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Why it's so hard to talk to white people about racism

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Misuse of a concept does not necessarily invalidate the concept. Rand was particularly clear on this point regarding the concept of selfishness. People blame capitalism for results occurring under a mixed economy. In the use of either the concept of race or racism, or any broad abstraction for that matter, lack of clarity can easily lead one's thinking astray.

True, but there's something else I've been thinking of: can a concept be useful at one point, then stop being useful to become -like- an invalid concept? Can race become optional in a sense, depending on how homogenous your local population is? I should make a separate thread about that.

 

I'm undecided about it.

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True, but there's something else I've been thinking of: can a concept be useful at one point, then stop being useful to become -like- an invalid concept? Can race become optional in a sense, depending on how homogenous your local population is? I should make a separate thread about that.

 

I'm undecided about it.

Consider the "destruction of language"1, brought about by employing anti-concepts to undermine thought and communication.

 

If human kind where to become so interbred that race could no longer be classified, race could still be useful as a historic term to shed light on what led to such an outcome.

 

1. See The Ayn Rand Letter Vol. 1, No. 1 October 11, 1971 Credibility and polarization, The Ayn Rand Letter Vol. 1, No. 10  February 14, 1972 . . . And The Response, and The Objectivist Newsletter: Vol. 3 No. 9    September, 1964 Check Your Premises: "Extremism" or The Art of Smearing By Ayn Rand

 

Edited by dream_weaver

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There's a number of points from multiple different people, so I will combine relevant points together here. Some might be paraphrasing and not exact quotes.

1. Privilege theory as guilt tripping

"coupled with the message of unearned guilt"

"unearned possessions"

"one cannot control what they inherit"

"Guilt! Original sin!"

This seems to be a common refrain in this thread, but point out the exact point where someone said it was your fault, or that you are guilty in some way, or some such. No one ever did. Rand might say this is a "psychological confession" that you feel SO uncomfortable, like you are being accused, GUILTY!, but no one said this, at least not in the OP and not from me. But I'm not as brave as Rand, so I'm not going to speculate as to why.

In a way, it makes sense why people might be taken aback at the very notion of being told they are privileged, or even be upset. Aleph keeps responding like a broken record, regaling us of background stories and anecdotes about his personal history, and so forth (hopefully this response will put him out of his misery.) I came from a poor family! My ancestors were immigrants! We never owned slaves! We fought for the North!

I mean we can imagine, if you were raised in a trailer park, eating ramen noodles out of a coffee maker, taking showers in a public bathroom, with two pairs of clothes to your name, dirt poor, never felt an ounce of hatred for persons of color, and some leftist hippy scumbag comes up to you and tells you that you're "privileged" we might imagine the response being: "...what ...THE FUCK??!!!!"

So if I can be as charitable as possible, this kind of reaction makes sense. And it is absolutely true that having white skin does not prevent a person from experiencing poverty, degradation, discrimination, racism, sexism, or any other kind of oppression. But white privilege doesn’t mean that all white people are quantitatively better off, in absolute terms, than all people of color. It means that being white, as such, confers a differential advantage, all other things being equal (and of course other things are not always equal.)

The main thing here, is that the function of privilege analysis and social justice scholarship is not to make white people feel guilty about their privilege. Nobody's saying that straight white middle-class able-bodied males are all a bunch of assholes who don't work hard for what they have. It's not your fault you were born with white skin and experience these privileges. But... whether you realize it or not, you DO benefit from it, and it IS your fault if you refuse to do any research, or even to open your mind to the possibility or evidence. And if you do look at the evidence and recognize the reality of privilege it definitely doesn't mean suffering guilt or shame for your lot in life.

2. White privilege doesn't exist

"Who has denied racism"

"It's not the case that people deny that it [racism] exists"

"Who employs individualist rhetoric in the service of racism"

There's a sense the meaning of "racism" in which you mean something like "I think my race is superior and/or I think that members of other, or another, race are somehow inferior." It is unlikely that anyone here denies the existence of racism in that sense. But what scholars on the topic mean when they discuss the kind of racism we are talking about (in terms of white privilege and the legacy of racial oppression in the country) we are talking about structural racism, that is referring to the systematic, institutional dimensions of the problem, to include white privilege. It definitely seems like that is being denied here. I mean correct me if I am wrong, but StrictlyLogical seems to have denied the existence of white privilege, Plasmatic puts it in scare quotes and asks what is even is, Nicky seems to have problems with my point number 3 above, and Aleph denies that "white people" even exist, so I mean, maybe we can take a poll as to who exactly is denying what, but it seems to me that most people in here deny the existence of white privilege. And as I said in the previous response, that kind of makes some sort of plausible sense.

