28 September 2020

Bigger concepts: Why the anti-racism movement isn't helping end race inequality PART 1 (Part 5 of a series on race based on emails to my family)

 First and foremost:  I am beginning to realize that anti-racists actually believe that “race” is a real thing.

It isn’t.
While there are genetic differences between groups of people, they don’t at all align with what American’s define as “races".  In fact, a person from
East Africa is more genetically similar to a person from Europe than they are to someone from West or Southern Africa.  Biologically speaking, the term “black” person is completely meaningless. There is actually more genetic diversity within the continent of Africa than between parts of Africa and the outside world.  People from different parts of the continent have completely different, completely unrelated languages, culture, and ancestry.  No one in Africa identifies themselves as “black”, any more than a person in Vietnam self-identifies as “yellow”.  People on opposite sides of Africa are literally not even related to each other.
But genetics is not even what Americans mean when they talk about race.  It is used to mean a “type” of person.  It is supposed to tell you what “team” someone is on, who “your” people are.

The idea that a few random physical traits is what defines a person is not universal - you don’t find the term in ancient texts, even though Europe, the Mid-east, Asia and Africa all had knowledge of each other and trade with each other for tens of thousands of years.
In fact, the concept of “different races”, as we think of it today, was invented by racists, for the purpose of justifying colonization and slavery.

People used to pretend it was possible for science to determine whether someone was a criminal based on the shape of their skull or the bumps on their head.  But it was false.  The physical body tells you nothing about the mind.  Physical traits are determined by nature.  But culture is determined 100% by nurture.  A person adopted from infancy by foreigners will have zero accents from their parent’s country of origin.  Nothing in one’s DNA determines what name they have.

But that means doing a study in which you make the names on applications stereotypically “black” isn’t really testing for prejudice based on skin tone at all.  It’s not testing for prejudice against people with African origins.  It isn’t looking at a characteristic which is a fundamental and unchangeable part of who a person is.  Its looking at prejudice based on culture.  It is the equivalent to submitting applications with names like Bubba or Jed or Billy-Bob and then saying it demonstrates racism against white people.  People of any race can choose to be a part of any specific sub-culture – suggesting otherwise is itself racism, quite literally.
Choosing to not make a point to mention one’s race on an application is absolutely not “whitening” it!  That phrase itself assumes that white is the default; that white people have no need to specify their race, but everyone else should make a point of listing it.  It would be like someone with a gender neutral name not specifying their sex on a resume and claiming by not writing “female” on the resume they were “maleing” it up.
The idea of “people” in the sentence
 “Black people who were brought to the United States by force (ie in the cargo holds of slave ships)”, in the context of what people alive today should do in order to maximize their individual chances of success suggests that everyone of a particular race is “one people”, a distinct “type” of human with characteristics so identical that individuals are all interchangeable.  Not a single black person in the country was born into slavery, never mind taken from Africa by force.  We’re not all one single rhizome soul that spans infinite generations, all basically the same person.  People are individuals, and they only experience what they experience.
We seem to think about race the way we think of (non-pet) species, as all basically interchangeable – such that it is not a big deal for any individual to die, but it is a tragedy for a specie to go extinct.  While war and murder may be terrible, we consider “genocide” to be a completely different level, as though it were for some reason worse, or in fact at all different, to kill millions of people who happen to have a few more sections of DNA in common than it is to kill millions of random people.  Hate crimes are given special weight and attention, as though the reason for being murdered randomly makes it more or less ok to be murdered, as if being murdered after being picked out of a phone book is somehow better for the victim than being murdered for your external appearance.

There is absolutely nothing about skin tone or hair texture or eyelid shape that makes a person a particular “kind” of person; that determines who they are or what they like.
Nobody collects and reports on data regarding how all people who are left–handed vote, or on the average education or income of people with attached earlobes vs. unattached earlobes.
Nobody suggests that ‘of course people who wear glasses would prefer to interact with other people who wear glasses’ or that short women would prefer to marry short men.
Grouping people by handedness or earlobes is totally ridiculous, but it is exactly as ridiculous as grouping people by skin tone.  And this is something “anti-racists” do as much, if not more than, the people they wish to make less racist.

I suspect that most, if not all, of the race activists would feel that if every child in the next generation was mixed, and after just a few generations it was impossible to distinguish clear “races”, this would be a bad thing.  Instead of considering it an end to racism, it would be called “genocide”, to breed “minorities” out of existence.  (Never mind that this would also mean an eventual end to “white” people.)

