putting themselves in the position of people whose politics could not possibly lead anywhere. Denial let them move to the whole Southern Strategy tactic of displacing it into politics around economic issues, with which the help of plutocrats they could win.

Or to quote my own poem:

The radio said three angrily
In between the uncanny voices
The old-time talk
They had been talking from the beginning
About three-fifths,
Three fifths
And how that was always
Written, always should be

6

Rmj 08.07.13 at 11:18 pm

Briefly: racism had a “moral bite” long before Dr. King started leading the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I grew up with racism all around me, in the years before and after Dr. King’s speech. But it was racism of the “I have nothing against ‘em, but I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one” kind. It wasn’t the racism that hated Dr. King and refused to allow schools to integrate; it was the racism that wondered why “they” couldn’t wait, and what “they” were so angry about, and couldn’t we all just agree that racists were the ones who hated “them,” and we don’t, so….

“The Daily Show” did a segment last night on two groups, one black, one white, all about racism. The white group was quite sure racism was over in America, at least 50% “solved,” if not 75%. Why wasn’t it 100%? Well, because people (you know, mostly “them,” and we don’t mean other whites; but we are not racists!) wouldn’t stop talking about race. If everyone would just stop talking about race, the white group agreed (so “everyone” didn’t really mean “everyone”), there’d be no racism.

So why was racism so immediately unacceptable? It never was acceptable. When wasn’t it, exactly? Well, all I can say definitively is that by the early ’60’s, in “deep South” East Texas, it was already socially unacceptable to be considered a racist.

Which didn’t mean you wanted “them” in your schools; or your daughter to marry one (well, that was still illegal at the time, wasn’t it?). But racism? Perish the thought! I mean, yeah, there was a race riot in ’72 when the schools integrated (well, it was a fight that shut half of one high school down for the rest of the day, and yeah, that was 18 years after Brown v. Board; but nobody in town was a racist!), but everybody knew whose fault that was; and nobody was a racist.

Nosireebob! And we still aren’t! I mean, it would be better if “they” just stopped talking about it, but….

7

Neil Levy 08.07.13 at 11:25 pm

Most of these candidates explanations are US-centric. The phenomenon is global.

8

bob mcmanus 08.07.13 at 11:25 pm

To me it is like the move to heliocentrism. Scientific racism is just obviously wrong, and is no more acceptable in public than a square earth.

But I think the point and purpose of racism was always to justify discrimination and privilege, and the move to “outlaw racism” is actually a smokescreen to cover the difficulty we have with dealing with privilege and discrimination, which we (well, most of you) do not want to eliminate at all in any way.

“My kid gets a Nintendo while the Sudanese kid starves to death? But I don’t hate him for his skin color, so I’m a good guy.”

9

John Holbo 08.07.13 at 11:30 pm

“I’m confused. Are you asking why it is that admitting to racism is taboo even while people continue to be racist?”

Close enough.

10

bob mcmanus 08.07.13 at 11:32 pm

Why do we let people give money to Harvard instead of to Morehouse?

What, we can’t even conceive of taking steps to prevent it?

Discrimination, unjust and unfair distribution, is what each and every one of us do every day. We like it a lot.

11

lupita 08.07.13 at 11:55 pm

Maybe it has to do with changing social conventions in line with not tweeting women that they are going to be raped and calling people retards. Perhaps societies are becoming more democratic in the sense that more people have a voice now and the first words coming out are, “Shut up!”

12

bob mcmanus 08.07.13 at 11:57 pm

Oh, I suppose more interesting would be to connect the end of overt or justifying racism with modernism, liberalism, and neo-liberalism. It is a constructed fragmentation.

Homo economicus has no contingent ties, can have no community or historicized demands put on him, and the fact that he cannot discriminate against blacks means he cannot (justifiably, admirably, it is just preference and individual choice) discriminate for whites. Or for Italians, workers, Texans, Baptists, extended family, nation etc.

So become a hedge trader selling junk to the elderly, park the profits in Bahrain, retire to Portugal. Bowl alone. You have no community to discriminate for, unless you choose one.

There has been plenty of scholarship on late capitalism. Discussions of racism bore me, because the anti-racists quite explicitly want to end racism (and sexism, and homophobia, etc) without changing anything else.

13

jazzbumpa 08.08.13 at 12:02 am

Where did you get the idea that racism is unacceptable?

Have you missed all of American national politics since 2007?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/02/25/white-house-watermelon-em_n_169933.html

Seriously.

JzB

14

Matthew Stevens 08.08.13 at 12:13 am

I would say it’s something like this:

Up until the 1930s “racism” meant what we now call “scientific racism,” and it was the belief of a majority of whites. Nazism arose from that “scientific racist” tradition, and became its primary representative. That de-legitimized the term to some degree.

In the 50s and 60s the defense of segregation was taken up by KKK-like groups that still proudly called themselves “racist” (as they would’ve called themselves in their heyday in the 1920s). That cements the association: segregation = racism.

Legal segregation dies out in the 60s. Southerners discover that blacks and whites can use the same restrooms, water fountains and restaurants without disaster. Even the most hidebound reactionaries realize that Jim Crow was a waste of time. Since segregation = racism, and they aren’t segregationists (or Nazis), they aren’t racists.

Now I’d say “scientific racism” still lives on in the Race-and-IQ debate, but the only folks who proudly call themselves “racists” are neo-Nazis, Klansmen, etc. No one wants to be associated with those low-class nutters, which is why charges of racism freaks people out so much.

15

Nick 08.08.13 at 12:15 am

I agree with the notion that economic reforms were important. I think the drug war shows that somewhat similar regimes of aggression and oppression can be maintained using nominally non-discriminatory laws. Race is slowly (very slowly) becoming less central to oppressive systems but there isn’t that much sign of the oppressive systems becoming less powreful.

Socially, to an occasional visitor, America (especially New York, oddly) still seems to be awfully reactive to appearance when it comes to establishing status even in informal situations. Strangers react very differently to me depending on whether I have shaved and am wearing a suit, compared to something more casual and unkempt. The same is true in the UK but it is much much more pronounced in the US (you feel it in the air). You are expected to look smart in order to be nice, credible and not suspect. White people can put on a different ‘skin’ as appropriate but, from the way police stop and frisk operates, it seems much harder or impossible to gain that sort of unspoken status and respect if you are black.

16

Rmj 08.08.13 at 12:32 am

“I’m confused. Are you asking why it is that admitting to racism is taboo even while people continue to be racist?”

Close enough.

But, as you say, “It’s so vague and so demanding, particularly in America.” The vagueness is the key. Racism means, to most whites, racial animus. We used to distinguish it from “prejudice.” Racism was the KKK. Prejudice was just that you didn’t want ‘them’ going to your kid’s school. Well, who could blame that? Sorta like the “fear of black men” which is the topic du jour. It’s not really racism, your just scared but, hey, aren’t most of the people in jail young black men? I mean, I’m no racist, but facts are facts!

So, maybe I’m a bit prejudiced….but I’m not a racist!

Terminology shifts over time. Was LBJ racist in private? We might think so; he might not have. And we dropped “prejudiced” because, well, we all changed our attitudes. And now if everybody would just stop talking about it, we (the white folk) would all feel a lot better…..

The vagueness is why most white Americans think racism would just go away if everybody (you know who we mean!) would stop talking about it. After all, we don’t have any animus based on race. I mean, we don’t wear white sheets and pointy hats, so…. But all that talk about how it seems much harder or impossible to gain that sort of unspoken status and respect if you are black is just unfortunate….but it’s not racism!

So first maybe we should decide what “racism” is. Because:

Why didn’t America settle on a more moderate proposition, like: a little racism is only natural, but dogs and firehoses are not ok.

I’m pretty sure that’s where we are, and have been since MLK’s dream became the only thing we remember about him (which is another reason we aren’t racists anymore; the “dream” is such a lovely idea, and keeps us from paying attention to everything Dr. King said, even in that famous speech).

17

John Holbo 08.08.13 at 12:35 am

jazzbumpa, why isn’t that thing you link just a typical example of what I’m talking about? There’s racism, yet it’s considered publicly unacceptable. People have to apologize for it, or pretend they didn’t know that there were stereotypes about watermelons, so forth. So what’s your point?

One important exception to the ‘racism is not publicly acceptable’ rule actually, is prison life and social organization in the US. I don’t know from personal experience, thankfully. But stuff like this is pretty interesting.

http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2009/winter/a-jew-in-prison

I probably should have said more about the non-US context. My impression is that the anti-racism norm is stronger and more explicit in the US than elsewhere (not that there’s less racism in the US as a result, necessarily.) And I don’t have a sense that US attitudes were strongly influenced by perceptions of events abroad, except for the Holocaust. But a fair point. My post is too US-centric. Or should be framed more clearly as only about the US.

18

FuzzyFace 08.08.13 at 12:42 am

I’d suggest also:

* Integration made a contribution. If you actually have to associate with people of a different race, it is harder to believe that they are inherently different in a scary way.
* Similarly, integration in sports made a difference: if your team has a hero who is Black, you have to find a way to rationalize rooting for him, even if you’ve had negative thoughts about Blacks all along.
* The Klan made a difference by being such embarassing yahoos, that admitting to racism meant allying yourself with them.

But it seems to me that your point might be a bit overstated. It is certainly not acceptable in most circles nowadays to be racist against Blacks, but does that really apply to all groups? As a classic example, antisemitism in the guise of anti-Zionism, is just as acceptable in certain circles, especially on University campuses as it ever was. Does “racism” only mean towards Blacks?

19

P O'Neill 08.08.13 at 12:56 am

Which, if any, of the events described in this article about racism in Italy could happen in the USA without major public opprobrium?

20

John Holbo 08.08.13 at 1:07 am

“Integration made a contribution. If you actually have to associate with people of a different race, it is harder to believe that they are inherently different in a scary way.”

I don’t buy this. Southern whites often complain that they live in more integrated settings than many earnest liberals from up north. This is perfectly true, as far as it goes.

I don’t buy the antisemitism point either. Antisemitism is not socially acceptable, especially not on campus. But it’s ok to criticize Israel. The assumption that critics of Israel are motivated by antisemitism is not a sound one.

Obviously ‘racism’ doesn’t mean racism only towards blacks. It’s a more general term.

21

Doctor Slack 08.08.13 at 1:08 am

‘No open racism’ was more or less the axiom that Nixon invented. Sophisticated crypto-racism as the substitute — the kind that talked about “states’ rights” and advanced policies that just happened completely coincidentally to disadvantage blacks, but was really about God-given free-market capitalism and the wholesome American way — was his baby more than anyone’s. That was the Southern Strategy, and his fall from grace didn’t impair it one whit. It’s still a powerful and effective means of advancing racist objectives under the radar.

The thing is, once you have crypto-racism working its obfuscationist wonders for your cause, it simply doesn’t matter any more whether you pretend to make nice with the legacy of MLK. That’s just another part of the con.

‘Racism would be over if the Blacks would just stop talking about it’ is one of the contemporary strategies of crypto-racism. You’re unlikely to run into it from people who are genuinely non-racist or even just intellectually so. It is not rhetoric of naivete, it is rhetoric of deliberate deception. Most of the people using it know perfectly well that the conservative movement still says “nigger nigger nigger” and trots out all the usual stereotypes when it thinks it is behind closed doors; it even barely bothers to veil them, most of the time, out in the open. Crypto-racism is just a shift in tactics: concede for the sake of argument that racism is airquotes-‘wrong’ and then simply go on the offensive, make the other guy constantly defend himself from the wacky charge of being the “real racist.” And while the opponent is busy admiring the polish on his Overton Window, work quietly at any level of government you can find to undermine the real gains of the Civil Rights Movement. (Like the Voting Rights Act, recently staked in the heart — to virtually no fanfare or outcry — by the Supreme Court.)

22

Doctor Slack 08.08.13 at 1:16 am

(Having said all that — that racism has receded overall in American society, especially toward the center and left of the political spectrum, is still undeniably true. I won’t pick any one out of a list of political actors responsible, because I think it’s hard to isolate: but I can say that the overwhelming factor wherever those gains were made is shame. No matter how dedicated someone is to racism, they still want to be thought of as a good and respectable person. Where racism ceases to be good and respectable, they at minimum have to hide theirs. That’s why comment venues on the ‘Net with anti-racist comment policies tend not to attract racists, and those without do; where racists feel accepted and validated, they don’t feel the need to camouflage or “sugarcoat” their beliefs. The social change has been largely that as racism has come to be identified in more and more venues with imbecility or malice, shame and the quest for social acceptance has gradually crowded it out; a process particularly accelerated in more racially diverse centres where there is a good possibility of knowing — or at least knowing about — living counterexamples to racist or crypto-racist stereotypes. Which is why racism still flourishes best in the most homogenous regions, on which the former “Southern Strategy” now depends.)

23

Anarcissie 08.08.13 at 1:30 am

I imagine the ruling class, most of them, decided that it would be best if the US were not Balkanized. ‘Tribalism’ seems to be endemic among humans, but one can deprive it of legal, political and official cultural sanction.

24

Witt 08.08.13 at 1:31 am

With all due respect, I have to say that this post, at this level of analysis, could only have been written by a white man. There are writers grappling with complex and nuanced examinations of US racial history in numerous venues online today — the most high-profile of whom probably being Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic — and their work is well worth anyone’s reading time.

That said, I think rmj is generally on the money. We didn’t so much abandon racism as reframe and cordon it off. THIS act here is definitely racism, but THOSE over there are certainly not. In fact, you’re racist for suggesting it! What’s wrong with you? Why are you always looking for problems? etc.

So why were we able to cordon off some pretty horrific stuff? Well, for one, your point number 6: Ending (certain kinds of) racism fit neatly into an already-existing American ideal of self and nation. We are all about perfectibility in this country. Self-help, self-improvement, model for the world, you name it.

So while we may kick and scream when someone points out a fault, once we come around to admitting the fault we set to work busily eradicating it. Because that’s who we are! Americans. Perfectible.

There are other things going on, of course, so I’ll just end at the beginning: Anyone really interested in mulling these questions, you’ve got a wealth of material to choose from.

25

Witt 08.08.13 at 1:34 am

Ignore my comment; just read Doctor Slack’s #22 twice instead.

26

jazzbumpa 08.08.13 at 1:48 am

@17

My point is that racism is not only alive and well, but deeply entrenched in movement conservatism. Sometimes after an incident there is an insincere and meaningless apology under public pressure. Often times there is not.

Virulent racism is quite open and applauded on the American right.

The rest of society disapproves, but that only encourages them.

JzB

27

Main Street Muse 08.08.13 at 2:10 am

Racism, obviously, is not isolated to America, but rather a global phenomenon. The centuries of wars in Europe were racist as well as economic; the colonization of the world by European powers was deeply racist; how Asian countries treated other Asian countries was racist; powerful monarchs perched on a foundation of disdain for all those who did not share their blood lineage was a racism of its own sort. A little of that racist ideology drowned in those bloody trenches of WWI. Hitler’s gas ovens forced the globe to contemplate the ghastly outcome of solutions created to exterminate a particular race. The violent ugliness of Third Reich racism was brutally visible to all the world when the camps were liberated.

In America, Jackie Robinson (whose statue was defaced by racists today) forced people to question their long-held beliefs about the inferiority of certain races. Emmett Till certainly forced Americans to confront the murderous violence that racism begat. His mother remains one of my heroes. Malcolm X is the antithesis of MLK – his teachings and philosophy seem to be absorbed by none other than Dick Cheney (“by any means necessary…”)

The idea that racism in America is peculiarly southern is obviously wrong. When MLK came to Chicago in 1966, white racists hit him in the head with a brick – and he realized this about the “liberal” north:

“I’ve been in many demonstrations all across the South. But I can say that I have never seen – even in Mississippi and Alabama – mobs as hostile and hate-filled as I’ve seen in Chicago. I think the people from Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate.”

In 2008, Chicago, a deeply segregated city even now, sent America’s first black president to Washington.

I look to the history of the US as the history of a move away from centuries of racist political philosophy. In the 18th century, a slaveowner wrote that beautiful founding document about independence and freedom; Thomas Jefferson so perfectly embodies the inherent contradictions of what it means to be American.

The movement toward equality is glacially slow, but there is movement none-the-less toward a better understanding of our inherent commonality as humans. It is up to us, those of us who believe in equality, to protect the gains we’ve made and work to ensure we do not slip backward (a danger today, IMHO.)

We all (most of us anyway) dream of better days. And we all (most of us anyway) hope that we are touched by the “better angels of our nature.”

