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Response to Virgil

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My response to Virgil's recent blog entry http://www.online-literature.com/forums/blog.php?b=6743 (itself a response to a post of mine to a recent blog of his) became so lengthy that I felt it was more practical to make it an entry of my own:

Thanks for the response, Virg. First, I realize I came off a little more partisan than I intended when I referred to the Bush years as "divisive." To begin with, you're absolutely right that there have always been disagreements among political opponents and bipartisanship, and that the president is always criticised by opposition. I also agree that there have been divisive presidencies before, under both parties, in the past. I think, though that Bush's presidency is going to be remembered as among these more controversial presidencies. There has been an escalation in this bipartisanship in the last several years that has created really strong and unhealthy animosity between republicans and democrats that, in many cases, has not been at all flattering to either side. I think there has been a much stronger cultural division along party lines, much more emotional involvement and polarization along party lines than under Reagan, or Bush senior, or at least the first part of the Clinton years. To be fair, I think this rift along party lines can be partly traced back to the Clinton scandal. I think that undermined the respect people felt for the presidency and opened the door for bad feelings between the parties. Follow that with controversial decisions and war under the Bush administration, and you start getting people thinking more about the agenda of their political party than the good of their country. You have one side talking about "real" and "fake" Americans and dismissing their opponents as out of touch, unethical, snobs, and another side dismissing their opponents as ignorant backwoods rubes and calling a sitting president (among the tamer things) a monkey. I don't think either party has been coming out looking all that great during the Bush years, and so in my comment I meant it when I said I hoped that we could reign back some of this particularly virulent partisan sentiment and think about ourselves as Americans first and members of political parties second, and I both respect and admire the way you expressed that sentiment, that regardless of our political leanings we should all be able to unite as Americans with pride in our nation. I think it is no accident in this election that McCain was emphasizing "Country First" and that Obama was saying there are no blue states and no red states, just the United States. Both candidates were recognizing that, whatever you think the reasons may be, Bush's presidency has had the effect of polarizing the political parties, and I was hoping that whichever of the candidates won, he would be able to mend some of that divide and get us all to place the good of our country first again.

As for the racial issue. Again, I absolutely agree with you that formally institutionalized racism is no longer a tremendous problem in this country. I also agree with you that there is a need and responsibility in the black community to develop some pride in self and to have the confidence not to believe that you are limited by the color of your skin or the position of your birth.
Hereís something else to put into perspective,more people have died from violence in Obamaís inner city of Chicago than American soldiers in Iraq over the course of the war. No one can tell me that racial victimization is the cause of that.
I'm well aware of that fact. I think it is shameful. I don't quite understand the point you're trying to make with this statistic though. As someone who lives in the area you allude to, I think it is very clear that one factor in the problems going on in these neighborhoods is the inheritance of the deeply segregated racial divide that existed in Chicago's past, and that hasn't yet vanished as completely as one might wish. I'm not saying that race is the only factor in the violence around here, which it certainly is not, but it sure doesn't help that there's a deeply ingrained history of racial resentment and conflict.

I don't believe in using the excuse of racial victimization, or any victimization as a catch all excuse for all the problems of a person or a community. Certainly that person or that community must also do their best to help themselves. All the same, living on Chicago's South Side, I've gained some insight into how difficult, even impossible, that can look from a certain perspective, and how much the after effects of segregation still have a very real impact on peoples' lives in this community. I can see how a kid growing up in one of the tough communities to the west of Hyde Park is living in a world full of people who look like him, and they are living in a sh**y neighborhood, while most of the white people he sees are better off and in nicer areas. I can see how this makes him feel a divide between himself and other races, and makes him feel, based on his own limited experience, that the lives of black people are generally speaking confined to a ghetto environment. In turn, I've got to say that there is the problem on the other side that the people that you think of as scary in this neighborhood tend more often to be black. It's actually just a fact that more (though not all) of the gangbanger, threatening looking young men are African American around here, but that then perpetuates an association of black men with crimanal activity that isn't healthy for anyone including those young men themselves. While I agree with you that it's important not to make this a "crutch" or an "excuse" for someone not to make something better of him or herself, I also think it is important to acknowledge the resentment and the anger that people carry with them based on the way that they've experienced the world. You can't simply dismiss race as an issue in the lives of people who think of it as a very real and immediate issue and expect that to help them any more than the other extreme of dwelling too much on race as an issue is going to help them. I absolutely agree with you that I think Obama's election is going to make a big difference in terms of how people in neighborhoods like this see themselves. I think a lot of black people in poor neighborhoods like this really have believed for years that it was impossible for a black man to become "the man," and the symbolic force of this election is going to have a big impact. Already I hear people talking differently, and more to the point sense people feeling differently about the unspoken racial divide around here. I think that the mantra "yes we can" has the potential to make as effective and practical a change in the unofficial segregation that still lingers (though in a much more complex and nuanced way) in the ghettos of our country as "we shall overcome" did when making those huge strides to end institutionalized segregation. So, to an extent I think you are right that Obama's election may help to bring an end to all people, including African Americans themselves, thinking in terms of racism being strong enough to hold black people back. I certainly hope so.

