Quotes of the Day on Equality Politics

Quotes of the Day on Equality Politics June 4, 2020

In my recent blog piece, “Black.”, there was a number of very thoughtful or interesting comments to further discuss. This, from (((J_Enigma32))):

I’m from Flint, Michigan, and as a disclaimer, I’m so white that the SPF on my sunscreen is measured in scientific notation, so keep that in mind. However, living in Flint affords me a unique perspective, because it’s a city that’s 57% Black and 40% white. So policies like redlining? I see them first hand, because they affect me and where I live. Policies like zip-code discrimination? Yep. See it first hand, because my zip-code is targeted. Situations like totally white Republicans railing against lead in pipes poisoning children and then voting down bills that could help fund the removal of lead from pipes and paint because they’re “small government” – which often means “sticking my head in the sand until the problem goes away conservative?” Yep. Seen that.

I don’t experience them first hand, but I do definitely get caught in the fallout from racist policies, and not just because a substantial number of my friends and former co-workers get caught in them being Black or African-American, but because living in a predominantly Black or African-American community means I am in the blast zone for systematic racism. While it indirectly affects everyone, there are times when it directly affects me.

The thing to understand about racism in America is that it isn’t just racism; it’s economic inequality, because the two go hand-in-hand, like war and famine. Americans have had class distinctions for a long time, but we routinely ignore them, because we operate under the (clearly delusional) idea that all people are created equally. And because we’ve ignored them for so long, they’ve been allowed to calcify.

Understanding America’s problems with race and economic inequality requires wrapping your head around something really close to India’s caste system; perhaps not as formalized, but certainly every bit as merciless. That’s how bad things are. And just like the Brahmins will do whatever it takes to hold onto power, so will the wealthy whites. And just like India’s caste system, the one in the United States is often justified via religion; in this case, Christianity. And just like India’s caste system, it’s a problem that can only be solved through large-scale government action and a total re-visitation to the idea of a “society” and how a society is supposed to function.

We experience these things differently, and it’s interesting to hear a (very!) white man evidence and experience the inequality we are talking about. We might call this, tongue-in-cheek, “enemy attestation”. These structures, these institutions, these oligarchies and family corporate empires of great power are what need to be scrutinised.

Anne Fenwick packed her comment full of content:

I’ve spent quite a lot of time trying to understand the problems of systemic racism on an academic level, i.e, I’ve read as many case studies as I’ve come across. I’m in a slightly related academic field, so I have an interest on top of any civic one. What emerges from the research is that the problem/solution (in whatever situation) is almost always complex and multi-factorial, to the point where it would be very difficult to generalise or predict what type of thing it’s likely to be. That’s certainly true across societies (for instance UK/USA).

What it isn’t down to (usually, or at least not in any simple, expected sense) is a general attitudinal problem (e.g., what people often call racism). It follows that a) no ‘societal shift’ centred around people’s attitude to race will be enough to bring about real change, and b) whilst the black community surely can’t ‘dismantle’ a problem they didn’t create, it’s no easier for white people or people in general, individually or collectively, to do so. You might think it would be, in so far as white people have majorities in the democracies of the UK and USA, but first of all, ‘white people’ aren’t a voting block, and secondly, beyond the question of political will, white people (all people, actually) are lacking the necessary, hard core knowledge of cause and effect. Without this, the question of effective agency, where things would probably start to look dicey anyway, is a moot point.

Let me interject. When I talked about a societal shift, I talked of a move in terms of cultural psyche. I do not adhere to doxastic voluntarism – we can’t just decide to change our minds. There needs to be a cultural shift resultant most likely from normalisation. Look at homosexuality, and look at race issues since the times of slavery. Things have markedly improved. It’s just that things need to continue to do so, and I was staking my claim that it also needs to come from white people of all different cultural backgrounds. You can’t hope to have a united front, a united society, with one larger half of society staying silent and expecting the struggle for equality of opportunity and suchlike to be exclusively driven by, fought for, and achieved by the oppressed minority.

This is about consistently disseminating a message so that it becomes obvious and universally accepted. This is the societal shift I am talking about, straight out of the sexual equality playbook. When you hear people sometimes say, “Homosexuality is everywhere!” in some derogatory manner, this is a success. It means it is no more closeted for fear of retribution. Eventually, it just becomes a background thing that doesn’t cause an eyebrow to be raised. It’s just normalised. Back to Anne.

Another thing is that it’s often understood in liberal circles that getting any traction on these problems might require black input. It’s not easy for a white person to predict what kinds of experience black people are having or likely to have with a given system, or why some measure or other might become a problem. But even black input joined with white will-power isn’t sufficient. Black people, who can only experience as individuals (obviously), are not able to separate their experiences from chance or link them to the diffuse, multi-factorial causes that research tends to reveal.

It follows that we do need research – a whole lot more of it, of much better quality, and much more appropriately diffused.(because it usually turns out that no single institution or set of people ‘owns’ a given problem). In the meantime, and because obviously, people want to do something, I think the best thing we can all do is engage with the research and debates on best practice regarding the interactions between race and whatever it is we do for a living, as a matter of professional ethics.

100%.

So now, with respect to the US and the situation with the police, I fear their society is in a spiral from which it will be very difficult to pull out. Against a background of armed citizens, a corresponding general state of fear and belligerence, poor race relations, and a dislike of collective action, they have a bunch of decentralised the police forces. The real problem, I think, is this: you know how we have found that the Catholic Church was/is able to function as an institution that might attract people who were prone to commit sexual abuse, and having attracted them, was designed in such as way that it offered them both opportunity and security? The police organisations in the US seem to be functioning in the same way with regard to authoritarian, belligerent, potentially aggressive and disproportionately racist individuals. At this point, those people are more likely to be attracted to police jobs, while people who don’t have those traits are actively avoiding them. Once in those jobs, the ‘wrong kind of person’ will have opportunities to exercise their tendencies, undergo re-enforcing experiences, and be protected by a culture of ‘police fraternity’ and the power of the police unions.

This article may well be worth a read, from 2018. It looks at how close the Uis S to a collapsed, and the Democratic Party not being the panacea many hope it is.

The question of potential solutions, the potential consequences of those solutions, and their effect so far, when tested, are too long for a comment thread – and yet, they’re the only thing really worth discussing, aren’t they? That’s probably true even among people who would never have anything to do with enacting solutions if they could be chosen! And yet, our forums for public discourse are not well adapted to it. The media, in particular, are a disaster here. I think that’s a large part of the reason why we find ourselves in a repeating patter of crises without much change.

Feel free, Anne! Write away. You’ve got a guaranteed blog post here for you.

Part of the problem, a huge part of the problem is one that faces the UK and the US alike.

Poverty.

The single most important thing for any government to deal with is poverty. Solving poverty solves so many of the other problems, from health to education, from this to that. But governments don’t think past 4 years, and right-wing governments don’t like to redistribute income. Progressive politics, properly enacted and embedded, is a large part of the solution. Governments only ever try to put sticking plasters on without dealing with root causes. And the UK Conservative Party would never come into power with the primary objective of minimising poverty. Not really; they might say they are trying to do so, whilst making tax cuts for the rich and increasing the inheritance tax threshold, and so on.

It’s time to get some serious governments in.

 


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