There Is No Racism Problem Here

I have always taken an interest in what people post on online comment sections, whether it is on newspaper articles or YouTube videos. A lot of people think that racist comments on these forums are all the work of “trolls”- people who deliberately make inflammatory comments for the sake of starting arguments. If we can pass off all racist online comments as the work of trolls, then we can imagine that there isn’t a single racist person online and that the internet is the idyllic bastion of tolerance and democracy.

However, plenty of research suggests that the anonymity of online forums just makes it more likely for people to embrace their prejudice. The book I linked to is just one source I used in a paper concerning this phenomena. A lot of online forums accept pseudonyms, and even if they link to social media, some people may still be bold enough to post racist comments since they can customize their privacy settings on these platforms. Unlike a face-to-face interaction, it is unlikely that there will be consequences for racist statements. I was reading an article in the Howard Journal of Communications that also studied how racists can become emboldened online,specifically on newspaper comment sections, since their racist comments or rants are often supported online. This then creates an echo-chamber where racists dominate discussion and silence more civilized conversations. There is no democratic debate.

This is to say that I don’t think I am over-analyzing when I pay attention to the comments people make online.  One common narrative that I have found on IMDB and YouTube is the idea that some countries don’t have the same racism that America does. I have seen such comments on videos or boards for films like 12 Years A Slave and Selma. The basic gist is that “my country has no problem with black people, either historically or now”, and typically comes from European users. Historically I would beg to differ. America’s history of slavery may be the most prominent but numerous European countries participated in the slave trade.

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Present day, my biggest issue with this argument is that it ignores one of the unfortunate realities of racism. Racism can be generated from a complete lack of interaction with a group, but it can also be generated from a certain level of sustained interaction. It is easy to say that your country has no problem with black people when there are very little or when they have very little impact on your city or country. When people feel like their culture is threatened, that is when they begin to lash out.  I am not empathizing with this view, or making excuses for racists. I am a minority as well and want to emphasize that people can become more intolerant when they “feel” threatened, even if facts do not line up with their view of the world.

Let’s see how tolerant people remain when they start competing with minorities for jobs. I came across a post on the IMDB board for American History X, which helped to crystallize how job competition can contribute to racism as well . The film follows Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton), a former Neo-Nazi who tries to save his younger brother from the life of racism he once had. As Derek reflects on what led him on the path to white supremacy, he remembers his dad being killed by black gang members after responding to a 9/11 call in a drug den. However, Derek also remembers an earlier incident; a conversation with his father.

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Years earlier, Derek tells his dad that they started reading Native Son in school, which is about a young black man in poverty. Derek’s dad makes it clear that he thinks “black books” are being used at the expense of good books. Derek’s dad, a firefighter, then shared a story of black firefighters being hired even though they weren’t qualified. We do not know how Derek’s dad knows they weren’t qualified. Derek’s dad also refers to the need for diversity as “nigger bullshit”.

An IMDB forum discussion titled “I agree with Derek’s dad on most point…” argues that Derek’s dad was undoubtedly racist but he had a good point about diversity trumping talent. A link is included but you may not be able to access it if you do not have an IMDB account. I have included screenshots below as evidence.

Most of the replies in this discussion echo the misconception that affirmative action results in unqualified candidates. There is a misconception about affirmative action flooding workplaces with black C students instead of white A students. However, such hiring is illegal and affirmative action mostly involves selecting a minority from a pool of qualified candidates. Affirmative action in the US also does not instil quotas, which is another prevalent misconception.

One response in particular got my attention:

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In case you can’t read it: “I agree 100%, my uncle and his friend years ago both tried out to be police officers in Philadelphia and despite having higher test scores than two black aspiring police officers, they didn’t get the job, it instead went to the other candidates. That shows how messed up the US is, employers should higher the most qualified candidates instead of trying to up their diverse employee stats. It’s simply stupid.”

I have heard similar stories before, and I have yet to hear such a story where there is proof that the black candidates were unqualified. I thought I would give the poster the benefit of the doubt and ask him how his uncle knew the black candidates got lower test scores.

