VI. Expressions in the World: Race and Racism
How racism is not a personal or human flaw, but a consequence of the idea of race
The explanation for differences
The idea of race functions as an explanation for people’s behaviors, preferences, and possibilities. It assumes a certain level of sameness, or an essence that allows people to believe that knowledge about one person who ‘is’ a certain ‘race’ is translatable to others of that supposed type.
When someone says something that results in them being labeled, against their will, as a racist, stigmatizing them under the assumption that they will then shut up, this usually results in, at most, a closeting of views the speaker and others who share those views, will not believe make them bad people.
While speech is sometimes used as a weapon to intentionally dehumanize others as part of the process toward political economic or sexual power, sometimes what looks like racism may often be, on closer inspection, a reflection of normative tendencies and how they interact with the idea of race shared by alleged ‘racists’ and ‘anti-racists’ alike.
In different places there are different norms (or: the right way things are done) and often what you see when someone does something you wouldn’t do, and you wouldn’t expect based on your experiences, is a sort of judgment. This is a common reaction to seeing someone act in an unfamiliar way, one of the possible internal expressions of cultures in contrast.
Race is not scientific:
Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.
Species: a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding.
Does having brown eyes, or lots of hair make you a different type of person? These are just features. Phenotypes exist because of geographical isolation and social selection, but it is a leap to conclude that a certain appearance indicates that one is a different type of person, or that a pairing between a human and another human results in someone being “mixed”. Everyone has a different appearance from everyone else. Everyone has differences from even people in their own family. Why do some differences result in a divided taxonomy of human beings?
It is not entirely arbitrary as the idea of “a nigger” was created to justify economic exploitation, and people are still seen through this filter to this day as lower and therefore unworthy of basic human consideration, and what once took place in the fields now takes place in prisons. Cheap labor, the understory of American success is enabled by a belief that some people are innately bad. A belief that requires we do not look beyond the surface of the race as we understand the world.
In this culture we falsely equate having differences, and ‘being’ different.
Part of why race hatred and anxiety seems to be unavoidable, has to do with how we understand ourselves, the other part has to do with how we try to solve problems that come from that understanding.
On one level, it has to do with one of the Truths We Live. If you do a bad thing, you become bad, suddenly you always were. Someone does something and then they are labelled as if the action is innate, as if they cannot change, as if the action represents the extent of their value. “You are an asshole Henry!” And often someone wont change if, in reaction to negative behavior, critics bundle the action with the speaker’s ego which will then defend ‘itself’. Within this general pattern, the strategy for dealing with perceived racism, i.e. calling someone a racist or fascist is inadequate because it does not typically involve an examination of what makes the views possible.
There are a lot of people who are not so far along the spectrum of racial malice, who experience confusion in being labelled for coming to conclusions that are logical given the system of thinking that prevails in this society. People are believed to do what they do because of ‘what they are’, they supposedly have different inner laws and different possibilities. People, no matter their divergence in politics, share this assumption, and this is evident in how nearly everyone discusses themselves or others in racial terms.
The idea of “political correctness” is that there is an imposition of politeness that prevents people from saying what is ‘true’. To treat a person we have never met differently because of actions of others “of that same race” makes sense in a way because if “they” share an internal racial causality then–and you can see this in the world–you only need one way of thinking of and relating to them. For instance, avoidance.
What makes it more complicated than someone merely having the bravery to be “politically incorrect” is that people utilize this logic inconsistently. If someone seen as a different type does something that is interpreted as wrong, that ‘type’ is often mentioned thus implicating everyone else who supposedly is the same. If however, someone supposedly of one’s own type commits a negative act, it is individualized, and they alone are responsible, they have their reasons. The same action also will often be defined differently. In the United States it is called terrorism if someone who is claiming Islam commits an act of mass-murder, but if someone espousing white supremacist views does literally the same act, there has been a general reluctance to also call that terrorism.
Because this thought system is so inconsistent, where within it people accept a classification for themselves then react angrily when other people relate to them based on the system’s logic of sameness, responses to debates about racism revolve in a shallow circle that can never result in meaningful progress.
This worldview is expressed in statements such as: “white people did this to us” or “black people are racist” where actions are interpreted to have a unanimity. Someone listening who has not exhibited, in their actions, evidence for such statements, feels attacked and then resorts to the same logic by talking about the other group as if “they” act with one will and motive. This pattern deepens the sense of an “us” and “them” and the irony is that it is a shared mindset that people use to exacerbate distance and resentment.
Many people are conscious of this flaw, of judging people who haven’t done anything wrong, and yet still such judgments arise almost naturally and shape the experience of our society. The result of being so far away, and unwilling to look up from the label and its meanings, is people will then never know who, is really there.
