Saturday, September 28, 2013

Racial Issues Discussion

Hello and welcome readers!  There was some interest from folks commenting on Memory Hole Blog to have a discussion of racial issues.  So here I am setting up a thread.  Since I know this a touchy issue and discussions could get intense, allow me to set up some GUIDELINES!

First and foremost, be civil at all times and post respectfully.  No personal attacks, etc..  As of right now, comments are not moderated - that could change and I still can remove any abusive comments (and no, I WON'T censor ideas,!).  I don't think this will be a problem - everyone at MHB seems fine - but you don't know who else is reading, may want to participate, so I'd rather say it and have no need for doing so than not.  And please, as a favor to your hostess, no cursing or profanity.

Second - and this is really more of a hint - although our language is certainly imperfect and imprecise, do try to write as clearly as possible.  If your meaning is clear, there's less chance of fuss over misreading and simple misunderstanding.

I would like this discussion to be thoughtful so here are some questions to get us started.  You may answer all or any in comments and go from there...

1) Do you perceive race/ethnicity has impacted your life?  How so?  (be as specific or as general as you feel comfortable with sharing.)

2) Why do we seem to separate ourselves into "us" and "them"?  (I ask this because this has happened in many cultures over the centuries, but it seems in the U. S. it was often done along racial lines.)

3)  What changes in race relations have you noticed in your lifetime?

4) Can we eliminate racism by ignoring the existence of race?

5) What book(s) would you suggest for a reading list on race/racial issues?

My responses:

1) Full disclosure for those who don't personally know me: I'm multi-ethnic/multi-racial - that is (in alphabetical order): African-European-Native American.  It's hard to say how race has specifically impacted me.  Of course my experience I don't believe is typical.  I've not encountered very much, if any, OVERT racism, and covert? Well that's harder to pin down, but of course there have been some things here and there.  I've had supporters and mentors of most races and both genders.  My parents were great, supportive as well as my extended family (which especially on Mom's side looks now like a mini-U.N.). I also grew up in an integrated neighborhood and attended an integrated Church. So I'd better try to relate to everyone.

2) This is not original, but I think it comes from a place of fear.  "We" somehow feel threatened (about something - maybe economic?) and think it is "they" who are to blame.  Along with that, maybe if "we" look down on "them" it somehow makes us feel better about ourselves. 

3)  Hmmm - I think there was a "coming together" during the sixties - people were talking to each other even through the turmoil.  I remember going to a discussion group ( I was in maybe in 9th grade) with my parents.  Then things sort of fizzled out; groups sort of diverged, especially economically.   Now I feel the differences are probably as much socioeconomic as racial. Maybe that's why groups have such a hard time relating to each other. Socially, though - I think interaction of races is a bit lagging, I'll say.

4) Tough one.  Can we really ignore race, should we?  My own take is that we have to work on accepting each other, differences included.  My great Psych prof., Dr, Keller (shout out!) once said, it would be so boring if there were no differences in people.  The only question left would be 'Why are we all the same?'

5) The one I'll suggest is old, but I believe to be classic and more than likely still relevant.  It is  The Nature of Prejudice by Gordon W. Allport.  I will confess I have not read it, but do have a copy here somewhere!

Ok, folks, now to it!


  1. In response to 'question 4,' a sketch:

    If ‘race’ in a racist context cannot be ignored because the racist insists upon it, shall I myself be constrained to insist upon it as well? Is it not possible to concede too much to the racist, here?

    ‘Whites’ and ‘non-whites,’ separate and apart, in the minds of both the racist oppressors and the racially oppressed. The victim is ensnared in the very madness that rules the mind of the oppressor that oppresses. The victim ‘reacts.’ For the oppressor victimizes on the basis of trivial ‘racial’ characteristics. But if this is so, in obverse fashion, as the pole of the racially motivated or structured oppression he dispenses, the oppressor being in himself a steadfast and consistent racist, groups himself on the basis of his ‘own’ racial characteristics, and thus must appear to his victim in ‘racially’ significant terms, as the incarnation of his own ‘race,’ the ‘white race,’ or whatever the case may be. In this way, the rule of the racist spawns an obverse version of itself in the minds of its victims, and both master and slave become locked in the mutual embrace of believing in the substantial bio-deterministic reality of ‘race.’ Each in his own way becomes conditioned or enculturated to the inhuman voice of racism, a voice that they both internalize, wittingly or not. In a racist society, most everyone becomes a racist. This is not to deny the violence perpetrated against the victim, but that in addition to that violence, the victim, under the pressure of his victimization in a society the makes use of ‘racial markers’ to demarcate ranks of substantive dominance, cannot but for the most part begin to structure – or at the very least, be tempted into structuring – the world in ‘racist’ terms.

