Tuesday, July 2, 2013

On Vox Day and N. K. Jemisin, the feuding heirs of Racial Realism, and a note about respect

ETA: Some people have misread my intent here. I'm comparing Jemisin's and Beale's take on race because they're similar in kind, not degree—Fred Phelps and Benny Hinn are similar in kind, but not degree. For more on this, see the discussion in the comments with Brad De Long.

ETA 2: And some people have complained that I didn't quote anything to back up what I said about Jemisin. Oddly enough, they don't say this about what I said about Beale. In both cases, I assumed people would recognize their rhetoric, but in Jemisin's case, I was clearly mistaken. Here's a bit from her twittering that makes it clear she's a Critical Race Theorist: "Critical race theory -- understanding privilege, systemic oppression, etc. -- is how you stop associating racism w/Connor, etc." It's true she usually uses the concepts of CRT without identifying their source.

ETA 3: There's a discussion about this post at MetaFilter's "there is no neutrality when bigotry is the status quo". I've answered some of those comments in the comment section at a simple question for N. K. Jemisin and Vox Day—and any anti-racist or scientific sub-speciesist who wishes to answer.

In N. K. Jemisin's Continuum GoH Speech, she called Theodore Beale, aka Vox Day, "a self-described misogynist, racist, anti-Semite, and a few other flavors of asshole." He rejected that characterization in A black female fantasist calls for Reconciliation and called her "an educated, but ignorant half-savage, with little more understanding of what it took to build a new literature by "a bunch of beardy old middle-class middle-American guys" than an illiterate Igbotu tribesman has of how to build a jet engine."

Jemisin and Beale are remarkably similar—they're members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, they graduated from expensive private schools, they're quick to respond to disagreement with insults, and their very different views on race were both known at one time as "Racial Realism". By standard dictionary definitions, they're both racists, but the kinder and more accurate thing to say is they're devout members of two secular cults about race.

Beale's "scientific sub-speciesism" can be traced through Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon David Duke's idea of "racial realism" and 19th-century scientific racists like Samuel Morton to the 17th and 18th centuries, when the concept of race was developed to justify the African slave trade—as historian Eric Williams points out, "Slavery was not born of racism; rather, racism was the consequence of slavery."

The quest to prove scientifically that light-skinned Europeans and North Africans are superior has taken many names: racialism, race realism, racial realism, human biodiversity (aka HBD), and "scientific sub-speciesism", which has been described as "moderate" racial realism. "Scientific" racists are remarkably subject to confirmation bias: they become obsessed with trivialities to rationalize their preferred racial group's superiority. Inconvenient facts, like the evidence that differences between high-scoring and low-scoring countries are diminishing, are hastily waved away.

Jemisin's version of anti-racism comes from Derrick Bell's "racial realism", which got its current name, Critical Race Theory (aka CRT), from his protegé, Kimberlé Crenshaw. Bell came of age in the civil rights era, but unlike Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, his understanding of power never grew broader than race. Bell's racial realism was effectively a secular take on the Nation of Islam's approach to race, complete with an insistance that all whites are racist.

Some CRTers have modified that notion, but many have not. Recently, Kate Elliot, a white science fiction writer, tweeted:
My dad the educator says "when you grow up in a racist society you are a racist"
so yes I am a racist because I grew up in a racist society which means I have to work every day to be alert & to become better
Critical Race Theory promotes subjectivity, personal narratives, and story-telling, so its believers don't look for objective verification. If they did, they would find tests like Project Implicit and The Police Officer's Dilemma which show many Americans of all races have a bias for people of a different race than their own, and some have no bias at all. While white CRTers may be accurately recognizing their own racism, they're only projecting it when they say it's true of everyone.

The notion that societies mold all their members may be Critical Race Theory's greatest flaw: all societies produce people who reject their society—they're called renegades, traitors, and heretics. A capitalist society produced Karl Marx. A sexist society produced Charles Fourier, who coined "feminism". Warlike societies produce pacifists as well as warriors, and hierarchical societies produce levelers as well as lovers of privilege. The human tendency to conform is strong, but so is the tendency to question.

If Critical Race Theorists were more willing to question, they would ask whether it's meaningful to say the US is still a racist society when most of its citizens support equal pay, equal opportunity, and intermarriage. A minority of racists in a society does not make a society racist—there are Catholics, jaywalkers, and vegans in the US, but that doesn't mean we live in a Catholic jaywalking vegan society.