Putting aside the complex issue of impoverished black neighborhoods, though, I think it's still important not to say generally speaking that we have no racism in this country anymore. Again, I agree with you if you only mean institutionalized racism, and I agree that I don't think racism should be an "excuse" for a person not having applied themselves sufficiently to be successful in life. I also agree that there are other kinds of prejudice that are a problem in this country, including economic prejudices against low class people, or religious prejudices, etc. These are also problems for our nation. I wouldn't say that serious prejudice against social class isn't a problem that holds people back, and I wouldn't say that racial prejudice isn't a problem that continues to hold people back or at least to affect their lives more than you suggest. You are right that we all have personal prejudices, and that it is sometimes a fine line between judging the activities and the lifestyle of another person and beginning to judge and dismiss the person themselves. Still, I think there are racial prejudices that remain in this country that are distinctly different from a prejudice against tattoos or other lifestyle choices (and I'm sorry, I actually just don't understand how the flack Palin got as a political candidate is analogous to racial prejudice). I do think that it's productive to not focus on race when it isn't neccessary, but I also think that we should still feel a responsibility to focus on racism when it is neccessary.

One reason that I think it is important not to say that racism no longer exists at all is that I've seen how that claim can be used as an excuse to ignore the racial problems that do still linger or to act ignorantly. I remember once speaking (rather heatedly) in college to a group of white guys who thought it was "funny" on Halloween to dress up in stripped prison costumes, wear black face, and call each other n****. Their response was that this was totally cool because obviously there wasn't any real racism anymore, but it made a black friend of mine feel both angry and frightened at what kind of thinking those costumes might imply. In that case, it was really important to stand up and say that what they were doing was racist, and that racism wasn't over as long as people were behaving like that. It was important to acknowledge that it was racist when a friend of mine (who looks just as classy or not as I do, but happens to be black) was asked to leave a high end store because the saleswoman didn't think people like her belonged there (the woman didn't know we were together, and I not only wasn't asked to leave but was greeted with a broad smile, even though ironically my friend is the one who could have afforded their merchandise). I was just talking to a young woman who said while she was living in New Jersey she had a boyfriend who, when things started getting more serious after several months, told her that he could have fun with her but his parents would never ever approve of him actually marrying a black woman. Tell her racism isn't affecting the way she lives her life. There's also the more overt stuff that still crops up. How is racism dead when my black neighbors in California wake up one morning shortly after Obama won the primary to find swastikas tagged on their house? Or my friend who put out an Obama sign that was painted over with the N**** word? Or another friend of mine who has relatives living in the south who had a cross burned on their lawn just a few years back? I'll agree that these incidents are no longer typical in our country, and I have no problem with not making racism a central issue when it doesn't have to be. I certainly don't think that incidents like this define our country in any way or are a large part of our culture the way they once were, but at those times when stuff like this happens, you have to call a spade a spade, and you have to say that racism does still exist.