And don’t underestimate the subversive contributions of Dr. Seuss – “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

28

harry b 08.08.13 at 2:15 am

Sweet Home Alabama is ironic. Or, maybe, just straightforwardly anti-racist, I am too culturally foreign to quite get it. See wikipedia or…just read what the band said about it.

29

harry b 08.08.13 at 2:16 am

And while I’m at it:

30

Royton De'Ath 08.08.13 at 2:25 am

Perhaps the conversation about race “stopped” when i) we “stopped” talking about class, or ii) when race-type “things” got too slippery:

Two primary ways of evaluating the significance of race stand out at this moment. First, there are the ways it creates disparate life chances, disadvantaging primarily blacks and Latinos through various forms of discriminatory practices (particularly in the spheres of housing, jobs, and access to credit), and, by extension, advantaging whites. This is the principal way, in terms of progress and policy, that we address—or alternately efface and ignore —race. But there is also another dimension to race, a cultural one that is not as clear cut and often more difficult to assess. Race, simply, is meaningful, and meaning, as we know, is often unruly and irresolute, barely constrained by intention or referentiality. Though we may strive to equate race singularly with issues of racism— which Americans widely accept to be a social and moral failing—we keep confronting the fact that the boisterous meaningfulness of race often makes it ambiguous and difficult to grasp.‘ (Hartigan, Jr., J., 2010: 7)

Hartigan (2005: 249) also notes:

Frankenberg suggests that ‘‘at a certain point in U.S. history a color- and power evasive public language of race displaced essentialist racism as the dominant discourse on race . . . [and] remains dominant today; it has not been displaced in its turn by race cognizance.’’‘. What, where, that ‘certain point‘ occurred is not identified. It’s an interesting thing to chase down; good luck.

31

Main Street Muse 08.08.13 at 2:31 am

If we’re talking about racism in music, here’s Colbert’s take on one such song… http://bit.ly/16ASD5L

32

ckc (not kc) 08.08.13 at 2:33 am

also, too…

33

LFC 08.08.13 at 2:39 am

from pt 4 in the OP
(Plus, you don’t want the Soviets to have such an easy target, complaining about moral failures of capitalism.)

Yes. In fact the Cold War context was probably sufficiently important that this phrase deserves to have the parentheses removed. There has been some good recent work on this by historians, I believe.

34

LFC 08.08.13 at 3:07 am

Your ten points don’t mention the symbolic and practical importance of certain pre-1963 developments such as, e.g., Brown v Bd of Ed and what followed from it, e.g. Little Rock. (Granted, resistance meant that the Brown decision took a long time to have an on-the-ground impact in the South, and in the North and South it didn’t touch de facto, as opposed to de jure, segregation.) Still, one cd make an argument that the legal battles and the lawyers who fought them, such as Thurgood Marshall, Julius Chambers (who died just the other day), Jack Greenberg, Robert Carter and many others, had an impact in the long run in shifting attitudes, not just in the legal system but among the public.

35

aspergum 08.08.13 at 3:13 am

As a classic example, antisemitism in the guise of anti-Zionism, is just as acceptable in certain circles, especially on University campuses as it ever was. Does “racism” only mean towards Blacks?

What? Both classic and contemporary?

Anyway, this is a tiresome claim. As John wrote, antisemitism is not acceptable on U.S. campuses, and I have never encountered anti-Zionism that is actually antisemitism. In fact, it’s almost always a protest of Israel’s racist treatment of Palestinians.

36

PJW 08.08.13 at 3:36 am

Harper Lee comes to mind as someone who wrote well and with influence on this topic with To Kill a Mockingbird.

37

mud man 08.08.13 at 3:40 am

MLK (and the Racism Question) got disconnected from Actual Racism by being shot. Basically the same thing happened to Jesus. Notice how this idea got buried in your #7.

38

Billikin 08.08.13 at 4:04 am

“Americans are still not sure how they even feel about the Reconstruction period. (The Civil War was awesome, obviously. Glory all around. But I’m not holding my breath, waiting for a Spielberg film about Reconstruction.”

“The Birth of a Nation” is a film about Reconstruction. In the 1960s the Yale Film Society made it its first showing each year. Many a liberal Yalie regarded it as one of the best films ever made. Some people today might accept its blatant racism, but I expect that they are in the distinct minority.

Surely there are a range of opinions about Reconstruction (among those who are aware of it), but how many are ambivalent? There is still some romanticism about outlaws like Jesse James, who, like Bonny and Clyde later on, have the aura of populist heroes, battling against the rich elite. How much people connect them to Reconstruction is another question.

The Mississippi history textbook at my segregated high school portrayed Reconstruction as the victimization of the South by the North. It hinted that had Lincoln lived the South would not have been treated so punitively. Scalawags and carpetbaggers were depicted as oppressing Southern Whites and taking advantage of naive Negroes, who were unprepared for freedom and citizenship. The Ku Klux Klan was not seen as a band of heroes, but it was not shown as a group of murderous terrorists, either. Jesse James was not spoken of, but Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, who became a Supreme Court justice, was seen as a major figure in the reconciliation of the country. Curiously, the book made no mention of the end of Reconstruction, giving the impression that it was a slow process that was somehow complete by the turn of the 20th century. Our American history textbook did talk about the election of 1876, but did not mention its significance with regard to Reconstruction.

I know that one function of history textbooks is to whitewash events, but I do think that one reason that our books were not frank about Reconstruction was a sense of shame, even in the segregated South. And I think that a widespread sense of shame continues, which is perhaps one reason that a movie about Reconstruction would be a difficult sell.

39

Meredith 08.08.13 at 5:25 am

Among many thought-provoking comments here, in response to a really good OP challenge, I’d endorse Rjm’s most of all. For instance, it would be very useful to our current discourse to reintroduce a distinction between racism (that -ism suffix is so thoroughgoing) and prejudice (which suggests degrees and complexity of personal response). I’d also like to insist that “race” is a most convenient tool in class warfare (the wedge used by those with power to divide less powerful/powerless groups who would otherwise be allies — bob mcmanus?) and in cultural competitions (which aren’t really “wars,” unless something like “New England v. southern cornbread” deserves to be called a “war”).

My middle-class white grandmother, who grew up in rural Virginia in the 1890’s – early 1900’s, would have had her mouth washed out with soap (literally) if she had ever used the n-word. I certainly wouldn’t make this grandmother my model on these questions (though she was not without wisdom on them). I’m just saying the obvious, that so many issues of class and regional pride intersect with racial prejudice and racism, and all of these with issues of power.

And that’s true for blacks as well as whites, I think. I’d caution that black people’s views are as complex as white people’s, the Daily Show bit notwithstanding. (Why do discussions among predominately white groups focus on the subtleties of whites’ views, while blacks are usually treated as a single voice, all in accord, no need for subtlety? I think that’s what’s so attractive about Ta-Nehesi-Coates — we, as a community of readers whoever we are, are brought together into the complexities of one insightful and thoughtful black man’s observations and responses. ) In all that complexity lies our hope.

40

John Holbo 08.08.13 at 6:45 am

Has Ta-Nehesi Coates addressed this question? Obviously he’s written a lot of interesting stuff about race generally. My specific question isn’t necessarily the key question for understanding all there is to understand about race in America, but I’d still be curious to know what he thinks about it, if he’s addressed it. My guess, based on what he’s written about related questions, is that he’d say it’s a surprisingly hard question to answer. How does a nation founded on white supremacy talk itself into this very demanding norm of anti-racism? Think about how, at every stage, the New Deal required exclusion of blacks, to win sufficient white support. Racism is acceptable. And then it very absolutely isn’t. Why? I don’t think this question has been treated as being as puzzling as it really is, despite the high overall volume of writings on the subject of race generally. I’m open to suggestions about good writings on the subjects of how norms regarding tolerability of racism have evolved over time. What were the things you could say in polite society, or on the op-ed page, in 1943, and 53, and 63 and 73? In Boston. And in Atlanta. I’m sure someone’s written that book, but I don’t happen to know which specific book it is.

Maybe I should reread “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Haven’t read it for 25 years.

Witt seems to suggest that there is something particularly obtuse or naive about my post. OK, I’ll bite. What is the problem supposed to be?

jazzbumpa, nothing in the post makes any sense except on the assumption that I think racism is alive and and entrenched on the right. So why are you pointing this out as if it is an objection? (How are you reading the post?)

Mudman, how have I buried the fact of King’s martyrdom by listing it as a factor? (Or are you suggesting somehow I buried the Jesus factor? If so: what do you think that is?)

41

bad Jim 08.08.13 at 6:52 am

America has been anti-racist since its founding: “All men are created equal”. The ideal was clear, the practice of slavery notwithstanding. The father of the country set an example by freeing his own slaves, sadly not followed by any of his successors.

The country’s bloodiest war was fought over the issue of slavery and the equality of all men belatedly enshrined in its constitution. The principle was clearly stated and never thereafter disputed, though largely ignored in practice (and perhaps never applied to the Indians).

Martin Luther King, Jr., promoted claims for which there was, in theory, universal consensus. His success may have been variously the result of the New Deal, the migration of blacks into the North, the universal mobilization of World War II, the desegregation of the military, and reaction to the naked racism of Germany and Japan, but there wasn’t anything especially novel in his message, and we still remain a profoundly racist society (though less so every day). Also jazz and blues and rock & roll.

Feminism, in contrast, wasn’t a founding value, outright sexism remains more respectable than racism, and the country is demonstrably more sexist than racist.

42

Mao Cheng Ji 08.08.13 at 7:23 am

You could approach this in the (sort of) backward induction sort of way. If something had become a taboo, that means that it used to be a dangerous phenomenon in the society, growing more and more dangerous. To survive, the society had to made it a taboo. Or perish. It survived. Doesn’t mean it was, necessarily, a deliberate effort; just a matter of evolution.

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Jonas 08.08.13 at 7:38 am

I think this really only happened in the last 20 years. I remember as a child in the 80s, it wasn’t half as taboo as it is now. Seeing the pace of social change on gay marriage, I would say that the reason is because blacks became a reliable core political faction for the Democrats.

Although it seems like the 2 parties are vicious competitors, they really aren’t, and they won’t go after the true core support pillars of the other party. At least not in mainstream publications. I think it’s the same reason you see the Overton window slowly move over to the conservative side, because the extreme views really are their core reliable base, and democrats will only make snide remarks about it but won’t directly challenge. Same with billionaire oligarchs. That’s probably the only thing that keeps this country from sliding into all out civil war (not a rehash of the first civil war, but the civil war/coup of the type conservatives fantasize about). It’s all fun and games until one of the core coalition members gets their eyes poked out.

The other reason is because conservatives decided to take on gender discrimination rather than race. They really only had the bandwidth for 1, and made their choice. They would still take on race issues but only using “pretzel logic” as you put it.

44

maidhc 08.08.13 at 8:03 am

“Birth of a Nation” is an interesting example because it wasn’t intended to be a racist film. D.W. Griffith was a white southerner whose views were much as Billikin describes, one of the “I’m not a racist, my family always had black servants” school. Of course it came out to be a very racist film.

In its time, BoaN was a groundbreaking film that revealed the power of the film-maker’s art, but it also unintentionally revealed the evil that underlay the myth of the Lost Cause. In that sense it’s an important film because it showed how a film could tell not only the story that the film-maker wanted to tell, but another story as well.

Griffith deserves some kind of credit because after the film came out he seems to have realized what he had done, and some of his subsequent films appear to be apologies for BoaN. His next film was “Intolerance”, and he later addressed racism of the anti-Chinese variety in “Broken Blossoms”

You might criticize Griffith for not addressing the African-American question again, and for not using a Chinese actor for the hero in “Broken Blossoms”. But neither of these were really possible in 1920s Hollywood. He did make a certain effort; whether he fully atoned for BoaN is now for history to judge.

Turn the clock forward two decades and we get “Gone with the Wind”, where the basic attitudes are the same, but Reconstruction just doesn’t get mentioned that much.

Things have changed in the south. I can remember when “The Star-Spangled Banner” was not allowed in (white) public schools, and TV stations played “Dixie” when they went off the air. But even then Lincoln had attained much of the heroic status he has now. Back further back in the 1920s and 1930s there were still many people who reviled Lincoln as a sort of Satanist anti-Christ dictator.

45

reason 08.08.13 at 9:29 am

I think Niel Levi @7 has it dead right.

The UN is a driving force. Without internationalism you can’t understand it. The US didn’t want to stand alone with South Africa.

46

agm 08.08.13 at 9:58 am

reason @ 45:

Are you sure? Currently we in the US seem to be proud, as a nation to be able to stand on our own, which has it’s good points and bad points, even at times it means flipping the bird to the rest of the planet.

47

heckblazer 08.08.13 at 10:26 am

maidhe @ 44:

What amuses me about Intolerance is that Griffith’s attempt at an apology for prejudice is a dramatization of the horrible intolerance of Catholics, Jews and do-gooder feminists.

48

passer-by 08.08.13 at 10:52 am

I’ve always been fascinated by the question, although I have no answer to it, but it can only be understood in a less US-centric frame.
First, I think that Americans underestimate the importance of anti-racism as moral and social norm because they assume, as several have done in the thread, that it is somehow universal. Until you have spent time in a country where racism is completely acceptable and widespread, you don’t get it. To me that country was Russia, because it’s the one I know best (although the same can be said of most Eastern European and Arab countries; I don’t know Asia well, but afaik, it seems it would apply there as well): when you have a highly educated girl from a priviledged background and no political agenda say in a university class discussion that “I don’t get this “All men are created equal”: my Daghestani neighbors are messy, unclean, loud, they stink and are stupid, they are obviously not my equals” and the other students completely get her point… when everyone you know, regardless of social, economic, educational, political background, will casually express overt racism (not of the unconscious prejudice kind, but of the direct “N- (yes, they still use the word) or Arabs are obviously inferior people” kind)… when flat rental ads routinely ask for “ethnically Russian” candidates… when Obama’s election is greeted with incredulous laughter, racist jokes and widely seen as the ultimate proof of the decadence and downfall of the US… well, then, you really start to understand that anti-racism as an ideal and norm is a reality and a huge progress, even if it does not eradicate racism overnight.
Anyway, just to say, anti-racism is not universal at all. Many people in the world do not hold it even as an ideal but tend to consider racism as a natural fact of life. I’d venture that only America (not just the US) and Western Europe (+ Australia and probably a few other countries) hold it as a moral and social norm. Which is to say: anti-racism has only become a norm in those countries where for centuries, institutionalized racism (even before its latest “scientific” version) had been, in various forms, the underpinning of imperial societies. The violence needed to implement / sustain that system and the violence of the resistance it encountered (repeatedly leading to riots, uprisings, colonial / civil wars, mass killings and eventually genocide) ended up threatening the very existence of those societies (and in Germany’s case, actually destroyed the country), so a radical social transformation was forced on them, leading to the formal embrace of anti-racism.
To the rest of the world, racism is not a system or a theory, but an accepted fact of life in societies where racial homogeneity, though never theorized or codified in the Western fashion, is considered a reality, a given, where “diversity” is neither recognized nor desired. “Racism” is a foreign word (in the Russian case, literally – they just transliterate it), so you cannot really claim to be “racist” or “anti-racist” in those countries, as it makes no historical or cultural sense locally, but the reality is that racism is alive and well in most parts of the world.

49

Ronan(rf) 08.08.13 at 12:18 pm

“With all due respect, I have to say that this post, at this level of analysis, could only have been written by a white man”

I dont think you can generalise too much. For eample here’s the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaking about her reaction to race in America:

“Also, race is something that one has to learn. I had to learn what it meant to be black. When I first came, somebody made a joke about fried chicken, and people said ‘Oh my God!’ And I just thought, ‘Why? What’s the problem? What’s going on?’ If you’re coming from Nigeria, you have no idea what’s going on. When I came to the United States, I hadn’t stayed very long, but I already knew that to be “black” was not a good thing in America, and so I didn’t want to be “black.” I think there are many immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean who feel that way, and will say very clearly ‘I’m not black.’ There’s the overriding desire to do well, to succeed. If it means absorbing the negative stereotypes of a particular group, then that’s fine, they do it. I think also that many black immigrants don’t realize that they’re able to be here and do what they’re doing because of the sacrifices of African Americans. They don’t know the history. I didn’t when I came. An African American man called me “sister” once, and I was like ‘No, no, no, I’m not your sister, I’m not doing that.’ It took about a year of reading, learning, watching, for me to really come around and realize that there’s a context— you know.. But when immigrants come here they absorb stories that have no context and no history. So it’s ‘oh, black Americans are very lazy. They all live in the inner city because, you know, they don’t want to work hard.’ Sometimes you’re in a gathering of immigrants, and some of the talk can sound like you’re in Alabama in 1965.

