“Racism.” As Defined by Clueless Conservatives

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52 Responses

  1. Observer says:

    Real progress is made when no one cares who is dating who.

    From my admittedly parochial experience it seems folks 25 and under seem to understand this and have no or few hangups in this area.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    So white people just need higher quality reasons to feel uncomfortable when they see a couple containing two people with different levels of pigmentation?

    “I don’t oppose Loving vs. Virginia because I’m racist, I oppose it because I wonder if she’s not doing damage to the self-esteem of her similarly pigmented people.”Report

  3. Scott says:


    Sure, just keep believing there is no racism in the black community.Report

  4. Hudson says:

    So there is white racism but no black racism? Has the author never heard of Oprah, the Tyra Banks Show? Does he have any idea of the scope of black and brown culture in the United States? Does he realize that, at present, he is acting as a shill for Tiger Woods, who has totally dissed his blond trophy wife with a string of white beauties? Tiger has internalized the inferiority of black women, so he gets a free pass in “dating outside the race”?

    This is the worst piece I have read on “League” to date.Report

  5. Reason60 says:

    The conservatives are mimicking the same awful tactics I saw in the late stage liberals of the 70’s. That is, the hypersensitive victimology, of seeing fascism/ socialism/ racism/ sexism everywhere and always.

    Which was a powerful tactic when it was fresh and new. Today, not so much.

    The word racism is overused to the point of absurd comedy. If one were to look for overt racism, that is, the kind we think of as the KKK, of people openly hating other races, well, thats thankfully very rare.

    But race is still a factor in our society, on all levels and by all people. Even the most race-blind people have some level of ambivalence about people of other ethnicities, and surprise surprise, black asian and latino people are no different.
    The feelings of tribalism and xenophobia are deep and primal, and don’t go away because we have correct attitudes or liberal thoughts.
    Ironically, we have done such a good job of villifying racism, that it makes it difficult to have honest discussions about it- the word is so toxic, it is easier to speak about pedophila.

    I think the dialogue would be easier if we acknowledged that we are all prone to tribalism, that it bubbles up from our deepest subconscious, and that it only it healed by constant interaction, not triumphantly shouting accusations across the divide.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Reason60 says:

      Show me a conservative mimicking the same awful tactics you saw in the late stage liberals of the 70’s, and I’ll show you a guy who has been shouted down for trying to point out that the feelings of tribalism and xenophobia are deep and primal, and don’t go away because we have correct attitudes or liberal thoughts.Report

  6. Pinky says:

    It’s not racism, it’s preferring your race over other races???Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Pinky says:

      It’s much more nuanced than that (said without snark).

      For a long time, the concept of “beauty” meant “white beauty”. When African-American women see African-American men date white women, this is interpreted as African-American men turning their backs on African-American beauty.

      Instead of an affirmation of post-racialism, it’s a rejection of African-American women.

      So, when African-American women see a couple of different pigmentation (specifically where an African-American man is with an person of pallor), they say “that African-American man has rejected the idea that African-American beauty is on par with white beauty”.

      Which, to be sure, *IS* a different dynamic than “they’s stealin’ our wimmen!” which is an argument given by some people of pallor, historically, in their opposition to couples where one person has different pigmentation than the other.Report

  7. Roque Nuevo says:

    Jammelle is right: there is all kinds of context and nuance when one considers racism, et al. One thing is prejudice—a “preconceived judgment.” Another thing is racism—some kind of hierarchy of desirable traits based on race. Discrimination is yet another related idea: this is about action based on the other two, which refer to attitudes, not actions. In other words, racism and prejudice are attitudes and they’re nobody’s business but the people who have them. When we get to action, or discrimination based on race and ethnicity, then we’re in the public sphere. The history of discrimination in the US is mainly a history of Democratic defense of discrimination and Republican attempts to eliminate it. The Fourteenth Amendment, after all, was a Republican victory over the Democrats in the Reconstruction era.

    How am I doing so far in the context department, Jammelle? As a liberal, you must have a lock on that idea, so I’m awaiting my grade.

    I know this is scary for liberals, but, for example, liberals calling conservatives “racist” because they oppose the Obamoid and especially his health care debacle hardly fits any one of the above definitions. How’s this for context?

    Liberals are used to calling conservatives “racist” because of the (recent) history of their opposition to the civil rights/affirmative action movement—even though most of this opposition is not based on race at all, but it’s based on the ideology of the “color blind” Constitution. Liberals use the “racist” charge to end debate on this issue, and many others, not further it. Therefore, what’s scary for you is having the tables turned, rather that any principled stand against racism, prejudice, or discrimination.

    Does the above count as context in your world?Report

    • Katherine in reply to Roque Nuevo says:

      No, that counts as invented history. Civil rights as racial discrimination in favour of black people? So ensuring black people could exercise the same rights to vote and participate in society as white people could was discrimination against white people. That’s nice. Also nice that you managed to ignore a hundred years at least post-slavery of structural, governmental discrimination against black people by Republican and Democratic administrations both. And that such discrimination just might have affected the economic opportunities against black people.

      There are arguments that can be made in good faith against affirmative action. Pretending there’s current a even playing field is not one.

      Oh, right, and a Constitution that allowed slavery was colour-blind? So were all of the state ones that denied the vote even to free black people, I suppose.Report

      • Roque Nuevo in reply to Katherine says:

        Well, you’re right: I shouldn’t have lumped the civil rights movement with affirmative action, which is “racial discrimination in favour of black people.”

