Tribalism isn’t about feelings, it’s about the zero-sum outlook

Change can be unpleasant.

Unless you’re down and out. If you’re down and out, then change is probably good news. When you’re down and out, then any change is likely to be progress.

But if you’re neither down nor out, then progress may be unwelcome. You’re on top. You’re in. Why mess with that?

The last 60 years has seen a lot of change. The trajectory of that change has been good news for many people who used to be intractably down and  out. For them, the trajectory of this change is clearly progress. But such progress has been unsettling for many people who used to enjoy an exclusive birthright to being up and in.

What I’m trying to talk about here is privilege, hegemony, implicit hierarchy. And about the lingering resentment and anxiety over every slight erosion of them.

This shows up a lot in pronouns — particularly in the ambiguous use of undifferentiated first-person plural pronouns. “We need to take our country back.” But what do you mean “We,” kemosabe?

Those pronouns are funny things. They seem to be inclusive and comprehensive. On its face, “we” means us — all of us. But we don’t always use “we” in that way. Who is the “we” in “we need to take our country back”? Who is the “our”?

It’s inclusive, but not comprehensive. Or, in other words, it’s tribal — inclusive of those within the tribe, but exclusive of those without it.

The tribal boundaries are implicit and unstated, but they are known. These boundaries are ethnic and religious and sexual, yet they do not necessarily entail any ethnic or religious or sexual animus.

There may be such animus, but it’s not necessary. No actual dislike or contempt needs to be felt. Personal sentiment and emotional antipathy are wholly optional when it comes to defending the interests of the tribe.

This can lead to some confusion and muddy things up. We can end up arguing about racism, misogyny, homophobia or religious hatred with folks who insist, sincerely, that they do not have any such feelings.

And for many people, that’s largely true. They don’t feel such dislike, and some of their best friends are, etc. Because this isn’t about feelings, it’s about tribes. Plenty of people who are driven by the desire to defend the interests of their tribe don’t feel any visceral dislike for those they regard as outsiders — as not “we,” not “us,” not “ours.” Those folks just happen to be on the other team.

And if our team is going to win, they imagine, then their team can’t.

I think that’s the key. That, right there, is the idea that makes personal feelings of dislike or hatred superfluous. Once you accept the framework of a zero-sum struggle between competing tribes then it no longer matters whether or not you feel any such feelings — you’re still bound to regard any advance for them as a loss for us. You’ll still imagine that “we” cannot be up and in unless “they” are kept down and out.

In that zero-sum tribal framework, it doesn’t matter whether or not you dislike the other tribe or view them an inferior. If you think of yourself as part of the straight, white, male, Christian tribe, then you’ll defend the interests of that tribe against anyone who is not straight, white, male and Christian. Whether or not personal sentiments of antipathy are involved, the effect is the same.

It’s very difficult, if not altogether impossible, to separate out the various threads of tribal identity as distinct factors. The tribal anxiety that comes from the idea of a zero-sum world is all of a piece. Antitribalism struggles to be “intersectional,” but tribalism has always been intersectional. Tribalism was intersectional before intersectionality was cool.

Look again at that amorphous and undifferentiated use of the tribal “we.” We need to take back our country. The anxiety there — the sense that we are losing, somehow, due to the advances made by others — cannot easily be separated into discrete elements of ethnicity, gender, religion or sexuality. The loss that “we” feel for “our” tribe arises from a host of changes that combine to form a single anxiety. The anxiety that perceives the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as a tribal defeat is bound up with the anxiety that festers behind fear of the so-called “War on Christmas.” The tribal anxiety felt over every advance of feminism is intermixed with the anxiety felt over every advance in civil rights for ethnic minorities. The sense of tribal besiegement that perceives a same-sex wedding as some kind of setback is intermingled with the anxiety over the new neighborhood mosque, the ending of prayers at high school football games and “Press 2 para Español.”

