Structural Racism

November 17, 2012

I think there are 3 kinds of racism: 1. bigoted racism, 2. everyday racism, 3. structural racism.

Bigoted racism is the most obvious, by that term I mean any actual dislike or hatred of another race.

Everyday racism is what we run into in our lives and work. When a person implicitly makes any kind of assumption about the nature or ability of another. Or arbitrary ceilings (“we can have a black VP but not a black CEO”).

Structural racism, I’m not sure if I’ve come up with the right word for it, but I mean a kind of prejudice that is a result of another closely held belief. For example..

Belief 1: “I’m afraid of things changing”… “I’m afraid of christians becoming a minority”… “I think abortion should be illegal”

These are benign beliefs, I just happen to think that in a way they’re kind of racist. For example, if you’re asking the government to legislate for everyone on behalf of your emotional values that not everybody shares.

Belief 2: “I made this money, so I earned it”… “Let us do our thing, and you do yours”

The first issue with the above is that it fails to recognize that one may have disproportionately benefited from a system that assigns rewards f(x) to effort x. That is a kind of willful acceptance of inequity. I have a bolder claim – namely, that the holder of Belief 2 likely does not place a significant monetary value on diversity.

An easy way to see this connection, is at the level of an entire state. Consider the issue of “states rights”. Why might people be against a big federal government? The basic reason is that the larger the federal government is, the more heavily rich states subsidize poor states.

What’s the incremental effect of adding a new state (Puerto Rico) to the union? Puerto Rico would immediately become, by far, the poorest state per capita; meanwhile, huge investment would be necessary to bring the basic infrastructure of the island up to par with the rest of the United States. The additional tax revenue would not cover the cost, so it would be a drag on the economy.

Why might you nevertheless be in favor of the annexation of Puerto Rico? The essential reason is that you place a real monetary value on the incremental diversity, which pays for the short term cost.

As I think how to summarize my above thoughts, it begins to sound obvious to me. Namely, that many natural and common beliefs are really forms of segregationism, which is implicitly related to racism. The fear of that which is different from one’s own. OK, maybe racism is a strong word to assign to “anything that’s not inclusionism”. Still, I have no doubt at least, that inclusionism is a virtue.

I find these “structural racisms” to be sort of dangerous. In the case of everyday racism, I might quickly realize that I have been biased against a minority, perhaps due to lack of experience with people from that group. With structural racism, there is a step in between the error of belief, and the prejudice. The prejudice is a result of the inherent structure of beliefs, not a direct consequence of them.

I don’t mean dangerous as a strong negative here – I don’t really know how to pass judgment at all… I just think that this is what it is. We certainly should be inclusive of people who have all the natural beliefs, including the exclusionary beliefs.

I enjoyed this video:
(It’s about racism but not related to my comments here.)


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