Updated 11-09-2008 at 03:39 PM by Petrarch's Love

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  1. Shalot's Avatar
    Thank you thank you thank you!!
  2. Virgil's Avatar
    There has been an escalation in this bipartisanship in the last several years that has created really strong and unhealthy animosity between republicans and democrats that, in many cases, has not been at all flattering to either side. I think there has been a much stronger cultural division along party lines, much more emotional involvement and polarization along party lines than under Reagan, or Bush senior, or at least the first part of the Clinton years. To be fair, I think this rift along party lines can be partly traced back to the Clinton scandal.
    I think you mean to say an escalation of partisanship. Oh please. I donít remember how old you are, but itís quite possible you have only been an adult (18+) under the current president. I lived through the Reagan to present years as an adult and I saw the partisanship. Reagan was constantly characterized as a war monger (and senile too) who was going to blow the world up and there was incredible opposition Star Wars defense system and need I even mention the Iran-Contra scandal where Reagan was close to impeachment. And the uproar the left went into when Reagan called the Soviets and evil empire. And it was no different und Bush senior. George Mitchell, the Senate Majority leader at the time and Democrat is credited for bringing down the Bush senior presidency by constantly getting Bills to the President that had to be vetoed. In fact Bush senior had the record for the most consecutive upheld vetoes in the history of the country. That is partisanship. And we know about the Clinton years. Perhaps youíre perception of partisanship is being influenced by the new media. During the Clinton years we got cable news and the constant 24 hour news cycle. That elevated the perception of partisanship a notch and in the last eight years we got the internet and forums and blogs. Have you read any of those political forum and blogs? They are vicious, filthy, angry, and despicable. That has elevated the apparent partisanship another notch. But as far as the government is concerned, itís no more, no less.

    Follow that with controversial decisions and war under the Bush administration, and you start getting people thinking more about the agenda of their political party than the good of their country.
    Well controversial decisions do make for increased partisanship but that doesnít mean that you avoid controversy. If the decision wasnít based on the good of the country then why did so many Democrats support (yes the decision for the Iraq war was bipartisan) it? Including a number of people who ran for President in 2004 and Hillary in 2008. Ulitimately the Bush Presidency will stand on the outcome of the Iraq war. If, as I believe in ten years Iraq will be a model for the entire middle east and the economic engine for the region much like Germany is for Europe and Japan is for the far east, then the Bush Presidency will be viewed as a great Presidency that overcame incredible home opposition..

    I actually just don't understand how the flack Palin got as a political candidate is analogous to racial prejudice). I do think that it's productive to not focus on race when it isn't necessary
    That was in the context of people having prejudices. She wasnít just savaged for her policies. She was savaged for who she is.

    You have one side talking about "real" and "fake" Americans
    Thatís not new. That goes back for decades. In fact itís a variation of Nixon calling the elites ďpointing headsĒ and the regular people ďthe silent majority.Ē There is almost nothing new under the sun in politics. There are cycles of recurring themes, under different names.

    I don't quite understand the point you're trying to make with this statistic though.
    The point is that if people have perceptions of blacks it isnít just based on the color of their skin. If you want to label me racist for that then go ahead. But when you do so you cut off debate and fail to acknowledge the problems in the black community.

    All the same, living on Chicago's South Side, I've gained some insight into how difficult, even impossible, that can look from a certain perspective, and how much the after effects of segregation still have a very real impact on peoples' lives in this community. I can see how a kid growing up in one of the tough communities to the west of Hyde Park is living in a world full of people who look like him, and they are living in a sh**y neighborhood, while most of the white people he sees are better off and in nicer areas.
    Well, that may be the result but thatís not the root cause. The root cause is the break up of the black family structure from the 1950s on. This was identified as far back as 1965 with the now famous Daniel Patrick Moynihan report on the issue. Look it up. Iím not going to get into it. Moynihan by the way is possibly my all time favorite liberal thinker and politician.

    One reason that I think it is important not to say that racism no longer exists at all is that I've seen how that claim can be used as an excuse to ignore the racial problems that do still linger or to act ignorantly. I remember once speaking (rather heatedly) in college to a group of white guys who thought it was "funny" on Halloween to dress up in stripped prison costumes, wear black face, and call each other n****.
    Well, I disagree. These are slights, itís not victimization. These slights happen to everyone. I donít know how many times Iíve been asked if Iím in the mafia because of my last namewhen I introduce myself . I belong to several Italian-American organizations and they are constantly trying to repress all the gangster movies and TV shows because they offend. Most Italians are not in the mafia. But this is not victimization and neither is what you describe.

    I fundamentally disagree with your thesis there because I believe the perception of victimization does more harm to the black community than any real racism that lingers. Like Iíve said it paralyzes blacks from achievement. It affects their outlook at life. No one is holding African Americans back and they shouldnít think it. I am going to end this with the same quote of Thomas Sowell as I had before: If Jews had waited for the end of anti Semitism to make it in America they would still be waiting.
  3. mortalterror's Avatar
    1.I am hesitant to speculate upon the politics of earlier times, because I have neither first hand knowledge, nor am I a specialist in American history. I do not want to make assumptions about what you do or do not know, because I don't know your life or what is in your head. But we are roughly the same age and frankly, I don't remember the Reagan administration. What I remember of the Clinton years is a blur until about '98 when I started reading news articles and following events on television. Maybe you matured a lot faster than me, girls are like that or so I hear. Maybe you had a subscription to Time and Newsweek when you were five. What I do know is that Virgil has the advantage on both of us to the tune of two decades and arguing the fine points of the Carter administration with him would put anybody our age on dangerous ground. Tactically, it's bad form. Although I agree with you that the heat has been turned up in recent years I am also willing to accept Virgil's version of history where there is always a division in America between conservatives and liberals. I can see this dating from our foundation and the days of the Federalists and anti-Federalists, as I believe they are called.