This is part of what I was trying to convey with the Venn diagram I posted last night. State-mandated sectarian prayer in public schools is a theocratic idea, yet “school prayer” isn’t primarily a rallying cry for theocrats, but for tribalists. The 1962 decision forbidding mandatory sectarian prayers was perceived as a loss for the tribe, just as the desegregation decisions of the previous decade were. “We” were losing control of “our” schools.

Racial animus may play a role in that tribal anxiety, for some. And I suspect that for many who harbor such feelings of racial animus, “school prayer” is considered a safer, more acceptable-seeming way of expressing their objection to desegregation. But explicit, visceral racial animus is not necessary for such an objection any more than state Sen. Dennis Kruse needed to be a raging anti-Semite to introduce legislation allowing Indiana schools to mandate the recitation of the Christian Lord’s prayer. It doesn’t really matter whether or not Kruse feels any such feelings of bigotry — the effect is the same either way.


"The law doesn't actually require it now."

Romans 13 and the Gettysburg Address
"Actually Himself seems to use a Sharpie."

Romans 13 and the Gettysburg Address
"Lots of modern mind-control literature extols the "happy slaves" model, though. _A Deepness in the ..."

Romans 13 and the Gettysburg Address
"Kill the private prisons - they're in it for the money, and tend to mistreat ..."

Romans 13 and the Gettysburg Address

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • fraser

    Now this one, I agree. I’ve tried saying similar stuff elsewhere, but you phrase it much better.

  • Carstonio

    State-mandated sectarian prayer in public schools is a theocratic idea,
    yet “school prayer” isn’t primarily a rallying cry for theocrats, but
    for tribalists.

    Except that theocracy itself is a highly articulated form of tribalism. In practice it’s a religious form of Jim Crow. (“Rev. James Crow”?)

  • LL

    Yeah, that “we need to take back our country” bullshit is perhaps the most ridiculous of all the bullshit spewed by the idiots on the “right.” Take it back from who? The rich white men who still run it?

    Surely not. 

    So are these people really under the impression that black people are running things now? Or the gay feminazis? Who do they think is in charge now?

    It’s amusing to me that old white people (because they are mostly old, though many are apparently middle-aged) can look at the leadership of America today and see anything other than male and lily white. One black male president in over 200 years of presidents constitutes some terrible threat. 

    Does anybody really doubt that the next president will be white? And male? I doubt Hillary’s gonna run. Being Secretary of State seems plenty taxing for her, I don’t think she sees the presidency as less so. And I don’t see a lot of other female candidates or black guys lining up as the next obvious choices. 

    So maybe after Obama leaves office, these people will calm the fuck down and go back to bitching about kids on their lawn or whatever else had them shitting bricks of outrage before Obama was elected. Abortion, I guess. 

  • Does anybody really doubt that the next president will be white? And male?

    My hopes and dreams are set on Elizabeth Warren.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I’m nervous about her lack of experience, but Obama hasn’t worked out badly. Warren 2016!

  • If not, then Biden/Warren maybe? :D After a term as Vice-President she’d be a shoo-in (or is that shoe-in? :P ) for the Presidential slot.

  • Lori

    Honestly, I’d like to see Warren stay in the Senate and have the chance to do some real work there for a while. Things being what they are I think her present committee appointment gives her a better shot at making change in her area of expertise than being POTUS would. 

  • Magic_Cracker

    Fun With Racists Pro-Tips

    (1) Whenever someone talks up their Anglo-Saxon heritage, interrupt and ask them “Angle or Saxon?” Don’t let them continue their racist diatribe until they pick one.

    (2) Quiz anyone who talks about “white” culture or “white” civilization about their national background. No Irish or southern or eastern Europeans need apply, nor may Swarthy Germans.

    (3) Refuse to recognize anyone but Icelanders as being pure, untainted “white.” Everyone else is a miscegenated “mud person.” Don’t let the racist diatribe continue until they prove pure Icelandic background to your satisfaction.

    Warning: White racists are humorless, violence-prone losers whose sole “accomplishment” in life was getting born to parents who identify as “white.” Do not attempt Fun With Racists alone, in enclosed areas, or without direct means of egress.

