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A Primer on Racism (A Review)

Which man is a thief and which has a good paying job? (Explaination below)

Below you will find my critique on an article in “Slate.” My comments are in italics.

A Primer on Racism

The many uses of the word and how legit they are.

By Richard Thompson Ford

Updated Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009, at 12:41 PM ET
More than a few naive souls hoped that the election of Barack Obama signaled a new era of racial harmony. Instead, alas, American race relations have entered a bizarre new phase in which tension is ubiquitous and almost anyone can claim to be the victim of racism. Former President Jimmy Carter lamented that “there is an inherent feeling among many in the country that an African-American should not be president,” in reaction to Rep. Joe Wilson’s now-infamous outburst during President Obama’s congressional address. Also of late, the Rev. Al Sharpton and many others cried racism over a tasteless New York Post cartoon, Cambridge police were accused of “racial profiling” after arresting Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his home, and Newsweek asked “Is Your Baby Racist?” And although conservatives have long complained of unwarranted accusations of racism, two of their henchmen, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, have been shamelessly playing the race card.

First President Carter as much as I liked him was out of line. He nor does anyone else for that matter have enough information to judge whether or not Wilson’s comment was motivated by racism or a very emotional issue that some fear may do more harm than good.

Politicians and pundits on both the left and right abuse the term racism to tar their political enemies. But decent people with good intentions also overuse the term as they struggle to draw attention to racial injustices that do not involve overt bigotry. With the R-word used to describe so many different things, it no longer has a clear and agreed-upon meaning. Attorney General Eric Holder has urged Americans to talk bravely and openly about race, but how can we when we aren’t speaking the same language? In the interest of democratic dialogue, I offer this rough-and-ready primer on racism for the not-so-post-racist era. Below, I’ll define several of the more commonly cited types of racism and offer my humble opinion as to whether they deserve the label.

I could not agree more that the word racist is way over used however the definition of racism is clear; any intentional exclusion, verbal or physical altercation based solely on persons skin color, or nationality, nothing more nothing less.

Institutional racism
Many businesses, schools, clubs, and other organizations are racially homogenous or segregated, even though no one deliberately excludes racial minorities or tries to prevent them from succeeding. For instance, although roughly half of all college football players are black, only about 5 percent of head coaches are.

This is very important to note; considering that the general population consists of 12.8% black and 79.8 white (US Census). Put into perspective that means that the 50% that are black collage football players means that black athletes are 291% over represented, as opposed to coaches being 156% under represented. It seems to me with this example that blacks are more fairly represented overall. Also note that black are even more fairly represented in professional sports. This is not racist it is a true representation of the facts.

Retired NBA star Charles Barkley made headlines when he claimed that his alma mater, Auburn University, was racist after it hired a white candidate—Gene Chizik—over a black candidate—Turner Gill—who had a better coaching record. But the larger problem is probably the college booster networks that help raise money for college sports. If a white coach can more easily establish a rapport with alumni than a black coach—whether the underlying reason is cultural similarities, long-standing social networks, prejudice, or some combination of the three—the college might prefer him for a reason that has nothing to do with race. Namely, money. On the other hand, if alumni prefer white coaches because of their race, then racism is still the root cause. And even if no one involved is a bigot, many scholars and activists would insist that this is a form of institutional racism. The term institutional racism suggests moral fault and culpability when often the racial inequity is unintentional. But, intended or not, practices that create “built-in headwinds” for minority groups are a serious injustice.

Um, yeah, right. The people that put up the money like it or not are the ones that make the rules and deserve to get what they want with their money.

Cultural racism
Studies have shown that employers prefer résumés with conventional names to otherwise identical résumés with stereotypically black names like DeShawn or Shaniqua. Some employers may be weeding out blacks, but others may dislike not individual black people but what might be called “black culture.” Employers who would be happy to hire a preppy Cosby kid might worry that people with “black names” are more likely to use ghetto slang, dress in gangster fashion styles, or cop a tough or sassy attitude on the job.

Is this racism? Maybe not. In a notorius speech, Bill Cosby lambasted poor blacks for contributing to their own misfortunes by using slang, dressing badly, and giving their children “names like Shaniqua, Taliqua, and Mohammed and all that crap.” Cultural misunderstanding and hostility is a serious problem in today’s increasingly cosmopolitan society. But when Cliff Huxtable can be called a racist, it’s probably time to rethink our terms.

Absolutely. Again see above. If a business believes that an odd name may hurt their business then they have a right in my book to not hire this person. It is not right for the government to tell an employer (especially since a vast number of the employed are employed by small businesses who cannot suffer any additional overhead with out risking the business as a whole, including that of all the others employed including the owner) is not moral, ethical, or fair. Before you shoot me down on this one or question my motives or ethics, know where I come from, I have a daughter with a very ethnic name that is Asian Indian.