    2.While it may be true that in the past decade or so Republicans have been much the more aggressive party one cannot leave the Democrat's affected faux victim passive aggressive posture out of the equation. They are a people that love to be beaten up. They're like a younger sibling who will antagonize an elder until they get pummeled and then run to the parents so they can tattle tale.

    3.Whatever moral superiority the Democrats had they lost after the jingoistic witch hunt they played on the Clintons. It just shows how small an American's heart can be, that it contains only one love and admits no rivals. How they used to love her and how they threw her under the bus with glee! It sickened me. I remember during the darkest days of the Bush administration, when they fired all those Republican lawyers because somehow they weren't conservative, weren't pro-Bush enough. When you can't find enough enemies outside the ranks that you start hunting within your own lines, that's the time to be frightened. And the media! The media were like sharks scenting blood in the water, all pretense of objectivity lost in the lust for controversy.

    4.I have my own stories about racism, and in large part they concur with yours. However, I find that personal experience is often the weakest form of evidence. You were probably better off with your general discussion of fact and logic. These kinds of larger topics do not admit of particulars so much as they are better detailed in generalities. The admission of personal testimony is the first step toward making the discussion ad hominem and not about issues or ideas as it perhaps is better framed. Racism is not about one person, or one event, however much the tendency is to make the conversation about great men, benchmarks, or the prototypical man on the street. Thus it cannot and should not be about us or our relations. The particular however compelling, however instructive, is diminutive. Arguments such as these cannot wear a face without becoming pathetic and acting upon peoples raw emotions, and I don't think that's the appeal you wish to make. When someone uses personal experience to highlight a broad social issue it opens them up to counter arguments based on personal experience since everybody no doubt has a story to go with their opinion.

    5. Excellently argued as usual. Good job, Petrarch.

    Edit: I see that Virgil has posted a comment while I was writing my own. I think what he is getting at is the so called "soft bigotry of low expectations" which is how racism tends to manifest itself in liberal circles. I don't think that he's completely ignoring the economic factors involved in race. At the risk of putting words into his mouth, I think what he's saying is that what we have now is no longer a problem based in race so much as a poverty based calamity from which all people are free to suffer. I don't get my white check in the mail anymore or attend the annual convention where we learn how to turn our money into even more money. In America, the most important color is still green and that's as likely to affect people's behaviors, where they grow up, how much education they have, what their opportunities are in life are etc. as any other factor. While it is true that black people shoulder a disproportionate amount of the poverty burden in this country, it is also true that they do not bear it alone. There is no force keeping them down which is not also keeping poor white people down. Just because someone is born into poverty does not preclude their chance to rise. In the past this was not so. In the past, black people were not aloud to move out of problem neighborhoods with the drugs and the crime. Now, there are options. Doubtless, there are other aggravating factors which effect this issue beyond the economic, but crime, drugs, and poverty are American issues. It's sort of like the difference between being a wage slave, and an actual slave, as I've seen you point out recently.

    I also think that the Barack Obama story is disingenuous. It is a far different thing to be of black African descent than it is to be of black American descent. What he proved is that any person raised by a white banker and given an ivy league education can be President. I already knew that. When some kid from the streets, with two black parents, who goes to community college nights while working overtime at the plant becomes president of the United States of America, I'll be out there celebrating with the rest of you. A full half of our elected officials are millionaires. There is a gentry in our nation, an emerging class structure with lawyers, doctors, and businessmen ruling the roost. Obama is a lawyer.
    Updated 11-09-2008 at 08:16 PM by mortalterror
  4. Virgil's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Mortal
    Edit: I see that Virgil has posted a comment while I was writing my own. I think what he is getting at is the so called "soft bigotry of low expectations" which is how racism tends to manifest itself in liberal circles. I don't think that he's completely ignoring the economic factors involved in race. At the risk of putting words into his mouth, I think what he's saying is that what we have now is no longer a problem based in race so much as a poverty based calamity from which all people are free to suffer.
    Close Mortal. Poverty is still poverty for its own various reasons, but black poverty is not a result of racism. I love the phrase "soft bigotry of low expectations". For a President who is supposed to be inarticulate that is a perfect characterization of the situation.