But not just in this thread, there is a wider sense in which there's a whole cottage industry to conservatism that seems to deny racism in general in America. Thomas Sowell comes out with a new article every week dismissing "the past legacy of slavery" and blaming welfare and the Great Society, and if only blacks would just "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" then they will pull themselves out of poverty. But not just conservatives, such by the numbers pieces appear everywhere from Reason Magazine, Cato Institute, as well as Bill Oreilly and Rush Limbaugh. So to answer the question, that's who's denying it, and that's who routinely employs individualist rhetoric in the service of institutional oppression. Objectivists need not put themselves in this camp.

4. What is white privilege anyway

"concretize white privilege"

"what is your concept of white privilege"

"specifically, in what way am I benefitting from injustices done in the past"

So if you don't think white privilege exists, there's not much to talk about with any of the other points. You might as well stop and do some research on the topic, because not much else can be said. I would start with the famous 1988 piece from Peggy Macintosh "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," I'm pretty sure it's online for free. Of course there are many problems with that piece from an Objectivist point of view, but the main point is good.

And there is a limit to doing someone's research for them, and the amount I can spend explaining to people on forums, but basically white privilege is about benefits or preferences or experiences or advantages, whatever you want to call them, for whiteness that permeates throughout society. It creates certain benefits to white people, and makes white people immune to certain challenges, and it means taking the experience of whiteness as a "default" in society. There might be millions of different ways in which any given person may experience this. Concrete examples might include anything from going to buy hair care products in a grocery store and my shampoos and conditioners are in the "hair care" section, and not in a separate "ethnic products" section; or might include something like how people perceive my financial responsibility. That's a seemingly benign example, but a lot of such default options makes the experience of an African American rather different than a white person. And ultimately white privilege is about how we experience the world in different ways, and how these experiences are based off, or colored by, historical ethnocentrism, sexism, anti-gay bigotry, etc.

And it doesn't just apply to white privilege. We are all, most of us, privileged in may different ways. The concept of "intersectionality" recognizes that people can be privileged in some ways and definitely not privileged in others. There are many different types of privilege, not just skin color privilege, that impact the way people can move through the world or are discriminated against. These are all things you are born into, not things you earned, that afford you opportunities others may not have. For example:

Citizenship: Simply being born in the USA or Western Europe affords you certain privileges non-citizens will never access.

Class: Being born into a financially stable family can help guarantee your health, happiness, safety, education, intelligence, and future opportunities.

Sexual Orientation: By being born straight, every state in this country affords you privileges that non-straight folks have to fight the Supreme Court for.

Sex: By being born male, you can assume that you can walk through a parking garage without worrying you'll be raped and that a defense attorney will then blame it on what you were wearing.

Ability: By being born able bodied, you probably don't have to plan your life around handicap access, braille, or other special needs.

Gender: By being born cisgendered, you aren't worried that the restroom or locker room you use will invoke public outrage.

As you can see, belonging to one or more category privilege, especially if you happen to be a straight white middle-class able-bodied male, it can be like winning a lottery you didn't even know you were playing. But this is not to imply that any form of privilege is exactly the same as another or that people lacking in one area of privilege understand what it's like to be lacking in other areas. And again, it's not about guilt. "Guilt" is beside the point. If members of different groups receive differential structural benefits through no fault of their own, anyone who wants to understand the real social world we live in had better be aware of that fact. Pretending not to be aware of it is just stupid. Objectivists want to recognize reality.

5. If you think white privilege exists, what are you some kind of commie?

"what's the relation of privilege to rights"

"what are you arguing for as a consequence"

"should government intervene"

If we think of the concept of racism as system structural effects in society, and of white privilege as an example of that, it fits squarely within a Randian framework of ethical egoism and individual rights. For Rand believed in the "unity of virtue" theory, the concept of individual rights cannot be determined apart from the wider concept of "justice" in which it fits. There is "justice" relating to moral rights, and there is justice relating to interpersonal interactions, more broadly. In the same way, we can think of violations of justice as violations of moral rights, or violations of interpersonal norms more broadly. This is what sets Rand apart from other libertarians, who focus on "aggression" as the be-all end-all of ethics.

We can think of "oppression" as a more broad concept, and there are some kinds of oppression involving violations of individual rights (ones involving the use of aggression), and some kinds of oppression involving the maltreatment of persons while not involving the use of aggression. Some kinds of oppression you can use force to fight (the ones involving aggression) and some kinds of oppression you use means other than physical force to fight against.

