30 September 2020

Bigger concepts: Why the anti-racism movement isn't helping end race inequality PART 3/3 (Part 5/5 of a series on race based on emails to my family)


The final Chapter

(A few notes on specific things from a family member's last response, written before I got to the larger things I wrote about in the last post, follows):


Regarding music of the 90s: I listed a small sample of musicians who got plenty of airplay, who’s work had zero, or very little violence or other negative themes.  It’s not just that they weren’t the “most” violent.  I’m not really sure where the idea that radio stations deliberately promoted it came from, but I think it’s simply not true.  The fact that indie musicians with a specific message to promote are heard on public radio is a reflection of the pop music industry as a whole, it is no less true for “white” music.

Regarding reparations:
My point is that the symbolic reparations Jews got had nothing to do with their recovery. 

Your response is in terms of “moral right” –
For one I’m not interested in what people feel is “fair”, because that has little to do with the actual day-to-day conditions of reality and well-being. 
My point had nothing to do with what anyone does or doesn’t “deserve” – I wrote in my first reply that I would support it if anyone had any serious proposal – my point was that the proposal wouldn’t actually solve anything.

For two, I don’t believe a lineage is interchangeable with a person.  In fact, I believe that belief is THE root of all related issues, but I’ll come back to that in detail soon… The “heirs” which sometimes got reparations were the children of people who personally experienced direct harm, not the great-great-great-grand-children.  If generations are all part of the same unit, then all of us should be going back to Europe and Africa (and Asia, etc) leaving the remaining “Native” (aboriginal) Americans all of North and South America, and anything short of that will forever be the greatest injustice, perpetrated by all of us who choose not to leave.

I pointed out that the amount of money given by the US government to black people is tens of thousands of times more than Germany gave to holocaust survivors, even if they didn’t restrict it to only black people or call it “reparations”.  You suggest seed money for black-run businesses should count, and in fact there are things like the federal MBDA (minority business development) and procurement guidelines and quotas – which are not available to whites.  Again, not officially referred to as “reparations”, but with a total real world impact significantly higher than Germany’s contribution to Jews was.

Regarding other groups being oppressed, I was never suggesting that no other group was oppressed, nor that you thought that.  I was pointing out that the way groups overcome the negative perceptions that society (every society, without exception) puts on outsiders that join them is by cultural integration, not by “movements”.  Movements have times and places with value, but in terms of actually being accepted by the mainstream, that can happen without movements, but it can’t happen without integration.

I never said the primary measure of “oppression” is statistical cause of death – I think there is an overwhelming obsession with oppression which is both unwarranted by the facts of modern reality and, regardless of its level of truth, is counter-productive overall.  What I said is that if we are honestly concerned with people’s well-being, then our efforts should be proportional to the causes of suffering. 
Even if “oppression” is rampant and everywhere and there is this enormous and unbridgeable power imbalance that everyone is born into and nearly everyone who inherits power takes advantage of their privilege to the detriment of those born powerless, even if that is true, but other factors are more significant in causing suffering among the powerless, those other factors should be the proportionate focus of anyone who claims to have their best interest in mind.
Note also, I never said it should be the only focus, I said in the original as I said here, the focus should be proportionate.

And yes, I agree: “there is no analogous protest movement against heart disease or cancer because people are not held responsible for that “ that too is a big part of what I see as being a problem, not just in this issue but in nearly every issue facing humanity; we can’t care about anything unless we have a group of humans to identify as the bad guy.  I wrote about this a lot in my first letter, (which I now remember / realize I never sent to anyone but Ellen and Becca)

”’Murica” is short for “America”, and is supposed to be the way nationalist redneck hick yokels slur the word.

Your response to my list of things that is attributed to racism prompted the response “Well, you are convincing me of the serious need for a movement that demands a lot more” followed by an example of how racism affects employment opportunity.
 I wrote the list in response to “ in my whole life, I have never heard anyone claim that "100% of bad things in the life of every black person is the direct result of the choices of white people."” But you didn’t answer my question of:
What bad thing that happens to black people doesn't get attributed to white people?”
instead adding to the list of things that are blamed on racism!
So I say still, “There is no room there for any self-determination or influence over one's life in this narrative.”