    While it may be true that in the past decade or so Republicans have been much the more aggressive party one cannot leave the Democrat's affected faux victim passive aggressive posture out of the equation.
    Well that's a matter of perception Mortal. I don't see it that way. I see the Democrats as being uncooperative with the war and demogoging every chance thay had.
    Updated 11-09-2008 at 09:35 PM by Virgil
  5. Petrarch's Love's Avatar
    Well, I seem to have acquired a healthy circle of political respondents: the hippie, the wolf and a Roman emperor. Will blood be spilt?

    I've got a lecture to prep this evening so I'm going to be relatively brief, but some response:

    I think you mean to say an escalation of partisanship.
    Indeed!

    Oh please. I donít remember how old you are, but itís quite possible you have only been an adult (18+) under the current president. I lived through the Reagan to present years as an adult and I saw the partisanship. Reagan was constantly characterized as a war monger (and senile too) who was going to blow the world up and there was incredible opposition Star Wars defense system and need I even mention the Iran-Contra scandal where Reagan was close to impeachment. And the uproar the left went into when Reagan called the Soviets and evil empire. And it was no different und Bush senior...
    I figured you would pull the age card on me. It's true that my adult experience of politics has been primarily during the Bush and a bit of the Clinton years, but it's also true that you're not the only person I know who's lived longer than I have, and other people I've spoken to, from both sides of the political coin, and some of them significantly older than you, seem to agree that the past eight years have been particularly polarizing. Absolutely I agree that the oppositional nature of politics: the attacks, the grandstanding, the inflated patriotism, the claims to humble origins, the depiction of your enemy as an elitest or as an ignoramous. All this sort of thing has been going on, not only for as long as US politics have been around, but probably wouldn't look too unfamiliar to mortal's avatar. Anyone who's spent time translating Cicero knows that there's nothing new in politics. At the same time, when you look back through history, some presidencies are remembered for being more controversial, more divisive than others. I wasn't born when Andrew Jackson was president either, but I can still tell that he was a more controversial figure than James Monroe, whose tenure was nicknamed "the era of good feelings" because of the remarkable lack of virulent partisanship. I'm not trying to make a claim that this is something radically new, I'm trying to say that I think 10 to 20 years from now history is going to remember the Bush era as among those in which people within the political parties were especially polarized.

    Well controversial decisions do make for increased partisanship but that doesnít mean that you avoid controversy. If the decision wasnít based on the good of the country then why did so many Democrats support (yes the decision for the Iraq war was bipartisan) it? Including a number of people who ran for President in 2004 and Hillary in 2008. Ulitimately the Bush Presidency will stand on the outcome of the Iraq war. If, as I believe in ten years Iraq will be a model for the entire middle east and the economic engine for the region much like Germany is for Europe and Japan is for the far east, then the Bush Presidency will be viewed as a great Presidency that overcame incredible home opposition..
    I was only pointing out that, regardless of how you feel about him and his policies, Bush's has been a politically divisive and controversial presidency. Even you seem to admit that it will be remembered as one that "overcame incredible home opposition" if it is ultimately remembered as a success. As you say, sometimes it's necessary to court controversy in order to make the right decision, and so this may not necessarily be a bad thing in the long run. Too much controversy, however, can ultimately distract people from looking at the issues themselves, and I think right now we need to swing back the other way a bit and take a little time to stitch up some of the wounds and find ways to patch up some of the resentment that has been building between members of the two parties, to focus a little more on what our common goals as Americans might be (if for no other reason than so that they can rest up before tearing each other apart again in about four years' time).

