I have a very good friend who believes (as best I can tell) that I am racist, that she herself is racist, and that basically everyone is racist. I really don’t think so, but when I try to persuade her, she quickly retreats behind a knowing smile and a refusal to discuss it because “It’s no use, I’ll never change your mind and you’ll never change mine.”
It kind of discourages me, not so much because I dislike being called a racist; I know what my friend means, but what I dislike is what seems to me to be a misunderstanding on a very important subject, and my friend’s refusal to help resolve it. Either she doesn’t care, or I’m too damn mean when I argue.
I do not believe that my own race is superior, or even different in any significant way. I likewise do not believe that any race is inferior or different. As a matter of fact, the concept of race itself seems very impractical to me: certainly worthless for any scientific purpose, a vague and incoherent category.
There was a time in Western history when people did believe race was an important biological division of the human species, but almost no one with the slightest modicum of education thinks that now. My grandparents thought African Americans were constitutionally different from white people, less intelligent, more animalistic, uglier. But their generation’s belief in race was not a product of poor education, it was a product of elaborate miseducation.
Racism itself, apart from its implications, apart from the myriad social and political actions and effects that it causes, necessarily involves or refers to conscious belief, however complex or confused, in objective (probably biologically determined) distinctions between categories of human beings. E.g., skin color is said to be “white” or “black”. These dubious distinctions then have or are considered to have interpersonal, social and political implications.
If a white person feels uncomfortable sitting next to an African American on a bus, or doesn’t want to hire or let her children marry African Americans, that is an interpersonal or social effect. It may be caused by racism; but it may also be prejudice caused by insular experience or mistake.
I can freely confess, as I think most honest people should, to various types of prejudice. I am prejudiced to some degree against non-English speaking people, people who favor drugs other than caffeine and alcohol, Californians, Southern Evangelicals and WASP elites, psychiatrists, and people who smell like food that I don’t eat.
It’s hard for me to be prejudiced against other races, per se, because I don’t know exactly what “other races” are. As a child I thought I knew, because I was miseducated. However, my miseducation was not elaborate enough to prevent me from noticing, when I actually met Jewish kids and black kids, that they were not significantly different from me because of anything called “race”.
I really prefer to hang out with people I know, people with whom I have more in common. We all do. But that’s not racism. It might be prejudice. There’s a big difference. Racism is a cause, prejudice is a possible effect of racism, and/or other causes. If you can’t see the difference, you will probably believe everyone is racist because everyone has some prejudices. But any particular prejudice, even the prejudice of a “white” person against a “black” person, may not be caused by actual racism at all.
Belief in race is very similar to belief in mental illness. Both concepts are mistaken, and products of elaborate miseducation. Importantly, both usually cause discrimination. Many types of discrimination, including employment and housing discrimination by race, and treatment or insurance discrimination against mental illness, are illegal or otherwise socially proscribed.
I believe all discrimination based on erroneous concepts (e.g., “race” and “mental illness”) should be discouraged. But society cannot easily tell people what to believe and how to feel. Attempts to do that are propaganda, persuasion, public relations. It is more decisive to tell people what to do or not do. That’s law. The useful target is behavior, not belief or feelings.
The present-day cult of confession of universal “racism” (maybe not quite universal, but certainly universal among all white people who don’t confess) is a serious impediment to understanding. Racism needs to be identified for what it actually is before it can be prevented from causing discrimination, volatile hatred, social conflict, violence, war. What it actually is, is the theory or conceptual error of defining a human individual by his or her biological, animal body.
Psychiatry does the same thing. Throughout its history, racism was endemic to it; psychiatrists actually led the way in developing the legal justifications and the methods of the Holocaust. Unwillingness to know about these things, and reluctance to learn more about them by discussing them with others, upsets me, in no small part because my children and grandchildren are Jewish.
We cannot be successful (and we shouldn’t want to try) teaching our children that it’s wrong to favor their own family, their own school, their own group. Prejudice and loyalty cannot be outlawed. There are few interesting games without opponents. But many forms of discrimination can and must be outlawed. Racial injustice and psychiatry are two peas in that pod.