It’s very depressing, because I’ve come to deeply, deeply admire African American history and African American people. Their story is the one I most admire, the one I’m most moved by. But then, there are different ways of being black, there are different blacks. I’ve come to very happily identify as black, and I like to joke about wanting to go back and find that man who called me sister, because I would hug him. But my experience is different. My experience of blackness is different from African Americans, and for me it’s still a learning process, because there are things that I can’t inhabit. Now I know racial subtleties, now I get it. But I don’t have the history, and it’s different.”

I’d assume the reasons for the decline in overt racism are in large part a response to global changes? (rise in human rights promotion, decolonisation, the ending of the Cold War, global norm setters etc?)

50

LFC 08.08.13 at 1:09 pm

Holbo:
I’m open to suggestions about good writings on the subject of how norms regarding tolerability of racism have evolved over time. What were the things you could say in polite society, or on the op-ed page, in 1943, and 53, and 63 and 73? In Boston. And in Atlanta. I’m sure someone’s written that book, but I don’t happen to know which specific book it is.

I haven’t read Randall Kennedy’s book on the N-word (or his other books, for that matter) but it might be relevant here, at least for the U.S. context.
link

Also interesting to look at how norms in pop culture relate to those in society at large. (Hollywood-made movies during WW2, for ex., often featured multiracial groups of heroic soldiers even though in the real army, of course, African-Americans were in segregated units. See, e.g., this bk.)

51

aspergum 08.08.13 at 1:09 pm

bad jim @ 41,

No, antiracism is not a founding US value. The men declared equal were, explicitly, white men, a conception bolstered by the limitation of citizenship to them in the 1790 Naturalization Act.

52

SamChevre 08.08.13 at 1:22 pm

I’m fairly cynical; I would go with #2, with a twist.

Not “Northerners did it”, but “Northern ELITES did it, as a way of discrediting the Southern elites who were their traditional competitors.” With a side of “northern elites leveraged their dominance of the judiciary and the media to make it impossible to be in a position of public trust and respect while openly racist, knowing that they would be able to keep going to schools where every child had married parents with a college education without open racism and the Southerners wouldn’t.”

(I see the fast-changing language around homosexuality as the next iteration of the same thing.)

53

Anarcissie 08.08.13 at 2:16 pm

In regard to the demise of legal racism, segregation, one might want to note Truman’s Executive Order 9981, which abolished discrimination in the Armed Forces in 1948 and led to their desegregation over the next few years. Truman wasn’t operating in a political vacuum; it is pretty clear that the preponderance of the U.S. ruling class had decided to terminate the old racial order regardless of what the folk thought about it. Operating through the presidency avoided the need to fight things through Congress.

54

Barry 08.08.13 at 2:21 pm

Random Lurker 08.07.13 at 11:08 pm

” Plus, the logic of capitalism in itself is antiracist .”

No, it’s not. An excellent example, Captain, would be from your own planet Earth, in the region known as ‘The United States of America’. This, of course, would be long before WWII, the Eugenics Wars, and the formation of the United Federation of Planets. In ‘The United States of America’, racist justifications were used for the primary capitalist system of the time, the mass production of ‘cotton’, a plant-derived fiber used in textile industries.

55

Barry 08.08.13 at 2:22 pm

Matthew Stevens: “Even the most hidebound reactionaries realize that Jim Crow was a waste of time. Since segregation = racism, and they aren’t segregationists (or Nazis), they aren’t racists.”

No, the most hidebound reactionaries realize that they’ve got to be careful in what they say in public.

56

Matt McIrvin 08.08.13 at 2:22 pm

Martin Luther King has been dead long enough that he can be turned into a nonthreatening symbol free of any challenging content. Since the most famous sentence in his most famous cultural product, the “Dream” speech, can be removed from cultural context and twisted into an argument against affirmative action, he’s also a convenient one to appropriate.

It’s as simple as that. He was much more controversial even in the 1980s, when the official King holiday started being a thing.

57

Matt McIrvin 08.08.13 at 2:29 pm

…On the larger question of how racism became taboo, I think I agree with Belle: it isn’t, or rather it’s only taboo to a really superficial degree. That that superficial degree is there is pretty much entirely down to intense concerted civil-rights action in the mid- to late 20th century.

I think younger people are definitely less racist than older ones, but that doesn’t mean they’re not racist. It’s going to be a long time going.

58

bob mcmanus 08.08.13 at 2:40 pm

” Plus, the logic of capitalism in itself is antiracist .”

No the logic of capitalism is to create or emphasize difference, to create gradients in value from which use-value can be commodified into the universal exchange value of money. The most profitable differences will change over time.

Racism and anti-racism, and their conflict are profit centers, but less profitable than they use to be.

59

Dingbat 08.08.13 at 2:43 pm

Isn’t it the label itself? Was the term “racism” ever applied to what we now call “scientific racism”? Or was “racism” –the term–invented and always conceived of as something bad?

Once a concept is defined as bad–sinful, even–it’s really hard to get rid of that taint. Compare the history of “homosexuality”–conceived of as an aberration at best and a mortal sin at worst–and “feminism”–once it became ok to paint “feminism” as a radical extremism, it’s already a tainted object.

(This was before the days of co-opting negative terms–which really doesn’t fly with the middle class anyhow, and after the days when you could have an “antidisestablishmentarian” party which I don’t even know what…)

60

Dingbat 08.08.13 at 2:44 pm

Or, to answer the simple question simply:

This is the way taboos work.

61

Wonks Anonymous 08.08.13 at 2:47 pm

62

Mao Cheng Ji 08.08.13 at 2:52 pm

The logic of capitalism is not anti-racist, it’s color-blind.

63

John Holbo 08.08.13 at 2:59 pm

I think the conversation is migrating over to Belle’s thread, which is fine. Must keep up with the changing times! But here are a few last notes. First, it’s not sufficient to say ‘he’s been dead for long enough that he’s safe to be saint.’ That’s necessary but not sufficient. It’s not as though Betty Friedan is getting canonized, as a feminist for all of us, or Rachel Carson, as an environmentalist. Now I know they didn’t get assassinated. Fair enough. But there’s no reason why people who are hostile to feminism or environmentalism can’t go on feeling very hostile to feminists or environmentalists who’ve been dead for a while. Likewise, it’s not hard to imagine a parallel world in which MLK makes it to the top of the list of left-wing villains, in right-wing eyes, on account of his championship of ‘social justice’. Why aren’t we in that world?

Bad Jim makes the point that the US was founded on anti-racism. Says so right on the box. ‘All men are created equal.’ I really should have said more about this in the post. I should have included it on my list of 10 – maybe rolling it into number 10 explicitly. There is a simple argument for ‘racism bad’ and people came to accept it. I didn’t say this because emphasizing the ‘says so right on the box’ argument makes it seem sensible and obvious and intutive that ‘no racism’ would be an imperative. But that masks the point I wanted to make, which is, I think, a valid one. Why in 1963 – or, more realistically 1980, or 1990 – rather than 1880 or 1890? When, in fact, things were moving rapidly in the wrong direction, with the dismantlement of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow and all that? Why did Americans suddenly start taking their nominal commitments so much more seriously, setting this high bar for themselves? And yet, of course, because the bar is so high, they end up still being only nominal commitments. I shouldn’t have downplayed the ‘America was founded anti-racist’ line, just because I was trying to channel Coates for the length of a comment. America was founded with moral contradictons about this issue. That’s a fairer way to put it. But that doesn’t answer the question. (That’s my point!) Why did the contradictions break one way at a certain point, rather than breaking some other way, the way they’d been breaking for the previous 200 years, i.e. racism ok?

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pedant 08.08.13 at 3:02 pm

aspergum @ 51 (or whatever CT decides to re-number it to):

“The men declared equal were, explicitly, white men”

No, it really was not explicit in the Declaration, at all. If it had been, then a central theme of the Lincoln-Douglas debates would have been irrelevant. The only thing that the Declaration says explicitly is, “all men are created equal.” Douglas and others argued that this was *implicitly* restricted to white Northern Europeans; Lincoln argued that it really applied to men of all races.

As far as I can tell, Douglas was making it up. And his view–that the “all” in the declaration had secret, invisible-ink restrictions to “all white northern europeans”–seems to have been a fabrication that only comes into ideology pretty late in the day, e.g. 1840s and 1850s.

The default view was that “all men” meant all men. One strong confirmation of this point is the Cornerstone Speech of Alexander Stephens, the VP of the Confederacy. He is a stone-cold racist and white supremacist. Does he think that the Declaration’s claim was restricted to whites? Not at all: he reads it just the way Lincoln does, and concludes that Jefferson was simply flat wrong. On the point of interpretation, a leading theorist of white supremacy agreed that the Declaration’s claim of equality was not in any way restricted to white people. That’s why he thought it so pernicious!

Anyhow–the debate over the interpretation shows that there was no such “explicit” restriction as you imagine.

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Billikin 08.08.13 at 3:37 pm

“Why in 1963 – or, more realistically 1980, or 1990 – rather than 1880 or 1890?”

Perhaps one short answer is that during Reconstruction the terrorists won. In the 1950s and 60s the Feds won. At the time of the Ole Miss riot I was at a church meeting where we were discussing the possibility, unaware that it had already started. A few years later I was on the highway to Memphis when an excited radio reporter announced that James Meredith had been shot and killed. (It turned out that he had survived the shooting.) Not to mention the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, and the murders of other civil rights workers. Not to mention the Birmingham church bombing. Not to mention Emmett Till and the long history of racial lynching. I fully expected a long and violent resistance to desegregation. But this time the terrorists lost.

I was surprised in the 1970s to see how much the South had changed in a few years. The long bloodbath had not occurred. I thought that it might be a result of the conformity of the South. The battle for segregation had been lost and integration was the law of the land. People accepted that. They adjusted. They conformed.

Things continue to change, slowly. A couple of years ago my mother attended an interracial wedding. Her bridge circle had decided to chip in together to get a wedding gift. One woman objected, but Mom and the others cajoled her into chipping in. But twenty years ago my mother believed that interracial marriage was wrong.

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bob mcmanus 08.08.13 at 3:49 pm

The logic of capitalism is not anti-racist, it’s color-blind.

I disagree. This would involve abstracting capitalisms from their local material historical conditions.

Some 19th century capitalisms, as said above, used racism for imperialism, chattel slavery, and to sustain political rivalries. It’s very much like, and connected to, nationalism and internationalism/globalism, they connect and intersect in ways that create arbitrage opportunities.

Rainbow kids singing: “I’d like to buy the world a Coke (instead of Pepsi), in perfect harmony.” But if everybody drank Coke, then capitalism would create a competitor. See the “1984” commercial:”We’re rebels, we use Apple computers, we’re not like everybody else.”

Creating (and destroying) identities to sustain and accelerate consumption is a large part of what late capitalism does.

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marcel 08.08.13 at 4:22 pm

JH wrote:

Think about how, at every stage, the New Deal required exclusion of blacks, to win sufficient white support. Racism is acceptable. And then it very absolutely isn’t.

What about what is going on this summer, mostly in states that were briefly in the CSA, to restrict the effective franchise (e.g., this)? If the racism behind these moves were explicit, it would make the legal cases against them much, much easier. So it is acceptable except to the extent that there are legal consequences (or economic ones: think of threatened boycotts surrounding state non-approval of MLK Day or the Confederate Battle Flag).

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Mao Cheng Ji 08.08.13 at 4:24 pm

Slavery is not a capitalist institution, and imperialism is about acquiring resources and markets.

Shakespearean Shylock was rich, but he had to live in the ghetto. Under capitalism poor people live in the ghetto, regardless of religion or ancestry. Shylock and Antonio both live in East Hampton, next to each other.

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John Holbo 08.08.13 at 5:41 pm

“What about what is going on this summer, mostly in states that were briefly in the CSA, to restrict the effective franchise (e.g., this)?”

It’s very important, both legally and for purposes of keeping up a front of public moral acceptability, that these sorts of measures are strictly only intended to prevent voter fraud. This is transparent nonsense – a solution in search of a problem, fraud-wise – but the fiction must be rigorously maintained. By contrast, I think, no one involved in passing New Deal measures that excluded blacks attempted to conceal that this was the intent and effect. Indeed, my impression is that this had to be done fairly openly, because it was a selling point.

I don’t think it’s right that the people proposing these restrictions on voting would be explicit about their intentions if they didn’t have to worry about legal stuff. If there were no legal issues, there would still be moral concerns. Trying to exclude blacks (and other minorities) from voting offends against ‘no racism’. Someone who said, in no uncertain terms, ‘we are doing this to prevent blacks from voting’ would be a moral pariah. This is something that is true now that was very definitely not true before 1963.

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Barry 08.08.13 at 5:42 pm

Mao Cheng Ji 08.08.13 at 4:24 pm

” Slavery is not a capitalist institution, “
Why does everybody keep saying that – it’s all about acquiring and exploiting (human) capital.

“and imperialism is about acquiring resources and markets.”

And that’s not capitalism?

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Doctor Slack 08.08.13 at 5:44 pm

Hey, Ronan(rf) at #49, where’s that quote you give pulled from? I’d be interested in reading the rest of that interview.

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Ronan(rf) 08.08.13 at 5:52 pm

Here you are

http://www.bostonreview.net/fiction/varieties-blackness

It’s fairly wide ranging, not all about this topic, that bit just stayed with me

73

Doctor Slack 08.08.13 at 5:52 pm

Barry: Why does everybody keep saying that

Partly because it was the common wisdom at one time — a “wisdom” that has survived in fossilized forms since — that because slavery was “irrational” and “primitive” and enervated the (white) work ethic, it had to be Other than capitalism, which was all things Industry: shiny and rational and modern and not identified with agrarianism (the way slavery was pre- the Civil War) and, of course, not dependent on living among and bossing a bunch of filthy no-account Africans.

Partly because admitting that slavery is perfectly compatible with capitalism (as the South proved by using slavery under a different name to industrialize post-Reconstruction) means admitting an uncomfortable continuity between the modern economy and the antebellum South, like among other things that the American prison-industrial complex is basically a spayed and sanitized version of the South’s old convict leasing system.

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Doctor Slack 08.08.13 at 5:53 pm

Thanks, Ronan.

75

John Holbo 08.08.13 at 5:57 pm

“Perhaps one short answer is that during Reconstruction the terrorists won.”

But my question is WHY. Making ‘no racism’ an axiom makes it the sort of thing concerning which you don’t ask, seriously: why do we think this? (We could so easily and understandably have NOT thought this.) This is good, in a way. But it promotes a certain amount of forgetting, I think even among people who are substantially in the remembering stuff about race business. That is, I think it’s possible to read a lot of good, intelligent, thoughtful, incise stuff about the evolution of race relations and attitudes and actually not emerge with an answer to my question. (I’m not trying to defend the importance of my question. I’m not sure how important it is. I’m trying to defend its specificity, which I think some commenters have missed.)

76

LFC 08.08.13 at 6:12 pm

John Holbo in the OP:
It’s so obvious to us, now, that ‘don’t be racist’ is a categorical imperative. How did it get that way? In our public morality? In our personal moral self-conceptions?

JH posed this question in the OP and then has proceeded to re-pose it his thread comments.

But how about ‘don’t be sexist’? Isn’t that a similar categorical imperative today? Are there any even rabid anti-feminists who would get up on a soapbox today and proclaim: “I am a sexist. I believe women are inferior to men”? Few if any, I would think. It’s usu. more limited — e.g. “women are worse at certain things like science” — and even then all **** hits the fan (cf. Summers, L.).

Or how about the statement ‘war is glorious and healthy for the species’? That was the kind of thing that plenty of serious Western intellectuals said before 1914. No one says it today. Even if someone is still nuts enough to think it, no one says it. Not in that way.

There is a fairly large lit. on norm change. I don’t know, but it’s possible JH may find the beginnings of an answer to his question there. IOW, don’t look specifically to the lit. on race for the answer. Look at accounts of how norms and practices changed in other areas (e.g. duelling, for one example).

In short, JH’s specific question is an special case of the more general question “how does it become unacceptable to say/believe X?” There are other cases of this, I think, not just the racism case.

77

LFC 08.08.13 at 6:13 pm

shd be “a special case”

78

Anderson 08.08.13 at 6:14 pm

“Why Is Racism Unacceptable?”

Because the Nazis ruined it for everyone.

79

Doctor Slack 08.08.13 at 6:15 pm

Well, if we’re talking about something beyond the specific dynamics of race relations in America, surely the more generaly “why” behind the collapse of racism is that its scientific authority collapsed in the early 20th century, right? That was the point at which “racism” in fact came into focus as a thing, because it became increasingly clear that a whole spectrum of biological, anthropological, historical, economic and social theories about “race” were really pseudoscience that didn’t stand up to deeper scrutiny.