  • histrogeek

     Anyone who is not of their narrow tribe is quite enough to get them shitting bricks. Bill Clinton freaked them the hell out even though he was a white, male, Protestant southerner.
    However, he was a Democrat who was OK with his supposedly harridan wife, avoided Vietnam in a non-country club way, and didn’t feel like turning the country into a wholly-owned subsidiary of the overclass made him EEEEEEVILLLLL. This was long before we knew who Monica was. The Angry White Male meme was out in 1993 and 1994.

  • rrhersh

    The sports team analogy is very apt.  If my beloved Phillies are playing the Padres, I suddenly have to be against the Padres, even though I would otherwise have no opinion about them.  Indeed, if the Phillies are playing the Orioles, I have to be against the Orioles, even though under any other circumstances I root for them.   In fact, if I watch a game involving two teams I know nothing about, I will find some arbitrary reason to root for one, and therefore against the other.  In principle I could watch in order to admire the beauties of the game, but in practice it doesn’t work this way.

    For those who are confused about the difference between sports and public policy, the implications are sadly inevitable.

  • Ben English

    This post is a much better way of putting it than the Venn diagram. One of the most distressing elements of tribalism is that people don’t understand how intersectional it is.  Hence you have Christianists who aren’t racist (or maybe even are people of color) but still contribute to the power structures that reinforce racism, or how you have Atheists and Skeptics who demean and harass women while patting themselves on the back for being better than those misogynist Taliban assholes.

  • I don’t think I buy the zero-sum game idea. I think that the real issue is that these people have convinced themselves that the system is in EVERYONE’s best interest. This makes it easy to impute bad motives on anyone who questions or threatens the system. People who want to change the system aren’t trying to get legitimate needs addressed – they just want power, control and to prevent others from thriving.

    There is no concept of the idea that the system is inherently problematic for some people. If the system doesn’t work for a person or a group of people the problem lies with the people. The answer is to change the people, not the system.

    In fact, these people view their idea about how things work as the height of egalitarianism as according to their understanding racism means believing that a group is inherently inferior, nothing more. Since there’s no inborn differences between people, there’s no reason to think the system can’t work for everyone. Those who aren’t able or willing to join in are themselves the problem.

    So, I don’t think the zero sum game idea works. In sports, the desire of the other team to win is not seen as illegitimate or a threat to the game itself. But illegitimate and a threat to the game itself is exactly  how these “we need to save our country” people view the aspirations of anyone whose actions could disrupt the system. For instance, since Christianity is true, those who object to
    Christian prayers are simply wrong in fact and we have no responsibility
    to accommodate other people’s errors. I think that you are right that this doesn’t require animus towards others for being a person of color or a religious minority or LGBT or female. But there’s definitely animus towards the specific aspirations and demands of such groups.

  • Katie

     I don’t disagree with you that white men still run things.  But it is more complicated than that.  For example, this year, straight white Christian men don’t make up  the majority of Democrats in Congress.    The President is black.  The Supreme Court has three women, including one Latina, one black man, and no Protestants.  If John Kerry becomes Secretary of State, he’ll be the first straight, white, Christian man to hold that post since Warren Christopher stepped down in 1997.  So while its true that straight white Christian men still hold most of the power, they no longer hold ALL of it.  And its becoming increasingly obvious that the people who are not straight white Christian men are not going to go away, and are going to keep getting a larger share.  

  • Magic_Cracker

    If John Kerry becomes Secretary of State, he’ll be the first straight, white, Christian man to hold that post since Warren Christopher stepped down in 1997.

    Irish Catholics are White Christians? ;-)

  • Tricksterson

    “So are these people really under the impression that b;ack people are running things now?  Or the gay feminazis?”

    Yes, that is pretty much what they think along with thinking not that whites may becoome a minority in this country by mid-century but that they already are.

  • Speaking of women and reactions of men to women, this article is rather timely:

    Years later, as a top researcher from California in need of a faculty position and keen to move home, she found herself in “an abusive relationship” with the UofT, variously courted and rejected by the school’s grandees — “snubbed,” as the late, great Mr. Berton once put it in a newspaper column.

