Why I Am Not a Racist. No, Really.
posted at 6:02 am on January 12, 2010 by Dafydd ab Hugh
I am unreliably informed that everybody is a racist. This is, of course, a load of ferret kidneys.
To be a racist, one must, at the very least, believe in the concept of race — where “race” means some discrete and self-perpetuating subgroup of humans, defined by skin color and a certain morphology, but that also affects behavior and (some argue) thought itself. Anybody who accuses (e.g.) Clarence Thomas of “acting white” passionately believes in race-determinism.
This seems accurate to most people; but I simply don’t believe in different “races” of Man: The morphology is inconsistent and its connection with behavior and thought is utterly spurious. What most folks imagine to be “racial” is in fact cultural… and I most certainly believe in different and often belligerent subcultures of Mankind.
But — the critical difference — while race is determined by birth, one’s culture is, in the final analysis, consciously chosen… however much it may be influenced by upbringing.
We know that culture (a.k.a., subculture) is not determined by upbringing, because children of identical upbringing often embrace completely different cultures. There is no corner of the globe (does a sphere have corners?) so remote that it does not provide access to more than one culture. Even the most repressive third-world neighborhood, imbued in Islamism or animism or cannibalism or human sacrifice, cannot help but admit American Borg culture (A.B.C. — “Resistance is futile!”) — from Tinkerbell t-shirts to Coca-Cola to McDonalds to reruns of Baywatch.
I doubt there’s even a single country, region, province, or village that doesn’t provide (if unwillingly) access to more than two cultures… perhaps Fundamental Materialist Euroculture or Catholocism or Baha’i or something spawned by historical colonialism, in addition to A.B.C.; so most people have their choice of three or more cultures to choose from, once they’re old enough to notice the difference. Whichever they embrace is, by definition, their conscious choice.
Where am I going with this? Whenever options are available, choice is unavoidable: Of necessity, each adolescent must choose between all available cultureal options. That choice defines the path the individual takes… nothing cultural is carved in stone nor genetically determined.
There’s that pesky word, individual. It crops up whenever we discuss thought, behavior, responsibility, accountability, liberty, conscience, and ultimately behavior. Simply put, we cannot foist upon others, or upon the impersonal Fates, accountability for our own behavior.
If Hutus slaughter Tutsis in Rwanda (or vice-versa), they cannot excuse their behavior by saying “that’s the culture I was brought up in;” because many others brought up in that same culture did not participate in the attempted genocides on both sides and even tried to stop them. Just as a majority of those raised in Compton or Harlem or East L.A. or East St. Louis do not join gangs, do not engage in random violence, do not assault, rape, or murder innocents.
For those who do, their crimes are their own; they cannot blame “society.”
In fact, all of the heresies of civilization, from socialism to racism to tribalism, stem from the same original sin: collectivism. The only way to sustain such cultures of hatred is to dehumanize outsiders; but to dehumanize, it’s almost a logical necessity to view each human being not as an individual, not as a cardinal number, but as an ordinal number — a representative of an entire class.
Thus, Barack H. Obama is not a man with his own strengths and weaknesses, his own ideals and blind spots, but simply “the first black president,” or “a leftist” or “the One We Have Been Waiting For.” George W. Bush is simply “the son of the 41st president” or “a Texan” or “a conservative warmonger.”
When you insist, against all odds, on seeing each person as an individual, not as a cog in a giant collective, then “race” dissipates like morning fog in the noonday sun; the morphologies that define each race are seen as points on a continuum that are interesting to a painter, perhaps, but are orthogonal (at right angles) to all that which makes a man or woman. I’m a pale-skinned white; my wife Sachi is a dark-tinged Oriental; yet we share an intense and dispositive worldview linking us like the strong nuclear force, far more tightly than could possibly be parted by mere melanin level.
Thus I disbelieve in the concept of “race.”
Ergo, by rigorous logic, I cannot be a “racist.” Asking me what race I am is like asking whether I’m a good Martian or a bad Martian: The only valid response is, “will U. kindly F.O.?”
Cross-posted on Big Lizards…