80

marcel 08.08.13 at 6:18 pm

LFC wrote:

Or how about the statement ‘war is glorious and healthy for the species’? That was the kind of thing that plenty of serious Western intellectuals said before 1914. No one says it today.

Not that I’ve read him more than once or twice, but I am under the impression that this is pretty much exactly what VD Hansen was saying in the run-up to our invasion of Iraq, and then for most of the rest of that war as well? If not the species, then civilization.

81

Rmj 08.08.13 at 6:19 pm

But my question is WHY.

Best answer I can give is to use Wendell Berry’s term, and call it America’s “hidden wound.” It was slavery based not on conquest (military victory, that is), but on skin color and technology (we could capture them, or buy them from other Africans, and chain them, and enslave them. So we did.) It was always the “peculiar institution” and a shameful project from the get go, even as it enforced the notion of racial superiority (“white” v. “black”). Overt racism was “they” deserved it; covert (crypto-, to use one term from above) was to say “it’s just the way things are.” Sort of like the British ruling classes kept servants in their place based on ancestry and social power, v. skin color.

Maybe. Anyway.

So as we moved further and further from slavery, while it was still “the way things are (or should be)” for blacks to be inferior de jure and de facto, it was never acceptable to be openly superior about it (undemocratic, donchaknow?). Racism proclaims superiority. Let’s not do that. Let’s just agree “they” are lazy and shiftless and just want free color TeeVees (I can remember people saying that and nobody considered it racist at all!). Oh, and sometimes they’re “uppity.”

And a lot happened, like the civil rights movement, which took two decades or more. And Malcolm X scaring lots of white people. And even Dick Gregory writing “Nigger,” his autobiography, which made white people begin to realize (among other sources) just how truly ugly that word was. And “Black Like Me” made us see what racism really did, even for those of us who didn’t think we were racist. And “Invisible Man.” And on and on.

Pebbles leading to a landslide, in other words. But blatant white supremacist racism was always too raw and ugly for popular consumption. And what is now considered “racist” is pretty much what was considered racist back in the day: overt, “skin-head” type attitudes; and especially when associated with neo-Nazis, is especially too ugly for public display (and there’s another cause of the turn in attitude; the horrors of WWII, Truman’s integration order, and the dawning horror of the systematic institutional racism of the Nazis). We also saw it on our teevees and in print: Bull Connor and Selma, Lord, Selma; and King in jail in Birmingham. Finally racism got driven undergound, and we thought (we=”white” America) we were done with it.

Because it is our hidden wound, and it’s 400+ years deep, and we don’t now how to heal from it, so we just hope it will go away; when, in fact, we are akin to the Fisher King, except we don’t keep the Holy Grail…..

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Doctor Slack 08.08.13 at 6:23 pm

Victor Davis Hanson’s views on the glories of war are very, shall we say, situational. at any rate Iraq was barely supposed to be a war. It was supposed to be a few days mopping up some old business from the Nineties and an eternity of being showered with petals (and oil) as “liberators” by the grateful newly-democratic Iraqis.

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Doctor Slack 08.08.13 at 6:25 pm

(The above in reply to marcel at #80.)

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John Holbo 08.08.13 at 6:35 pm

“But how about ‘don’t be sexist’? Isn’t that a similar categorical imperative today.”

Wot’s wrong wiff bein sexy?

Spinal Tap aside. I thought about generalizing in this way in the post but decided against it because I think you run against some complications. I’m not sure how signficant they are but they threatened to make a long post much longer, so I backed out. It’s considered acceptable to be strongly anti-feminist. ‘Feminism’, unlike ‘civil rights’, is a dirty word for lots of folks, men and women. And yet, and yet. Everyone is pretty much signed on for everything that counted as feminism for the longest time. Votes and ok to work and have a career and so forth. So why doesn’t everyone say, ‘of course I’m a feminist, but … ‘ rather than ‘I’m not a feminist, that’s just man-hatred.’ Moving right along: It’s not ok to be ‘sexist’. Yes. That’s pretty much right. So how did ‘feminism’ get separated from ‘anti-sexism’. Obviously ‘feminism’ has much the same status as ‘affirmative action’. For many it is a symbol of reverse discrimination and overreach and etc. Not sure what to say about how that came to be, terminologically. Also, there’s a lot less third rail sensitivity. Being sexist is bad, but being racist is terrible. Lots of images in public/pop culture – ads and magazines and on and on on web – are plausibly sexist. Pr0n usually is, and there’s lots of that. But if your image is as plausibly racist as tons of other images are plausibly sexist, you are in more trouble, usually. Fashion mags shrug off being called sexist, mostly. But they are sensitive about charges of racism. Racism is a felony, whereas sexism is just a misdemeanor. Usually.

Your point is basically right but I think – probably this will not surprise you – it needs a lot of careful tweaking.

85

LFC 08.08.13 at 6:43 pm

“needs a lot of careful tweaking”

agreed. or at least *some* tweaking.

86

LFC 08.08.13 at 6:48 pm

marcel @80
the species/civilization distinction is important.
VDH might have said the latter, I doubt he said the former. (But Dr Slack is more familiar w VDH than I am.)

87

Rich Puchalsky 08.08.13 at 7:08 pm

“Why in 1963 – or, more realistically 1980, or 1990 – rather than 1880 or 1890?”

I wrote this above, but I think that you can’t underestimate the formal political victories of the Civil Rights Movement. Once people get equality at the highest level — the governmental, citizenship level — all of the other forms of racism persist, but you’ve made formal victories untenable. And without that, all of the “I don’t want them living in my neighborhood”, “I don’t want one marrying my daughter” BS doesn’t become *politics* as people think of politics any more. (Of course, people here think that it still is, but that’s a different subject.) It just becomes a set of personal prejudices. (Of course, people here think that they’re social rather than personal, but etc.) There’s no victory possible except for white people continually being jerks in their personal relations. And that just isn’t tenable indefinitely.

That may just bring up the question of why did the Civil Rights Movement succeed then and not earlier. But that’s another thread, I think.

Note that if the conservative Supreme Court succeeds in chipping away at formal rights enough, all of that racism will lose its “you can’t say that” status very quickly.

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Doctor Slack 08.08.13 at 7:15 pm

Rmj at 81: But blatant white supremacist racism was always too raw and ugly for popular consumption.

What does “always” mean here? Blatant white supremacist racism was the public popular consensus up until around WW2 as far as I can tell.

89

Main Street Muse 08.08.13 at 8:22 pm

“How does a nation founded on white supremacy talk itself into this very demanding norm of anti-racism? Think about how, at every stage, the New Deal required exclusion of blacks, to win sufficient white support. Racism is acceptable. And then it very absolutely isn’t.”

This nation did not “talk” its way into this “demanding norm of anti-racisim.” Where we are today – professions of equality continually beaten with the sticks and stones tossed by racists of every economic class – has been a hard-fought war. With war heroes of its own (MLK being one of them.)

You seem to be ignoring the long slog of civil rights activism – it didn’t emerge like a butterfly from a cocoon in 1963 when King spoke in DC or in 1955 when Till was slaughtered or when Rosa sat down. Frederick Douglass, former slave and abolitionist was a strong voice – and what about the person who taught him to read when it was illegal to do so? A subversive act if there ever was one. The history of the United States is filled with great and small actions that helped us get to this “demanding norm…”

I highly recommend a reread of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Or see the movie. One of the rare adaptations that is as good as the book.

90

Rmj 08.08.13 at 9:04 pm

What does “always” mean here? Blatant white supremacist racism was the public popular consensus up until around WW2 as far as I can tell.

Then I guess we’d disagree on what “blatant white supremacist racism” is; because I’ve seen it, and it’s pretty damned ugly. A lot uglier than just making sure blacks drink from the right water fountains.

But that’s one of the issues we always come back to here: the question of definition.

91

Kindred Winecoff 08.08.13 at 9:18 pm

Marx on slavery (in 1847):

“Direct slavery is just as much the pivot of bourgeois
industry as machinery, credits, etc. Without slavery you
have no cotton; without cotton you have no modern industry.
It is slavery that has given the colonies their value; it is the
colonies that have created world trade, and it is world
trade that is the pre-condition of large-scale industry.
Thus slavery is an economic category of the greatest
importance.
Without slavery North America, the roost progressive of
countries, would be transformed into a patriarchal country.
Wipe out North America from the map of the world, and
you will have anarchy — the complete decay of modern
commerce and civilisation. Cause slavery to disappear and
you will have wiped America off the map of nations.
Thus slavery, because it is an economic category, has
always existed among the institutions of the peoples.
Modern nations have been able only to disguise slavery in
their own countries, but they have imposed it without
disguise upon the New World.”

Some of that is pretty clearly wrong — eliminating slavery in North America just a few years later did not end capitalism or wipe America off the map — but the point is that “direct” slavery is one stage in the historical process of development. For this reason Marx applauded the Union’s cause in the American Civil War.

Race-based slavery predates capitalism, so capitalism is not a necessary condition for racism or slavery. It is true that slavery is perfectly compatible with capitalism in its early stages, and in fact provides an added incentive to engage in slave-making as well as the means to do so. It is also true that in 100% of observed cases “direct” slavery (of the 18th-19th century kind) has not persisted in any economy where capitalism has matured. A dynamic view inspired by Marx might conclude that late-stage capitalism is incompatible with the direct form of slavery. If so, and if racism was primarily a justification for slavery rather than the other way around (as I believe), then perhaps the answer to the OP’s question is: American capitalism matured from 1865-1965 or so to a sufficient point that the legal structure had to be altered — after having previously done the same from 1765-1865 — and once the legal structure was altered the culture adapted to the new reality. (Altho, personally, I’d emphasize the role of the postwar American hegemonic project in the timing of this.) Or, to use Marx’s language, the commodification of labor under capitalism erodes *but does not completely erase* more provincial notions of social groupings (which are a product of false consciousness anyway); the remnants are what was called “prejudice” up-thread, and this prejudice is most pronounced where class struggles are most pronounced.

We could tweak/contort our definition “slavery” to be inclusive of other (“indirect”) forms of servitude or drudgery — e.g. sweatshops — but a Marxian view would maintain that these represent improvements from what came before — i.e. feudalism or direct slavery — no matter how terrible they are, are temporary conditions, and will be swept away in due course by political means (he seems to be wrong about the necessity/desirability of revolution and may be wrong about the non-viability of Gotha-like programs, but is perceptive otherwise). These forms of indirect “slavery” exist in places where capitalism has *least* penetrated the culture.

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Doctor Slack 08.08.13 at 9:47 pm

Some of that is pretty clearly wrong — eliminating slavery in North America just a few years later did not end capitalism or wipe America off the map

It’s not wrong, since North America did not “eliminate slavery.” It eliminated plantation chattel slavery and the agrarian planter class, which was swiftly replaced with convict leasing — which was literally the criminalization of being a Southern black, in a public place, and not engaged in slave labour — and debt peonage, both of which persisted down to just after the Second World War and were instrumental in the industrialization of the South.

These were not slavery in some abstract, metaphorical, “tweaked” or otherwised forced sense of the term. They were literal variants of slavery. The Constitutional Amendment that made way for them — convict leasing particularly — was frank and specific about this.

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Doctor Slack 08.08.13 at 9:55 pm

Then I guess we’d disagree on what “blatant white supremacist racism” is; because I’ve seen it, and it’s pretty damned ugly.

Wow, no kidding. You’ve really been in The Suck, huh? I shall proceed with due deference, then.

I am defining “blatant white supremacist racism” as the blatant contention that society should be organized for the benefit and privilege of something designated as “the White race,” with other considerations being secondary. I would defense “extreme white supremacist racism” as the version of this that comes with burning crosses, hoods, nooses and swastikas in. One has tended to bleed into another, but in general I would argue that it is not correct to say that North American society pre- the Civil Rights movement, and especially pre- the Second World War, was not a frank and open example of the former.

(This, perhaps, does not meet the threshold of being “ugly” if it wasn’t aimed at your sort of person. I get that. Nevertheless it remains blatant white supremacism. It’s also worth remembering that a lot of bigoted people are in the habit of soothing themselves with the proposition that if they’re not skinheads or Klansmen, they can’t “really” be racists.)

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Doctor Slack 08.08.13 at 9:56 pm

I would defense “extreme white supremacist racism”

s/b I would define [& c.]

95

Kindred Winecoff 08.08.13 at 10:07 pm

“It eliminated plantation chattel slavery and the agrarian planter class… “

Which is pretty clearly what Marx is referring to when he writes of “direct” slavery which used forced labor to pick the cotton needed for industrial production (which is why I used the modifier “direct” right after the part you quoted). Plantation chattel slavery is the “economic condition” that Marx is describing. When that ended North America was not wiped off the map, nor did modern commerce and civilization completely decay, nor did anarchy ensue. So Marx was wrong on this particular point even though he was correct about much of the rest of it.

96

Doctor Slack 08.08.13 at 10:10 pm

He was wrong about the diverse applications of slavery, yes.

97

Mao Cheng Ji 08.08.13 at 10:11 pm

“Racism is a felony, whereas sexism is just a misdemeanor.”

Because sexism only leads to some unhappy housewives, nothing that can’t be fixed by Dr. Freeman’s icepick. And racism leads to the Black Panthers, riots, anarchy, and collapse. Big difference.

98

lupita 08.08.13 at 10:49 pm

Not all slavery was like in the US, based on race. Actually, race-based slavery was somewhat of an anomaly. For example, during the enslavement of Indians in colonial Mexico, Aztec aristocrats were honored as such, educated, and ordained as priests, they lived in luxury, spoke Latin, traveled across the ocean to meet the king of Spain, wrote the history of the conquest from their point of view, and owned slaves. Actually, the whole colonial system was kept in place by winning over the Indian overlords and according them a high-status level in society. While US race-based slavery mutated into racial segregation with misogyny laws, Mexican slavery turned into classism with a mostly Indian underclass, a political class that did not exclude any race or mixture, and no misogyny laws.

Non-race-based slavery (Mexico) was much more prevalent than race-based slavery (US) and racial segregation only existed in South Africa while still practiced in the US. I think the reason Americans are more acutely aware of and less tolerant of expressions of racism than other nationalities is because racism is integral to its social history. It is a feature and not a bug.

99

lupita 08.08.13 at 10:53 pm

Oops, its miscegeny, not misogyny. I think. I comes out underlined in red.

100

Jeff R. 08.08.13 at 11:00 pm

I think that the ‘Nazis ruined it’ explanation really does work. 1963 is 19 years after 1944; just enough time for the first cohort after WWII to rise; just a few years after that previous generation had to explain the Nazis to their children.

101

Doctor Slack 08.08.13 at 11:03 pm

African race-based slavery made its way to Mexico too, I’m pretty sure? Although it didn’t have the prominence it achieved in American history. Hence the Costa Chica?

102

lupita 08.08.13 at 11:15 pm

@Doctor Slack

Yes, African slaves were also shipped to Mexico, however, they could be freed by their master. Slaves were part of a social category, not a racial one, which does not mean that slavery was any less brutal in Mexico than in the US. The difference is in how slavery based on social status plays out differently than race-based slavery down the road. For example, one of Mexico’s “founding fathers”, (insurgents rather than intellectuals), Morelos, was black and while Lincoln was fighting a civil war, Mexico elected its first Indian president.

103

LongHairedWeirdo 08.08.13 at 11:21 pm

Consider this…

If racism is completely, hideously unacceptable, then in order to suggest someone is racist, or has racist ideas, or behaved in a racist manner, is a Serious Issue, and you’d better have Serious Evidence to prove such a Serious Accusation. The only thing worse than racism itself is to falsely accuse people of racism, because every good person knows that racism is so utterly vile.

It’s an easy way to make most racism acceptable because it’s difficult to prove (“the cop thought you looked suspicious, for reasons that surely had *nothing* to do with race!”) while pretending that you care only for its elimination.

104

Jonas 08.09.13 at 1:00 am

@103: That’s not how taboos work. Consider rape/pedophilia accusations. They’re easy to make against low status people. Against high status people (e.g. Catholic Church), it generally causes a group denial as everyone gets uneasy.

105

Eric H 08.09.13 at 1:34 am

The self-deception in this thread is interesting. Eugenics are mentioned only once explicitly, and implicitly several times. This was a favorite theme of early 20th century Progressives, but the Nazis did indeed ruin it for everyone and now everyone wants to deny that part of the legacy (remember this every time you think you have discredited all libertarianism on the basis of something Hayek wrote). The people voting against the Civil Rights Act may have been conservative, but were not all Republican by a long shot. One of the anti-rights voters fathered a Democratic presidential nominee. Do you really think no Democrats are racist, if perhaps covertly so? (not claiming this is true of Al Gore Jr) You really need to get out and meet more people; offhand, I can think of a half dozen racist Dems who would nevertheless be voting for the Social Democrat party if we had such a thing.

