Thebastidge: "Institutional" Racism
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    Thursday, May 31, 2007

    "Institutional" Racism

    In comments in response to my post of yesterday I see some disagreement with my position on class mobility in America:

    "I would however challenge the notion that your experience equates to one that all Americans enjoy."

    And I believe, that this one statement encompasses so much defeatism and victim orientation as to be worse than racism.

    "The level of institutional racism in an high functioning system"

    This just doesn't make sense. The level of racism in any high functioning system is much less than in low functioning systems. In zero-sum economic systems, fear of outsiders is much more prevalent and valid. Look at any example you can think of in both categories of wealthy, and poor, and take a good hard look at racism in those societies. Some societies are benefit from being so racially homogeneous you have to look at their intersections with other societies to find much racism- for example Korea or Japan; they're doing pretty well. But they could be doing better if they were more open about their labor market- they're dreadfully xenophobic, so typically outside labor is limited to VERY specialized technical fields they cannot fill with domestic employees, and manual laborers. Neither of these categories of foreign workers will ever be integrated into either of those societies or advance beyond being employees- and it is virtually impossible to gain citizenship. This racism is one reason why manufacturing jobs are increasingly being outsourced from both countries to places where labor is cheaper- the South East Asian "Tigers".

    If I'm wrong here, then your statement would make a good argument for racism being a positive force. But what you're talking about when you say institutional racism, really is about culture, not race.

    In any other context than laws that discriminate on the basis of race, I don't believe in institutional racism. Racism is personal. Cultural imperialism can be institutional, but there's nothing inherently morally wrong about preferring your own culture (though it can bite you in the ass if your cultural practices aren't as great as you think they are) or in preferring specific cultural practices over others.

    "they eventually help enact the barriers for a great many people to secure their hegemony. "

    Yes, incumbents always act to preserve their position. Inevitably. You can call it privilege, you can call it conservatism. Whether they are successful or not is another question. The good news is this- success breeds a desire for repetition, which leads people to value the qualities that led to success (and therefore incumbency at the top). Unfortunately, people tend to stick to their backgrounds no matter whether that background is successful or not, because habit is probably the most powerful human quality. This is because of several psychological tendencies, including the fact that early conditioning is stronger and more subtle than things learned consciously later in life, and tends to influence attitudes on a variety of subjects disproportionately.

    This tendency to stick to habit competes with the tendency to emulate success, and the extent that this struggle (with a small dash of innovation thrown in) goes one way or the other, determines the success of the society in general.

    For example, good communication skills are a cultural and individual success factor. (I'll use language as a proxy for various cultural practices through out this discussion because it is a subject I am very familiar with, having been a professional linguist.) Introduce some silly concept like Ebonics into the equation, and you institutionalize a disadvantage. It's not the same as doing business in educated Spanish. Educated Spanish would be equivalent to educated English, but "Ebonics", or even Caribbean Patois are limited subsets of languages, that lack the precision and tools necessary to quality communication. You cannot express complicated philosophy or technical knowledge in gutter vernacular. Lest this is also called racism, consider that the everyday vocabulary of Appalachian hillbillies likewise suffers from the same limitations. Vernacular dialects work for every day, informal and unimportant communication, but advances come from efficient, structured use of language, whether that is English, German, or Hindu.

    Some cultures' languages are more static than others. For example, Arabic is mostly stabilized by adherence to the Koran. Modern Standard Arabic, is a flowery, God-oriented linguistic pattern that corresponds highly to the Koran, but is not used in actual conversation: each sub-culture of Arabs have their own dialect, largely mutually intelligible, but not perfectly. English and Russian have lent themselves to more technical and technology- related subjects much better than some others- I don't think the best language for communicating about computers would be Irish Gaelic, for example.

    Language, and the cultural assumptions inherent in language, shape the way we think. And arguably, the efficiency with which we think. Whether that is gutter patois or educated vocabulary within the same nominal language. Education in the use of your own native language allows you to think more effectively than the relatively unstructured vocabulary you learned as a child.

    This is not 'institutional racism', this is an advantageous ability that a subset of people possess, because they prioritized it as an important cultural value. It's also achievable by anyone. It takes more effort for some than others, because it requires abandoning cultural norms from your own personal context that don't work and embracing cultural practices with demonstrated success, and that's just not comfortable.

    Then, important cultural assets such as "proper English" come to be shorthand for other superior cultural attributes like education level, work ethic, polite behaviour, etc., because human beings primarily use inductive logic, learning through a heuristic information processing model. I.E. "good enough, most of the time."

    "we cannot claim a level playing field when we know it to be skewed."

    I'm not claiming that at all. There never will be a "level playing field." I didn't have a level playing field- some people had it better than I did, some had it worse. It's always an up-hill slog, if you're not already 'in the groove' through accident of birth into a culture and economic bracket that promotes success. Those relative positions only vaguely correlate to race, if at all. Fairness is a human concept that the physical laws of the universe don't care about. I even acknowledged in my post:

    "When you get far enough off the track, no path is easy- it takes more energy and effort to get back on track than it ever would have to stay on track. Any rocket scientist or reformed criminal can tell you this."

    Culture has inertia just like mass. The greater the number of people believing in and doing erroneous things, the harder it is to change direction. We do not even have a simple majority of the human race free from superstition and possessing a logical, cause-and-effect, responsible mindset. What portion of us do posses these attributes tend to be cluster in geographically and ethnically significant concentrations.

    Note: It's not my intention to be self-referential as a source of *authority* above, merely as amplification of my current points with those earlier articles serving better than repetition of all those ideas here.

    2 Comments:

    Blogger Lil said...

    Every time I hear someone whine (in whatever form) that life is not fair, I want to say to them, "Are you fuq'ing 17 years old?! Get over yourself!"

    Hell, 17 is probably generous. My 14-year-old stopped whining about life not being fair at least a year ago.

    10:02 PM  
    Anonymous HKpistole said...

    You, Sir, have a good head on your shoulders.

    11:40 AM  

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