    “One professor, she heard, threatened to quit if she was selected.

    Others feared she’d organize a feminist movement on the campus — as if that were a taboo,” he wrote.

    “It was pretty horrible,” Prof. Franklin said. “A person isn’t just a woman, and they have a personality. I think the University of Toronto had a lot of people who probably didn’t like my personality either. But the kind of things they said made me think they were kind of worried about having a woman who was also… a slightly more wild woman.”

    I’m always agog at how threatened some men get when women upset the existing apple-cart.

  • Carstonio

     What you describe is the Just World Fallacy. These folks define “everyone’s best interest” using paternalistic assumptions, such as people lacking motivation unless goals are imposed on them. This is the background of racist myths about black laziness, but the JWF isn’t itself inherently racist.

  • Mike Helbert

     I have to agree with this assessment. It’s almost impossible for some in the dominant culture to even understand how anyone could possibly not be successful if they just play be the rules. Everyone has the same chances. That’s why affirmative action has such a hard time getting through some people’s heads. They simply can’t wrap their heads around the inherent disadvantages that the ‘other’ experiences in real life.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    The Zero-Sum Game:

    Since there is only so much to go around, the only way to get more for Me is to take it away from You.  (By force if necessary.)  Lobsters in a bucket.  First-generation Social Darwinism, red in tooth and claw.

    (Somewhere on the Web there’s an essay called “World’s Most Toxic Value System”, using the dark side of Arabic tribal culture — forged in the harsh Zero-Sum Game of the Empty Quarter, where the most extreme forms of Islam periodically appear — as an example.)

    (A more widespread Zero-Sum Game was colonialism during the Age of Empires, where the European homeland benefited at the expense of its Third World colonies, redefining Social Darwinism as a matter of Race and Nation.  The most infamous and extreme version was Naziism, which firewalled the concept forced the Zero-Sum Game with all comers to the point of destruction.)

    And I’ve often worried if environmentalism might have encouraged the Zero-Sum Game with it’s emphasis on “One Small Spaceship Earth” and “Limits to Growth”.  Before this, SF emphasized growth and prosperity colonizing other worlds, mining the asteroids, and using their resources — “Boldly going where no man has gone before.”  But limited to One Small Spaceship Earth(TM) where there’s only so much to go around on One Small Planet(TM), it’s more likely to trigger the Zero-Sum Game for keeps than “We All Must Share”, and wars of conquest and Imperial exploitation than everyone joining hands and singing Kum-ba-yah. 

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    If John Kerry becomes Secretary of State, he’ll be the first straight, white, Christian man to hold that post since Warren Christopher stepped down in 1997.

    Irish Catholics are White Christians? ;-)

    Not by the standards of 19th Century Scientific Racism, as chronicled in several essays by Stephen Jay Gould.  (“Who was White” was defined very narrowly, often breaking down on national-ethnic lines established by the Reformation Wars — Protestant White, Catholic Not.)

    And we’re talking John Kerry, JFK Impersonator — he of the Upper-Class Voice Talking Down to the Rabble about “When I Served In Vietnam”.  The guy’s a South Park cartoon of himself!

  • The research by Altemeyer and others sheds some possible light on this. Prejudice against “dangerous” groups is correlated to high-RWA attitudes, which in turn correlate to religiosity; prejudice to “derrogated” groups correlate to high-SDO attitudes. The most prejudiced are double-high; but high-RWA/low-SDO types will still tend to be prejudiced, particularly groups (racial or otherwise) they regard with fear.

    Atheists, while tending low-RWA, have just as much tendency as the overall population to lean high-SDO; possibly more, among atheist groups. This conjecture would help explain why atheist groups skew male (high-SDO is correlated with male over female), the presence of what subjectively seems the use of language of contempt among the more sexist atheists, and some of the relatively high levels of (religious) ethnocentrism among group-joining atheists. However, I don’t have direct data on SDO among atheist groups.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    (2) Quiz anyone who talks about “white” culture or “white” civilization about their national background. No Irish or southern or eastern Europeans need apply, nor may Swarthy Germans.

