Racism: What It Is and What It Is Not (Part III)

Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing symposium on white fragility and its related concepts. To view all of the essays in this series, click here.


Part II of this series illustrated how the concept of “racism” has come to mean whatever anyone wants it to mean—which, over time, has diminished in its power to illuminate or intimidate.Unfortunately, this message has not reached followers of the “White Fragility” movement and its numerous ideological offshoots.

These movements are energized, nurtured, and spread by the denial and mischaracterization of two fundamental truths about human diversity. First, subpopulation groups—no matter where on the globe they live or how they are subdivided—differ, on average, in the central tendencies of hundreds of social, cultural, biological, and psychological variable distributions. This is observed even in countries where almost everyone belongs to the same broad racial group, yet are still subdivided by social class, language, tribal affiliations, or ethnicity.

These average differences include, but are not limited to, health behaviors, temperament, the distribution of general cognitive ability, personality traits, cultural values and priorities, occupational choices, religious affiliations and practices, economic accomplishments, musical or athletic interests and accomplishments , biological traits, medical vulnerabilities, and involvement with the criminal justice system. Modern progressives, fueled by Marxist ideology, interpret reality as if there cannot be any average differences between human subpopulations that has any relevance for social outcomes. The cold reality, however, is that perfect statistical equality in outcomes across racial/ethnic groups has never existed at any time, on any variable, at any place on the globe—having little or nothing to do with “racism” (however this maybe defined), discrimination, or longstanding “systemic oppression.”

Since this reality is unacceptable to radical progressivesin America, then objective ability, behavioral, and skill performance standards must be maligned, lowered, altered, or abandoned altogether in order to force artificial equity down the throat of American society in areas as diverse as higher education admissions, public school discipline policies, civil service exams, teacher certification exams, and gifted education entrance requirements in public schools. In some public schools, gifted education programs are simply shut down altogether because the racial disproportionalities in enrollment embarrass educators. In the grand irony of all ironies, higher education’s social justice warriors claim to be enemies of  “institutional racism,”  but nevertheless have been found guilty—on the basis of hard numerical evidence—of actual institutional racism in their discrimination against high-scoring white and Asian applicants.

In introductory statistics, the concept of variability is just as important when understanding score distributions. Thus, a second and equally established principle of human diversity is the wide variability in hundreds of social, cultural, and psychological variables among individuals within broad subpopulation groups.

Discussing the full extent of statistical variation within subpopulation groups on human traits is well beyond the scope of this essay. Although no analogy is perfect, a simple illustration may assist readers in appreciating the reality and importance of statistical variation generally, as well as individual differences specifically. In the analogy to follow, readers can simply substitute “temperature” for any reliable measurement of a psychological or biological trait, and “months of the year” for human subgroupings.

To illustrate: countries that lie along the equator generally do not have four distinct seasons marked by drastic temperature variations. In contrast, most Americans will agree with the statement that “The spring season has higher temperatures, on average, than the fall season.” However, there are certain days in March that are colder than some days in September. Additionally, the months of March, April, and May—though all belong to the spring season—differ between each another in their average temperatures. Yet it is also true that the absolute difference in temperature between the coldest and warmest days in March is often larger than the maximum difference in average monthly temperatures across each of the three spring or fall months. As if this were not enough, the difference between early morning and noontime temperatures on March 3 may be larger than the maximum range of average daily temperatures for each of the 31 days in March.

This basic statistical principle of human variability cautions audiences against lazy group stereotyping based exclusively on the first principle regarding subgroup average differences. Thus, it is easy to see why it is absolutely necessary to integrate both statistical principles in understanding human traits, both on an individual and group level.

Militant progressivism, however, pays no attention to any of these principles. When ideological brainwashing is at the top of the academic agenda instead of the careful study of empirical truth, reality must be grossly mischaracterized to fit whatever talking points are central to the ideology. In the White Fragility movement, individuals are characterized as little more than flat, cardboard cutouts designed to serve as stock representatives of their racial groups—displaying no nuanced variation in thinking, opinions, background experiences, attitudes, or psychological traits.

Many whites simply do not like being told that their skin color—in and of itself—is the crucial factor that determines their conscious and unconscious thinking, particularly on racial issues. Similarly, many blacks do not like being characterized as porcelain victim dolls ready to shatter into pieces whenever a white person commits an innocent microaggression. In order to understand why these hostile reactions to the White Fragility concept exists among both groups, we need only to remind ourselves of the narrow definition for “racism” discussed in Part I of this series.

