Monday, 10 November 2008

Hurray - we are all racialists now!

Yes We Did!

And I am so pleased that we did. It is unbelievable and it challenges all of us as individuals to stretch further than we thought was possible just a few days ago. I am, as we speak, rethinking my own journey. How far dare I try to go? (Not in to politics, that's for sure - my wife has already told me that if I even think about it she will immediately expose all my secrets to the gutter press!).

But does the fact that I am so pleased that Obama won make me a racialist? Does it make all of us racialists now?

This is a tricky question and one that most people have been carefully steering clear of, lest one makes a careless statement and ends up being accused of racism. Then you are in deep trouble!

Did you notice the slightly awkward word "racialists" rather than the more usual "racists" above? That was deliberate, as according to some authorities in this area, such as Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah, they mean different things.

Racialists believe that the human species can be divided up in to different racial groups and that each member of a given racial group has traits and tendencies (not just physical traits) that they share with other members of that same racial group, but not with people outside of that group. Racialists don't necessarily believe that any racial group is better or worse than any other racial group, just that there are differences between racial groups, that are not just based on culture for example, but are part of some sort of "racial essence". Separate but equal is the credo of the racialist.

Meanwhile the non-racialist takes a different view. The non-racialist obviously sees different colours (they are not colour-blind) but the non-racialist does not link any particular traits or tendencies to a person merely because of their external appearance. So to the non-racialist, categorising humans into distinct groups based on their external physical appearance is a meaningless thing to do.

So, if you believe that it makes sense to group people in to racial groups and that black people (wherever they are from) share traits and tendencies beyond their physical appearance with each other as do white people and so on, but you are not saying blacks are better than whites or vice versa, then congratulations - you are a racialist :)

Does that make you are racist, though? To be a full-blown racist, you have to go one step further. A racist, just like a racialist, classifies people into racial groups, ascribes morally relevant tendencies to different races but then RANKS them. The racist concludes that one racial group is better than another and therefore should be treated differently because that first racial group has morally relevant tendencies (courage, intellegence, honesty etc.) that warrant a higher status amongst races.

If you believe this to be the truth then whether you are black, white or yellow, you are a racists and I probably don't like you very much, even if some of your best friends are /insert colour here/.

Professor Appiah pushes the definitions a bit further in a way that I find interesting. He distinguishes between extrinsic racists and intrinsic racists.

The extrinsic racist says that its all about logic. It is obvious that if one racial group is on the whole more honest or more intelligent than another racial group then it makes sense to treat the two groups differently. With the extrinsic racist, if you show him that actually these morally relevant values are not directly connected to different racial groups, then he should (if he is being honest) give up his racist position and revert to merely being a racialist.

The intrinsic racist is a bit trickier. He believes that you should treat people of your own race differently and better that people of another race purely because they are "your own people". It is an extension of how you put your family first just because they are your family. You can give the intrinsic racist all the evidence you like that races don't exist as such, that even if they did the morally relevant traits are evenly distributed, but the intrinsic racist will favour his "own people" anyway.

So are you a non-racialist, a racialist, an extrinstic racist or an intrinsic racist? Go on, really. What are you? You can tell me. I won't tell anyone. It can be our dirty little secret :)

However I am going to let us all off the hook, when it comes to Obama. Something different is going on here. Obama is a reflector. We (who like him) see something in him that transends race. We see Change. Possibility. Rebirth. Relief. Redemption may be. Atonement perhaps. We see all sorts of things, but apart from the intrinsic racists amongst us (you know who you are!) our relationship to his colour is confusing.

Like the Texan couple who were apparently phoned up by Obama pollsters asking who they intended to vote for. The wife says on the phone "Oh, I can't remember his name" and calls out "Honey, who are we going to vote for again?". The man pulls himself away from the ball game for moment and calls across in a deep Texan drawl "Tell them we're gonna vote for the Nigga".

God Bless America.

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