Modern racism is very adaptive and clandestine, and contrary to popular thought is not being obliterated, for the same reason many strains of bacteria have become resistant to standard antibiotics. Modern culture embarked down a path of enlightenment with human rights but since that path still allowed a racism tributary--because enlightenment allows alternatives and does not bully--resistant racism fought for its survival and slowly became more privatized.
Racism used to be more openly professed due to its nationalistic roots. Nationalism originally professed pride and dignity across hereditary us-groups, so openly claiming racist arguments was supported by many scientists and social thinkers. Now the very science that "proved" scientific racism has disproved it many times over--as has philosophy--but that just means the modern racist defers to personal belief rather than public "fact." This move was key.
What I see happening in modern culture is this: Public racism is scorned, and private racism is condoned using some false argument like personal liberty.
It is this all-too-common scenario that brings the privatization of racism into my mind: Multiple people are talking, griping about how they could not believe so-and-so was making open racist comments. Read that sentence again because it says a lot: They were griping about how so-and-so made open racist comments. Apparently they were less bothered by the existence of the racist ideals than they were about how they were expressed openly in a public sphere. I have heard this more than once and wonder if anyone understands what the complaint really means. This is what I mean by the privatization of racism; it has now become more deplorable to say racist things publicly than to think them privately.
When cultures focus on community, tradition, government, religion, and other inherently collective ideals, they pave a path for where the people's moral and ethical attention will be pulled. What was great about Thoreau was that he knew he was not autonomous or that his respite was permanent, but that he needed a break from the world to be able to see it clearly and write about it. His solution is still available and practical to us, however in modern times that premise is met with absurd and scornful responses as people do not understand the value (or the feasibility) of getting away from the society that gives form to their economics, futures, and organizations. (No, that is not what your vacation is about. Thoreau was not on a vacation.) I am not saying we all need to live like Hobos, but I am saying that Thoreau saw how public values infiltrated private values, and disapproved of it.
Racism of course is not unique in its progressive privatization. Many socially uncomfortable topics are left to the annals of a safe "us" group to talk about them, but I find this destructive on a large scale. But how, you may ask, when we are not actively or directly insulting the objectified group? Ah, I get it. So choosing to be secretive about racism (or any -ism) is a more practical and humane solution. Did not know conspiring was a virtue.
It may sound like I am proposing an honesty-program, where those with racist thoughts walk up to the objectified group and "respect" them through telling them to their face. That telling them they are sub-human is a sign of respect... No, what I am asking is that each of us just look in the mirror and talk to the person looking back as if they are the objectified group. Tape a note to the mirror if you need a script for each group. This directly attacks the privatization of racism through making us see ourselves for what we truly believe, because one of the big reasons we separate private beliefs/actions from public beliefs/actions is because we convince ourselves that the public version of ourselves is just as valid. This compartmentalization is merely another form of confirmation bias.
If we want to see our ugliness, then looking at how we are/may be confirmation biased is a great start. The problem is that implicit within confirmation bias is a lack of entering conflict and self-reflection; we just non-confrontationally confirm our biases then move on. There is no self-reflection or judgment, just self-movement. This is why the privatization of our racism goes undetected. To break that cycle, we do not need to be open with the objects with our racism, yet open with ourselves about what we truly believe. Only then will there we no difference between our private self and public self.
The whole incentive for privatizing racism is to maintain comfortable, unfounded, and phobic thoughts. Unfortunately, we cannot observe, judge, or reconcile these thoughts when we dilute ourselves with platitudes, cliche's, and social niceties, which is why they are some of the primary tools of privatized (modern) racism. This is also why a modern racist can passionately claim that racism has no place in the public sphere.
I know as well as anyone that labels can be slippery slopes: I am a writer, you are Chinese, she is a bank teller, he is a football player. Let us face it, labeling can lead us into murky water if we do not understand why and how we are labeling in the first place. The good news is that labeling is not a unique activity; it is actually extension of what we do on a daily basis because it is part of our nature. In short, a label is simply an extension of our natural inclination to judge and categorize.