    From Donna Barr’s B&W small-press comic “The Desert Peach”, when the Blood Purity Boys drop by from Berlin:

    “But he doesn’t look German!”

    “And what’s a German look like?  We’re the crossroads of Central Europe!  We’ve interbred with just about EVERYBODY!”

    P.S.  The “Tall, Blond, Blue-eyed” archetype is NOT German but Scandinavian.  Other side of the Baltic, Herr Reichsfuehrer.

    (3) Refuse to recognize anyone but Icelanders as being pure, untainted “white.” Everyone else is a miscegenated “mud person.” Don’t let the racist diatribe continue until they prove pure Icelandic background to your satisfaction.

    Icelanders are the purest strain of Old Norse.  They even speak Old Norse; “Icelandic” IS Old Norse, with minimal drift from that language of the Vikings when they first settled Iceland.

  • Protestants have already lost majority status in the US; seems likely another two decades before they lose plurality status, however. (It looks a tossup as to whether they’ll fall below the Catholics before or after the “Nones” rise to plurality.)

  • Edo

    Icelanders are the purest strain of Old Norse.  They even speak Old Norse; “Icelandic” IS Old Norse, with minimal drift from that language of the Vikings when they first settled Iceland.

    Properly speaking, the Icelanders still wouldn’t count as white. Based on studies of mitochondrial DNA, 50+% of the original Icelandic male settlers were married to Gaels.

    Not that it matters; just the random factoid of the day.

  • EllieMurasaki

    So from what very specific bits of Europe must someone’s ancestry be entirely from in order for that person to be Real True Whitefolks? And how does one being without such ancestry (hi, I’m Irish) reduce in any way the benefits white privilege has for one if one is pale enough to receive such benefits?

  • hidden_urchin

    Do not attempt Fun With Racists alone, in enclosed areas, or without direct means of egress.

    Or in the South.  Down here, they tend to be armed.

  • GKaplan

    I agree with everything in this post, and yet the word “privilege” continues to be the equivalent of nail on a chalkboard to me. I don’t disagree with what that word connotes, I’m just instinctually, powerfully repelled by its use in this context.

  • EllieMurasaki

    What word would you recommend that means all the same things but doesn’t have whatever quality you dislike? Is it even possible to have such a word?

  • Well put!!! 

  • Edo

    Good questions all around, all I can say is that I (the European quarters being Czech and Slovak) wouldn’t qualify for the ancestry either, and it still doesn’t reduce in any way the benefits white privilege affords me.

    It doesn’t matter; it really was the random factoid of the day.

  • Can’t speak for GKaplan, but in other conversations with folks who dislike having the word “privilege” applied to what people-like-us have, I have found them all right with “status.”

    Then again, I’ve also been told that “status” is dismissive of the real problems that people who lack privilege experience, because it sounds too trivial and unimportant.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Which only confirms my suspicion that any word accurate enough for the group without this quality is too pointy for the group with this quality to be comfortable having pointed at them.

  • arcseconds


    Whenever someone talks up their Anglo-Saxon heritage, interrupt and ask
    them “Angle or Saxon?” Don’t let them continue their racist diatribe
    until they pick one.

    What about the Jutes?

    Everyone always forgets the Jutes.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Since I started that thread, I’ll jump it and say that my comments re: whiteness obviously do not “reduce in any way the benefits white privilege has for one if one is pale enough to receive such benefits.”
    Rather, I’m just pointing out that many contemporary racists who identify white (say, Pat Buchanan)  would not be considered at all “white” by earlier generations of racists or by contemporary extremist groups like Church of the Creator or Aryan Nation.

    So when I myself point out that despite my blond hair, blue eyes, and very fair skin, I would not be considered white in 1900 America (even tho’ I would easily pass) because of my Irish and Italian ancestry, I’m not pretending that I’m not white in the modern usage of the term, nor am I pretending that I don’t reap the benefits of white privilege every single day. 

  • Magic_Cracker

    I was under the impression that the Jutes in England were exterminated by the Saxons.