So the point is to recognize reality and acknowledge history, and ultimately, to dismantle oppressive structures. Some people think that the best way to do this is through statist legislation. Libertarians, including Objectivists, rather want to dismantle statist legislation. We support a freed market as the solution to dismantling all forms of privilege, including the historical effects of racial oppression, and providing direct support to disempowered communities.

Edited by 2046

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Excerpts from Point 3 of 8 Ways Blacks Perpetuate Racisim, by Walter Hudson, writing for PJ Media

 

Bigotry offends reason. Sustaining a prejudice about an individual in light of evidence to the contrary does not make sense. It is a rejection of reality, and that is what makes it offensive. Attempts by hand-wringing “progressives” to combat racism with equally irrational assertions compound the offense.

 

A recent example is the so-called Unfair Campaign, an initiative out of Duluth which was until recently supported by the University of Minnesota. The mission of the Unfair Campaign is to “to raise awareness about white privilege in our community.”

 

The notion of “white privilege,” as articulated by the Unfair Campaign, is itself a racist sentiment. To assume that all whites have an inherent leg up on the rest of society is as irrational as assuming all blacks are somehow inferior. Indeed, the sentiments are one and the same[.]

 

 

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Excerpts from Point 3 of 8 Ways Blacks Perpetuate Racisim, by Walter Hudson, writing for PJ Media

Bigotry offends reason. Sustaining a prejudice about an individual in light of evidence to the contrary does not make sense. It is a rejection of reality, and that is what makes it offensive. Attempts by hand-wringing “progressives” to combat racism with equally irrational assertions compound the offense.

A recent example is the so-called Unfair Campaign, an initiative out of Duluth which was until recently supported by the University of Minnesota. The mission of the Unfair Campaign is to “to raise awareness about white privilege in our community.”

The notion of “white privilege,” as articulated by the Unfair Campaign, is itself a racist sentiment. To assume that all whites have an inherent leg up on the rest of society is as irrational as assuming all blacks are somehow inferior. Indeed, the sentiments are one and the same[.]

Hudson doesn't explain what he means in that section. He objects to the idea that "all whites have an inherent leg up" but without explaining exactly what he's objecting to, I can only reiterate what I said before above, and what social justice scholars keep saying repeatedly, is that white privilege DOES NOT mean that all white people are quantitatively better off in absolute terms. If critics want to make substantive arguments against privilege theory, it would behoove them to research what they are actually arguing about.

Also Hudson says this: "blacks and the civil rights culture surrounding them are the most open and prolific purveyors of racism in America."

Good old PJ media. Objectivists please don't be like this.

Edited by 2046

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... privilege theory, ...

 

... Objectivists please don't be like this.

How to be, then? What are the implications for action?

If one agrees with privilege theory and are also altruistic, I suppose that would imply one ought to seek out and help the non-privileged in some way. If one thinks helping the non-privileged is the government's job, then one would support some type of government aid.  

But, what if one agrees that some people are born into non-privileged circumstances based on prior government laws/action, but one is also an Objectivist, what are the consequences for action? What concrete actions or laws would one support in such a case (compared to an Objectivist who disagrees with privilege theory)? 

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How to be, then? What are the implications for action?

If one agrees with privilege theory and are also altruistic, I suppose that would imply one ought to seek out and help the non-privileged in some way. If one thinks helping the non-privileged is the government's job, then one would support some type of government aid.  

But, what if one agrees that some people are born into non-privileged circumstances based on prior government laws/action, but one is also an Objectivist, what are the consequences for action? What concrete actions or laws would one support in such a case (compared to an Objectivist who disagrees with privilege theory)? 

 

I would be surprised (delightfully so) if 2046 chose not to evade this question and provided an honest principled rational answer.  Assume for a moment and for example that I agree such "privilege" "exists".  What as an Objectivist should I think about it in terms of my ethics and politics, and hence as a consequence thereof what my actions should be?

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Excerpts from Point 3 of 8 Ways Blacks Perpetuate Racisim, by Walter Hudson, writing for PJ Media

 

The notion of “white privilege,” as articulated by the Unfair Campaign, is itself a racist sentiment. To assume that all whites have an inherent leg up on the rest of society is as irrational as assuming all blacks are somehow inferior. Indeed, the sentiments are one and the same[.]

This is bizarre. And stupid! It's saying that BLACK people IN GENERAL perpetuate racism. It wasn't saying "ways racism is perpetuated", it's specifically click bait and aimed at blacks as a whole. This is not a good source. At least for the portion you quoted, it misunderstands what white privilege is anyway. Personally I'm not sure yet if privilege is a proper concept, but it's important for an article to get its opponent's ideas correct.