    On the racial issues, I'll have to comment later. Duty calls.
  6. Virgil's Avatar
    Petrarch I think I answered why I think the perception of increased partisanship has occured in the last two presidencies. The 24 hour news cycle in cable and the vicious internet forums which push the passions make this a different environment. That's perception. The one change that perhaps has led to an increased in actual partisanship is the change over of the southern Democrats to Republicans. When Democrats had the southern conservatives in their party, then they were forced to moderate. In recent years there is no reason to moderate. Nonetheless I still maintain for the most part partisanship and division has occured in every Presidency in my lifetime. The only one I can think of in the last fifty years that there may not have been divisive was Eisenhower's. At least that's my perception. I wasn't there for that one. I may be old, but not that old.
    Updated 11-10-2008 at 08:06 AM by Virgil
  7. Janine's Avatar
    Well, I seem to have acquired a healthy circle of political respondents: the hippie, the wolf and a Roman emperor. Will blood be spilt?
    That is great, Petrarch - "the hippie, the wolf and a Roman emperor." I don't know about you, but I had enough blood for this week. I am not really the fighting type so I am bailing out of this discussion gracefully, even though I did read everyone's posts. At least, I heard everyone out. Hopefully the air will clear soon.
  8. kiz_paws's Avatar
    Well, I seem to have acquired a healthy circle of political respondents: the hippie, the wolf and a Roman emperor. Will blood be spilt?
    Ha ha, cute

    But seriously, this is a really good discussion, great points are being made without too many feathers getting rustled. As usual, though, I'll not make a comment other than this.
  9. Janine's Avatar
    Good idea Kiz, I should not have spoken to begin with. Better just to read and hold back on comments...safer that way.
  10. pussnboots's Avatar
    that's why you NEVER see me comment on these type of entries
  11. Petrarch's Love's Avatar
    Add three chickens to the lot... Just kidding ladies, you're more than welcome to just listen in like an impartial Switzerland.

    And now, back to the wolf at the door. Yes, I do think you have a point about the increased hype of the 24 hour news cycles and so on. Still, I predict that ten to twenty years from now the Bush presidency will be remembered as one of the more controversial ones. Neither of us will really know until those ten or more years have passed, though, so we'll have to agree to disagree.

    As for the racial question, I think you're misunderstanding my stance. You seem to be assuming that my saying that racism still exists (I don't say it is prevelant; I say it exists) and that there are real problems for which race is a contributing factor, that I therefore mean that race is holding back the entire minority population and that it can be used as an excuse for laziness or bad behavior. I actually do agree with you that a "soft bigotry of low expectations" can and does exist. I've sometimes been appalled at the suggestions I've heard floated by liberal white academics about race: well intentioned, perhaps, but just as prejudiced in their way as other forms of racism. The problem with making race too much of a factor is that it ultimately brands minorities as some "other" group rather than accepting people as equals. I've certainly had debates with my liberal friends in which I've argued strongly for race not being an issue. I certainly don't go around treating my black friends or colleagues differently or go about asking them about the "black experience" (which I know some of my friends find damned annoying). When there is no need to bring up race, I see no reason to bring it up. I have the exact same standards for my students regardless of race or background. More generally, I also have no "low expectations" for any person. I believe everyone should apply themselves to the utmost to succeed and do their best to behave ethically and respectfully toward others. Suffering is not an excuse for wrongdoing. However, there are gradations between the "soft bigotry of low expectations" and stating that racism does not exist in this country.

    What I have trouble with is the absolute quality of your statement. As I said before, I have no problem agreeing with you if all you are saying is that institutionalized racism is no longer a major problem in this country, which you do say in your posts, but you also seem to be saying that racism does not exist and that it does not affect the lives of African Americans. I agree with you that the vast majority of African Americans are no longer being directly held back from pursuing their goals because of racism (From things I've heard, I don't actually know if this is entirely true in some parts of the south, but I don't know enough about the region to judge accurately). Still, there is a very large range of racist behavior between formalized segregration that prevents people from sitting at the same lunch counter and racism not existing. In the interests of concision, I'll define my objections to what strikes me as your blanket statement that racism no longer exists on two levels:

