Friday, August 19, 2011

As The Cookie Crumbles: System Theory

(WWH, 8/19/11) Back in the day when I was perfessin (for pay, instead of pro-bono), every semester, sometime in the first couple of meetings of just about any class (in both Education courses, when I was teaching them, and in Journalism courses, when I was teaching those), the subject of 'racism" would rear its smarmy, smirking head, and I would have to embark on the MOST DIFFICULT explanation I have ever tried to undertake in a classroom, and the one with the least possibility that I could establish some sort of accord. The conversation would typically begin when a student would describe the actions or words of some (celebrity) member of a minority group as "racist."

And I would say: "That's almost impossible." And then it would start.

Because "racism" in the USofA IS still so common, so pervasive and, now, with O'Bomber in the WHiteHouse, again recrudescing so obviously and painfully, it is also mainly (and probably to some extent willfully) misunderstood. Racism, I taught, rather than being comprised of individual attitudes and acts of bigotry and/or discrimination, is that system which permits, and encourages, and (perhaps silently) approves--and/or does not at least socially stigmatize-- those individual acts, but instead, normalizes --even valorizes and rewards-- them.

Americans, understandably, hate to regard "racism" as a system, because it implicates EVERYBODY. If you, yourself avoid falling into bigotries or superiorist foibles, you can escape the opprobrium that attaches--or used to --to the accusation. But it's much more accurate than to classify--to "think" about, that is--the despicable acts or attitudes of individual persons not as the disease itself, but as symptoms of the larger, systemic social ill.

"Racism" (it is a redundancy to say "institutional racism," because as I hope I'm explaining, there's no other kind) is a system of social covenants and agreements, some tacit, some explicit by which a majority denies power to a minority on the basis of assumptions about the "superiority/inferiority" summarized in pretty much random morphological distinctions: skin color, eye shape, hair color, etc...

Here's part of the problem: the dictionary.'s first definition of racism: a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.

Dictionaries do not "define" words. They index the frequency of definitions. "Racism" IS a specious charge under that simple definition. Such regimen supports the utterly false assertions one always hears around this discussion that blacks are "racists." Which is, except in very special cases, impossible.

Ask yourself who is writing that most frequently used description? Well, who writes most of the books? White People? In the Majority? You think they wanna implicate themselves in something which they seem to want to denigrate and diminish? There are are assholes and asswholery in every group. But "racism" per se CAN only exist where the majority has and uses its power to suppress a minority and to deny it a fair share of the common good(s). Of course yu want avoid the tar on that brush.

Until black people CONTROL the majority of power and wealth, and hold determinative authority as to what constitutes "normalcy," then there simply cannot be any shuch ting--in a white supremacist culture such as this one continues to be--as a "Black racist."

Unless, like Herman Cain, Clarence Thomas and others, the black "racists" cooperate in the suppression of OTHER blacks.

There are are assholes and asswholery in every group. But "racism" per se CAN only exist where the majority has and uses its power to suppress a minority and to deny it a fair share of the common good(s). It is only when you understand that "superiority" is powerless without the system of agreements and practices that ratifies it, and permits, and encourages it that the systematacity of it becomes obvious.

As "sexism" (institutional, also) is a system by which patriarchy retains and maintains power by depriving females such things as the power to decide whether or not to remain pregnant. If you don't regard "racism" as a systemic phenomenon, then it's possible for you to escape allegations of your own complicity. But if it's a system, then we're all implicated. Which how this cookie crumbles...

1 comment:

  1. On the page where this colloquy originated, one correspondent was willing to accept the "official definition.: She remarked: "Does a person think his /her race is superior? If so, then they are a racist...yes? Seems yes to me.

    My reply was/is that makes it meaningless. It makes no distinction between mere bigotry and systemic racism. It makes everyone a 'racist," by intention, and permits the consequences to be enacted systemically, through deprivations and disenfranchisements that escape scrutiny, because they are thought to be merely ancedotal, rather than data points.

    In a white supremacist culture--such as this one-- only white folks (and blacks who, like colonialist native administrators, sell out) --CAN be racists. Because racism is always and ONLY about the suppression of the "other's" power.

    Folks are so indoctrinated to the exculpatory (dominant-White) discourse that racism is about "feelings" and not about "effects," that it makes discussion very difficult.