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The Missing Link part II discusses the resurgence of tribalism as a product of the "intellectuals", so in that sense, it is not that black people in general perpetuate it, rather it is facilitated by blacks and whites (or any individual, for that matter) buying into notions such as "White Privilege" which Walter Williams wrote on back in 2004 hosted on Capitalism Magazine. You may find it bizarre and stupid, but ask yourself what individuals such as Malcomb X counted on, and what folk like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan and Jeremiah Wright, are using to attract their respective power bases.

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You may find it bizarre and stupid, but ask yourself what individuals such as Malcomb X counted on, and what folk like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan and Jeremiah Wright, are using to attract their respective power bases.

It's the difference between levelheaded analysis that you're trying to offer by mentioning people like Malcolm X and discussing specific radicals who propagate specific ideas, as opposed to a reactionary response that blames blacks for racism and titles a whole article aimed at black people. It flat out blames blacks. It's an anti-intellectual blog post, basically. Not the sort of thinking/writing you or I should support - too click-baity, too knee-jerky.

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What happened? I was preparing responses to 2046 and Louie's support for his claims, but now they are gone.

Other than 2046's foul language why delete the exchanges between he SL and Louie? Have they been moved to another thread?

I want any person who buys into the "we ought to do something beyond egoism"- social responsibility- "social justice" bit to layout anything that Rand said that can be said to be an instance of doing more than promoting individualism and egoism as the "antidote" for all forms of collectivism-tribalism. That is, site anything you think is an example of Ms. Rand using awareness of "privelige" as a means of dispensing justice, "dismantling" racism etc. What does pointing out that the private, irrational actions of other people can confer upon one advantages that one didnt seek out, add to the advocacy of individualism, rational egoism and the dispensement of justice?

On a light hearted note...

"Warning provocative rhetorical device ahead"

A man once told me when I mentioned some disadvantage a certain kid had in high school "Slick, we all got problems, your bicepts hurt and my d*%ks too big"..... My point being, would spending time researching-thinking about the fact that most men had a "disadvantage" to him in the shorts department make him a better person? Is justice being shirked if the disadvantaged majority of the less than 10 class don't mobilize and write an article or protest about undoing the oppressive institutions of shallow toilets? Sounds pretty rediculous, huh? Thats about how useful it is to spend time talking about "privilege" rather than persuing your own values, including if you happen to value intellectual activism regarding a moral political enviornment. "Privilege" adds nothing to the discussion, especially if justice is your concern and you dont intend to use it the way leftist collectivist do as a moral imperative to "social responsibility"

Edited by Plasmatic

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After 5 decades of welfare state solutions to the problems of the black underclass, 2046 thinks that Objectivist denial of 'white privilege' is the problem.  Trust me, that is not the problem.  I doubt that the life of a single black person is going to get better if we say that white privilege is the cause of the black underclass.  That is not going to work.  First, it isn't true.  Second, most blacks wouldn't believe us if we said it.  Third, the minute you oppose any and all statist measures, you will be right back where you started.  You will be called a 'racist', more liberals will be elected and the welfare state will continue and expand as usual. 

 

Anyone have any more bright ideas?

Edited by Craig24

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Shakespeare is racists.

 

 

Most high school English teachers adore William Shakespeare’s works. Dana Dusbiber does not.

 

In an essay published this month on a Washington Post education blog, the Luther Burbank High School teacher explained she does not want to teach Shakespeare’s works despite his esteemed place in American education because his perspective does not speak well to her ethnically diverse students.

 

Edited by Nicky

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"Whites are taught to see themselves as individuals, rather than as part of a racial group. Individualism enables us to deny that racism is structured into the fabric of society...

It also allows us to distance ourselves from the history and actions of our group. Thus we get very irate when we are "accused" of racism, because as individuals, we are "different" from other white people and expect to be seen as such; we find intolerable any suggestion that our behavior or perspectives are typical of our group as a whole."

If we're all just products of our race then so is that statement. "We know that we can know nothing" (in this case, we know that we can know only prejudice).

The whole thing is self-invalidating.

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A bunch of white people put their jackboots on the throats of generations of blacks for centuries. Finally they partially lift their feet, and then after a few generations, some of the descendants of those black people say "Hey man, this really sucks what they did to our grandparents and great grandparents and such. We still deal with a lot of the after effects even today."

What effects? You mean all of the handouts and the special priveledges we're forcing taxpayers to give to those black people, for no other reason than because they're black?