    1. My first problem with the statement that racism no longer exists is on the level of being able to communicate and understand with people who do feel that racism has, in one way or another, had a real impact on their position in life. Note that understanding where a person is coming from is different from making excuses for that person because of his or her background. Thankfully, nowadays many minority peoples in this country no longer really do feel the effects or the after effects of racism on a day to day level. Some do, however. I'm sorry, but when you're looking at a ghetto neighborhood that is solidly black, the history of racism has got to be a contributing factor to that. Yes, there are other factors. I am familiar with the Moynihan report, and I think that it's true that an unstable family structure is associated with poverty in all races. However, Moynihan himself doesn't deny that the roots of black ghettos and of that unstable family structure itself are attributable to a history of slavery followed by racial oppression. People in racially uniform ghettos know that they are there because of a history of oppression and because that history is still affecting their lives in a very real way, they still feel resentment about that oppression. My problem with your statement is that to tell someone that racism no longer exists when that person feels strongly that one of the reasons that they are in a very bad place is attributable to a history of racism then you seem to be denying something that has shaped that person's everyday existence. I think it is important to acknowledge the gross inequality that continues to exist in this country, even if it is not necessarily due to the actions of people in the present day. I don't mean that people should dwell on the role of racism, but that it is important to acknowledge the role that racism has played in shaping impoverished black communities because it is only by feeling that this resentment has been acknowledged that people are going to be able to let go of that resentment. Telling someone who feels that race has influenced their life in major ways that racism no longer exists is only going to confirm for them that your reality and theirs are different and divided. Making an effort to acknowledge where a person is coming from but then stressing that they can change that, that it no longer needs to be something that can hold them back is going to be a more successful way of communicating.

    2. The more important reason that I object to the absolute statement that racism no longer exists is that I think it is important that as individuals that we continue to object to unacceptable racial prejudice that we witness in our lives. I agree with Mortal, that generally it isn't the most successful tactic to bring personal anecdotes into a debate, but I intentionally referred to some incidents I've encountered myself because, as Mortal affirms, they are the kind of incidents we all may have witnessed in our lives. I brought them less as evidence than as examples of the type of behavior at which I think we should draw the line, examples of behavior that is not unique to my experience. The question of how we respond to such incidents is, I believe, an important ethical one. I'm sure that we all agree that it is essential to draw a line at unacceptable behaviors and prejudices that we come across. The question, of course, is where we should draw that line. One test for whether an incident is acceptable or not might be whether it would still be OK if many more people started acting this way, or if it would damage peoples' lives in some essential way. A saleswoman very clearly asking a person to leave a store because of their race is just such an incident. Sure, my friend could afford to ignore one such incident, but if it were allowed to become an acceptable behavior, if it were no longer one particular story, but a more general practice, we might be on our way back to a segregated society. In such a case, we need to keep drawing that line, to make sure that it is clear that this isn't acceptable. It's the same thing for other incidents, including hate crimes that paint swastikas and racial slurs on peoples' property, etc. The word for prejudice against others based on race is racism, and claiming that racism doesn't exist makes it difficult to label it as such and speak out against it. I included the incident of the young white men in blackface because of the troubled history of dressing up that way to demean black people and the way demeaning representations like that suggest a way of thinking that has had some very real negative effects on the lives of black people. The act of dressing up itself did not victimize people, but it symbolized a culture that did victimize people. Because of this past, and the way people are likely to interpret such behavior in light of that past, I don't think it's a behavior that should be tolerated.

    I haven't actually noticed gangster stereotyping being a huge issue in the lives of Italian-Americans I know, but maybe this is more of an issue in New York or just an issue I haven't happened to come across. In any case, I believe you that such a stereotype exists and that you don't like it. I notice that you are certainly interested in recognizing a stereotype that applies to yourself and in belonging to organizations interested in putting a stop to it. Much as I can see that this is a negative stereotype that people should probably try to avoid, though, I'm not sure that such a stereotype is entirely analogous to the association of African American stereotyping with some pretty extreme past oppression.

    Of course, if we wanted to be serious, we should really ignore all of the above and start talking about the insidious dumb blonde stereotype. Now that's something to be concerned about.
    Updated 11-10-2008 at 11:51 PM by Petrarch's Love
  12. Virgil's Avatar
    Well, I do tend to talk in absolutes. What the heck, I'm not wishy washy. Personal racism still exists but it is inconsequential. It doesn't hold back African Americans, and since you agree that institutionalized racism doesn't exist why do we perpetuate this perception that I find does more harm to African Americans than good? Look back to a blog entry a couple back where I describe my experiences of of the young people I hired a few years ago. There was one African American young man named Rob. He just got a promotion today. It was something I pushed and had him promoted over someone with more experience. Rob deserved that promotion. He did not get it based on any racial preference. He did not need it.

    If Obama's presidency is about not having controversey, that's fine with me because it means he will be a nothing president, and nothing from a liberal is fine with me. If the Republicans had any testostorone they would push for ending racial preferences and bringing that to the people. Let Obama explain why it's needed and see if it sells. Or he can be controversial and above convention and sign it and be remembered for it. I wonder.

