With “Urban Elites, Listen Up”, I tried to channel the anger many non-college, white Trump supporters hold toward snobbish urban liberals. I addressed that piece to Clinton supporters who consider one-half of Trump supporters to be “irredeemable deplorables.” Clinton has not really apologized for, or disavowed, that description and many Clinton supporters decline to criticize her for those remarks. I believe that stance is wrong.
I too am guilty of the arrogance and implicit bias that I criticized. When I hear a Southern accent, for example, my gut reaction is usually disparaging, even though I was born in Arkansas and raised in Texas.
I used to dismiss Trump supporters as racists. One-third of white Americans embrace racist opinions and many of those people back Trump. Now, however, the situation seems more complicated.
“Urban Elites, Listen Up” went overboard. I indulged in some name-calling and later that day, edited the post, added a note about the edit, and deleted the photo of a Duck Dynasty star after I learned who it was. Just now, I read it again, corrected two typos, and concluded it holds up well.
I do offer one clarification. To my mind, a racist is one who believes that “racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” However, those who, for example, believe that “Black people are lazy” may not believe that Black people are inherently inferior. They may attribute that alleged trait to social conditioning or some other factor.
Since it’s impossible to read others’ minds, unless someone explicitly states that they consider all members of a particular “race” to be inherently inferior, I believe, rather than label them “a racist,” it’s more accurate to criticize them for holding a racist belief. In addition to being more precise, that approach leaves room for more dialog. Calling someone “a racist” can help make them more racist.
On Fridays, KALW’s “Your Call” talk show conducts a “media roundtable” with reporters and asks their guests to identify what they consider the most interesting story of the week. Yesterday, the Pulitzer-winning David Cay Johnston cited “We’re All a Little Biased, Even if We Don’t Know It” by Emily Badger. That article touches on another reason to be careful before calling someone “a racist” — we all have racist tendencies.
In that piece, Badger argues that “implicit bias” is not code for “racist,” but rather is “the mind’s way of making uncontrolled and automatic associations between two concepts very quickly.” Implicit bias, which is often unconscious, may affect actions, but it doesn’t always.
Because this bias is a function of universal human psychology, researchers say, we all experience it — and you can’t exactly get “rid” of it…. To broach implicit bias isn’t to impugn someone’s values; it’s to recognize that our values compete on an unconscious level with all the stereotypes we absorb from the world around us.
Addressing implicit bias “allows us to confront racial disparities without focusing on the character of individual people.” Phillip Atiba Goff, who conducts training sessions with police departments, commented, “Someone will say, ‘I’m tired of being called a racist,’ ” he said. To which [Goff] explains that racism and implicit bias aren’t interchangeable.”
Unfortunately, researchers have not devised reliable methods to “interrupt” biases “so we can act more often in ways that line up with our values.”
Badger’s article suggests I was on the right track when I proposed criticizing racist actions rather than calling people “a racist” — unless they say, “Yes, I think all those people are inherently inferior.”
The article also touches on a related issue that’s been on my mind recently: identity. According to Badger, Goff “now talks more broadly about ‘identity traps’ that encompass implicit biases and much more.” I’m not sure how Goff uses “identify trap” and found little on the Internet about it. But I suspect his concept relates to a conversation I had during a 40-minute ride to the Oakland Airport with a passenger who’s an award-winning investigative journalist for Swedish television.
After discussing the “Swedish model” (it’s still strong) and Trump (he’s a “buffoon), we discussed how our social divisions seem to be rooted in a sense of identity that involves us believing that “my people” are better than “those people.” I suggested an alternative: that we see ourselves primarily as a human being, a member of the human family. He resonated with that idea, and said the problem is that we need “a sense of belonging.” I replied, “Yes, but must we exaggerate that identity?” He then talked about how in Sweden, there’s much discussion about what it means to be “a Swede.”
Climbing the social ladder fuels the System. From an early age, society tells us:
You can be whatever you want to be.
If you work hard enough, you can “get ahead” of the competition.
Winning is everything.
“What’s In It For Me” is key.
The “winners” earn what they have.
The “losers” are responsible for their condition.
You can rightly look down on those who are “below” you.