 "Likewise, it is the experience of racism and disproportionate obstacles to success that make people feel disempowered,"
Maybe. Or perhaps belief of it is enough.  We have seen dramatically from the Stanford Prison Experiment, Jane Elliott’s blue eyes vs brown eyes, and many smaller lesser known experiments the degree to which people will embody the expectations on them.  There are countless social experiments that show the degree to which people can be primed, how they will seek out confirmation of what they believe, of how social acceptance is the largest factor in beliefs and values, how people see what they expect to and side with those they consider their “kind”. 
If you think my extending this as logically applying to black kids internalizing what they hear is societies expectations, this specific thing has been found to be true too:
Extensive research with adults has demonstrated that the subtle activation of stereotypes can negatively impact people’s behavior and performance. For example, in a seminal paper, C. M. Steele and Aronson (1995) showed that African-American college students perform more poorly on a challenging test of verbal ability after being subtly reminded of their negatively stereotyped racial identity… This initial demonstration has been replicated and extended in a number of different domains and with a variety of target groups (see Inzlicht &Schmader, 2012, for a review). Both theory and research suggest that stereotype threat effects can occur when people feel at risk of confirming negative self-relevant stereotypes. This concern can increase arousal and consume and/or deplete cognitive resources leading to stereotype-consistent behavior, including decreased test performance ”
The different experiences of black people who are recent immigrants speaks significantly to the order of cause and effect between obstacles to success and a feeling of disempowerment, as explained well by this person from the Caribbean who moved to the US and experienced, much more than actual racism, the absolute assurance of the black American community of how absolutely rampant it is and the degree to which it would permeate their life:

(I don’t excerpt it here because it is all so relevant and fairly short)

In other words, I think feeling unempowered is itself the single biggest obstacle, and that it comes at least as much from our insistence of how unempowered black people are than from anything “society” is actually forcing on every individual with more melanin in their skin.


Regarding the term “movement”:
I don’t know that it is actually a universally agreed definition that “movement” refers specifically to law and policy change.  In fact, when you first define it, you wrote “
Movements are about societal and governmental change.” Perhaps I misunderstood the “and” as being “and/or”?  What are you considering “society”?  Only government?  Private business?  Only people determined to have “power”?  Only white people?  All individuals? 
In a capitalist constitutional republic, government may have a significant amount of power, but it is limited.  Businesses are run by, and represent, individual people. 

When Critical Mass rides bikes in mass, they aren’t demanding government or business do anything, the goal is awareness and visibility and respect by drivers, by random individual people.  Does that not count as a movement?  Given that this isn’t a communist country, should “governments” and “employers’ be a single category?   Government never mandated weekends.  Governments also have no direct control over who individual people choose to hire.
"I would not automatically assume that when people point to (especially poor) blacks having less access to health care, they are necessarily implying that it is due to deliberate racism, per se…  since such a large proportion of black folk are impoverished, it easily explains why black people are being affected/dying at greater rates than white people"
One of the things I’ve been saying all along is that class and race are not interchangeable.  If the effects are not caused by “deliberate” racism, but are secondary effects of poverty which disproportionately affect people who inherit poverty, then there is no advantage to framing it in racial terms.  If we address the wealth inequality that leads to disparate outcomes, the problems go away.  There is something vindictive in the apparent, usually unspoken, feeling that if we don’t make it racial, efforts to fix it might accidentally help out some white poor people too.  There seems to be an idea that if something helps everyone, then it “doesn’t count”, because its not “reparations”.  If the net result is that all individual people – including black people – are better off, what the hell does it matter?  How does it make the world a better place to call the list of effects of poverty on health “systemic racism” and then focus on making people less racist – rather than focusing on reducing toxic industries, the distribution of hospitals and supermarkets, public transportation, etc?  These are all things that government policy can directly control!  The “movement” rarely raises those issues, and if it does it is exclusively in the context of “institutional racism”, with the implication that racism itself is the thing that needs to be addressed, that if only “institutions” would stop being so “racist” all those problems would go away, and the thing I keep saying is that eliminating “racism” would not end ANY of the things you list as the effects of wealth inequality on health outcome, whereas addressing wealth inequality would address all of them.

And again, this framing of issues as issues of race I absolutely do believe has very significant effects on how young people growing up exposed to them build their self-identity.  Of course it does!  I’m not just talking about BLM, that’s a tiny part of it.  I’m talking about how literally every issue, every problem facing a black person is attributed to racism.  That seems like an extreme statement, but what is the exception?  I’m talking about the entire message, the  statements that “everyone knows” about police bias (even when the statistics don’t bear it out), the blaming of employment, health, representation or lack there of on TV shows, the condition of inner cities, segregation, every disparity, is attributed to racism, and only racism.



"conditions in the black community are that they are a consequence of societal neglect because people do not care enough"
What does this mean!? 

This is like when people who want more gender equality make statements like “society doesn’t value women”.  It’s a nonsensical statement.  “Society” doesn’t mean “government” or “powerful, influential men”.  Society means people.  The collection of all the individual people.  There is no single unified monolithic entity with its own independent thoughts and actions whose name is “society”, there is just a collection of individuals, with individual lives making individual choices.  Women are half of all people.  The statement “society doesn’t value women” is itself a product of deeply ingrained sexism, because the statement implies that women aren’t people, that they aren’t ½ of what the word “society” means.  And similarly, “societal neglect” because “people” don’t care enough doesn’t make any sense.  Which “people”?  The dichotomy between “black community” and “people” implies that the black community isn’t made up of people.  All individual people prioritize in order of relatedness - themselves first, their children second, their partner and immediate family 3rd, their community 4th, whatever they consider “their people” 5th (by race, culture, religion or nation), humans 6th, mammals 7th, vertebrates 8th...