His response:

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“This happened a little bit before I was born so this is what I was told (I was told the others were unqualified, I assume this was observed during physical training). I love how you automatically assumed I was racist, triggered much?”

So basically, this poster’s uncle actually has no proof that the black candidates were unqualified. I respect this poster for actually being honest; he could have just lied about his uncle seeing their test scores himself. Yet I also detest that he heard this story, doesn’t know the details and is now using it to fuel his attack on minorities. The next time a black person gets a job instead of him, he’ll likely assume they were unqualified. Then he’ll tell his kids this story, and they’ll tell their kids….

First we get this ignorance, disguised as an argument for merit. Next people might complain about having to accommodate new languages or religions.

Let’s see how tolerant your country is when immigrants and minorities are blamed for a poor economy, crime, changing culture etc. This is already happening more and more in Europe with the refugee crisis. No country lacks a racism problem. That is either a lie or the country has very few minorities.

 

Race Is Socially Constructed- But it Still Matters

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I have recently made the commitment to post to my writing instagram account, “wmoviegrapevine” at least twice a day. I post to “moviegrapevine” 3-4 times a day, but posting to that account is generally easier. It only requires finding suitable images and offering some commentary. For wmoviegrapevine I also need to come up with original writing or find excerpts from my previous works, and then find a suitable image. For a while I was only doing one post, but I noticed a relatively quick increase in followers when I started posting more. The momentum took me from 73 to 84, where it has now stalled again. Either way, 2 posts are better than one and I think my laziness stopped me from committing to 2 earlier. It can be hard to post when juggling several other responsibilities, but I prefer trying to make time, instead of excuses.

Finding a topic to write on is usually the hardest part. I sat on the bus for a few minutes thinking of what I wanted to discuss and I remembered one of the arguments about racism that I detest the most. I have read many comments online saying that the discussion of race and racism is unnecessary, since we are all one race, the human race. After all, race is socially constructed, so it has no real impact on our lives and doesn’t matter. Firstly, the sentiment that we are all one race is lovely, but I hate the fact that it is often used to downplay the impact of racism in cases of police brutality, hate crimes, employment discrimination and so on. It is a convenient platitude offered to silence people who truly want to engage with an issue. If you just blurt out “we are all one race” you can bask in the glory of your own enlightenment while also ignoring facts that demonstrate that many institutions and individuals don’t act on that principle.

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As a starting point, I’d like to ask these enlightened ones to read this study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Research Fellows Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan sent out resumes in response to over 1300 employment ads, ranging from clerical work to customer service roles. The resumes were crafted to display identical levels of skill and qualifications. Some resumes had names that people may think of as “white names” or more race-neutral ones, such as Jacob and David. Others had names that people tend to associate with people of colour, such as “Jamal”. Despite equal levels of qualifications the resumes with white names received more callbacks for interviews. Each resume with a white name needed 10 resumes to get a call back, resumes with black names needed to send 15 to get a call back. If the resumes display the same level of skills and qualification, why is there a noted difference in callbacks? If people are colour-blind then the names shouldn’t have any impact. One of the most common beliefs among “colour-blind” preachers is that skill and a desire to work hard are all you need to be successful. Then why are “black names” (Jamal and many other names people think are black names are actually Arabic in origin) holding some applicants back? Keep in mind, these names are not all “ghetto” ones. What justification do you colour-blind people have for the results of this study?

The argument that a social construct doesn’t matter reminded me of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows. The Pulitzer-nominated book mainly examines the impact that the internet has on our brains but Carr also includes an interesting segway that examines how societal constructs can change the way humans think. His example was the use of time and I think it provides a perfect parallel to the oft-cited “race is a social construct” argument. Although categories such as “white” and “black” have not always existed, there have always been people with different skin colours. Likewise, the units of time that we now call “hours” and “minutes” have always existed. The only difference is that we did not always have names for them and we did not always arrange our schedules by them. We used to rely on the sun and the moon to measure our days, but overtime we adopted more precise times for arranging meetings, transit schedules and so on.