Sure, there are some overt racists; they are generally powerless and ostracized. So long as racism continues to be perceived as something other people do, especially people in the other party, or so long as racism is something that we wink at when people with whom we otherwise agree do it, we will not get beyond it.

106

Doctor Slack 08.09.13 at 1:40 am

The weirdly revealing defensiveness in your post is also interesting, Eric H. In fact nobody in this thread has said racism is confined to one party, or to “conservatives” only at all times in history, or to Republicans.

(Being on a site where one expects to find informed and honest people in the comments threads, nobody has explicitly spelled out that the Southern Strategy was about the Republicans outmaneuvering the Democrats in the South by appealing to racist and segregationist values. But then, one shouldn’t need to, since in responsible company there shouldn’t be a wingnut coming over the horizon having angry disputes with the voices in his head.)

107

Doctor Slack 08.09.13 at 1:43 am

Oh, this is comedy gold, though: Sure, there are some overt racists; they are generally powerless and ostracized.

Well… this is probably true… ish… of the party which isn’t currently built around various refittings of the Southern Strategy. And probably not true of the party that is. Which party is which, Eric? You don’t get to pretend they’re equivalent.

108

John Holbo 08.09.13 at 7:03 am

Eric H, I don’t see how I could possibly think that no Dems have ever been racist, given that I obviously think it’s a striking fact that the New Deal left African-Americans out, by design. (Are you hinting that I don’t know the New Deal was a Democratic project? If so, then why are you attributing such odd views to me?) As is well known, there has been significant realignment, with Dems improving relative to Reps on the race question, and Republicans getting worse, even while the country as a whole gets better. This goes along with the Dems losing their grip on the South – as LBJ said they would – and the Reps becoming increasingly a Southern party. Are you arguing the there-was-no-Southern-Strategy line? If so, I have to say I think that line is a loser. If not, then I really don’t see what you are getting at. The true things you are saying – ugly history of the Dems, progressives being too enthusiastic about eugenics – are well known and quite consistent with what is said in the post and thread. So what’s your point?

109

Belle Waring 08.09.13 at 12:10 pm

Mao Cheng Ji: “Shakespearean Shylock was rich, but he had to live in the ghetto. Under capitalism poor people live in the ghetto, regardless of religion or ancestry. Shylock and Antonio both live in East Hampton, next to each other.” I feel we should note that Shylock still can’t get into the Maidstone Club, so it’s not as if they’re next to each other next to each other.

110

Billikin 08.09.13 at 1:28 pm

Moi: “Perhaps one short answer is that during Reconstruction the terrorists won.”

John Holbo: “But my question is WHY.”

Having grown up in the South, it seems to me that Southern society is quite conformist, at least by comparison with the rest of the US. And that means that to a degree, might makes right, because people conform to the dictates of the powerful. I also think that there is a high incidence of authoritarian personality types in the South, who will not only defer to the views of the powerful, but embrace them. So I do think that part of the reason that racism is widely unacceptable today, even in the South, is that the Feds won the civil rights battles of the 1950s and 60s.

Now, institutionalized racism is quite acceptable today, in part because it is not recognized as such. Vide Justice Scalia’s remarks about “racial entitlements”, in which he ignores the entrenched entitlements of whites.

111

Rich Puchalsky 08.09.13 at 1:54 pm

“So I do think that part of the reason that racism is widely unacceptable today, even in the South, is that the Feds won the civil rights battles of the 1950s and 60s.”

I know that this use of “the Feds” is shorthand, but it’s not like the Feds just decided to set out on this campaign. Or anyways, if you think they did, it’s really a different theory than saying that the Civil Rights Movement won.

We did have a recent thread here characterized by “those abolitionists were too stupid and contrarian to even vote for Lincoln”, so I think it’s more important than usual to keep bringing up that while actions of the Feds really are important, it’s not like they just set out on them unmotivated by social movements.

112

Barry 08.09.13 at 2:41 pm

Eric H 08.09.13 at 1:34 am

” The self-deception in this thread is interesting.”

So is the Freudian projection :)

” Eugenics are mentioned only once explicitly, and implicitly several times. This was a favorite theme of early 20th century Progressives, but the Nazis did indeed ruin it for everyone and now everyone wants to deny that part of the legacy (remember this every time you think you have discredited all libertarianism on the basis of something Hayek wrote). “

The difference is that if you go into a progressive, liberal or leftist discussion, and bring up eugenics, no progressive, liberal or leftist will support it.

If you go into a Hayekian discussion, and bring up Pinochet, a number of them will support him, and lie through their teeth to do so.

113

Barry 08.09.13 at 2:52 pm

Rich Puchalsky 08.08.13 at 7:08 pm

” That may just bring up the question of why did the Civil Rights Movement succeed then and not earlier. But that’s another thread, I think.”

IMO, there were several causal forces:

1) WWII, which required the mobilization of labor to a high degree, and made use of/offered opportunities to black people unthinkable beforehand. It also ‘swirled’ people in the USA around the country and around the world. Imagine what happened to a 20-year old person in 1940, over the next five years? If male, they probably moved around more and lived with more and different people than their parents had in their entire lives (and maybe their grandparents, as well). If female, they probably did things and move around a lot, and saw a lot of strange men coming through.

2) Cameras – by the 50’s there were mass produced and sold still cameras, and movie cameras were obtainable. This broke open previously closed sectors of society.

3) TV – motion pictures in people’s homes were showing them things on a daily basis that they might not have seen 20 years ago.

114

Some Body 08.09.13 at 3:29 pm

Which immediately reminded me of this contribution to public discourse in another country: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.540278

115

politicalfootball 08.09.13 at 3:38 pm

and now everyone wants to deny that part of the legacy

No, everyone wants to repudiate that part of the legacy. A different thing. (As others have pointed out.)

116

AcademicLurker 08.09.13 at 3:47 pm

How did right wingers come to believe that “the progressives in the early 20th century supported eugenics” is some sort of devastating “gotcha” that’s supposed to render liberals speechless?

Did it get started with Jonah Goldberg?

117

politicalfootball 08.09.13 at 4:10 pm

115: Something that is probably obvious, but that I’m only now beginning to figure out, is that people like Kevin Williamson aren’t trying to be “right” in the sense that you and I are talking about. They aren’t persuadable by argument because they aren’t making what you or I would call an argument.

I still struggle, though, to understand the thing that they are doing. Suskind offered the best articulation that I’ve seen – his “reality-based community” passage – but I find it unsatisfying, because I think Suskind invites us to beg the question by assuming the superiority of the “reality-based.”

118

hapa 08.09.13 at 4:14 pm

i would’ve put ‘fear of wrath of calamitous urban uprising’ in the top ten.

119

Billikin 08.09.13 at 4:15 pm

Moi: “So I do think that part of the reason that racism is widely unacceptable today, even in the South, is that the Feds won the civil rights battles of the 1950s and 60s.”

Rich Puchalsky: “I know that this use of “the Feds” is shorthand, but it’s not like the Feds just decided to set out on this campaign.”

No, I did not mean it as shorthand. In the South, the Feds won by force of arms. Their might played an important role in the acquiescence of Southern segregationists. (In addition, the fact that they were enforcing the law carried weight.)

120

engels 08.09.13 at 4:37 pm

I think a better title for this post might be ‘why is racism officially denied’, or ‘why is racism repressed’.

121

wolfgang 08.09.13 at 5:06 pm

How about pop music? From Motown to Jimi Hendrix … you cannot really talk bad about them if you dance to their music …

122

Lee A. Arnold 08.09.13 at 5:11 pm

Hidden racism has barely abated in some areas, but it is easy to see why public racism has become unacceptable. It is because there is no countermanding document of civilization that propagates racism, so racists couldn’t fight back. It isn’t in the Bible, and it isn’t in the U.S. Constitution. If it were, we would be in a VERY different situation right now.

After that, I think it is partly due to children. Kids tend to accept everything as having coequal status, and usually have to be taught to hate by example. When the Civil Rights Act attacked racism in public, the Vietnam War taught kids to question the values of their parents, and black actors became featured in Hollywood film and television (enormously important), then a lesser number of kids everywhere acquired racism. It becomes an anathema to discourse.

I think this generational process may be a part of the reason for acceptance of gays, too. However, on the question of homosexuality there may be a longer stronger backlash by the Biblicals, because the alternative logic is the devaluation of the Bible into a time-bound spiritual document, a reality that must be stoutly resisted by seekers who need to believe in an absolute. Indeed one of the most interesting questions in the world right now is one that has been barely thought about: how will the Pope try to square the circle? Perhaps he will point out that no one is compelled to follow the dietary restrictions in Leviticus either.

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Norwegian Guy 08.09.13 at 6:52 pm

Ronan(rf) @49,

very interesting to read about the experience of African immigrants in the United States. I believe she would have met the opposite attitudes in many European countries, where African-Americans are viewed more favorable than African immigrants. After all, African-Americans are Western, mostly Christian and fluent English speakers, unlike many immigrants from Africa. The demographics of African immigrants in the US is probably different than in Europe, though.

Holbo @84:

So why doesn’t everyone say, ‘of course I’m a feminist, but … ‘

You will hear that with some regularity in Scandinavia, where right-of-centre women sometimes proclaim themselves as ‘bourgeois feminists’. I’d say sexism is less socially acceptable than racism here. In fact, while racists are usually also sexist, they will often use anti-sexism to justify their racism, along the lines of “let’s get rid of the immigrants, they’re so hopelessly sexist”.

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Stu 08.09.13 at 7:06 pm

11. It’s a heat shield, or a way to circumvent having the conversation entirely. Because why? Because white people don’t care about black people.

Now if you say that to a white person, they’ll get defensive, like, “Hey, I’m not a racist!” Like whoa, why go there? Why make the debate so uncivil all a sudden?

Remember when Kanye West said the same thing about George Bush on live TV during a Katrina benefit? (“George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”) That was probably one of the most misinterpreted statements in the history of TV. No, white people, he didn’t say George Bush *hates* black people, he said he *doesn’t care* about black people. Those 2 things are substantively different. But white people would rather answer to the charge of racism than to indifference, because it’s easier to forgo the use of the n-word than it is to actually show you care.

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Shepherd Moon 08.09.13 at 7:17 pm

@”Random Lurker”:
You said:
——
I’ll propose that there were two historic accidents that made racism unacceptable :
1) Hitler! (Your point 9)
2) decolonisation
Those two elements destroyed “scientific” racism, and the rest was just a long fight against acquired but outdated tradition .
Plus, the logic of capitalism in itself is antiracist .
—–

Those are really good points., especially about Hitler. That’s an “if it had been a snake” item if there ever was one.

Although, regarding the last statement, I wonder whether the converse is true – in other words, the logic of racism is anti-capitalist. By that I don’t mean that capitalism doesn’t disproportionately affect or exploit different races if possible. I mean that capitalism is happy to exploit almost anything for financial gain, but the U.S. Southern system of racism didn’t seem to want to make money that way.

Southern racism, pure supremacist racism, cannot be so economically promiscuous. First, there is principle of being better than the other race at stake. So if a member of that race happens to build a better mousetrap, in a pure racist environment who knows if it would fly. It might be suppressed assuming it isn’t directly stolen and permission given to an inventor of the dominant race. Then, as in Jim Crow, there seems to be an awful lot of waste devoted to maintaining an apartheid system.

Maybe I’m wrong about that, though, I don’t really know how those things affected the economics of the South. But it seems from what I have read that only when capitalist results fit into the supremacist framework was it allowed.

126

Meg 08.09.13 at 7:25 pm

Sesame Street.

127

occasional lurker 08.09.13 at 8:32 pm

‘you cannot really talk bad about them if you dance to their music’ (wolfgang, 120)
Oh my sweet summer child…
‘they will often use anti-sexism to justify their racism’ (Norwegian guy, 122)
Didn’t the Swedish Democrats campaign for immigrant votes as the only party to oppose gay marriage and for gay votes as the only party to oppose immigration by homophobic Muslims?

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Hector_St_Clare 08.09.13 at 9:33 pm

Re: but a Marxian view would maintain that these represent improvements from what came before — i.e. feudalism or direct slavery

Well, sort of. *Marx* and his original disciples would maintain that. But there were/are lots of different kinds of ‘Marxists’ in the 20th-21st centuries, and some of them (particularly in Latin America) expressed some sympathy for pre-capitalist modes of production. You can still see a bit of this in the Peruvian and Bolivian far-left today and their appropriation of Inca cultural imagery. Eric Hobsbawm’s discussion of peasant politics in Peru is pretty interesting along those lines.

Re: Obviously ‘feminism’ has much the same status as ‘affirmative action’. For many it is a symbol of reverse discrimination and overreach and etc.

I don’t think that’s at the core of the case against feminism. The core anti-feminist case (at least as far as I’m concerned, and I’d happily accept the label) is that men and women are ‘equal’, but are also essentially *different*, and modern feminism wants to force them into a mold where they come out looking the same.

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Hector_St_Clare 08.09.13 at 9:35 pm

Re: along the lines of “let’s get rid of the immigrants, they’re so hopelessly sexist”.

In point of fact, they’re sort of right: Pakistani and Afghan immigrants to Sweden are responsible for insanely high rates of rape and sexual assault.

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ralphdibny 08.09.13 at 9:52 pm

Late to the party, but here’s my 2 cents:

One of the big anxieties of the postwar era was the fear that Americans were too outer-directed (to use David Reisman’s term)–that we were all turning into men in grey flannel suits, etc. American individuality was seemingly on the decline, and Nazi Germany gave an excellent illustration of what happens to a culture when the populace succumbs to mass conformity.

At the same time, the symbol of rate hatred in America was a bunch of guys who put on identical white robes, completely obliterating their individual identities, in order to terrorize black Americans.

Racism came to be seen as a symptom of mass conformity, and to be a racist publicly meant that you weren’t thinking for yourself. People keep mentioning To Kill A Mockingbird, which is a perfect example of the new emphasis on individuality and how it intersected with racism. Atticus’s message to his children is to treat people as individuals, a notion that is still the central message that is supposed to be taught children about racial attitudes. (BTW, Malcolm Gladwell had a nice article in the New Yorker a few years back about the problems with Atticus’s moderate liberalism, but that would be a whole ‘nother post.) American identity has been tied in to individuality since the colonial era, of course, which is why anti-racist arguments like those in TKAM were so effective.

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Ronan(rf) 08.09.13 at 9:59 pm

Norwegian Guy

I’m not making any general claims. I agree African immigration to Europe has its own dynamics. Just thought it was an interesting perspective, and meant to highlight (which I think you’re building on?) that all these categories/identities etc play out differently depending on context

132

Ronan(rf) 08.09.13 at 10:21 pm

“In point of fact, they’re sort of right: Pakistani and Afghan immigrants to Sweden are responsible for insanely high rates of rape and sexual assault.”

Could you qualify this Hector? Or at least back it up with evidence? I know there has been stats selctively chosen that show high levels of sexual assualt/crime etc by certain groups in certain places at certain times, but I think you need more off a theory than this

133

hix 08.09.13 at 11:00 pm

” Nazism arose from that “scientific racist” tradition,”

Absolutely not.

134

Hector_St_Clare 08.09.13 at 11:27 pm

Ronan,

Yes, look up the numbers on the amount of Swedish rapes committed by foreigners.

Rape is rampant in many South Asian cultures, both Hindu and Muslim, so I’m not clear why anyone would be surprised that unassimilated South Asian immigrants commit a lot of sexual assaults. the problem with Sweden is that they’re into this multiculturalism business, and they don’t demand that the Immigrants assimilate.

135

Doctor Slack 08.09.13 at 11:38 pm

Speak of unreconstructed racism, and lo, it shall appear.

136

Hector_St_Clare 08.09.13 at 11:59 pm

I’m South Asian, idiot. The problem isn’t color, it’s culture.

137

Jamey Roberts 08.10.13 at 2:51 am

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. Then 30 years later, the SOBs are claiming they supported you all along when in fact they were operating a firehose.”

138

Jamey Roberts 08.10.13 at 3:23 am

“I don’t think that’s at the core of the case against feminism. The core anti-feminist case (at least as far as I’m concerned, and I’d happily accept the label) is that men and women are ‘equal’, but are also essentially *different*, and modern feminism wants to force them into a mold where they come out looking the same.”