A recent article in the Atlantic, “America Is Even Less Socially Mobile Than Most Economists Thought” reported, “The amount of money one makes can be roughly predicted by how much money one’s parents made….”
We replaced the biological inheritance of wealth and power with social inheritance.
In “Urban Elites, Listen Up,” I confronted that issue when I wrote, “You haven’t earned your privilege. You got lucky. Sure. You worked hard. But we work hard too and don’t forget the advantages you’ve had….,” and elaborated on some of those advantages.
While discussing that issue with a semi-regular passenger (a former teacher who’s now a paralegal and is writing a book on Hegel), he referred me to a French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, and recommended Culture and Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu by David Swartz as an introduction. Later that day, I researched Bourdieu and learned that Bourdieu was, for many, the leading intellectual of present-day France, with several classics that have been translated into two dozen languages and have affected the social sciences and the humanities. The International Sociological Association names his Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste one of the 20th century’s ten most important works of sociology. That night I ordered Swartz’s book.
The wikipedia entry on Bourbieu and the powercube overview were helpful. But the clearest summation of his thinking was on the History Learning site. That article includes:
Pierre Bourdieu developed the cultural deprivation theory. This theory implies that higher class cultures are better when compared to working class cultures. Because of this perceived superiority, people from upper and middle classes believe people who are working class are themselves to blame for the failure of their children in education….
The major role of the education system, according to Bourdieu, is cultural reproduction. This is the reproduction of the culture of the dominant classes. These groups have the power to impose meanings and to impose them as legitimate. They are able to define their own culture as worthy of being sought and possessed and to establish it as the basis for knowledge in the education system….
Bourdieu refers to possession of the dominant culture as cultural capital because with the education system it can be translated into wealth and power. Cultural capital is not evenly distributed throughout the class structure, and this largely accounts for class differences in educational attainment. People who have upper class backgrounds have a built in advantage because they have been socialised in that dominant culture…. Thus middle-class students have higher success rates than working-class students because middle class subculture [is] closer to the dominant culture….
He suggested that the way a student presents him/herself counts for more than the actual scholastic content of their work. He argues that “in rewarding grades, teachers are strongly influenced by the intangible nuances of manners and styles”….
The lifestyle, the values, the dispositions and the expectations of particular social groups [are] developed through experience….
Bourdieu uses a survey for his study; he claims that taste is related both to upbringing and to education. The taste could include art, films, music and food. He claims to show that there is a very close relationship linking cultural practices to educational capital and to social origin. Different tastes are associated with different classes, and class factions have different levels of prestige. …According to Bourdieu, the education system attaches the highest value to legitimate taste and [upper-class and middle-class] people find it easier to succeed in the education system and are likely to stay in it for longer….
Bourdieu says that a major role of the educational system is the social function of elimination. This involves the elimination of members of the working class from higher levels of education. It is accomplished in two ways: by examination failure and by self-elimination…. Social inequality is reproduced in the educational system…..
The System divides us in countless ways and sets one group against another. We learn to credit ourselves for our success and our wisdom, and to scapegoat our designated enemy, whom we aim to defeat. But neither any one individual nor any one group is the enemy. Increasingly, I’ve come to de-emphasize society’s pigeonholes, including “progressive” and “Democrat.”
The primary problem is the self-perpetuating System, which consists of our major institutions, our culture, and ourselves as individuals. Yes we need to hold people accountable for specific acts. But we can do so without condemning them as human beings — whether with capital punishment or with moral condemnation. We can hate the sin without hating the sinner. We can reverse humanity’s downward spiral and reinforce the upward spiral that is already underway.
Yesterday, while communing with Mother Nature on Ocean Beach, those reflections led me to conclude:
Citizens of the world, unite!
Throw off your identity traps.
Serve the Earth Community.
Call me unpatriotic if you wish, but the human family is my primary community.
I seek connection with others who share my passion for the pursuit of truth, justice, and beauty. To my mind, that effort requires a holistic perspective that incorporates personal, spiritual, political, economic, cultural, playful, creative, and other aspects of our reality. I want to better understand how those elements inter-relate and overlap, so we can better nurture growth in each of those arenas and eventually transform the System.
That is the “deep community” I seek.