Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A New Way of Looking at Racism

No racist would ever consider themselves a racist. No bigot says to himself, "I'm a bigot. I know it's wrong, but I don't care, I hates me some _______ people." These conversations of introspection happen in the minds of people that are becoming aware of their prejudices (which are very real) and attempting to modulate their behavior or reaction to those things they marginalize out of habit rather than out of conscious response.

I worry that I might have some racist tendencies. All too often when something bad happens in the news my mind begins visualizing who might have done something, and the criminal inevitably is a minority. Juan Carlos Avena and I had a discussion about this in 1999 when someone broke into my car in Provo, UT and stole my sub-woofers and over 100 CDs. I told Juan Carlos that I kept seeing two Hispanic males as the thieves, even though I had no reason to think that the crooks were Hispanic.

When I was first married, I admit that I did expect my wife to do certain things for me because she was the woman. I've since tried to eliminate these feelings from my behavior (I'm sure she could provide a list of ones I still do/have). I constantly try and remember that issues of "race" and crime are not linked. The color of one's skin has little to do with the content of one's character. It is the cultural upbringing of the individual that can influence behavior. As many times race is different across a shared ethnicity, it is easy to fall into the trap of blaming a race instead of a culture. However, let me say that when I say "blame a culture" that too is a trap. There are good citizens and bad citizens in every culture. The heteronomous laws of the majority culture might prompt rebellion or angst. You cannot "blame a culture" for the bad behavior of its members unless that culture is wholly bad, like say the culture of NAMBLA members. But, when thinking of sociological groups of people with shared cultures, people often will blame the culture, and hence, the race of that culture.

Latin America is interesting because a person of white, black, brown, yellow, red, etc. extraction can all be called Hispanic. Their ethnicity is Hispanic. Their race is what it is, but their ethnic group is culturally Hispanic. This goes agains the cultural stereotypes in the US.

I was reading a book called Tarrying with the Negative by the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek and he wrote something that has had me thinking for days. Here goes:

What we must be particularly attentive to is the difference between this "postmodern" racism which rages around Europe and the traditional form of racism. The old racism was direct and raw--"they" (Jews, blacks, Arabs, Eastern Europeans...) are lazy, violent, plotting, eroding our national substance, etc., whereas the new racism is "reflected," as it were squared racism, which is why it can well assume the form of its opposite, of the fight against racism. Etienne Balibar hit the mark by baptizing it "metaracism." How does a "postmodern" racist react to Neo-Nazi demonstrations and riots? He of course beings by expressing his horror and repulsion at the neo-Nazi violence, yet he is quick to add that these events, deplorable as they are, must be seen in their context: they are actually a perverted, distorted expression and effect of a true problem, namely that in contemporary Babylon the experience of belonging to a well-defined ethnic community which gives meaning to the individual's life is losing ground; in short, the true culprits are cosmopolitic universalists who, in the name of "multiculturalism," mix races and thereby set in motion natural self-defense mechanisms. Apartheid is thus legitimized as the ultimate form of antiracism, as an endeavor to prevent racial tensions and conflicts. What we have here is a palpable example of what Lacan has in mind when he insists that there is no "metalanguage": the distance of metaracism toward racism is void; metaracism is racism pure and simple, all the more dangerous for posing as its opposite and advocating racist measures as the very form of fighting racism. (226)


I know that I have heard myself saying or at least thinking these very thoughts in the past. I will attempt to make them my past, and not indulge in any kind of bigotry.

I would love to hear yall's thoughts and comments.


JC said...

You know they weren't hispanic. They took your Beastie Boys CDs.

Darla M. Wiese said...

very interesting! I'm study a lot about this sort of thing right now in my Multiculturalism, Gender and Media class, which is a critique class (if you can ever take or audit a media criticism class, you'll love it! You learn a lot and simultaneously feel smarter than 88% of the population). A lot of the stereotypes/metaracism you describe is orginated in the media.

It's changing a bit now, but I guarentee when you were a child (say 15-25 years ago) the majority of the images you saw on tv were of white people and families. When something bad happens, the person portraying that action would be colored, for several reasons, though one of them is an added demension of fear (of the "other" and of the stereotypes ascribed to these groups).

The news media, being 24/7 and all now, has to invent stories and make big deals out of non stories in order to keep feeding us information on demand. A lot of the stories are petty crimes (some serious ones too, don't get me wrong) and because many minorities live in poverty (and poverty tends to perpetuate crime) we see more minority faces attached to crimes in "real life too"

That is just a brief response, and biased, as I'm coming at it from a Communication scholar, but--- I applaud you for recognizing these tendencies (We all have them) and for actively trying to rid yourself of them. I blame the media for placing most of these ideas in our heads, and I think you'd be pretty amazed if you conciously critiqued the media in your life for a week.

Ryan S. said...

Is it racist to hate people from Florida? What about Canada?

Mickelle said...


Can I get an exemption for not liking Yankees?

Paul Dunn said...

Didn't you just post a dozen pictures of Tyra Banks on your blog? You really have to give yourself a break every once in a while and lighten up.

JC is right, they couldn't have been Hispanic. They were probably... aw, hell. Please sign me up for Anger Management 101.