Now imagine that you are late for work for a work meeting for the fourth time in a row. You walk into the meeting room and everyone is already seated, with your boss at the head of the table glaring at you. Why don’t you tell him that the start time of 10:00AM is socially constructed, so showing up at 10:10AM doesn’t matter. The sun is still up, so it is still the morning. You are still on time and you refuse to let foolish social constructs dictate the way you see the world, or the way you behave. Do you think that argument will go over well?

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Getting rid of racial categories or pretending they don’t exist is not enough to end or even diminish racism. It is a fact that many people have racial preferences for their romantic or sexual partners. If we get rid of the category of “black”, people will just go from saying “I don’t like black guys” to saying “I don’t like dark-skinned guys” or “I don’t like guys with curly hair” etc. Cops won’t be more suspicious of “black people”, they’ll be more suspicious of people “of African descent”. It is true that race can at times be fluid, since some black people might be lighter-skinned than people of other races. However, people need to realize racism and discrimination as a whole aren’t just about melanin.

Everyone “sees colour”. The real test of whether or not you are racist is what you do with that visual information. There is nothing wrong with noticing that someone is lighter-skinned or darker-skinned, or that they are a different race. The issue is if you think less of them for it e.g. this person is black, therefore they are stupid. This person is black, therefore I will never date him. This person is black, so there is a greater chance he will attack me. That is racism.

Saying “I don’t see colour” just means that you don’t have the moral fortitude to actually make these distinctions. It is too hard for you to see colour and not be racist, so it is simpler just to pretend like you can’t see colour at all. Yet you will probably be the first person to argue that we don’t need affirmative action and that blacks would be better off if they weren’t so lazy. The next time you say “I don’t see colour” or hear someone else saying it, don’t get sucked into this black hole of denial. Ask them if they could see colour and still avoid being racist, which is what plenty of people manage to do. Ask them why they can’t wrap their head around that task. Better yet, ask them what they are physically attracted to, what they think that about black people disproportionately killed by police, or ask them what they think about affirmative action. You might discover that they do see colour after all.

 

 

Abigail Fisher -#StayMadAbbey, racism and affirmative action

“If you’re a person of color, the racism beat is also a professional commitment to defending your right and the right of people like you to be treated with consideration to an audience filled with readers champing at the bit to call you nothing but a nigger playing the race card.”-Cord Jefferson

I have never written about racism professionally, like Jefferson has. However, I have frequently studied it, either in my free time or for my studies. The article that this quote comes from, essentially boils down to Jefferson’s dissatisfaction with the cycle of racism in America:

  • Racist incident
  • Angered outrage
  • Back to normal until the next racist incident

Every time racism appears, there are writers, such as Jefferson, who do their best to cover the issue and inform the public, only to be told they are overreacting or even that they are racist. In this era of supposed colour-blindness, people not only refuse to talk about race as a whole, but many also do anything in their power to deny or justify acts of racism. We have reached an era where people seem generally confused by the concept of acknowledging someone’s race, and also not being racist. Let me break it down for the people who struggle with this concept:

1) Most Jamaicans are black (Not racist)

2) Most Jamaicans are black, therefore most Jamaicans are stupid and violent (Racist)

I share Jefferson’s frustration, and it is part of the reason I usually avoid the comment sections of online articles about racism, whether it is yet another incident of Hollywood whitewashing, police brutality against blacks or simply racist comments by a public figure.

Many people will argue the comments are only an example of online trolls, people who get amusement from emotional online responses and deliberately make incendiary comments. However, denial of racism is a widespread phenomenon and it is very clear that a widespread social phenomenon can manifest itself online as well. People will use arguments such as “Why can’t we just be colour-blind” “You race-baiters are the real racists” to defend everything from the use of a slur to disproportionate killings of young black men by police.