Recall that, in Part I of this series, the term “racism” remained tethered to its root word, and was narrowly defined—in part—as an ideology which holds that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities. In addition, this definition for racism characterizes all members of a racial group as possessing characteristics or abilities that are specific to that race. In the DiAngelo universe, it appears unthinkable that Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, or Native Americans may believe that they are superior to other groups, or that Whites may be harmed by hurtful negative stereotypes.

When both blacks and whites react negatively to White Fragility theory, they are responding viscerally to the breezy assumption that skin color determines the full range of their private attitudes or feelings—and that these attitudes/feelings are exclusive to only blacks or whites. In fact, the discomfort many feel in discussing sensitive racial issues publicly is no different from the discomfort anybody would feel if asked to openly discuss (in front of total strangers) how much money they make or the floral pattern of their underwear. Said differently, human beings are “fragile” about many things – with racial issues ranking far down toward the bottom of the list for many persons.

Social justice brainwashing movements thrive on nutrients from the following four basic food groups: (1) a selective ignorance of history; (2) frustrated, insecure, and disgruntled minorities; (3) well-meaning whites who are easy fodder for phony white guilt; and (4) lucrative opportunities for political grandstanding (see the “There is another class . . . ” quote from Booker T. Washington).

Young high school and college students, whipped into a frenzy by the latest police shooting, act as if American history suddenly began with the death of George Floyd. Are they aware that literally billions of dollars have been poured into civil rights enforcement organizations, affirmative action incentives, Head Start preschool programs, school busing for racial integration, generous grants for urban development, minorityscholarships, Title I programs in schools, and corporate diversity training—most of which began decades before they were even born?

Well-intentioned whites exhaust themselves in desperate attempts to obey the latest prescriptions for “how to be an anti-racist,” only to discover that the moral goalposts have been moved (yet again)—and that nothing is ever enough to satisfy the race scolds.

Sensitivity to giving racial offense now resembles the theatre of the absurd. Students and administrators at one prestigious school of music stretched logic to its breaking point by linking the George Floyd protests with the lack of African American representation and interest in classical music. High-profile political figures humiliate themselves before TV cameras in order to pander to racial grievances, only to be mocked by the same persons to whom they are pandering. This is heady stuff for the twenty-something-year-old college student shouting about racism through a bullhorn. How do these activities help young people (financed by hard-working parents and generous scholarships) to gain basic and essential competencies in their chosen fields?

When the gullible treat persons from minority groups with the soft bigotry of paternalism, they are completely unaware that their beliefs and attitudes are essentially no different from the “old fashioned white racism” that they presumably loathe.

White Fragility/White Privilege theory cannot explain why virulent antisemitism and ethnic cleansing exist in predominantly white countries where whites viciously slaughter other whites. Nor can it explain why the continent of Africa has experienced the most horrific period of tribal bloodshed and killings in its history between black Rwandan tribes, who—as far as is reasonably known—contain no white members. White Fragility theory provides no explanation for why Black children and youth are systematically murdered every month in major American cities by rival street gangs—who couldn’t care less about sharing the same skin color. Nor can it explain why Malcolm X, arguably the highest profile antagonist to white America in his early rhetoric,    was killed by black men—who in the final analysis were motivated by the most basic of human emotions: jealousy.

The hollow canard that “people of color cannot be racist” (defined here as animosity and violence directed at persons because of the color of their skin) is a disingenuous smokescreen shown to be false whenever opportunities for basic human revenge present themselves. When put into a position of real or imagined power, “persons of color” in these instances show no reluctance to demand or extract “payback” against individuals from other racial groups.

Human beings display a great capacity for good, but also a great capacity for evil. Basic human nature has never, nor will ever change as long as human beings continue to exist on planet earth. The White Fragility movement and its offshoots have been shown to be intellectually and morally bankrupt, providing no answers for improving troubled societies—whether they be in America or abroad. Higher education deserves better.


Image: Matteo Paganelli, Public Domain

Avatar

Craig Frisby

Craig Frisby is Associate Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri College of Education.

One thought on “Racism: What It Is and What It Is Not (Part III)”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *