Introduction to My Blog

With this blog, I aim to ask and answer provocative or otherwise interesting questions. I hope you find it valuable. Enjoy!

Monday, May 11, 2020

The Blind Crusade, Part 1

Racism against African-Americans in the United States is an issue most either love to ignore or hate to talk about honestly. It is a social issue, true, but this is where the analysis ends for many who pretend to want to solve it. It is an issue of real estate, economics, poor incentives, and neglect by both sides of the political spectrum. It has become a vacuous truism to say that the Democratic Party takes African Americans for granted. It does, but muttering that sentence doesn't signify heroism.

In this post, I will offer some of my thoughts on attitudinal racism in individuals, which is as real a problem as there is. I will follow this piece up with one about racism as an institutional phenomenon as well, as I see these as different and requiring different remedies.

For clarity's sake, when I use the term "racist" in this piece, I am referring to people who consciously and intentionally manifest discriminatory words and actions. I am referring to any who show prejudice, in the sense that they judge others based on their race, absent other information. I am not referring to implicit bias. I am also not referring to "reverse racism," which I do not believe to be a real issue.

First, I acknowledge that racist attitudes are deep, complex, and difficult to address. Mass conversion is not a realistic goal in the short term. 

I believe, however, that we can chip away at it around the edges by showing racists kindness rather than hatred and contempt. Many will likely not agree with me here, but allow me to cite Deeyah Khan to make my case. Khan is a Norwegian British woman of South Asian descent and documentary filmmaker. I first heard of her in her promotion of her documentary entitled White Right: Meeting the Enemy. I found what she did in the making of this film incredibly interesting and noble.

Rather than conducting distant research on far-right extremism in the United States, she reached out to white supremacist groups, hoping to engage with them and get a close look at their movements. Being nonwhite, this put her in great danger and she had some terrifying experiences in the making of the film. Luckily, she finished the film and emerged unharmed. Furthermore, due to the kindness and lack of judgement displayed by Khan (who was supposedly their enemy), some of the white supremacist leaders who served as sources and guides for her actually left their hateful movements.

I found this to be a beautiful triumph of love and human connection over the lesser human inclinations. I would not propose this as an industrial-sized strategy, especially because Khan put herself in danger. However, I do want to make the point that I see Khan's actions as far more effective in changing minds than the typical strategy of denouncing and dismissing racists, reenforcing their enemy status.

I understand that my views here may not be agreeable to many. I believe that the reason for this is that we view this topic through different lenses. I think that many who disagree with me see racists as evil and/or hateful people for their views. The way I see it, these people were all born perfectly lovely babies with all kinds of potential: potential for love, hate, greatness, irrelevance, greed, and compassion. Somewhere between then and now, they became infected with bad ideas. Their bad ideas, in my view, say little about who they could be with the right influences.

One of my favorite films is called American History X. It is a 1998 fictional crime drama film about a period of time in the life and surroundings of an American neo-Nazi named Derek Vinyard. At the start, he is as hateful and racist as you could imagine, and he goes to prison early in the film for killing two African Americans trying to steal his car. At one point, he is on laundry duty in prison with a black inmate, Lamont, and something revolutionary happens in the life of Vinyard.

Initially, Vinyard ignores Lamont in conversation, and barely looks at him. Lamont persists and begins to do an impression that Vinyard can't help but laugh at, and within seconds, they both fall over laughing. This is a turning point for Vinyard, who moves away from his neo-Nazi ideology, and aims to get out of prison to be a better example for his little brother, who idolizes him. All of this, emerging from a moment of laughter, and of human connection.

You may be familiar with some variation of the phrase "you are who your friends are." I happen to believe it is relevant in this conversation. Racists feed off of each other's racism, so being a friend to someone with otherwise hateful ideas could serve as a good influence. My beliefs regarding this topic coincide with my beliefs about retributive justice, which I find to be a deeply flawed principle.

I believe, generally, that humane treatment tends to breed a more humane response. Hate, on the other hand, breeds more hate. This is also why my political leanings are humanistic and progressive. Allow me to be clear regarding the topic at hand, though. I do not see this as a panacea. Far from it. I merely believe that this attitude towards racists can produce better results than the kind of hostile engagement more common today.

The counterproductive and combative attitude against racists as people rather than merely racist attitudes represents half of the blind crusade being waged by well-intentioned people. I will detail what I see as the other half in a follow-up post.

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