The problem with that is that previous generations of women haters always rooted their case for it in the fact that they were different. This really isn’t a new wrinkle in patriarchy. They never claimed that they were just bad people who really disliked women for no reason and couldn’t help themselves. It was always because women were different and that difference was legitimate grounds for treating them different.

I take it that you would probably regard an argument that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote because they are emotional creatures incapable of rational thought to be beyond the pale. Of course, that same argument in the 17th century would have been defended not as arbitrary discrimination but as a basic matter of common sense pertaining to biological difference between the sexes. You could of course make the argument that people in the 17th century, even they might have a similar logic to their arguments were getting it wrong where as now you are getting it right. I’m betting not.

Very generically speaking, men and women are different isn’t a hard argument to make. But given the long history of prejudice masquerading as pseudo-scientific hogwash, I would think we should approach arguments rooted in basic biological differences between men and women with a high degree of suspicion.

By the way, if you would like to take this debate to a more real level, I would gladly arrange a tennis match between you and Billie Jean King.

139

Doctor Slack 08.10.13 at 3:39 am

I’m South Asian, idiot.

And that would probably work on someone who believed only whites are capable of racism.

140

Porlock Junior 08.10.13 at 5:47 am

Dingbat @ 59 asks,
“Isn’t it the label itself? Was the term “racism” ever applied to what we now call “scientific racism”? Or was “racism” –the term–invented and always conceived of as something bad?”

By the citations collected in the OED, it was an unfavorable word from the start, and it doesn’t seem to have been used by the believers in what we call “scientific racism”. But the word was used before the Fascism and National Socialism made the pseudo-scientific form infamous.

An interesting quote:
“Association of races and classes is necessary in order to destroy racism and classism.”
A good, modern sound, no? It’s from 1903, Proc. 20th Ann. Meeting Lake Mohonk Conf. Friends of Indian 1902 , and it’s the very first entry for the word.

It gained currency in the 30s, duh, and has been with us since. “Racist” appears 1926. These aren’t absolutely definitive, of course, but “racism and classism” is a surprising phrase from that long ago.

141

LFC 08.10.13 at 6:29 pm

ralphdibney @130
a v interesting comment connecting the postwar concerns about conformity and ‘mass society’ to anti-racism — hadn’t occurred to me in quite that way.

(btw I think Riesman’s phrase might have been ‘other-directed’ not ‘outer-directed’ — a minor pt)

142

Hector_St_Clare 08.10.13 at 10:45 pm

Re: You could of course make the argument that people in the 17th century, even they might have a similar logic to their arguments were getting it wrong where as now you are getting it right. I’m betting not.

Well, yes, of course I would make that argument. The reality is that women and men are similar in some ways, and different in others. It’s equally possible to exaggerate (or wrongly identify) differences, as it is to understate or fail to recognize them.

To take a more specific argument: I think women should be able to run for office (my dislike of democracy set aside), to be leaders of businesses, to be engineers and physicists, to take the primary provider role in their relationships/marriages, etc.. I also think that because of innate biological differences, relatively few women are going to be interested in these sorts of things, and that left to themselves, we are going to end up with a society in which most people gravitate, at least to some degree, to semi-traditional gender roles (and in which most leadership roles are taken by men). That isn’t a problem, unless you subscribe to feminist dogma.

Re: And that would probably work on someone who believed only whites are capable of racism.

What part of ‘it’s not color, but culture’ did you miss?

I think South Asian *culture* is absolutely inferior to Scandinavian or other European cultures….do you seriously disagree?

143

matt 08.11.13 at 3:56 am

Ok, haven’t followed the whole thread, but I do have a theory about the OP question. “Racism” became calcified as part of a very comforting, self-serving ideology. According to which, “racism” is a moral abomination involving the thorough-going denial of the humanity of the despised race. It follows that no decent person can be racist, and nothing is really worse than racism. It also follows that hardly anyone outside of fringy hate-groups is racist. By now, white supremacy has discovered a strong interest in inflating the evil of “racism,” in demonizing it, all the better to keep itself in place. This sounds sort of conspiratorial, but I think it does really go on. “

144

occasional lurker 08.11.13 at 9:58 am

‘the problem with Sweden is that they’re into this multiculturalism business, and they don’t demand that the Immigrants assimilate’ (Hector St Claire, 134)
One of the peculiarities of Swedish culture is the belief that there is no Swedish culture and that their values and priorities are universal.

145

novakant 08.11.13 at 10:50 am

By now, white supremacy has discovered a strong interest in inflating the evil of “racism,” in demonizing it, all the better to keep itself in place. This sounds sort of conspiratorial, but I think it does really go on.

Indeed, overt old-school racism is an easy target and serves to deflect attention from racism 2.0 which is the current mainstream consensus for most of us – a much smarter and subtler version, but no less brutal and exploitative.

146

Eric H 08.11.13 at 3:17 pm

@ John, 108

Nothing quite so sophisticated as all that. I said and meant the thread, not the OP: 22 and 26, primarily, but also what was *not* being said in any comment. But now that I re-read the OP, I think maybe 1, 3, and 8 contribute to the overall theme. The feel of all of these together seems to say, “Yea, us! We were enlightened and remain so, while the other guys are neanderthals and have only gotten worse.” And yet, survey data do not show an overwhelming party divide on this issue. So long as current Dem attitudes are assumed away, the underlying institutional problems remain unconfronted. That was my point.

I guess I would want to add to the list in the OP, or at least note that this is a major contributor to 10, “During the 1950s and 1960s, religious leaders and people of religious convictions took the lead in changing minds about treatment of their fellow man.” Obviously, you have MLK and others leading from the pulpit, but you also have Jewish kids heading to the South and confronting the problem(s), the CORE leaders organizing Freedom Riders (which I consider to be among the most hair-raising adventures ever undertaken voluntarily), and friggin’ Moses marching alongside MLK. We’re a lot less swayed by that now, but it meant something then. The Social Gospel is also something that was a part of the original Progressive movement, but not so much now (though the current Pope seems to be trying to revive it).

Also, I would emphasize the combination of television and the genius of non-violent confrontation in #7. The media could not have shoved anything down our throats without those visceral images being projected into our living rooms, and no amount of blogging (#1) would have blunted the impact. Also, what was said in 121 – the entrenched media tried to stop “race music”, but it hung around until the British Invasion opened the floodgates.

I would also add #11, The Great Migration(s), which moved blacks out of the South and into the North and West in numbers too large to be conveniently ignored. They voted, went to school and work, joined unions, attended church, and proved to be nothing like what the racists claimed. That as much as anything changes minds.

@Barry 112, thank you for demonstrating my point.
@AL 116, having neither read Goldberg nor being a right winger, I cannot say. Do you assume that everyone who doesn’t agree with you across the entire spectrum of thought is a right winger?

147

Random Lurker 08.11.13 at 3:57 pm

@Shepherd Moon 125

Thanks.
When I said “Plus, the logic of capitalism in itself is antiracist”, I meant this:
All social systems have their corresponding “moral systems”, so that people believe in those moral theories and act in ways that keep the social system working.
“Work ethics”, the idea that people should work hard and should be rewarded for this, is certainly at the root of the capitalist ethics; racism in its pure form goes against work ethics.
This is also the reason that people in times of crisis tend to blame, say, bankers, and say that they are “rentiers” and “parasites of society” instead of worrying about the social and economic causes that made banking and the increase in debt necessarious.

148

Witt 08.11.13 at 6:18 pm

Late to the thread, but this from 122 is just breathtakingly ignorant:

It isn’t in the Bible

It would certainly come as news to the thousands of people who spent decades pointing to passages from the Bible to rationalize racism, slavery, and associated evils that it “isn’t in the Bible.”

I can’t quite tell whether the post was willfully ignorant or just plain lacking in knowledge, so I’ll leave it there.

149

SqueakyRat 08.11.13 at 10:56 pm

Mmmm. What is it to “chivvy little girls,” exactly?

150

Joe Gould 08.12.13 at 12:09 pm

Could we talk about this at Stone Mountain, Georgia? It would be so much better for our discussion to have Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee, each on horseback, looking down upon us at those lovely picnic tables. BTW, this bas relief is the largest in the world, started by the same sculptor who did Mount Rushmore, but finished by the KKK, with its dedication in 1972. This is where, in 1980, then candidate Ronald Regan named Jefferson Davis his hero. While the Voting Rights Act suffered serious damage in 2013 at the hands of the atavists on the Supreme Court, try damaging this shrine to racism. Just try.

151

John Holbo 08.13.13 at 10:33 pm

“What is it to “chivvy little girls,” exactly?”

I just completed a 60-hour plane flight, with five legs and 3 10+ hour layover delays. ‘Chivvy’ is the thing I had to do to get two little girls to do that. ‘Tell someone repeatedly to do something’ is the definition google gives me as primary. That has indeed been the primary definition of my life for the past 60 hours. Actually, they are pretty great travellers. But 60 hours is a long time to ride on planes.

Hector St. Clare, you intrigue me and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter. But. But! why do you think women should have the vote, the right to run for office, the right to be leaders and so forth? By caving in the suffragettes, you are, in effect, taking an ‘of course I’m a feminist, but …’ position. But that’s not you, right? You’re an anti-feminist. So what gives?

Good thread, overall.

152

Hector_St_Clare 08.14.13 at 1:12 am

John Holbo,

I don’t consider ‘women should be allowed to run for office’ as a feminist principle, per se. I think the feminist podition would be ‘in a perfect world there would be equal numbers of men and women leaders’, which i disagree with. also, while I believe semi-traditional gender roles will make most women (and men) happiest in the long run, I also believe it’s important that they be freely chosen out of a set of alternatives. With the exception of abortion rights, I think most other feminist lifestyle choices should be available to women, though I might disapprove of them.

153

John Holbo 08.14.13 at 3:47 am

“I don’t consider ‘women should be allowed to run for office’ as a feminist principle, per se.”

Why not? It is one. This is so both conceptually and historically. This is the sort of thing for which feminists fought, for so long, and which anti-feminists opposed. And you have now made clear now on which side you stand.

This ‘I don’t consider’ stuff is sheer sophistry. You know the old joke. If you call a dog’s tail a ‘leg’, how many legs does it have? Four. Because a tail is still a tail. You can say that the only thing you consider ‘feminism’ is some strawman – or strawwoman – position. Hell, you can say ‘feminism’ means a cheese sandwich, and then argue that everyone else is an idiot for not realizing all it’s good for is lunch. But what’s the point?

“it’s important that they be freely chosen out of a set of alternatives.”

So you’re a feminist.

“With the exception of abortion rights, I think most other feminist lifestyle choices should be available to women, though I might disapprove of them.”

So you are definitely a feminist.

154

Hector_St_Clare 08.14.13 at 1:19 pm

Re: Why do we let people give money to Harvard instead of to Morehouse? What, we can’t even conceive of taking steps to prevent it?

I can conceive of plenty of steps to prevent it. In the Hectortopia, we’d nationalize Harvard and turn the campus over to UMass. Failing that, we could just revoke the tax exempt status of some of our richest universities. Of course, good luck trying to pass that through a political system riddled with loyal Ivy League alumni/alumnae.

John Holbo, don’t be utterly silly.

Re: You can say that the only thing you consider ‘feminism’ is some strawman – or strawwoman – position.

“Men and women are innately and behaviourally almost identicall, barring a few trivial reproductive details, and therefore any difference in social outcomes between the sexes is ipso facto evidence of implicit discrimination and/or malign social conditioning that should be overturned” is a straw man?

That’s *exactly* the party line of most of the intellectuals who self-identify with feminism nowadays.

Maybe some early feminists believed in “open the doors for women, let everyone follow their natural bliss, and let the chips fall where they may”. But by that logic, Milton Friedman was a liberal.

155

Hector_St_Clare 08.14.13 at 1:27 pm

Oh, also, by the way, abortion rights is a key element of modern feminism, according to leading lights like Amanda Marcotte.

156

John Holbo 08.14.13 at 1:52 pm

“That’s *exactly* the party line of most of the intellectuals who self-identify with feminism nowadays.”

Are you saying that those who don’t believe this thing but self-identify as feminists – myself, for example – are mistaken? If so, why?

157

Hector_St_Clare 08.14.13 at 2:02 pm

John Holbo,

Ask Amanda Marcotte if she considers you a feminist, it’s not my club to police the borders of.

158

John Holbo 08.14.13 at 8:18 pm

“It’s not my club to police the borders of.”

I’m not asking you to police the borders. You can leave that to Marcotte, if you think that best. I’m asking you where you think they are. Just a little while ago, you seemed pretty sure. Are you losing confidence?

159

engels 08.14.13 at 8:44 pm

I don’t think the argument that someone who believes P1, … , Pn , these being things that Xists fought for historically, is an Xist is a good one. History moves on. To be an Xist in 2013 you have to be committed to things that Xists are fighting for today.

160

PatrickinIowa 08.14.13 at 8:54 pm

“Men and women are innately and behaviourally almost identicall, barring a few trivial reproductive details, and therefore any difference in social outcomes between the sexes is ipso facto evidence of implicit discrimination and/or malign social conditioning that should be overturned” is a straw man?

Yes. Feminists, remember, support robust maternity leave regimes, workplaces that do not force women to choose between child-bearing and careers, laws that protect people who can get pregnant from employment discrimination and all sorts of other things rooted in understanding the differing burdens human reproduction places on men and women. (By the way, this understanding of differing burdens undergirds the intuition that only the person who has to live through a particular pregnancy is in a position to determine whether she can do so.)

No feminist I know and a vanishingly small number I’ve read will call the reproductive details “trivial.” After all, most of the ones I know have given birth. Just btw, I can pretty much guarantee they used fewer drugs than you or I would have.

It’s easy to define a political position or tendency when you can just make it up to suit your polemical purposes. But feminism is far more grounded in reality than you make out. (And far more grounded in reality than its opponents, by and large.) I don’t know if it’s bad faith or bad understanding on your part, but it’s one of the two.

161

Hector_St_Clare 08.14.13 at 10:13 pm

Patrick,

I’ve heard this particular talking point, which you call a ‘straw man’, from plenty of feminists, both male and female. Both online and in real life. I’d hardly consider it a straw man. Perhaps you run with fewer ultraliberal ideological whackoes than I do, and have not heard this particular gem, in which case you’re lucky.

Re: (By the way, this understanding of differing burdens undergirds the intuition that only the person who has to live through a particular pregnancy is in a position to determine whether she can do so.)

I know the arguments, I find them entirely unconvincing, so let’s move on.

Re: But feminism is far more grounded in reality than you make out.

Which would explain why whenever a study about behavioural ecology and how it influences human economic, social and sexual behaviour is publiched, cultural liberals are always so eager to hear it. Not.

By the way, back to John Holbo:

Re: “it’s important that they be freely chosen out of a set of alternatives.”
Re: So you’re a feminist.

Since when are feminists accepting of women who ‘freely choose’ non-feminist lifestyles? Last time I brought up the issue of women choosing to be subordinate to their husbands, the response on this blog was that wifely submission is like alcoholism or coke addiction: people should be free to choose it, but the choice itself is abhorrent.

162

John Holbo 08.14.13 at 10:34 pm

Aw, you guys interrupted. I was just getting started.

Ok, ok. Look, Hector, here’s the obvious, as I see it, problem with what you are doing. You are engaging in motivated reasoning (this isn’t the problem, per se. Everyone engages in motivated reasoning. But I don’t think you see the extent to which your critique of feminism is convenient confabulation.) You want feminism to be stupid and awful, that you, by being flashily anti-feminist, may be wise and noble. “The strawberry grows underneath the nettle” and all that jazz. But, unfortunately for your strawberry, it’s half-nettle. You accept central, key norms of feminism. To conceal that disappointingly uncontrastive result – we have met the nettle, and he is us! – you are engaging in conceptual gerrymandering.

What is feminism? (seriously, now, let’s try to be plausible about this.) Feminism has to be, at its core, a normative doctrine. Really, a family resemblance affair of clustered norms – social and political and cultural. It an ethical/political/social theory of/prescription for how things ought to be. Why does it have to be a normative doctrine. Because it’s like liberalism and monarchism and fascism and communism and egalitarianism and elitism. It’s an ‘ought’ more than it is an ‘is’.

But, to be sure, no one believes in norms in isolation from descriptive beliefs about how the world just plain is. You have to see the world as being the sort of place where your prescriptions make sense. (Technically, this isn’t quite right. If you were a feminist on Kantian grounds – and no doubt some are – you might take the view that right is right and the way the world is doesn’t figure in. If feminism turns out to be impossible, for biological reason, so much the worse for the world! It turns out everyone is a bad person, because they can’t do what’s right! Something like that. But let’s set that limit case aside and assume, by and large, feminists want to be be realists. They take men and women as they are, laws and social and cultural norms as they might be, as Rousseau might say.)