I have heard it numerous times: you are being judgey; you cannot judge until you walk in someone else's shoes; people do not think the same so you cannot apply universal principles to them. All these are overreactions to misunderstanding what, as base, judgement is. Did you make coffee this morning or tea? Whichever you chose, well, you judged that. Did you brush your teeth this morning? If you did, it is because you judged oral health more desirable than oral unhealth. See where I am going with this? Our inclination as humans to judge is inevitable and unavoidable, which is why I argue that we ought to drop the relativistic overreactions and practice doing it well.
But judgment is not that simple and convenient, you may say. People's feelings and unique life experiences are involved. I understand, and would never homogenize the realm of human experience, thinkings, and feelings. What I am saying is that judgement is what allows us to make a decision between options. Let us keep it simple; we have beaten up this inclination enough.
Let us talk about labels again. Blacks are often labeled as lascivious, whites as easily corruptible to power, Spanish as thieves, the list goes on. We judged that. How? Because confirmation bias was practiced instead of objective judgment. Think just because judgement is natural that we cannot practice it? Wrong. We can hone it. And it certainly helps ourselves and the rest of the natural world if we do hone it. Look at atrocities like Holy Wars, the Holocaust, and any hate crime. These are perversions of judgment because the person(s) judging did not apply their intellect to objectively expose the tenets of their own thoughts and beliefs. When thinking about categories and judgments and such, its so easy and convenient to think about what we are judging as if that ought to be our primary focus. I say no. I say we ought to grill ourselves as to whether our ability to judge is mature and honed, not even thinking about outward stimuli.
When we think about outward stimuli before we hone our ability to objectively and reasonably judge, catastrophes are pretty much inevitable. We then make statements like : I was raised suspicious of [insert group], or, that's just what I was taught, or, If so many people think/feel like I do, then I must be right. I cannot tell you how often I hear these awful, destructive arguments, and what makes them awful and destructive is that tucked within them is an unwillingness to clean up the inherited judgments (aka: beliefs), or even look at them and judge them with a fresh set of eyes! This is partly why America is judgment-phobic; we believe toxic judgments are a sample that fully represents all judgments. That is just not true.
Judgments, categories, and labels are intimately related. Yes, this is a complex issue due to its abstract and moral/ethical nature. (Add fear to that; revealing and judging ourselves is scary at times). However, I am going to simplify it.
If we ask ourselves, What judgments have I inherited?, we encourage a conversation and exploration within ourselves, which is a lot better position to be in than simply expressing/imposing them upon others. What can be the harm of a self-exploration, anyway?
Years ago I judged that I was a good writer, but when asked why by another, I was forced to reevaluate the meaning of the word good. And writer. Had I established healthy, productive literary practices? No, I just assumed I had them because writing came relatively easy because I am a natural writer. So the investigation allowed me to see my flaws and fix them, rather than remain stagnant and in self-deception. This is one of the main reasons for developing objective judgment; it allows us to explore and view reality for what it is, rather than what we want it it be, no matter what we were told (indoctrinated) in our upbringing. Honing our ability to judge allows us to mature intellectually, and since that allows us to be more honest about ourselves, it allows us to develop emotionally.
All this from labels, judgments, and categories. We judge as a matter of species-necessity. Being judgey is thus a human obligation. Deal with it. Badmouthing it is like badmouthing locomotion, or food and water. Our lives are flooded with conflicting options: move left not right, front not back, eat this not that, work at this place not that, don't work at either, love this way not that way, hate this way not that way, befriend this person not that person. We are inundated with conflicting options and as sentient beings we choose among them as a matter of course. So why not clean up our course? Do we not care to?
I am not denying that poor (abusive, destructive, exploitative) judgments exist, or that labels can restrict who and what you want to be. I constantly tell myself that I am more than a writer. That there is much more to me than reading and writing, despite it being my primary focus. But labels properly made (through an open exploration of values, judgments and beliefs) can help us take ownership and responsibility of our lives. A refusal to label who and what we are is a form of apathy. It is merely saying that we would rather avoid revealing ourselves than improve ourselves. Ironically, judging that I mis-labeled myself a good writer years ago allowed me become a much better writer. So as fixed as we think our labels are, if we approach them with an adaptive fluidity, encouraging and embracing judgment along the way, then we will see our inner world and outer world (remember the previous statements about blacks, whites, and Spanish?) more fully, rather than what confirms our inherited judgments.
Click the RSS FEED button below to receive notification of new essays.