    Well, I've said all I want to say. I'm surpised Logos has thrown my @ss out of here.
  13. Petrarch's Love's Avatar
    Well, I certainly wouldn't want you to become a wishy washy wolf. A little nuance on the other hand... I'm glad your colleague Rob is doing well and as I've said before, I see no reason to bring up race in situations where it isn't really presenting problems for people. My concern is one of not becoming so lax in our assumptions of what is not a problem that we don't continue to encourage the type of thinking that is allowing people to make progress or to recognize the signs of the kind of thinking that could lead to it becoming a problem again.

    If Obama's presidency is about not having controversey, that's fine with me because it means he will be a nothing president, and nothing from a liberal is fine with me.
    As for Obama's future presidency, yes, times of great peace, success and economic prosperity are seldom controversial.

    Well, I've said all I want to say. I'm surpised Logos has thrown my @ss out of here.
    I know. I'm not quite sure how we got away with this, but it's been fun.
    Updated 11-11-2008 at 11:40 AM by Petrarch's Love
  14. Virgil's Avatar
    One last word and this is an analogy. The 1995 or was it in 1996 (I can't remember) welfare reform bill that pretty much put time limits on welfare and frankly pushed more than half of those on welfare off was roundly criticized and had people up in arms just like ending racial preferences does. Welfare reform by all measures has been a huge success, so successful that no Democrat even considers repealing it. It had people up in arms, "oh what are they going to do once they get cut off." Well the same hysteria applies to ending racial preferences. African Americans will do nicely and prove they don't need a handout.
  15. Petrarch's Love's Avatar
    Virg., I'm not actually opposed to ending most affirmative action measures, if that's what you're referring to. I think we may have come to a time when in most places it has served its purpose to help people get a foot in the door. As I've said throughout, I'm not arguing for preferences or exceptions to be made based on race, merely that we recognize and name it appropriately when there is active prejudice at work based on race and to recognize that there is still a marked socio-economic imbalance among racial groups that has yet to completely change.
    Updated 11-11-2008 at 12:47 PM by Petrarch's Love
  16. Virgil's Avatar
    Well, then I'm not sure we're saying anything different. It's just that you seem to feel you (or society in general I guess) need some rhetorical comfort in what we say.
  17. Petrarch's Love's Avatar
    Well, then I'm not sure we're saying anything different.
    What! Has the lion lain down with the lamb? The wolf turned tame? We agree?

    I had this feeling we agreed more than it appeared. It finally struck me that I was waging a broader social and ethical debate while you had a particular social policy in mind. I've gone back and forth on the affirmative action issue for awhile. I can see the pros and cons of it, but in the last couple of years I've decided that I think we really are at a stage in our society when that isn't really the approach we need to solve the type of racial inequalities that still exist. This points out the way in which I think we do differ. Your statements suggested that the reason you think we can get rid of something like affirmative action is that racism doesn't exist in this country. I have big problems with using that kind of statement as the logic behind such a stance, because I think that race still does pose some very real problems for people in this country and that racism does still exist. I don't think, however, that it exists in a way that affirmative action as a policy addresses in a practical way anymore.
    It's just that you seem to feel you (or society in general I guess) need some rhetorical comfort in what we say.
    No, not just rhetorical "comfort." I think we need to make sure that our mindset doesn't become such that we aren't still alert to injustices when we do see them arise. The danger as I see it, is that if you begin to think in terms of racism being over, then you cease to be active about stopping it when you do see it happening, or open rather than dismissive when people do have real and serious complaints about prejudice. We may be at a point in society when we can begin to let go of a few institutionally mandated measures to ensure equal opportunity, but that doesn't mean we can take for granted that race isn't an issue that affects peoples' lives in very real ways or that we don't still need to be alert to speaking out against or taking action against racist policies and incidents.
  18. Janine's Avatar
    You two are still at it? I just read now.....
  19. Petrarch's Love's Avatar
    Actually, I think we're finally winding down, Janine. The ramrod straight conservative and the wacky liberal academic even found something to agree about. I guess this is what happens when two loquacious and opinionated individuals find that they are suddenly able to talk politics without incurring the wrath of the forum elders.
  20. Janine's Avatar
    Who says? hahaha...maybe in here....I tend these days to be liberal myself, Petrarch, and I have this friend (mentioning no names) who still seems rather riled up about certain political things; they need to calm down. I just want to drop it at this point. I hope the dust settles soon...and by the way, I did not find anything you wrote wacky at all. It was well thought out and stated. Everyone is entitled to their oppinion. We do have freedom of speech in this country and I am glad of it.
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