There is obviously going to be wide room to disagree about the descriptive ‘men and women as they are’ stuff, while still semi-converging on norms. It’s an overlapping consensus-type situation. What makes Carol Gilligan-style ‘difference feminists’ and blank slate ‘we’re all the same, except for culture’ feminists, and everybody in between, all feminists, is that – from their diverse standpoints of belief about how the world is, and works – they arrive that the view that women should get the vote, etc.

Compare: Hobbes is a monarchist. His reasons for being a monarchist differ from those of, say, a Catholic apologist for the Divine Right of Kings. Yet they are both monarchists because, even though they radically disagree about how the world is, and works, they converge on some basic norms. To wit: there should be a king. Feminism is going to be like that. Different people may have different reasons for thinking women should get the vote; women should have the same right and legal privileges as men, etc. But they all think they should. That makes them all feminists, up to a point.

But these norms are trivial! Everyone agrees to them! Well, actually they don’t. But, even to the extent that they do, that just shows that everyone now buys a critical, normative core of feminism, which shows how much difference a century makes. Engels writes: “To be an Xist in 2013 you have to be committed to things that Xists are fighting for today.” No. If a view has attained a kind of hegemony – broad acceptance – it doesn’t follow that the view isn’t, in fact, the dominant view after all. We are all heliocentrists, even though there isn’t much of a fight about that. We are all feminists, for similar reasons. It doesn’t make sense to carve the core of feminism out, leaving only the controversial stuff. Feminism, without its core, makes no sense. Just as trying to drop heliocentrism from astronomy – on the grounds that everyone agrees to it, and we care about the controversies – makes no sense. The ongoing disagreements make sense only a background of agreement that the sun is in the middle. Ongoing controversies about feminism, likewise, only make sense on the assumption that women should, at any rate, have the vote (for example). You have to keep the core of feminism in the picture, otherwise the ongoing controversies, such as they are, will look hollow and senseless. They may be hollow and senseless, but we shouldn’t guarantee that result, in advance, by an odd definitional exclusion.

Which gets us back to Hector. What he is doing is arbitrarily making feminism all about one extreme, and highly specific, descriptive account of human nature; secondarily, a set of highly controversial norms that might plausibly flow from that view. There is no reason whatsoever that this should be, even approximately, an account of what ‘feminism’ means. It leaves most feminists out, now and in the past. It obscures even the elementary consideration that feminism is primarily a cluster of norms. The only purpose of this redefinition, that I can see, is to turn ‘feminism’ into a villain in a crude morality play. It’s melodrama, of a conspicuously unrealistic sort.

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John Holbo 08.14.13 at 10:36 pm

Oops. My comment crossed with Hector’s.

“Since when are feminists accepting of women who ‘freely choose’ non-feminist lifestyles? Last time I brought up the issue of women choosing to be subordinate to their husbands, the response on this blog was that wifely submission is like alcoholism or coke addiction: people should be free to choose it, but the choice itself is abhorrent.”

But isn’t saying people should be free to choose coke addiction, even if it’s a bad idea, an example of saying people should be free to choose coke addiction? (Freedom is the right to make your own mistakes, isn’t it?) Are you complaining that feminism isn’t pure cultural relativism? (Are you, yourself, a pure cultural relativist? I didn’t think you were.)

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William Timberman 08.14.13 at 10:48 pm

John, toying with your food is surely okay, especially in your own dining room, but the hapless floundering under your paws is kinda hard to watch. Maybe I should go look in on Belle again — at least she tends to take bigger bites….

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engels 08.15.13 at 12:15 am

Feminism isn’t a normative doctrine, it’s the struggle for women’s emancipation. Standing on ground that was conquered years ago doesn’t make you a part of the liberating forces or even put you on their side.

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John Holbo 08.15.13 at 12:45 am

Well you can use terms how you like, Engels. But it seems that your usage is non-standard and that, for broadly cheese sandwich-type reasons (see above), you shouldn’t insist that all usage that does not agree with yours is wrong. People use ‘feminism’ to refer to a set of ideas – of ideals. That’s not conceptual confusion. And the term ‘feminist struggle’ is not redundant on ‘feminism’. That’s fine. If, according to you, ‘feminism’ denotes a struggle, what is your term for what the struggle is for?

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engels 08.15.13 at 1:02 am

As I said: female emancipation.

I’m not an ordinary language philosopher so I don’t think that a disagreement about the analysis of a concept is settled by appeals to standard usage (but I’m doubtful you’re right that eg. ordinary usage has it that David Cameron is a feminist because he believes that it’s okay for women to own their own property…)

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engels 08.15.13 at 1:25 am

Or even adopting your preferred normative viewpoint (strictly for the sake of argument), feminism could be defined as the belief in women’s equality with men. It doesn’t follow that, say, tacit support for female suffrage is in 2013 evidence that someone holds to this normative principle. It’s more naturally interpreted as an accomodation to current political reality, I’d have thought…

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PatrickinIowa 08.15.13 at 3:10 am

This is bullshit, and I call it: “Which would explain why whenever a study about behavioural ecology and how it influences human economic, social and sexual behaviour is publiched, cultural liberals are always so eager to hear it. Not.”

I don’t know about “cultural liberals” but the feminist scholars around here engage them and they debunk them, which isn’t all that tough. It’s not unlike being around ACT statisticians when “The Bell Curve” came out. They laughed, and laughed, of course, but they also explained (in painful detail) why it was an obviously racist fraud.

When you claim I don’t know many “whackoes” (sic), you’re talking to someone wearing an Iowa Womens’ Resource and Action Center tee-shirt at this very moment. I’m sure you’ll write me and the people I know off, based on that. The fact that you don’t see how grounded in real life feminisms are (Holbo’s long comment on the varieties of ways people get to feminist normative positions involved is right on), is either because you don’t have the cognitive chops to perceive it, or your masculine mind and interests blind you to reality.

You and any number of people can construct your fantasies about what happened on the savannah all you like. The empirical facts on the ground, in the present, suggest that substantial societal barriers exist to women’s fully realizing their full potential and aspirations, that these barriers strongly privilege men and that they can be changed. I can see why your interests might cause you to resist drawing such feminist conclusions, but, hey, “Eppur si muove.”

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PatrickinIowa 08.15.13 at 3:21 am

Oh, yeah. John, I’m stealing “convenient confabulation.” I speculate that you did too.

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Hector_St_Clare 08.15.13 at 3:59 am

Re: Ok, ok. Look, Hector, here’s the obvious, as I see it, problem with what you are doing. You are engaging in motivated reasoning (this isn’t the problem, per se. Everyone engages in motivated reasoning. But I don’t think you see the extent to which your critique of feminism is convenient confabulation.) You want feminism to be stupid and awful, that you, by being flashily anti-feminist, may be wise and noble.

John Holbo,

My reasoning may be somewhat motivated, but I don’t see why it’s more so than yours, for example. I do find feminism (as I define it, not necessarily as you do) to be silly and contemptible, hence I seek to oppose it to the extent I can.

Re: What makes Carol Gilligan-style ‘difference feminists’ and blank slate ‘we’re all the same, except for culture’ feminists,

I like Carol Gilligan quite a lot , but I would hardly consider her a mainstream feminist. My understanding is that among self proclaimed feminists nowadays, the blank slate “it’s all culture” school of thought is the dominant one. It’s them that I strongly repudiate.

Re: Different people may have different reasons for thinking women should get the vote; women should have the same right and legal privileges as men, etc. But they all think they should. That makes them all feminists, up to a point.

Except just about everyone holds the view nowadays that women should be able to vote. Look: I guarantee if I walk over to my university and tell one of the feminist groups “I’m a feminist, because I believe women should be able vote!” they would laugh at me, and so they should. That isn’t what ‘feminist’ means nowadays.

Re: But isn’t saying people should be free to choose coke addiction, even if it’s a bad idea, an example of saying people should be free to choose coke addiction? (Freedom is the right to make your own mistakes, isn’t it?) Are you complaining that feminism isn’t pure cultural relativism? (Are you, yourself, a pure cultural relativist? I didn’t think you were.)

I’m far from a cultural relativist. Look, you’re missing the point. With regard to gender complementarian relationships, there are a lot of views one could take. The feminist view, for the most part is, “Relationships between men and women should ideally be based on equality of income, educational level, age, social status, etc. and therefore relationships with a dominant provider man and a dependent, subordinate woman are an invention of the evil patriarchy”. Feminists might differ on whether complementarian relationships should be allowed or not, but they generally agree they’re undesirable, like alcohol addiction.

My point of view is “Most people will be happiest in a dependent/provider, complementarian relationship. On this matter, physiology agrees with Philippians. And most of the time, the dominant higher status partner will be the man, and both parties will be happiest with that set-up. HOWEVER, people should have the freedom to choose whatever other arrangements they choose, as long as they aren’t sleeping with blood relatives, donkeys, or people under 18.”

Clearly, as you can see, those two positions are very different. The only thing I have in common with Jessica Valentie on the subject of healthy relationships, is that we both agree that the other person’s preferences should be legal, as much as we might deplore them.

Thank you for a pleasant conversation, however. With respect to politeness, you’re certainly a cut above people like the aforementioned Amanda Marcotte, who was exceptionally rude to me on the two occasions we’ve interacted, and who seems to regard politeness as a patriachal myth.

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PatrickfromIowa 08.15.13 at 4:46 am

“My point of view is “Most people will be happiest in a dependent/provider, complementarian relationship. On this matter, physiology agrees with Philippians. And most of the time, the dominant higher status partner will be the man, and both parties will be happiest with that set-up.”

Now I’m really confused. Philipians says nothing about happiness in marriage. (And if it did it would likely say that in light of the imminent return of Christ, a happy earthly marriage is unimportant or even a distraction from what’s crucial. Paul was way off on the timing.) You’re equally and quite astonishingly inaccurate in your understandings of Phillipians, physiology, and feminism. No wonder people are rude to you.

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js. 08.15.13 at 5:08 am

@Holbo:

Your 162 is masterful (I almost felt like William Timberman did, but again, almost, or maybe, almost almost—only because it’s Hector after all).

But surely engels is right. It’s fairly ridiculous to call Cameron or Thatcher or Gingrich ‘feminists’ simply because they wouldn’t take away women’s right to vote, or undo Title IX, or whatever. I mean, by those standards, Nixon will turn out to be a New Deal liberal, and Rand Paul a defender of black rights; no really. (And I’m not even getting into whether feminism is or is not a normative doctrine/viewpoint.)

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John Holbo 08.15.13 at 5:08 am

“I’m not an ordinary language philosopher so I don’t think that a disagreement about the analysis of a concept is settled by appeals to standard usage (but I’m doubtful you’re right that eg. ordinary usage has it that David Cameron is a feminist because he believes that it’s okay for women to own their own property…)”

I am not an ordinary language philosopher either, so we can agree about that much. I want clarity and good sense and it seems to me neither clear nor sensible to make ‘feminism’ denote a different kind of thing than ‘liberalism’ or ‘communism’. The latter name theories or views. The former names a struggle and NOT a political theory, or set of ideals? I prefer not. But let’s not fight. If you want to talk that way, fine, so long as you are clear it, i.e. so long as you don’t pretend it’s weird to talk as if ‘feminism’ names a philosophy, or cluster of philosophies.

Moving right along, you are quite right that it sounds odd to say that David Cameron is a feminist or that Hector St. Clare is one (this is Hector’s complaint, too.)

My reason for favoring this admittedly nonstandard usage is threefold, as follows: first, I’m no ordinary language philosopher. Second, it makes most sense, conceptually and historically, to construe feminism as a political philosophy/normative philosophy with a core that is substantially accepted all around, these days. We’re all feminists now (by 19th Century standards – indeed, by the standards of the 1950’s.) Even Hector! Third, it seems to me there is a rhetorical point to emphasizing this. If women’s suffrage is not a feminist issue then feminists don’t get to take credit for it, on behalf of feminism. But they should be able to. In general, if feminism is just the fringey, controversial stuff of the moment, then feminism is by definition fringey and controversial, and can be dismissed, with superficial plausibility, as faddish extremism. That’s how a lot of folks like it, and I’d just as soon disappoint them. I want them to have to chose. Either you say feminism was – hence is – basically good and right or you’re against women voting, women having the right to choose a career, that sort of thing. You don’t get to pocket feminism’s results – take credit for the results, even – and heap contempt on the people and ideas that really made them possible.

I prefer to say that David Cameron and Hector St. Clare as basically feminists. Only they are really, really bad feminists.

No, seriously. Think of it this way. Per the post and comments, upthread, it’s too bad that ‘feminism’ isn’t like ‘anti-racism’, i.e. everyone wants on that bandwagon. It would be a screwy world, if they did, of course. But our world is screwy, too, and that other way would be better.

“who seems to regard politeness as a patriachal myth.”

Well, in your patriarchal case, Hector, it certainly seems to be a myth. You insulted my wife, gratuitously and quite rudely. I’d kick you out of my house for that! So I hope you don’t think of yourself as a person who upholds norms of politeness. But best of luck to you, all the same! And do try to be a better feminist (would be my advice.)

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Hector_St_Clare 08.15.13 at 5:17 am

Belle Waring, I apologize for my gratuitous rudeness. I was having a bad day and was a bit urked by your casual reference to Singapore, but that’s no excuse.

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John Holbo 08.15.13 at 5:23 am

We are all friends, then! (And thank you for the kind words, js. I hope I have somewhat assuaged your concerns about calling David Cameron a feminist. Just rest assured I will try to do it in a way that will be maximally annoying to him, and in such such a way that he doesn’t get off any hooks.)

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Hector_St_Clare 08.15.13 at 5:25 am

Patrick in Iowa,

Your Women’s Resource Center confreres are simply wrong. I think it’s interesting how you simply baldly state that begavioural ecology is wrong, yet don’t consider yourself obligated to provide any facts. I can throw dozens of papers at you, demonstrating that both current and prenatal androgen and estrogen levels affect a variety of begavioural traits- risk taking, social dominance, status seeking, conscientiousness, mean and variance of IQ, etc. (I’m a biologist, for what it’s worth, so if you really want to start getting into the citations, just let me know).

The reality is most women, if allowed to follow their bliss, are going to choose relatively low status jobs and marriage to a higher status man. this is not social conditioning, it’s our nature.

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Hector_St_Clare 08.15.13 at 5:26 am

Patrick,

Philipians illustrates the love of Christ for mankind, which is supposed to be the model of the how a man loves his wife.

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js. 08.15.13 at 5:37 am

Per the post and comments, upthread, it’s too bad that ‘feminism’ isn’t like ‘anti-racism’, i.e. everyone wants on that bandwagon. It would be a screwy world, if they did, of course. But our world is screwy, too, and that other way would be better.

I guess I disagree with this. I get the strategy you’re pursuing, but I think a world where Gingrich and Cameron solemnly mouth, “I am a feminist,” much as they now solemnly disavow racism is materially* not necessarily any better than the one we actually live in. On the other hand, Gingrich gets to call himself a feminist, which is frankly just upsetting, just about as completely upsetting as when Rand Paul goes on about how much he really does do care about the Civil Rights Act. And it’s not about getting upset obviously—it gives them cover, and I don’t see how that helps, though I can definitely see how it might well hurt.

*By “materially”, I just mean something like non-symbolically; I’m not going for a hard-core Marxist sense there, not that I would disavow it either.

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Meredith 08.15.13 at 5:45 am

Hector, is the love of Christ for mankind supposed also to be a model for how a woman loves her husband — how any marital partners love one another? How any people engage with one another?
Somehow Jesus, god as human, gets lots in your hierarchical modeling that seems to me to fail to grapple with the paradoxes, complexities, and beauty of the very notion of the trinity. (I refrain from querying your notions of “nature.”)

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John Holbo 08.15.13 at 7:00 am

“I guess I disagree with this. I get the strategy you’re pursuing, but I think a world where Gingrich and Cameron solemnly mouth, “I am a feminist,” much as they now solemnly disavow racism is materially* not necessarily any better than the one we actually live in. On the other hand, Gingrich gets to call himself a feminist, which is frankly just upsetting, just about as completely upsetting as when Rand Paul goes on about how much he really does do care about the Civil Rights Act. And it’s not about getting upset obviously—it gives them cover, and I don’t see how that helps, though I can definitely see how it might well hurt.”

This is a real question, I grant. I guess I’m sort of a Peter Singer guy. I believe in the power of moral ratchets like ‘don’t be racist’. Or ‘feminism is basically right’. I think, in the long run, the arc of history bends towards justice in part because people get committed to these propositions, only superficially and often hypocritically. But, inch by inch, more substantively.