Though Beale and Jemisin have an incompatible understanding of race, they share a conviction that their righteousness justifies their love of invective.

Since Beale claims a Christian tradition, I'll remind him of 1 Peter 2:17, "Respect everyone," and Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female."

Since Jemisin claims to be continuing the work of civil rights heroes, I'll remind her that Malcolm X also said "Respect everyone," and, a few days before his death, stated, "I believe in recognizing every human being as a human being, neither white, black, brown nor red."

This should be an easy message to understand: Respect everyone because we're all equal.

But it's a message that threatens many people's worldview. It's no surprise that people like Jemisin and Beale haven't gotten it yet.

Related:

The Science of Seeing What You Want to See by Kenan Malik: "In one sense Gould has been proved right, though not in the way he would have wanted. His distortion of Morton’s data reveals how strongly held ideological beliefs – in this case not racism but anti-racism – can persuade one to see what one wants to see among the thicket of facts."

The Perversity of Human Biodiversity, a.k.a. “Scientific” Racism by bigWOWO: "HBDers push the ideas that black people will never be smart enough to run their own countries, and that while Asian people are smart, the men aren’t as “alpha” as other races."

The limits of anti-racism by Adolph Reed Jr.: "In the logic of antiracism, exposure of the racial element of an instance of wrongdoing will lead to recognition of injustice, which in turn will lead to remedial action—though not much attention seems ever given to how this part is supposed to work. I suspect this is because the exposure part, which feels so righteously yet undemandingly good, is the real focus. But this exposure convinces only those who are already disposed to recognize."

Why Anti-Racism Will Fail by the Rev. Thandeka: "Barndt's belief that all whites are racists is based explicitly on the Christian doctrine of original sin, which claims that through Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden human nature was corrupted -- a doctrine linked to the Trinitarian claim that only through the death of Jesus and with the assistance of the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit can human nature be saved. In every age, Christian theologians have found new language to explain this doctrine. The anti-racist doctrine is just such a recent example."

Race, class, and "whiteness theory" by Sharon Smith: "Designating class as the primary antagonism in capitalist society bears no inference on the “importance” of racism, as Roediger claims. Marxism merely assumes a causal relationship—that white supremacy as a system was instituted by capital, to the detriment of labor as a whole. Marxist theory rests on the assumption that white workers do not benefit from a system of white supremacy. Indeed, Marx argued of slavery, the most oppressive of all systems of exploitation, “In the United States of America, every independent workers’ movement was paralyzed as long as slavery disfigured part of the republic. Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.”"

Blacks See Growing Values Gap Between Poor and Middle Class | Pew Social & Demographic Trends: "African Americans see a widening gulf between the values of middle class and poor blacks, and nearly four-in-ten say that because of the diversity within their community, blacks can no longer be thought of as a single race."

AP poll: Slight majority of Americans harbor prejudice against blacks: "When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election."

Project Implicit® - FAQs "Social psychologists use the word 'prejudiced' to describe people who endorse or approve of negative attitudes and discriminatory behavior toward various out-groups. Many people who show automatic White preference on the Black-White attitude IAT are not prejudiced by this definition. It is possible to show biases on the IAT that are not consciously endorsed, or are even contradictory to intentional attitudes and beliefs. People who hold egalitarian conscious attitudes in the face of automatic White preferences may able to function in non-prejudiced fashion partly by making active efforts to prevent their automatic White preference from producing discriminatory behavior."

An Anti-Racism Campaign: Who Needs It? – Parliament of Australia: "The problem with anti-racism campaigns is that there is no clearly understood or agreed method of changing people's prejudices, values, attitudes or behaviour. What is known is that direct confrontation is likely to be counter-productive. ... In 1997 the Council of Europe coordinated a year of anti-racism campaigns and activities throughout Europe. A survey at the end of the year, conducted in European Union countries by the polling organisation Eurobarometer, found that rather than a decline in racism, it had been marked by a growing willingness on the part of Europeans to openly declare themselves as racist."

And two of my posts:

Racism equals prejudice plus power, so only whites can be racist?

The "tone argument" or "tone policing": why social justice warriors act the way they do

Update: a simple question for N. K. Jemisin and Vox Day—and any anti-racist or scientific sub-speciesist who wishes to answe