Colour-blindness, or colour-blind racism, is the fulcrum for all of these ignorant comments. It is a mentality that assumes racism is either dead, or only isolated to fringe groups like the KKK. Colour-blind racists are ignorant of lingering institutional racism and genuinely argue that minorities are no longer discriminated against. This then makes it easier to argue that whites are now the most oppressed group in America since minorities have things like affirmative action. Eduardo Bonilla Silva’s Racism Without Racists also analyzes how many people who have this thought pattern also do not support interracial marriage and would not approve of more minorities moving into their neighborhoods. The guise of “colour-blindness” is just a smoke screen used to avoid the discussion of racism and support racist systems.

Affirmative action has mostly benefitted white women, but I am pretty sure most people who think it is racist do not know that. Although affirmative action policies include women of all races and numerous minority groups, “affirmative action” and “black people” usually go together like a game of word association. This word association makes it easier for colour-blind racists to argue that undeserving blacks routinely get into schools and jobs that they don’t deserve to have access to. One of these accusers is Abigail Fisher a women claiming she didn’t get into the University of Texas at Austin because she is white.

Abigail Fisher isn’t the first person to do this, and probably won’t be the last. Before the apologists jump in, the facts show Fisher is wrong. The admission records show that 42 white students with lower grades than Fisher got into U of T at Austin. Only 5 minorities (one black, four Latino) got in with lower grades. Additionally, 168 black and Latino students with better grades were not admitted. These statistics are a good material example that debunks one of the biggest misconceptions of affirmative action: that unqualified minorities disproportionately succeed due to it. It is against federal law to hire someone who is unqualified, yet the myth persists that affirmative action allows lazy, unqualified blacks to steal jobs from whites. Here is just one comment I found on the Time article about Fisher:

“… I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve seen a young black woman at my school and wondered “Do you really deserve to be here, or did you AA your way in?” – and I CAN’T be the only one thinking this!  I try not to think thoughts like this, but it is basically impossible now.”

 

Like most colour-blind racists, this person will probably be the first to tell you she doesn’t even see colour if you ask her if she is racist.

This case has been going on since 2013 and although facts clearly show Fisher doesn’t know what she is talking about she has also gained support from Supreme Court Justice Scalia, who said black people tend to fare poorly when admitted to more selective universities.

Black graduates at the University of Texas have responded amazingly, with the hashtag #StayMadAbbey, which is often accompanied by a picture of themselves in their graduation hat and gown. However, with so many comments like the one above and the high level of resentment for minorities and minority success in colour-blind America, it is hard for me to be hopeful. Incidents of racism like Fisher’s allegation never bring about a productive dialogue between two sides. It always degenerates into an argument between intelligent people and the colour-blind racists and apologists who refuse to heed arguments and verified statistics the other side has to offer e.g.

” Way to make a TOTALLY BS point using 19yo data sets! “- a commenter’s response to stats from 1995 showing that white women received most affirmative action placements. This comment jumps to defensiveness and denial and misses the point the article is making.

I emailed Eduardo-Bonilla Silva once, and he told me that I should remain hopeful for progressive change. Yet I still find it hard to heed his words. People who harbor racist thoughts deny racism time and time again. When they are called out on those racist thoughts they accuse other people of “political correctness” or “race baiting”. When someone else makes racist statements or acts on racism the colour-blind racists flock to their rescue. How can we move forward when we can’t acknowledge one of our biggest problems?

Allow me to close by stealing a passage from my poem “Our Post-Racial World”:

 

I always hear people use the analogy of a cut,

Why do we keep picking at a cut instead of letting it heal?

If you keep talking about racism it makes things worse,

To someone who is supposedly “colour-blind”, there is no cut,

They will ignore the cut, bleeding, and infection because they want to maintain the illusion of good health,

“You have a cut.” “No I don’t.”

“On your arm. I can see it.”

“I’m fine, you’ve got to stop being so sensitive.”

“I’m not being sensitive, but it’s a pretty bad cut. Maybe you should get a Band-Aid or something.”

“I don’t need to do that since there is no cut. Even if there was, it’ll go away if you stop talking about it.” “What? You don’t need to let the cut ruin your life but you need to acknowledge it and take care of it. It’s right there, you’re bleeding.”

“Yeah I’m bleeding, but the blood’s not coming from a cut. You’ve got to stop pulling the cut card.”