  • arcseconds

    The great thing about racism is that views on what the races actually are and which race is the right race to be varies greatly from place to place.

    Being Irish in Ireland is, of course, a  fine thing.

    Being of Irish descent in the United States isn’t, I think, any kind of a drawback  these days (any more – it used to be about a hundred years ago), and in fact is probably something of a benefit, because you get to embrace Riverdance and U2 as your very own.  Maybe you can even excuse certain kinds of socially frowned upon behaviour as resulting from your firey Celtic blood.  It’s White, but with a twist!

    In England, though, it’s a different story.   The Irish may no longer be exactly viewed largely as churlish, thick-headed, inebriated, socially destructive, Catholic and sometimes outright murderous layabouts, but the prejudices are deep-rooted and don’t disappear overnight.   They’re *still* being displayed as foolish, wayward drunks in British comedy, for goodness sakes! (e.g. Father Ted, Black Books, The IT Crowd). 

    And again, these days (although not always in the past) it’s fine (as far as I know) to be polish-American, but it’s not fine to be a pole in England.

    Racism and racial thinking in the USA is largely dominated by colour, in part because it’s a very apparent difference, and in part because the Black-White interaction is the most important racial interaction.   So sure, in the USA being pale enough will get you by (although, note that descent was still legally important until recently with the miscegenation laws).  In other times and places, other markers are used. 

    Nazi Germany is a particularly dramatic example that shows that  skin colour (and even looks in general) is not always enough to be accepted as white.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Nazi Germany is a particularly dramatic example that shows that  skin colour (and even looks in general) is not always enough to be accepted as white.

    Indeed. It was the same in Apartheid South Africa. Families who had been white for generations found themselves retroactively made not-White as ever-finer ways to slice the cream pie were devised for one reason or another.

    One of the many problems with scapegoating is that once the scapegoat has been eliminated from society, society’s ills still persist, creating the need for new scapegoats. If the alliance of right-wing Evangelicals and Catholics were to result in the U.S. becoming an officially Christian country, it wouldn’t be long before the Catholics were made the new goats for not being Christian enough. After them, the Quakers and Unitarians, then the Brethren, and so on and so forth. Similarly, if all the people who currently identify as white were to unite and create an Apartheid United States, it wouldn’t be long before ever-finer definitions of white were devised to determine who gets what jobs, housing, etc.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Oh, please.

    Unitarians kicked out of Christopia after Catholics? Unitarians officially believe in one god (hence ‘Unitarian’, not ‘Trinitarian’) and in salvation for all (hence the ‘Universalist’ part of ‘Unitarian Universalist’), and in practice believe in one god, more or less. (UU services are friendly places to be atheist, agnostic, or any flavor of polytheist, as well as any flavor of monotheist.) Unitarians also believe unpleasant things about how women and queer people and people who say they’re a gender other than the one the genitals they were born with say they are and brown people of all shades and handicapped people and poor people are quite as deserving of human rights as people who aren’t any of the above! Unitarians wouldn’t be let in Christopia in the first place!

    (sorry about the language, but putting it in terms I accept dilutes my point)

  • fraser

     Unfortunately I think they’ve passed the point where calming down is an option. They know white male Christianity is a dwindling brand and they’re freaking out at the idea they’re going to be just one of the many special interest groups.

  • fraser

     And it’s not necessarily that they think of taking it back from anyone that specific. What they know is that the country is not doing what they want or electing who they want and that in itself is a sign that it’s gone horribly, horribly wrong and our government is broken. In terms of the enemy I think they lump everything together as Evil People Who Hate America And Are Not Like Us–as witness Newt’s prediction that secularist atheists will one day improve sharia on America.

  • fraser

     The book “Walking out on the Boys” recounts how a woman at Stanford’s neurosurgery department touched off a shitstorm just for suggesting that one particularly sexist professor shouldn’t become department head. You’d have thought she was demanding all the faculty be replaced with members of SCUM.