Unconscious racism
Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji has developed a test designed to smoke out unconscious racial bias. The test requires the subject, under intensive time pressure, to match black and white faces with value-laden terms such as good, smart, and diligent or bad, stupid, and lazy. If you find it easier to match white faces with good terms and black faces with bad terms, you have exhibited what Banaji calls an implicit association between race and merit or virtue. Although she scrupulously avoids using the term herself, almost everyone else has predictably described the results of her research in terms of unconscious racism. And the results are disquieting: Almost 90 percent of whites exhibit some unconscious racism against blacks, while around half of all blacks exhibit anti-black bias.

Banaji’s research suggests we have a way to go before we get to a post-racist utopia. But she warns against using the test to try to prove individual bias; in fact, she has pledged to testify against anyone who tries to use her work to prove discriminatory intent in court. Other psychologists have questioned the whole approach. For instance, U.C.-Berkeley psychologist Phillip Tetlock thinks that Banaji’s test doesn’t prove anything about discrimination in real-life situations: “We’ve come a long way from Selma, Alabama, if we have to calibrate prejudice in milliseconds,” he argues.

The reason he warns against using the test to try to prove individual bias is because it forces people to make a bias decision unless there is a spot on the test for a person to state that they cannot to match black and white faces with value-laden terms such as good, smart, and diligent or bad, stupid, and lazy because it is not fair nor would they ever make a pre-judged decision on the appearance of a face, I know that I would not and I would have said so if I was a person being questioned on the test.

Environmental racism
After the levees broke in New Orleans, it was hard to miss the overwhelming number of black victims of Hurricane Katrina. Some suggested that blacks suffered after the storm because of racially biased disaster-relief efforts. But the real problem was neighborhood segregation. Most blacks lived in the less-desirable low-lying areas of the city, which suffered the worst damage from the flooding. Almost every metropolitan area in the United States is home to such segregated minority neighborhoods, many of which are located next to environmental hazards such as garbage dumps, heavy industry, oil refineries, sewage-treatment facilities, and areas abandoned due to toxic contamination. Community and environmental activists have found common ground in condemning this pattern as environmental racism.

The term environmental racism refers to a serious problem, but like institutional racism, it muddies the issue by implying that bad people acting with racial animus are behind it, when poverty, bad urban design, and segregated residential patterns put in place many years ago are really to blame.

Correct, the environment did not pick the people, the people picked the environment. The people who choose to live in that area are the people who should have known and accepted the risks of living there, just as I have picked to live in a spot that on occasion dumps over 7 feet of snow on us in 36 hours, or those that live in tornado alley, or near the San Andreas Fault. This is in no way racism; it is life get use to it, deal with it or move. I do not want to hear that they cannot afford to move because most of the people in the country cannot afford to just pick up and move out of a wide area affected by climate. Doing so would require changing jobs; this is not an easy task.

Reverse racism
Glenn Beck took the fear of anti-white racism to new extremes when he accused President Obama of being a racist, but political hacks have for decades used accusations of reverse racism as part of a well-documented, cynical political strategy. For instance, in 1990 North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms turned the polls around in his race against challenger Harvey Gantt* by playing the reverse race card. In Helms’ advertisement, a pair of white hands crumples a rejection letter while ominous music plays and a voice-over intones, “You needed that job … but they had to give it to a minority.”

There are real instances of anti-white racism, such as Louis Farrakhan’s crude diatribes against “white devils.” But they are relatively few and rarely amount to more than impotent blustering. Affirmative action—often tarred as reverse racism by its opponents—doesn’t qualify. Affirmative action is an imperfect but pragmatic effort to promote integration in the face of the effects of past and ongoing discrimination. There’s plenty of room for legitimate criticism, but suggesting that affirmative action is a form of racism is disingenuous and turns what should be a level-headed debate into a shouting match.

I find that the people who start the shouting match are the ones that receive the unfair advantage of affirmative action because you will not buy into the crap that is affirmative action. The accepted definition above clearly puts affirmative action into racism. Affirmative action is on purpose exclusionary legislation. It targets to eliminate those people that scored highest on the civil service test. Why have a test if you are not going to hire off of it? I am a victim more than once of this racist legislation. I tied for first on a few civil service tests and was not hired while they hired lower than 1,500 on the list. I could have been retired by now, spending time with my kids, but instead find myself out of work and looking for another job. I should be looking for a job that I WANT to do now (to keep busy and have a slightly higher standard of living) no matter what the pay instead of having to find a job (that I may not like) that pays enough to keep a roof over my families head and food in their stomach. NO ONE can convince me that affirmative action is not racist. I do not care that I am not PC on this because it is the truth that matters, no matter whom is offended.

Racism is still a force to be reckoned with in American society. But we should think twice before jumping to the convenient conclusion that people who don’t agree with us must be bigots. And we should call the bluff of people who play the race card for rhetorical advantage or political gain, whether they’re leftist agitators or right-wing blowhards. There may never be consensus on what counts as racism and when it’s in play. But this lexicon should give you a place to start for deciphering the many conversations about race that will no doubt continue.

This last paragraph is a nice summation.


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