On Racism: Discrimination vs. Supremacy

On Racism: Discrimination vs. Supremacy September 21, 2009

We all know the drill: X calls Y a ‘racist,’ then, Y calls X ‘racist’ for calling Y a ‘racist.’ Then, others enter the fray and repeat the accusations. And this is a major part of what passes as “politics” these days.

It seems too easy to forget that racism is not just a term, it is a real experience that happens to human persons. The simple folk sense of what racism truly is is not a part of the political discussion. Real folk understand the difference between ‘racism’ and ‘Racism.’

In one sense, we are all racists and should be undisturbed by that basic reality. In another sense, we are all Racists but differ in relations and degrees of Racism and ought to try to eradicate the spirit of Racism from the human condition.

The first sense of racism is the sense of perception. We perceive in pixels and with those pixelated images comes attention and judgment. Another word for that process of perception is discrimination. While the term has been politicized, it is nothing more than the neutral condition of sensory perception. We cannot perceive things all at once, we divide the world into categories and treat them accordingly.

In this neutral sense, ‘racism’ is the fact that one person looks, sounds, smells, or feels in a way that stands out to my senses. In this discriminatory sense of racism we cannot say, in advance, whether it is a problem. To know whether or not it is a problem to be a discriminatory racist—someone who perceives things; human, in other words—we need to know whether the intention of the act of discrimination has the added feature of supremacy.

Supremacy is not a simple property to the human act of perception, but it does seem to be all too ordinary in the human condition. It is the hallmark of the Racism. Racism that we ought to oppose and try to eradicate in ourselves and each other—especially those who seem to see racial supremacy as unproblematic to begin with.

I am not worried about racial discrimination unless it seems to be supremacist. Racial supremacy of any kind is intolerable. Racial discrimination of many kinds is not only tolerable, but, indeed, quite necessary.

Attempting to sanely discern the difference between the two is what it would take to elevate political discourse on race from hand-wringing to an authentic consideration of what it means to be a racist in a folk sense of the term—a sensibility that doesn’t suffer from the need for these tortured categories.

Until then, most of what passes for political discourse on race, is nothing more than name-calling and grandstanding substituting for serious consideration of the cancer of supremacist discrimination—Racism, in other words—that plagues human persons.

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  • My mom said she didn’t like Macy Gray and I said “You’re a RACIST!”

  • Matt Talbot

    Wow, Sam. You have succinctly nailed a distinction I’ve struggled to make in many conversations. Bravo.

  • Matt Talbot

    Wow, Sam. You have succinctly nailed a distinction I’ve struggled to make in many conversations. Bravo.

  • phosphorious

    An excellent post.

    In his various works, Chesterton has made remarks that can, and have been, interpreted as racist. . . which is problematic until you realize that Chesterton likes the fact that human beings come in so many different colors and kinds. Not a whiff of “supremacism”.

    This si an important distinction, and we need a new word for the “good” racism, the kind that revels in human diversity.

    Racialism” maybe?

  • Pauli, I have no idea what that comment means. Sorry.

  • digbydolben

    In this neutral sense, ‘racism’ is the fact that one person looks, sounds, smells, or feels in a way that stands out to my senses.

    Sorry, but “racism,” according to your re-definition of it, is even worse than the kind of impulse you’re attempting to casually dismiss. Your “racism” amounts to the most egregious type of incorrigible stupidity, because, to an intelligent and sensitive human being–one who’s a WHOLE PERSON morally and intellectually–EVERY PERSON “looks, sounds, smells or feels in a way that stands out.” And, if that’s not the case with you, you’re just not noticing.

    You and others who agree with you need to read some Gerard Manley Hopkins or some Marcel Proust.

  • muennemann

    Sam:

    Thank you for your post.

    The “X and Y accusing each other” scenario happens as well with other labels than “racist.” “Judgmental” “hypocrite” and “hater” come to mind. In these cases, at least one party to the argument has lost or never possessed the true meaning of the word, and at least one party has lost any objectivity of self-image. I don’t think it helps matters if we create new categories of meaning to accommodate the name-callers’ behavior, or a category of “racist” who is a non-virulent “Racist.”

    The only people who genuinely don’t see skin color are properly called “blind.” A person who is not racist or judgmental or a hypocrite or a hater is simply an emotionally healthy adult. Why should we think this is so unusual as to demand categorization?

    Can’t we just stick to the established definitions of the words we use, for example from WordNet:

    racist
         adj 1: based on racial intolerance; "racist remarks"
         2: discriminatory especially on the basis of race or religion
            [syn: antiblack, anti-Semitic, anti-Semite(a)]
         n : a person with a prejudiced belief that one race is superior
             to others [syn: racialist]
    

    Furthermore, I find it hard to think of any situation in which an accusation like “you are a racist” or “you are a Racist” is likely to be productive. These are statements that judge another’s motivation, rather than another’s behavior. They are more likely to trigger defensiveness rather than introspection or conversion. It would be best, I think, to avoid responding to such statements, or explicitly decline comment.

  • Sam:

    Thank you for your post.

    The "X and Y accusing each other" scenario happens as well with other labels than "racist." &qyot;Judgmental" "hypocrite" and "hater" come to mind. In these cases, at least one party to the argument has lost or never possessed the true meaning of the word, and at least one party has lost any objectivity of self-image. I don't think it helps matters if we create new categories of meaning to accommodate the name-callers' behavior, or a category of "racist" who is a non-virulent "Racist."

    The only people who genuinely don't see skin color are properly called "blind." A person who is not racist or judgmental or a hypocrite or a hater is simply an emotionally healthy adult. Why should we think this is so unusual as to demand categorization?

    Can't we just stick to the established definitions of the words we use, for example from WordNet:

    <pre>
    racist
    adj 1: based on racial intolerance; "racist remarks"
    2: discriminatory especially on the basis of race or rekigion
    [syn: antiblack, anti-Semitic, anti-Semite(a)]
    n : a person with a prejudiced belief that one race is superior
    to others [syn: racialist]
    </pre>

    Furthermore, I find it hard to think of any situation in which an accusation like "you are a racist" or "you are a Racist" is likely to be productife. These are statements that judge another's motivation, rather than another's behavior. They are more likely to trigger defensiveness rather than introspection or conversion. It would be best, I think, to avoid responding to such statements, or explicitly decline comment.;

  • dingby, I agree. Everyone is an other to our senses. But my point is much simpler and seeks no “new” sense of racism. As Cornel West put it: ““nobody sees somebody else and doesn’t see their body.”

    Same goes for the other remark: This post is not trying to force out some new categories, it is simply trying to analyze what is already the case.