In becoming increasingly isolated along “type” lines, and in a context where a sense of meaning is created through opposition, where we are valuable because we are “not like them”, being “better” becomes an unconscious routine that our explanations invisibly conform to.
The deeper cause behind behavior correlations is not how people innately are, it is the idea of different categories of people and how it has forged, by being lived from, different circumstances and thus different patterns which are then described as innate. The only reason it may seem we have no choice over racist thinking is because we are not, by default, conscious of our conditioning.
In the current political arena, when someone speaking the logic of the current thought system makes a hostile statement about a ‘type of people’, others may sense that it will cause harm but still not recognize that every ‘type’ is an idea, it is like an address to which meanings have been funneled over time, that no individual should be accountable to. It is not the speaker that needs to be challenged, defeated, but the idea they are looking at.
Identity and Consequence
When someone says ‘I am black’ they are not describing some truth, instead they are basically evoking each observing person’s idea of what that means. Given current perceptions of crime statistics it is basically like saying ‘I am a criminal’ as far as the meaning others see in the word. To then expect to be treated fairly is actually a stretch.
It would be argued, that one does not have a choice over how one is seen. But how can perception determine what you are when it–how people perceive a person or many people–has such wild variation?
The idea of race cuts out context, cuts out history and implies patterns are innate. It is only a place for associations to be stored and therefore the meaning others see in it cannot be controlled. This is how Black Lives Matter undermines its own cause, not through its intent, but in its execution. It is because people allow a concept that has been poisoned for centuries to represent them, that it becomes very easy for others to feel that they really don’t matter.
People think that without continuing to reinforce this mantra of innate difference, racism could no longer be challenged when it is because of this assumption that history, and race-based conflict, cannot be understood and transcended. To cease to organize people in this way does not mean you cannot take account of experiences and privileges divided based on how people have been categorized and treated.
It is understandable that people have racist views, not because they are accurate, or because it is our inevitable nature to have racist behavior, but because having differences is currently interpreted as ‘being’ different, and so the ego can take every human consequence of history and turn that into a story of how “our kind is better”. Norms create a sense that there is a right way and a wrong way, and because of the history created by living on the idea of race, people have different norms. Therefore to see people on the other side of history is to see wrong actions which are then interpreted as “their kind” being wrong. Correlations, from history, reinforce the sense of reality to race.
People no matter how intelligent, still fail to see history as, to this point, a record of living on automatic thinking filtered through an assumption of difference.
Because in this culture people do not ordinarily develop enough distance from their own ego, and the imaginary divisions through which it is reinforced, to see what it is doing, people are trapped in its patterns which leads them to believe that bad actions come from how ‘they’ ‘are’ rather than reflecting expressions of what people are looking through.
It is not a type of person but a type of mindset
Where people now deal with views they see as wrong by labelling, attempting to dismiss a thought or person without actually addressing the system that person is operating on, the person judging may miss not only their shared humanity, but the shared mindset that binds us in conflict.
Debates over the racism often devolve into who does what, and how much, which is beside the point. Just as the football team that happens to be in a person’s city becomes their favorite, that we are conditioned to believe we are part of a separate group other than humanity leads to an arbitrary sort of patriotism just like people display with sports, which leads to comparisons and competition that results in people working against each other, for no reason other than the ego’s need to be better.
What we share is far more profound than having different shades of skin. Culture comes from context, and to try to understand the world independently of context, including the context of dominant truths, is impossible. People muddle culture as being something innate, they say white culture and black culture leading to expectations that there is one way of being depending on how you look, when culture is instead a matter of where you are from.
Underneath the identity and the conditioning is us, the part that does not come and go that exists without any formulas or scripts, that has no enemies and no hatred. All of that comes after, it is only the ideas people are looking through that puts them into conflict. To resent someone based on ‘who they are’, when they have not done anything wrong, is an error of perception, but it is understandable given how their perspective has been shaped, unconsciously, limiting their responses.
The holocaust is remembered as an act of the Nazis or the Germans, but if it was a reflection of innate tendencies wouldn’t we expect German society to keep recreating it year after year? What people miss of the event in remembering the event as caused by a type of person is that the same mindset still persists around the world today, even as people called Neo-Nazis are condemned. Not every individual will act on it in the same way, but it is like a flammable substance that often catches fire. Our interactions are shaped by it: psychological distance, hierarchy, cruelty, alienation, fear. It is the psychological context that is the prerequisite for atrocity.
A primitive group instinct has come with us through history only to be formalized as idea structures we assume to be our self, our people.
Awareness of this inner context will however, in time, loosen it’s hold on us. Sentiments born of past identity-based conflict may not change over night, but they will certainly continue to be inflamed as long as people understand cause as something that is based in race rather than in the idea of race and the practice of it in the world.