For example, there is an implication in “now blacks in San Francisco make up only 5.22% of the population (less than those answering "mixed" and less than "other")“ that having more of the population identify as “mixed” than black is somehow an inherently bad thing.  I see it as a sign of society beginning to move past the racist concept that anything other than purebred European is automatically “black”.  Up until very recently, all official forms and documents listed a few options, of which mixed was not one, and you had to pick one and only one.  All of those mixed people would have selected black (or Asian) before, and made the number look higher. If every person in the US picked a partner who didn’t look like they could be from the same family as themselves, after a single generation every survey would have 100% “mixed” people, which would mean there was 0% “black” people. But no one would have been murdered or displaced. Explain why this would be negative for any specific individual?

 Of course the majority of so called “African-Americans” who are descended from slavery are at least slightly mixed race already. Just like how our whole concept of race was created by racists to justify colonization and slavery, the idea that everyone can be categorized as one specific race - and that anything other than pure-breed European is “colored” - is from the same people and the same era.  Obama is not black!  Obama has equally as many genes from
Europe as from Africa.  Every time someone refers to him as “the first black president”, they are keeping the traditional concepts such as “octoroon” and “one drop of unpure blood” alive.  If he is black for being half African, then he is also white. Why aren’t we calling him the 44th white president? The reality is neither; he is mixed.  Just like most African-Americans whose family didn’t emigrate here from Africa within the last generation or two is (at least a little bit).  There is no such thing as a “light-skinned black person”.  There are mixed race people, who are only forced into the category “black” because we’ve all collectively agreed to accept the rules made up by slave-owners, and we have been accepting it so long we are blind to how racist it actually is.  Our acceptance of the concept as real is what leads to “solutions” as ridiculous as the ones from the “Radical Imagination” article on banking, in which all (undefined) “black people” get all debt forgiven and zero interest rate loans being taken seriously enough to be published in a mainstream nationwide publication https://nyti.ms/3iCxFxt

It was dominate people of European origin who first divided the population into only two meaningful groups, themselves, and {everyone else}, and used skin tone to make the distinction.  So while people of African origin were the only ones formerly enslaved, people from
India or China or Aboriginal Americans all had to use “colored” fountains and doorways as well.  The use of the term “colored” as a catch-all for every single non-“white” person, regardless of language, genetics, culture, national origin, or citizenship, was one of the most significant manifestations of post-slavery racist America, implying merely from the existence of the term the special status of “white” people.
And yet today it is actually anti-racists that have revived the term, barely hiding its conceptual origin by reversing the word order: “people of color” instead of “colored people”.
If the racist history of the term leaves one wondering what term would be better – there is none!  It is the concept that is racist.  There doesn’t need to be any way to group all of humanity into “white” and “everyone else”, because there is no non-racist circumstances where such a concept is useful.

For generations we (Americans) have all agreed to pretend that there are actually meaningful categories called “race”, by which you can determine something meaningful about an individual person based solely on the about of melanin in their skin; so much so that everyone has internalized it and believes it is actually true - and now we are clinging to our wrong beliefs, treating it as an unquestionable given


The idea that it is “natural to want to be around your own kind” is literally exactly the reasoning used by white nationalists who insist that they are not white supremacists.  They say they don’t “hate” anyone, and that they aren’t racist, they just think people should be around people who are similar, share similar values and culture, they want what is best for their family and their people, they want to remember and celebrate and honor their heritage and history.  This is the central argument of segregationists and people who fly the confederate flag and even members of the KKK.  We identify them, correctly, as racists, but those exact same claims and arguments are no less racist ideas just because they happen to be held by members of an oppressed group, or their supporters.
Wanting to be "around your own kind" is exactly the reasoning of the racist whites who resisted integration and whose "flight" created inner city ghettos. “
… attempts toward integration in particular was tried in the past, with furious resistance from whites, as well as "white-flight."”  This was a problem, rightly decried.