All the members of society prioritize their own community over other people’s community.  This being capitalism first, and a federal republic second, there is generally no focus on neighborhoods beyond the city level.  There is no federal bureau of individual neighborhood welfare. 
The single largest factor in the conditions in any community is the collective actions of the people that make it up.  If you want “people” to care about a neighborhood, where “people” is code for “white people” you don’t do it by emphasizing how those people over there are a different people from you, and you shouldn’t hate them.  Neglect is not hate.  Neglect isn’t even discrimination.  Neglect is just prioritization.  People will always prioritize themselves first.  Which means the way you get “people” (white people) to not neglect certain communities is to make them part of those communities. 

"Yes, it has as much to do with class as race, but after several centuries of blatant racist atrocities, it is no wonder that black people think in racial, not just class terms."
Yes, I never said I don’t understand why people (not just black people, all the self-identified anti-racists and “woke” people and progressives) put everything in racial terms, I am just saying it is counter-productive.


I disagree with your interpretation of history, that “ "It has been movements and demands for systemic changes (along with unions, who likewise make systemic demands) that have given us so much improvement in the lives of poor and middle-class Americans today” I think the biggest contributor, by far, to improved conditions for all classes is simply technology.  After that, as much as I don’t think it is worth it, it is true that capitalism creates wealth much better than any other system, and while it does not distribute that wealth fairly, it does to an extent raise up every level.  It raises the rich higher and faster, but it raises the middle class beyond where it would be without it, and to a small extent even the poor.  The Great Depression affected such a wide swath of American’s, at all levels, that it didn’t take massive protests to push through. The government is made up of people, of citizens, and they don’t automatically want to make all people suffer just for it’s own sake, so sometimes they (we) do things to try to support the people. The 40 hour week was a central demand of organized labor for 150 years, but it was the New Deal that made it a reality.  Another factor is our outsized military, and how it helps secure foreign markets and cooperation. 

And we don’t actually have better pay, when adjusted for inflation, working hours, benefits, and number of household members working.  The single largest factor in the increase in household income is the percentage of married women who entered the workforce.  It’s the combination of inflation making dollar numbers bigger than their values, plus technology and outsourcing making stuff cheaper, that makes it seem like we have better pay.  Ultimately the extent to which pay increases or decreases is simple economics: number of workers who can do a particular job vs number of jobs to be filled.  The harder a job is to fill, the higher the pay, which is why skills and education makes a difference.  If a job is terrible enough, like coal mining or oil drilling, it tends to pay well too.  Of course, being capitalism, if you can get a percentage of money other people earn, like by being a boss or an owner, you make the most of all.  If a job can be outsources or done by robots or anyone who can walk and talk, it pays very little.  There is essentially nothing a social movement can do to change that, short of getting shorter working hours enacted (say, a 20 hour work week), because if the price of labor goes up, employers just find alternatives, like investing in robots or hiring overseas.
While you draw a distinct line between political movement directed at government policy and attempts at social change, I don’t think there is such a clear line.  There were abolitionists in white society and in government hundreds of years before the civil war, never mind the civil rights movement.  Boycotts are against private industry, not government, and even marches that end at city hall or the white house are intended to be public, to gain the visibility of ordinary people.  Police oppression may have been the issue that galvanized gay rights activists, but the pride parade is not directed at any particular policy, it is a demonstration to random ordinary people how many there are and that it is not associated with shame or guilt.  As much as the push for marriage equality way directed toward a government policy, the public push for it itself helped sway public opinion, with its focus on gay people not being depraved sex fiends, but rather relatable ordinary family people, and that in turn helped change the minds of enough people that it influenced government, which is afterall, more or less a democratic institution.  If the goal was just government policy, movements could be entirely expressed by letters and visits to representatives and get-out-the-vote efforts.  Publicity stunts like café sit-ins and bus boycotts were always as much about generating public support by making prejudice obvious and impossible to ignore.  Which is as it should be, since, like “society”, “government” too is just made up of people.  While inherited wealth is disproportionately represented in government (because that’s who society picks), more than half of presidents do not come from the upper class by birth, and (almost) none of them inherit the job title the way most societies though history have done it.  Elections means that even systemic change largely follows the will of the people, even if it sometimes acts just slightly before the majority has changed its mind about a particular issue.  Just in general, I think we tend to frame everything as though we lived in a world of dynastic kings and nobility, peasants and slaves, and it just isn’t the reality of the world we are in.

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