  • fraser

     The Mighty God King blog was discussing one Forbes column on How Poor  Minorities Can Become Successful last year. He pointed out that even if the advice worked, it amounted to “If you work phenomenally hard and are extremely lucky, you can get the same advantages that come to upper middle-class white kids by default, therefore the system works!”

  • fraser

     Case in point, Bill O’Reilly’s grumbling that twenty years ago “the white establishment” would have shut Obama down. He apparently thinks that fine, but I’m sure he’d have a fit if the WASP establishment started shutting him down. As it would be totally different.

  • vsm

    I’m not sure about using those three sitcoms as examples of anti-Irish racism. The creators were all Irishmen (Graham Linehan was involved with all of them), the relevant actors were Irish, and the figure of the drunk fool isn’t exactly foreign to Irish comedy. Lots of Jewish comedians like Woody Allen or Larry David treat their ethnicity and related stereotypes in a similar way.

  • EDB

    Everyone always forgets the Jutes.

    Funny, they just don’t look Jutish.

  • Cowboy Diva

    So maybe the way around this, instead of being for one specific team we should unify against just one team.
    Ef the effing Yankees.
    Speaking of tribalism, does it help to have an enemy? Does it all come down to the (perceived) sharing (or taking) of resources, or is there more to it?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Judging by the way evangelical Christians flocked to a Mormon presidential candidate, yes, it does help.

  • ProfWombat

    1.  The reason it’s useless to argue with young-earthers, Obama birthers, most global warming skeptics, ‘family values’ people who voted for Gingrich, gold-standard aspirants is that facts and logic are irrelevant to their beliefs.  They aren’t descriptions of the world.  They’re social markers identifying members of the tribe to each other.

    2.  Exceptionalism claimed is common humanity denied.  Simple as that.

  • MaryKaye

    When I was in elementary school (Alaska, 1970 or so) the go-to ethnicity for mean ethnic jokes was Poles.  This was really odd as there weren’t any around (as far as I know) and I believe many of the kids had no idea what they were talking about.  I know I didn’t, and was really surprised to find out later that “Pollack” was a rude word for “person from Poland.”    It was just the ethnicity you used for mean ethnic jokes.  (Gods, I hope there *weren’t* any Poles in my school, because unthinking cruelty hurts too.)

    It took me to adulthood to find this deeply weird.

    Is there a word for the tactical blunder of encircling something and then firing on it (leading to friendly fire problems) that doesn’t involve an ethnic slur?  I could really use one.

  • arcseconds

    Well, you seem to be admitting they’re trading on racial stereotypes in some way, and that’s enough to show that these stereotypes still exist, which was all my point requires. 

    Furthermore, none of the reasons you give are reasons for thinking that the shows aren’t just simply racist.   That the author is themselves a member of a group doesn’t mean they can’t perpetuate stereotypes about the group!  Take Ayn Rand, for example  — she’s a woman, but there’s not much out there that’s commonly read these days that’s more misogynistic than her stuff.  One scene in particular is stomach-churning.

    The really important question to ask about a show when assessing what it tells us about  race or gender or other such things is not who the author was, or what their intent was (you know what we say about that), but rather how it is read by  (and otherwise impacts) the viewers.   Alf Garnett, or his american counterpart Archie Bunker, were certainly intended to show up racism rather than support it.    There are some, however, who never understood the irony, and take these figures to be sound examples of solid Englishmen/Americans.   If no-one understood the irony, then the show ends up helping to establish racism, and the effect on society is the same as if that had been the intent all along.  

    Perhaps Woody Allen’s work is high-brow and ironical enough (and understood so by his viewers) so that rather than reinforce setereotypes it causes us to question them.  I’m not sure I buy it completely, but there’s an argument there.  I think the case is much harder to make that the three shows I mentioned were ironic explorations of Irish stereotypes.   There are points in Black Books which do highlight the stereotypes of the Irish in interesting ways (like when Fran tries to get Bernard to sing songs of the old country, he refuses and gets her to do it instead, and she sings a farce of a stereotypical Irish folk-tune), but for the most part I think they simply trade on the stereotypes without challenging them.