The other concern has been the changing character of a neighborhood that residents were comfortable in, with neighbors they were happy with, and small businesses that they counted on
” "Changing character" is code for "white people moving in". The fact that segregation has been forced on a community for so many generations that it is now embraced doesn’t make it any better.  Separate but equal has always been an invalid concept. It is invalid when white people propose it as a solution, and it is just as invalid if it’s black people embracing it.  Separate is not, has never been, and will never be, equal, which is the whole reason our highest court struck its formal legalization down. As long as it is anti-racists supporting segregation, I don’t have high hopes we can ever move past it.

most humans have some tendency to prefer association with their "own tribe" with whom they are most familiar, have the most similar experiences and beliefs, and with whom they most identify.  

The degree to which humans are separated within a country varies throughout the world, and consistently, the more separate they are, the more racism and conflict there is:

 where ethnic groups have distinct areas apart from each other within a country, there is more conflict. Why? Well, partly because it facilitates separatism”
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2013/05/17/5-insights-on-the-racial-tolerance-and-ethnicity-maps-from-an-ethnic-conflict-professor/?arc404=true (open in private tab to bypass paywall)


Going back to “with whom they most identify” – we collectively decide what characteristics individuals identify with; identity is not any more a real thing than race is.
This is not just my opinion, its been shown experimentally time and again.  People will identify with whatever entirely arbitrary grouping you put them into. 
Literally, even when people are assigned a random group based on a flip of a coin or roll of a dice, group orange will show more affinity, trust, concern, and generosity to another group orange than they will to a group blue. This tribalism is so deeply a part of the human brain that this effect shows up even when the people know that their assignment was random.
A person’s “identity” is what society tells them it is.

As I opened with, there is no biological basis for the American concept of “race”.  But there is no ethnic or cultural basis either, the people who self-identify and/or are identified as “black” by others in the US have as widely varying a genome as they do from “white people”, they have as broad a range of local accents as white southerners, Midwesterners, new Englanders, etc, a wide range of dissimilar cuisine, music ranging from rap to jazz, a wide range of skin tones and features, varied levels of education and class… literally the only characteristic that can be said to encompass all people designated “black” in America is that designation itself.  And in turn, the only reason our “tribe” is considered to be those other people so designated, as opposed to people who specifically share our DNA (which is a specific subset of all people with African heritage), or people who share our nation of birth (ie all Americans) or language, or religion, or any of the other dozens of characteristics one can use to designate a group, is because all of America has bought so deeply into the colonial pseudoscientific concept of race that we have all internalized it and made it the single primary source of identity.  Other people who were born here, whose parents and grandparents were born here, who have no remaining accent from their families nation of origin, no known family in that foreign nation, don’t always think of themselves as first and foremost their assigned “race”. They think of themselves as Americans. 

Whatever characteristic society deems one which can make a nice dividing line between groups of people, people will choose a side.  You can identify as republican or democrat, Christian or Jew or Muslim (or even Buddhist, Hindu, or atheist!), masculine or feminine (that’s a whole can of worms for another day), military or civilian, by race or by local sports team.  People choose which categories are most significant, and it’s really only for recent immigrants and black American’s that it is just assumed that race will be the single dominant trait that defines identity.

This idea we have all bought into, that “black” and “white” are real categories that represent some fundamental truth about who a person is and neatly divides all people into one of two clearly defined binary “types” which happen to correspond to a clearly visible physical trait is what allows us to pretend that the average inequality between different cultural subgroups is a product of “racism”.
But if we look past modern
America, it’s easy to see that isn’t true.  There is the US history of the early Irish and Italian settlers, but perhaps even more illustrative is a much more recent example, from a culture independent of the West and European colonization: Japan