Then again, maybe I just love trying to turn the tables, cleverly.

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engels 08.15.13 at 12:13 pm

So if I may summarise: a cheese sandwich is just a very, very bad pastrami and rye. Fyi communism is also a movement, not a normative doctrine. Good news about the arc of history bending towards justice though…

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Alex 08.15.13 at 12:58 pm

On the other hand, Gingrich gets to call himself a feminist

Does he? At the moment, he doesn’t get to call himself a Freedom Rider for not being publicly and avowedly racist. Similarly, just not having killed any workers lately isn’t enough to make you a socialist. Not having regulated private enterprise recently doesn’t count as libertarianism. I haven’t printed money, but I wouldn’t say I was a Hayekian.

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PatrickinIowa 08.15.13 at 2:24 pm

“I can throw dozens of papers at you, demonstrating that both current and prenatal androgen and estrogen levels affect a variety of begavioural traits- risk taking, social dominance, status seeking, conscientiousness, mean and variance of IQ, etc. (I’m a biologist, for what it’s worth, so if you really want to start getting into the citations, just let me know).”

And I can walk over to the biology building and find a feminist biologist who can debunk some of them, provide her own references, and give a more persuasive interpretation of what the data show. Given the conversations I’ve had with her, and those I’ve had with you, I am confident she’s a far better scientist. (Certainly she’ll spell “behavioural” correctly, Canadian or US style.)

What you can’t do is prove that these data require that the particular marital arrangements which just happen to privilege your sense of entitlement are “natural,” and will “satisfy” “most women.” Quite apart from the fact that the marital arrangements you value have historically had to be enforced with quite horrific violence (which continues even in “civilized” cultures) they vary widely by culture and historical moment, and the bulk of women (and some men), not only avant-garde feminists, change them when they get the chance. (One example: women, given the choice to reduce the number of times they bear children, almost always do so.)

Back in the day, people like you said women didn’t want to vote. They do. You said they didn’t want to have unfettered access to their bank accounts. They do. You said they didn’t want to be surgeons. Some do; some don’t. You said that they’d only be happy in the home. They aren’t. You said they wouldn’t be happy in complex high-stress professions. Some are; some aren’t. I’m with Holbo on the notion that feminisms today are continuous with feminisms past, because that continuity highlights that anti-feminisms are also continuous. Your oh-so-generous tolerance of women’s agency is a fallback position from the positions you’d have adopted before 1920, Seneca Falls or even the rise of Christianity, which encouraged women to follow Christ, even if their husbands were pagan. (Jesus was pretty clear about the sanctity of the family, “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.”)

In this case the “Bell Curve” phenomenon is instructive. As with gender, “scientific” studies of relative racial IQs came after the racist belief that African peoples didn’t have fully human intellectual capacity became central to a particular social/political arrangement. At that point, all sorts of science “proved” that black people weren’t capable of holding political power. Reactionaries, enamored of their privilege, asserted that a subservient position made blacks happier. Once the anti-racists more or less won those battles, the resistance fell back to the “science” of IQ to explain persistent inequality. I’m a literature/history of ideas guy, and it’s striking how similar you sound to a preacher in the sixteenth century England explaining why a wife who defies her husband should be beaten until she complies. Because, you know, women are happier when you show them the Lord’s way, i.e., who is boss. That you, like our society, have more or less retreated from that maximal position is a Very Good Thing, but it’s not everything and you still cling to what you can.

I reread Philippians last night. (St. Paul is always worth reading, if only to remind us in what ways the founder of Christianity was nuts.) There’s nothing in there about marriage, unless you import it, which is precisely what you do to the science, over and over. However, there’s a good deal about humility that’s worth all our attention. I wish you would take that as seriously as you do what you torture the text into saying about relations between the sexes.

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PatrickinIowa 08.15.13 at 2:40 pm

I think Holbo’s sense that everyone has bought into some of the core tenets of feminism leads neatly to Alinsky’s fourth rule, “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” Newt Gingrich doesn’t get to call himself a feminist, but reminding him over and over that he claims to respect women as citizens, professionals and possessed public identity (formerly radical feminist positions) has some rhetorical strength, maybe not with him personally, but with the people witnessing the dialogue. The Civil Rights Movement was genius in using this strategy, and convinced a lot of people that they had been anti-racist all along, even when they hadn’t been.

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PatrickinIowa 08.15.13 at 2:41 pm

“possessing public identities” Sorry.

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Mao Cheng Ji 08.15.13 at 4:48 pm

IMO, the confusion arises from the mix-up of feminism (equal rights for men and women, that is: for everybody) and what I would call ‘advocacy for women’s issues’.

These two can easily contradict each other. If you define ‘feminism’ as ‘advocacy for women’s issues’, then it is possible, nay likely, that some of the former feminists will become anti-feminists. Sort of like the old Bolshevik Guard turns into Enemies of The People…

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John Holbo 08.15.13 at 9:22 pm

“Fyi communism is also a movement, not a normative doctrine.”

Nope. It’s a normative doctrine AND a movement on behalf of that doctrine. In a pinch it might be just the former, but it can hardly be just the latter. It’s not as though the movement moved for no reason.

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John Holbo 08.15.13 at 9:54 pm

“What you can’t do is prove that these data require that the particular marital arrangements which just happen to privilege your sense of entitlement are “natural,” and will “satisfy” “most women.””

Patrick is obviously quite right about this, Hector. Your whole complaint about feminism – which is really just a complaint about one highly specific sort of feminism (but let’s not go over that again) – amounts to this: you can’t just be a flagrant Pangloss about it. You can’t just assume that the relationship between biology and culture and society and so forth just happens to be the very most convenient way it could be, to suit your normative tastes. Well, put your doxastic money where you epistemic mouth is! Muster an ounce of doubt about what you yourself want to be true. Don’t you see how evidentially pitiful the notion of a dozen papers on pre-natal androgen is, as a proof of your vast and really highly specific historico-culturalo-social-political claims? You really think this slender reed will hold up against all those winds of complexity? Seriously? I’m delighted to believe you know more about androgen/estrogen levels than I do – since I know nothing – and so you could argue rings around me, about the technicalities of it. But B.F. Skinner could no doubt have ground me into the technical dirt concerning the conditioning of pigeons. (The man conducted some very elegant experiments, I have been told.) It doesn’t mean I have to run out and buy some behaviorism. We know how these things go – if we are shrewd. So try to be a bit more shrewd about how the confabulation creeps in. More attention to the beam in your own eye, please. Give it at least half-time, as compared to the motes in the eyes of the blank-slaters you despise. (I don’t deny the motes, by any means.)

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engels 08.15.13 at 11:48 pm

It’s not as though the movement moved for no reason.

Okay, so you’re not an Austinian, you’re an Aristotelian – at least when it comes to social phenomena. Good to know.

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John Holbo 08.16.13 at 12:06 am

Do you seriously think you need to be an Aristotelian to think communists have motives?

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js. 08.16.13 at 12:23 am

I’d guess the point is that you seem to be attributing a telos to a movement. Which is fine by me!

What I wanted to say was that I do agree with you about the normative doctrine bit. But surely the specification of the normative ideal has to be sensitive to gains made, the current context and struggles, etc. I mean, look: the set of demands enumerated in the Manifesto include a graduated income tax and 10-hour work day, I think. So are you goin to say that anyone who agrees with such today accepts some of the core demands of communism? is kinda sorta a communist, to some extent? That’s a bit ridiculous, no? But mutatis mutandis for feminism, surely.

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engels 08.16.13 at 12:23 am

Maybe I’m being dense but I’m not seeing how one gets from individual communsits have motives (seems undeniable) to the communist movement as a whole must be directed at a goal, which must be a normative doctrine of the same name (less obvious to me)…

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John Holbo 08.16.13 at 12:44 am

“the communist movement as a whole must be directed at a goal, which must be a normative doctrine of the same name”

It doesn’t have to be a goal which is a normative doctrine of the same name. It just happens to be the case that the goal of communism, in the movement sense, is to institute communism, as a social form, because communism, in that latter sense, is thought to be a desirable state of affairs. (Don’t blame me! Or Aristotle! Communism was like this when I found it!)

The goal of the struggle isn’t the struggle. It’s communism. fyi.

“But surely the specification of the normative ideal has to be sensitive to gains made, the current context and struggles, etc. I mean, look: the set of demands enumerated in the Manifesto include a graduated income tax and 10-hour work day, I think. So are you goin to say that anyone who agrees with such today accepts some of the core demands of communism? is kinda sorta a communist, to some extent? That’s a bit ridiculous, no?”

This seems to me a more sensible objection. I guess I would say: the Manifesto asks for this stuff (I’ll take your word for that – honestly, I forgot) but it’s clearly not communism. These are preliminary demands, far short of the goal. If you asked Marx whether he thought a 10-hour work day, plus graduated income tax, amounted to communism, in any substantive sense he would have said: Pull the other one, kid! It’s got bells on! Or German words to that effect.

But there is a serious issue here about how doctrines drift over time. We don’t want ‘liberalism’ to refer just to whatever liberals are fighting for this year. That’s no way to do political philosophy, clearly. But it’s obvious that the attempt to imagine ‘liberalism’ as some timeless, Platonic entity – lest its skirts drag in the mud of politics – can get a bit silly.

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engels 08.16.13 at 1:15 am

I don’t deny that feminists or communists see themselves as trying to bring about a state of affairs that they judge to be desirable. Your claim to which I original took issue was that feminism is normative doctrine, by which I thought you meant a specified set of principles about how the world should be (women should vote, etc). I deny this along with its analogue for communism. In my opinion, both terms refer emancipatory movements by groups of oppressed people, which need have no specified aims beyond this constant over long periods of time. In my opinion, the same reasoning would not apply to liberalism, conservatism, etc as these are not emancipatory movements but ideologies.

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John Holbo 08.16.13 at 1:46 am

“In my opinion, the same reasoning would not apply to liberalism, conservatism, etc as these are not emancipatory movements but ideologies.”

I could grant everything you say until this last bit, mostly since one should never argue too long about how to use words. (You want to use ‘communism’ in a way I think is sort of weird? Fine!) But what on earth sense of ‘ideology’ is operative here at the end? I just don’t get it.

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js. 08.16.13 at 1:53 am

So, I checked, and I was half-wrong. In any case, here are two relevant demands from the Manifesto:

2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.

10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.

[Dear CT gods, please let the HTML work!]

Nothing about the 10-hour work day though. And yeah, there’s lots of stuff about the expropriation of capital and privately held means of production, abolition of inheritance, etc.

Anyway, the analogy with feminism is going to break down—The Feminist Manifesto doesn’t exist after all—but, I don’t know, if you present, just e.g., Wollstonecraft with a world where voting rights and property rights for women are secure but the rest is mostly shit, and ask her: hey, isn’t this the great Land of Feminism?, she’d pretty much react like you imagine Marx reacting.

(The analogy with liberalism might almost seem to work better but it totally breaks down in the other direction. I mean, imagine presenting contemporary “liberals” with The Second Treatise and chap. 5 of On Liberty, and being all “Liberal utopia, folks!”, and then imagine their reactions.)

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engels 08.16.13 at 1:56 am

As I said, I don’t think it’s an argument about how to use words but about how to analyse concepts, but I agree it’s gone on too long. And sorry if I haven’t been clear.

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js. 08.16.13 at 2:04 am

In my opinion, the same reasoning would not apply to liberalism, conservatism, etc as these are not emancipatory movements but ideologies.

I’m more sympathetic to this than Holbo, but the contrast is a bit unclear to me as well. For one thing, at a certain point in history, liberalism would have described itself as an “emancipatory movement”, and it wouldn’t have been entirely wrong. Sure, it was emancipating the bourgeois, but they maybe needed a bit of emancipating back then.

(Also, are you “ideologies” in the classical Marxist sense, so to speak?)

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Hector_St_Clare 08.16.13 at 12:45 pm

Re: Well, put your doxastic money where you epistemic mouth is!

I don’t know what doxastic means, though I suspect you’ll be telling me.

Re: Don’t you see how evidentially pitiful the notion of a dozen papers on pre-natal androgen is, as a proof of your vast and really highly specific historico-culturalo-social-political claims?

Not really, because I’m not arguing that all women want A, B, or C, just making broad claims about general tendencies. I don’t think women are as interested or as well suited as men for leadership, for example, due to the effects that prenatal sex hormones have on behavioural traits related to status seeking, social dominance, etc.. That doesn’t mean there are *some men* who have low levels of social dominance, and *some women* (Indira Gandhi, Queen Elizabeth I, Sarah Palin, etc.) who have high ones. In fact, the existence of a spectrum of behavioural traits within men or within women, and the fact that you can find hormonal correlates, is actually good evidence that androgen/estrogen balances effect behaviour, and that (by extension) they probably explain a lot of male vs. female differences as well.

E.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digit_ratio

Re: We know how these things go – if we are shrewd. So try to be a bit more shrewd about how the confabulation creeps in.

No, *we* don’t know anything of the sort. *You* ‘know how these things go’, I don’t agree that there is any confabulation going on, at least on my side. The difference here is that the radical feminists (and, maybe, the most extreme evangelical conservatives) want to force men and women into ideological boxes that make them comfortable by abolishing challenges to their worldview. Gender realists simply acknowledge that differences between the sexes are real, innate, and phyciologically rooted, even while we acknowledge that these are simply differences in average position along a spectrum, and that reality is complex.

Re: I’m a literature/history of ideas guy

I am entirely ignorant of just what relevence the history of ideas has to questions of behavioural ecology. The facts are the facts, even if they make you (or Gloria Steinem) uncomfortable. Incidentally, I notice that rather than citing facts or studies to disprove the hormones hypothesis, you’re bringing up sixteenth century preachers, which is interesting, but also irrelevant.

Re: I reread Philippians last night. (St. Paul is always worth reading, if only to remind us in what ways the founder of Christianity was nuts.)

Christianity was founded by a group of people, not by one man. Even if St. Paul’s works were lost to the ages, you could still reconstruct most of Christianity from the works of St. John (or the three Johns, if you choose to believe there were three of them).

Re: Given the conversations I’ve had with her, and those I’ve had with you, I am confident she’s a far better scientist.

I don’t think your feminist biologist friend would argue with the actual studies, but would simply argue that there is quite a bit of variation within sexes in behavioural traits, *which i already conceded*. I should point out here that I study plants, not people, so on this matter I am merely an educated spectator rather than a researcher.

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Hector_St_Clare 08.16.13 at 12:50 pm

Re: and the bulk of women (and some men), not only avant-garde feminists, change them when they get the chance.

Please provide evidence that more women are happier in egalitarian feminist relationships than in complementarian, dependent/provider relationships.

Re: (One example: women, given the choice to reduce the number of times they bear children, almost always do so.)

I’m sure you are aware that highly educated women in the United States have about *one third* their ideal desired number of children. (Look up the General Social Survey if you don’t believe me). Your ideological dogmas have stripped the dream of motherhood from those women who are its most loyal devotees. I don’t consider that a particularly great thing.

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John Holbo 08.16.13 at 9:23 pm

“I don’t know what doxastic means, though I suspect you’ll be telling me.”

No. I know you know you can look it up if you get curious.

And I do hope you consider cutting down on your intake of the aspartame of ‘feminism’, in your sense. I know, I know, it’s non-fattening. But it’s got nil nutrition. Sit yourself down to a square meal of intellectual opposition from feminists whose normative views you loath, who will obviously not be inconvenienced to any critical degree by any clutch of prenatal estrogen studies. Eat your veggies of intellectual opposition! Feminism! Then you can enjoy dessert! That nutrasweet sweet contempt for ‘feminism’!

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Hector_St_Clare 08.17.13 at 6:41 pm

John Holbo,

On the contrary, in my experience the radical feminidiots are inconvenienced by a great deal.

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John Holbo 08.17.13 at 11:51 pm

You’ve missed my point, Hector. I’m not claiming that there is no X, such that X is a feminist inconvenienced by Y (where Y is a clutch of prenatal estrogen studies). I am merely pointing out, what is certainly true, that for all X, where X is the set of feminists, there is obviously a truckload of Y, who are feminists and not the least inconvenienced by Z (where Z is a clutch of prenatal estrogen studies.) Given the truth of this proposition, you should change your approach. And if you don’t see the truth of this proposition, you should go back to the drawing board.

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godoggo 08.18.13 at 12:14 am

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John Holbo 08.18.13 at 1:02 am

Definition by example! Plato says you can’t (but, then, his taste in music is notoriously conservative.)

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godoggo 08.18.13 at 1:12 am

n. The study of

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