    In “Black Skin, White Masks,” Frantz Fanon is at pains to demonstrate this very dynamic. Not only does the Afro-Martinican develop an inferiority complex vis-à-vis the ‘white man,’ a complex that results directly from his objective subordination to his ‘white’ colonial oppressors, but in some instances goes so far as to internalize his colonial master’s disdain for Afro-Martinicans: the ‘white mam’ is a race; the ‘Afro-Martinican,’ another race; and quite demonstrably, the ‘white race’ is superior to that of the ‘Afro-Martinican,’ and therefore the ‘white man’ is justifiably to be esteemed and the ‘Afro-Martinican’ to be disdained. The mindset of the oppressed is conditioned by and wedded to that of the oppressor.

    And so it is that Fanon prescribes the following cure to the ‘individual’ ‘Afro-Martinican,’ if not to racist Martinican society as a whole, that the individual ‘Afro-Martinican’ person may gain some footing on saner and more liberating ground: to turn away from the inhuman voices of his ancestors as well as of his contemporaries on all sides.

    One man or woman cannot alone overturn the order of the world or set it right. This requires the collaboration of the many. In the meantime, while awaiting the many to awake to the dignity of a just rebellion, each man and woman can, to some degree, overturn the order of their soul, of the voices of their social milieu as these have taken root in his or her mind. Initially, rebellion is the rebellion of only one or a few. And it begins in one’s mind. ‘Whites’ and ‘non-whites?’ Why not simply ‘humans,’ as insane as they collectively might be.

    I have gone on far too long. Time to yield space to others.

  2. Hi Norm -

    thanks so much for responding! We just might get a discussion going yet!

    You're a bit theoretical, but I certainly see where you're coming from. I wouldn't argue at all that 'difference' should obscure our common humanity! My Mom, believe it or not, thought along the lines you describe ---- she didn't like color tags at all, just wanted to be her own person (and she certainly was!).

    Have you heard of "White is a State of Mind" by Melba Patilla Beals? Excellent book. She is one of the Little Rock Nine. In the book she describes her life after that historical year at Central High. She tells how her own thinking finally comes to be liberated.

    Interesting about folks locking into the victim/oppressor roles. Hasn't Bill Cosby often said he gets flak from - what - the African-American community when he talks of personal responsibility?In my own mind, we need both: personal responsibility and 'corporate' responsibility. In my mind, 'corporate' responsibility addresses ending discrimination, leveling the playing field, creating plenty of good opportunities for all. Individual responsibility is necessary to take advantage of the opportunities that are there.

    It really takes a lot to liberate one's thinking (Ms. Beals didn't arrive at the book title thought easily), but didn't someone say the unexamined life is not worth living?

  3. Hi Cinnamonblue

    Yes, the language sometimes gets away from me. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time reading Sartre and others of his ilk. Or it may simply be that English is my second language.

    I’m a guy who grew up French in a small mining town in North Ontario, Canada. As such, in the Canadian context, being French is, in ethnic terms, somewhere between being a Native American, a more disparaged identity, and being English, the dominant ethnicity. Did ethnicity impact my life? I have by now mostly recovered from my childhood although still struggling to reach higher heights of spiritual liberation and enlightenment.

    But from having travelled a bit throughout the U.S and from what I’ve been able to gather from the printed pages of sundry American authors and scholars, in cultural terms, there isn’t very much that is distinctive about Canadian mass culture relative to American mass culture. People are the same on both sides of the border in both their virtues and their vices, conceits and delusions, and the overall mode of life is everywhere identical. To the degree that a person living in California can justly say that she is as American as person living in Maine, notwithstanding local color, I don’t think it too much of a stretch to say that you are as Canadian as I, and I, as American as you. All that flourishes and festers in the US flourishes and festers here as well. I wonder that we even have a border.

    All of this, then, by way of a more personal introduction. Nice meeting you.

  4. Hi Cinnamonblue,

    You write: “Interesting about folks locking into the victim/oppressor roles…In my own mind, we need both: personal responsibility and 'corporate' responsibility.”

    I do not take issue with what you say, here, but would hedge or temper it somewhat.

    The sense in which I agree: one is responsible for oneself to the degree that one can a) resist the ‘misconceptions’ inherent in one’s culture (which today, at least in North America, is predominantly a ‘corporate’ culture inculcated in school (more on this later)) and b) precisely as you put it, learn to take advantage of the ‘life chances’ or ‘opportunities’ that present themselves to us.

    The hedge: depending on where you are born, whether high or low, in a thriving center of cultural and economic activity or some backwater ghetto or resource extraction company town, not all ‘opportunities’ are ‘equally’ accessible.

    Furthermore, in a corporate environment, in which authority and information is concentrated in structural terms at the top of the ‘pyramid’ (only roughly ten percent or less of the people employed in a modern corporation are ever needed to fill the positions of the managerial, scientific, and managerial positions), that few succeed where many fail is written in the very ‘DNA’ of the bureaucratic structure. Likewise, in an environment where ‘unemployment’ is ‘structural,’ that is, where the economic dynamic is such that there are always fewer jobs than supplicants applying for the jobs, no amount of personal responsibility can possibly cure the joblessness of the surfeit number of individuals that the dynamic of a profit seeking economy generates (more on that later). Now add to all of this the element of discrimination based upon ‘race,’ and I think it becomes obvious how the lives of countless millions, in terms of the real ‘opportunities’ available to them , are severely constrained.

    In connection with Fanon, I don’t think that his advice to his fellow Martinican was in the vein of ‘pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps.’ His aim was to show the man of color living under a racist regime how that regime hobbled and even crippled his mind in psychological terms, and how he might attempt to liberate himself from his ‘cultural neurosis.’ Fanon did not thereby believe that he was liberating anyone from the very real constraints of a racist regime, but that he might thereby help people recognize more clearly their predicament and on the basis of that ‘recognition’ and clear sightedness, begin the real effort of joining with one another to dismantle what was and in fact continues to be a criminal regime.

    More to think about, perhaps.

  5. Hi Norm -

    I think we're really on the same wave length here! Absolutely there is discrimination, absolutely there is concentration of wealth and power at the top. No doubt on those points at all! I think when I wrote 'corporate' I was using it in the sense of a "collective responsibility" so maybe collective would have been a better word choice. (ya gotta watch English as so many words often have different or at least different shades of meaning).

    Some suggest we heed a totally different kind of economic system. Well, we need something that would work for more of us. One thing I can't help think about- you say there are many who need jobs (agree) - and I think of all the work that needs to be done. Why can't we get it together? Some examples: customer service - why should we have to fight through automated systems to get a human when there are so many who need jobs and could fulfill those functions? Social work - with so many in need, we could use more social workers to shepherd them to self-sufficiency. We could also use more teachers! Now granted those are more 'service' related jobs and manufacturing jobs traditionally pay more. That brings to mind two things: are manufacturing jobs gone for good and how do we adjust and relatedly - have we been undervaluing service jobs?

    Oh - I can't forget we need workers to build up our crumbling infrastructure. I'm sorry but I can't help but think of what we could do as a nation if we weren't spending billions spying on innocent people!

    Oh, yes there's always something to think about. Keeps us on our toes, I suppose.

    BTW -I've never heard of Fanon. He does sound interesting.

    And more of a personal intro from me - I've lived here in NJ - always close to where I was born. I recently retired from teaching Math at our local community college.

    Nice meeting you, also and hope you'll visit often, even if I don't post quite as regularly as James does.

  6. Interesting comments. I'm not quite sure about an 'ever-increasing' rate of unemployment. What is say, the demand for widgets dramatically increases? Then we have the phenomenon of jobs moving overseas. Obviously, the primary motive seems to be cheaper labor. Still, it shows there is a demand for workers...somewhere!

    I viewed a talk at done by a business fellow. Can't remember all of it, but I remember he said he was a capitalist, a business owner, and he would add jobs as a last resort. I think one thing also he said that he customers needed to 'demand' more workers. Interesting.

    sure, I'd be interested to hear your explanation of how capitalism leads to all sorts of these crises.

    One thing I've long thought ---- greed has been a root problem. I don't think that profits are necessarily evil, but when a business puts them ahead of public safety and all, THAT is a major problem!

  7. Hi Cinnamonblue,

    You write: “I'm not quite sure about an 'ever-increasing' rate of unemployment. What is say, the demand for widgets dramatically increases? Then we have the phenomenon of jobs moving overseas. Obviously, the primary motive seems to be cheaper labor. Still, it shows there is a demand for workers...somewhere!”

    Although a dramatic increase in demand for widgets would certainly prompt a capitalist enterprise to hire more hands to fill an exploding backlog of orders, a consideration of this scenario is not what I wished to examine. I was exploring the connection between ‘profit,’ ‘productivity,’ and ‘employment,’ and how these three essential factors of capitalist production interact in a “for profit” context. Fluctuations in demand are up next as a topic. But unless we agree that a) no business stays in business unless it makes money over and above its costs of production, i.e., a profit; and that b) ‘increasing productivity’ is the ‘sine qua non’ of the capitalist enterprise as the primary means of increasing one’s margin of profit (otherwise, how are we to make any sense of the constant rationalization of the production processes in capitalist enterprises?); and that c) business never hires more hands than it needs to meet ‘profitable’ demand for its products – then the discussion must stall here. I’m not trying to coerce you into agreeing to anything that I’m saying, here. But if we can’t agree on our terms of reference, we will be at cross purposes.

    But perhaps we can reach some common ground: Why are jobs moving overseas? Because labor is cheaper there than here. We agree. If there is an opportunity for a capitalist to hire cheaper labour, that means an increase to his -- what? Yes, his ‘profit margin.’ Furthermore, if ‘our’ capitalist does not hire cheaper labor overseas, his competitors certainly will. If that happens, what happens to our capitalist’s bottom line? It must shrink. Why? His competitors, producing more cheaply than he because their labour is cheaper, sells more cheaply than he. Eventually, the consumer, penny pincher that she is, will no longer be buying from ‘our’ capitalist, but from his competitors. ‘Our’ capitalist will over time go out of business. For surely, he will not continue producing his wares if he cannot sell them. So can we agree that a capitalist enterprise ‘must’ make a profit or disappear. And if it ‘must’ make a profit, it’s not greed that is the prime mover of the capitalist enterprise. It is competition between capitalist businesses that creates the absolute necessity of turning a profit for each business. Of course, the fatter the profit margin, the more sated is the capitalist’s greed. Nevertheless, he ‘must’ make a profit. Ask anyone who runs a business. If sales drop, anxiety rises. If sales drop beneath a certain threshold, its bankruptcy or the business closes.

    The other thing that we notice about ‘the jobs moving overseas’ on account of cheaper labor is that some people get thrown out of work. Why? Because the capitalist wants greater profits. It does not matter how that increase in profits is arrived at, whether actually producing something more cheaply or hiring cheaper hands in a third world country. What matters is that in undertaking a ‘change’ in the production process, more profit is produced. But notice: whenever, by changing the production process, the margin of profit is increased, someone loses his or her job. It doesn’t matter that someone else got hired at a much reduced wage, someone loses his or her job. Capital grows at the expense of labor. ‘Increased profit,’ which business ‘must’ pursue, means somebody somewhere getting laid off. Always. Incontrovertibly.

  8. Hi there! Was kind of tired out yesterday so I'm just now catching up here.

    Certainly there is a lot of truth to your model - and you have to admit it's a bit simplistic. Anyway, I think we do agree about 'penny pinching' - although exactly what to do about it - well, the jury's out on that one, I think.

    One thing I thought of was that there are new businesses, industries that spring up while others 'die' off. One example I can think of is typewriters. I don't know if any typewriters or even parts are being made now. But computers replaced them, and look at the employment (worldwide now)in not just manufacturing computer, tablets, smartphones, but also in software development, internet related businesses and such.

    I think the factors affecting employment are more complex - not just profit, but public policy, demand, and just changes occurring over time are involved.

    I think if I were to create a 'dream' economic system, it would be some sort of hybrid. Borrow some things from here, some things from there.

  9. Third part of my reply:

    And to briefly recap: “Now the question is asked: how does the introduction of a more efficient ‘technology’ into the workplace impact the workforce in either that workplace or other businesses in the same sector that that workplace operates within?“

    No capitalist enterprise will introduce a ‘technique’ or ‘technology’ that does not reduce ‘production costs.’ Otherwise, if costs remain as before or increase on account of the introduction of the new ‘inventions,’ there is no ‘reason’ or ‘sense’ for having introduced it in the first place.

    But if production costs are lowered, what does that mean practically in terms of the consequences and for the choices now before a business? A) The business produces ‘more’ widgets in the same time and at the same price that it used to produce ‘less’ widgets (it now ‘produces more with less!). B) The business will not produce more widgets than it can sell (otherwise inventory mounts as a ‘loss in profit’). C) If before the introduction of the new ‘technology’ the business sold 100 widgets per day, unless it increases its market share, it will still only sell 100 widgets per day. D) If it produces 100 widgets in less time than before, it ipso facto, that is, it necessarily requires fewer ‘hands’ than before to produce its 100 widgets. Question: will the business, under these strictly defined conditions, keep as many hands as before doing ‘less’ work than before, yet earning as much as before, or will it shed hands and thereby ‘increase its profit margin,’ which was the original incentive for introducing the technology in the first place? I leave it to you to answer this question without, for the time being, bringing into the discussion what at the end of the day are surely relevant factors, but which for the sake elucidating our current discussion, we leave aside – if only for the moment.

    So again, keeping to the issue narrowly at hand, how does the ‘introduction’ of new technology into the production processes of a ‘for profit’ business impact that businesses’ workforce on the assumption, for the time being, that it does not increase its market share? What would you answer, Cinnamonblue (and what a lovely name, by the way)?

  10. Hi Norm -
    I am no longer interested in this discussion.

    Thanks for visiting, though. Thanks for your nice words about my "name".


What are your thoughts?