19 May 2011

By Your Fruits Ye Shall Know Them

Earlier, I asked how you can tell if someone is a racist if they never admit it, since racism is defined as a belief, and beliefs are internally held.  The most natural response might be that you can tell someone is a racist by observing how they act towards people of different races.  This sounds good, but there are a couple of factors that should also be considered.

First, you should compare how someone treats people of another race to how they treat people of their own race.  If someone is a jerk to everyone with whom he interacts, he is probably not a racist, per se, but rather a misanthrope.  A white misanthrope may hate black people, to be sure, but he also hates white people as well, and thus does not satisfy the condition of racial superiority necessary to qualify as a bona fide racist.

Second, you should account for other physical factors.  For example, you could compare how he treats females of a different to how he treats males of the same different race.  It may be the person in question is sexist, so it is necessary to account for this when attempting to determine racism.  The same also holds true for age, height, weight, and other physical factors.

Third, you must also account behavioral factors as well.  An Asian man who avoids contact with a Hispanic man because the Hispanic man is rude and belligerent is not necessarily a racist.  He may simply dislike jerks.  A white man who refuses to associate with a black guy who hasn’t bathed in three days is likewise not necessarily racist; he may simply prefer to be around people who bathe regularly.  One must account for all possible explanations before settling on a final or primary motivation.

Fourth, one might also need to account for the context of the racist behavior.  Referring to an African-American as “black” is not necessarily or inherently racist.  Black has been the more common and popular usage, historically, and has not historically contained racist connotations.  Referring to someone by their ethnicity (e.g. “Mexican” or “Polish”) is likewise not inherently racist, although these words have been used pejoratively.  Thus, context of usage is crucial to determining whether someone is racist.

Finally, the history of the person in question must also be accounted for.  A black person who fires a white employee is not necessarily racist.  A black guy who goes “polar bear hunting” probably is.  A one-time occurrence of racially motivated behavior does not a racist make or reveal.  Nor does a one-time occurrence of “racist” behavior negate a long history race-neutral behavior.

It should be readily apparent, then, that most charges of racism, particularly in the political arena, are undeniably false. Supporting a given policy, such as increased law enforcement, does not make one a racist, even if minorities are disproportionately affected by it.  Self-selection bias must be taken into account, for starters, and wishing to eliminate or reduce crime is a plausible motivator.  Thus, the lesson to be learned today is that most charges of racism are haphazardly strewn about by people who are too lazy to take the time necessary to determine if there are any alternative explanations for a given person’s behavior.  Racism is the first resort of the intellectually lazy.

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