I find it very difficult to take a comment like that at face-value.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

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If a white person invokes individualist rhetoric (many libertarians and objectivists do this) to whitewash or downplay the existence of white privilege in society today, that amounts to the robbers, or robbers descendants, with their hands still full of loot, saying "okay no more stealing... Starting now!"

This is dangerous.

You see, right there, 'robbers or their descendants' -as if they were interchangeable- that's wrong. It's an excellent example of what's wrong with racism.

The implication that the stealing must go on... Well, I imagine you're capable of unraveling the danger for yourselves.

If I were to buy into this, 2046, I would have to make myself into a shmoo and run around trying to make amends for whatever was done by my various genetic donors.

I hope you don't mean it.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

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Now it is irrelevant that a person of the 20 percent has the same color of skin as one of the 80 percent, to form a concept of a group on the basis of skin color is an error, it is invalid conceptually and IS racism no matter what the skin color.

I'm not sure the concept of "race" is invalid per se, as long as it's used properly.

For example, here's a completely racial generalization (those with a heart condition may feel free to skip ahead):

African americans have darker skin than European americans.

Ha-ha! We're being reckless now, aren't we?!!

I think the problem is when people use it as a way to explain someone's personality, philosophy, et cetera; any time they explain your brain in terms of your skin.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=itWCvkK44lE

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"Racism" should mean the act of attributing the mental traits of someone's ancestors to that person, themselves.

"Racism" as it's being used today is -I'm not kidding- taken to mean 'something that white people do'.

 

What does that do?  By making it a racial attribute (rather than the individual error that it is) we define "racism" in terms that are, themselves, racist.  This eliminates any discussion of the actual epistemological roots of that error (and, in fact, eliminates the very possibility of an epistemological discussion, full stop).  The article in the OP is a shining example of that precise line of reasoning.

This is a textbook anti-concept, which invalidates its own conceptual roots.  In this case, the concept under attack is the mind itself (and all things, both good and bad, that a mind does).  Just as there is no such thing as a collective brain, there can be no such thing as collective guilt or collective 'priveledge'.

 

I think the best response to this, when one sees it "in the wild", is Binswanger's refutation of determinism.

 

Whenever a Marxist says that your ideas are products of your socioeconomic class, and that "you'd get it if you had to go through the struggle of the proletariat", by their own logic they're only saying that because of their economic class (and consequently merit no further consideration).

It is exactly the same with modern "racism".  If, by their reasoning, I can only uphold individualism because I'm white - then they can only deny it because they're not white (and if their skin is actually white then, presumably, this must be evidence of some ulterior ethnicity).

 

The whole thing is rotten, down to its (philosophical) roots.  It deserves our open condemnation and, ideally, a healthy dose of satire.  The attempt to swallow any part of it, for the sake of 'open-mindedness' (2046), is a grave mistake.

 

The moment you accept that you are personally guilty because of what your ancestors did, inside of your own soul, you're dead.  The rest is just a matter of time and pain.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

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On the question of how to define privilege, I regard it as a motte-and-bailey doctrine: 

http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2014/09/motte-and-bailey-doctrines/

 

OTOH, I think the 'modern' concept of privilege is a little bit like relativity. It works well at the macro level where it provides a convenient shorthand for looking at the collective experience of entire populations or large subsets of populations. However it breaks down at the quantum level. 

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2046, "white privilege" and "social justice" are tools of altruists and collectivists...and you wield them with quite a bit if skill considering you're on an Objectivist forum. 

Tools such as these are the antithesis of Objectivist ethics in that they seek to deal with people, on a moral level, not as rational individuals, but as groups. They are tools concerned with self-contradictory concepts like group rights or group benefit. As i'm sure you are aware, groups do not have rights above or beyond the rights of the individuals within said groups. Likewise a group cannot benefit, only individuals can. A group therefore is incapable of having "privilage". 

Secondly, you are simply restating the old altruistic argument that successful people are only where they are because of the exploitation of others. This is a monstrously evil philosophy to propagate...that a man who is successful by his own mind and efforts is somehow not deserving of the wealth he has produced...for one absurd reason or another. Then, of course, the only logic conclusion one can draw if one accepts that as axiomatic, Is that a man must sacrifice part of his life to another who feels he is more deserving. 

Third, the philosophy you are spouting is close relative to early 20th century, proto fascist philosophy. By that I'm referring to not only your viewing people as collectives rather than individuals, but also your boogie man rhetoric, your defense of tribaliam, and your racial scapegoating. These were all tools used by statist minded despots to brainwash and control the masses. 

Edited by Alchemy

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