Specifically, Korean-Japanese.
Japan annexed / colonized Korea at the very beginning of the 20th century.  The military took farms and other property from Koreans and gave it to Japanese settlers.  Many Koreans, without restitution and now landless, moved to Japan where they could get factory jobs or other menial labor jobs, which they could get because they would work for less than the Japanese.  Then WWII happened, Japan lost and was forced to give up Korea, then Korea had a civil war over communism vs capitalism, the US got involved, it was settled with a 2 state solution… meanwhile multiple generations of Koreans, people who had been born in Japan, lived their whole lives in Japan, spoke mostly or only Japanese, had no known relatives in Korea, are still officially considered foreigners.  Your parents and grandparents may have all been born in Japan and lived their whole lives there.  You could even have a great-grandparent who was Japanese.  Officially, you are a foreigner.  You have to register with the government, get fingerprinted, choose to affiliate with either North or South Korea, check in every 3 years.  Not only can you not vote, but it is entirely legal to be discriminated against in housing and employment.  You are not eligible for government jobs.  On the social side, Korean Japanese are generally considered to be lazy, dirty, simple-minded, sneaky, and criminal (although if they do commit a crime, they can be deported, to a country they have never been to).  They have a strong association with technically legal gambling, as well as to yakuza (the mafia).
Today, if you have the right resources and connections it is possible to obtain citizenship, although you risk being ostracized as a sell out to the enemy by other Koreans and still won’t be accepted as one of the Japanese.  Nearly every statement you can make about black people in
America you can substitute Koreans in Japan and it remains an accurate statement.
What makes this most illustrative for the plight of race relations in the
US isn’t the similarities – it’s the big dramatic difference: Japanese and Korean people look so similar that without language and other cultural cues, they can’t be told apart.  Not just by ignorant westerners like us, but by each other.  This is best illustrated by the fact that it’s relatively common, if a person has the opportunity and resources and is willing to give up all ties to friends and family, for Koreans to move somewhere, forge papers, and start over pretending to be Japanese. As long as they never come across anyone from their old life and no one tries to trace their paperwork too far, they can live a lifetime with no one finding out.

Another example is the Tutsi and Hutu of Rwanda, a sometimes violent tribal conflict between two ethnically identical but culturally distinct groups that went back 1000s of years before a brief European colonization led to an independent democracy which in turn led to a reversal of power between the two groups (as the historically dominate Tutsi were outnumbered by the Hutu), which also reversed the direction of social power and discrimination.  Perhaps the biggest contribution of the colonizers to the conflict, though, was introducing the idea that the tribes were not just lineages or social statuses, but actual “races”: two entirely different “types” of person.  Since they are in actuality not distinct ethnicities, the information was written on official ID cards, making it easy to distinguish people and prevent anyone moving from one team to another.  Now oppressed became oppressor, and government stoking of prejudice led to so much violence that many members of the once dominate Tutsi fled the country as refugees.  And then formed an army, began a civil war, and (presumably) assassinated the moderate president, sparking off the famous genocide of civilian Tutsi.  The rebel army indiscriminately killed civilians too, but there were many fewer of them, so civilian Tutsi’s ended up being killed around 10 times more than civilian Hutu – in the west the conflict gets presented in the standard oppression narrative with clearly identifiable good guys and bad guys, powerful and victims, but the reality was never so simple.  The best analogy would be if white South African’s (a once powerful minority) had fled the country due to citizen violence against them, formed militia, started attacking civilian towns, and murdered the president, and then black South African’s, egged on by media, started trying to eliminate all remaining white people in the country, whether they were involved in the “resistance” or not. Of course, in
Rwanda the displaced former powerful minority had no physical distinction nor history of outright explicit colonization, but the analogy may help picture the complexity of the situation.  In that situation, it’s hard to designate a “good guy” or even a victim.

What these examples show is that it really isn’t about skin tone at all. It isn’t about an instinct to favor people who look like oneself, it isn’t about a history of slavery, or even historical power, and it has nothing to do with “white supremacy” specifically.  All of these are just how it happened to manifest because of the particular random historical events of America.

The fundamental similarity in all cases isn’t a difference in “race” - it is a sense of “otherness” held by two groups of people, one of which has more resources than the other. In both of these examples that otherness was so artificial that it had to be codified on paper just so the dominate group could know who to discriminate against.  It's an issue of being outsiders; plus the intergenerational inheritance of wealth inequality, as much a factor in
Japan as it is in America.

We can not end the fundamental human brain need for tribalism.  It is one of the most deeply rooted aspects of our mind’s evolution.  We will not make people stop favoring who they think of as “their” people by telling some specific people that they shouldn’t do it.  However, we can change the criteria people make for deciding who is part of their tribe.  We can decide to group all glasses wearers in one group, and they will develop their own culture and be discriminated against, or we can decide that all the humans in our nation are part of the same tribe, treat each other that way and talk that way and it will begin to manifest.

Unless we understand the real fundamental root of the issue – the tendency of humans to group each other into “us” and “them” categories and assume “us” is good and “them” is bad, we have no real hope of improving the situation for any particular specific example of it’s manifestation.  We will forever be chasing tiny specific symptoms of the real issue, while failing to in any way address the root level changes that could actually make a difference.
Any factors which tend to enhance the feeling of otherness will ultimately strengthen the conflict.  Any factors that reduce it will ultimately reduce the conflict.

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