        Before you go off on your hobby-horse, I support affirmative action in spite of this fact. I’m willing to tolerate “racial discrimination in favour of black people” until the playing field is leveled once and for all—however long it takes. I’ll know when this happens because by then nobody will support affirmative action laws.

        I wasn’t defending the pre-Reconstruction Constitution at all. Where did you get that idea? From your own fevered imagination? I was referring to today’s opposition to affirmative action, not the pre-Reconstruction regime.

        If you want to discuss history, you should get your facts right first: the Constitution did not “allow” slavery, pre Reconstruction. The Constitution does not “allow” anything at all. If it did, then we’d need a two-thousand page Constitution to “allow” behavior. What we have, even today, is a Constitution that protects individual rights and therefore prevents state action rather than “allows” anything. This goes for the civil rights laws as well as anything else, down to the “no left turn” sign on your street (i.e., if your street lack a “no left turn” sign, then you can safely turn left. We don’t use signs that say “left turn permitted”.

        Of course, nothing here relates to my point about Jamelle: he’s cherry-picking the context to bash conservatives. I’m no conservative but I can’t tolerate such open straw-man debating.Report

        • Pinky in reply to Roque Nuevo says:

          Roque, as you note, the Constitution no longer permits governmental judgement on the basis of race. That has to include affirmative action. There may be a few dozen lawyers in Washington that dispute that, but it’s obviously true nonetheless. There’s no Constitutional argument for affirmative action.

          Your practical argument for affirmative action (actually, for its expiration date) has problems as well. What’s to distinguish the person who opposes affirmative action out of racism from the person who opposes it out of belief that its time has come and gone? Is it rational to expect a group that receives favorable treatment from the government to announce when that favor should be withdrawn? At what point does affirmative action cause more animosity than it mitigates injustice? There’s no animosity-to-injustice conversion table, so the law has no way of appraising the damage it does.Report

          • Roque Nuevo in reply to Pinky says:

            Thank you for recognizing that I’m not making an argument based on the Constitution. Instead, it’s a practical matter.

            You ask, “Is it rational to expect a group that receives favorable treatment from the government to announce when that favor should be withdrawn?” Well… yes and no. I don’t expect anyone to “announce” this. But it is rational to expect that the day will come when groups favored by affirmative action recognize that they don’t need it anymore and that the injustices committed on its behalf outweigh the benefits. They will recognize this when they don’t need it anymore. By that time (and I’m sure I’ll be long dead by then) the situation will be obvious to everyone. Then, our experiment with group-based rights can come to a successful conclusion.

            I know I’m really vague on this. But consider an analogy with anti-sodomy laws for example. Can anyone rationally defend such things today? If they’re still on the books, isn’t it more-or-less a done deal to overturn them? Or spitting-on-the-street-on-Sunday laws, etc etc. There will come a time when affirmative action laws have the same antiquated smell to them. Like I said, I still believe that the historical wrongs meted out to black people must be redressed. We’re talking about four hundred years of wrongs so a hundred or two years of redress is not an irrational expectation.

            Just think about the history of this thing: Reconstruction was a radical scheme to redistribute wealth to ex-slaves (among other things). What if Reconstruction hadn’t been rolled back in 1876? By now wouldn’t we really be in a post-racial society? Wouldn’t we be looking at the Thirteenth Amendment with curiosity more than anything else, something like the original three-fifths compromise? Why? Just because we didn’t really need it any more.Report

  8. angullimala says:


    And you keep believing that black racism somehow justifies your own racism.Report

  9. TPine says:


    You make some valid points but you show some racism of your own in your editorial. To explicitly state that you believe that “blackness is bad” is a cultural fact…wow, seems like someone has been paying a little too much attention to whatever joker grad student is teaching “Heart of Darkness” at U.Va. these days. I’m sure that you’ve faced some experiences in your life which support your thesis that blackness is bad but…shit, c’mon, your life is better than 99% of the people on this planet.

    Think about American pop culture these days: nearly every role model in American culture looks more like you than they look like me. I know that you’re immediately going to spout off in a tirade about how these black males under society’s microscope denigrate women and promote excessive materialism, but then you’d be just like the guy you’re criticizing. You use generalities when it suits you and then switch to specific examples when you’re under attack.Report

    • Jamelle in reply to TPine says:

      Dude, I appreciate the comment — really I do — but I don’t think it’s particularly controversial to say that “blackness” is coded as a negative thing. I can’t even count the number of studies that have been done which demonstrate, fairly conclusively, that Americans associate “black” with negative thoughts, ideas and images. If I remember correctly, the most recent one looked at the words little girls used to describe white and black Barbies. The result? Even black girls described the black Barbies as somehow being “worse” than the white barbies. Why? Because whiteness, and especially white femalehood, are prized as being valuable. You can’t really say the same about blackness and black femalehood.

      This isn’t to say that there aren’t any black role models in American culture, or to say that any given black person by definition has it worse off than any other white person. That’s clearly ridiculous. But to say America as a culture and a society hasn’t really come to terms with the long-term cultural impact of racism, and that manifests itself in our subconscious attitudes about the “value” of different skin colors.Report

      • Jay Daniel in reply to Jamelle says:

        Are you limiting your statement to “blackness” as skin color? Because it is uncontroversial that “black” and “white” have connotations that precede race and skin. White as symbolic of “purity,” “goodness,” and “virtue” is ancient and cross-cultural. Same with “black” as a symbol of evil, bad fortune, and, well, darkness (duh). The bible uses both “white” and “black” in this context. As another example, the myths of the White and Black Knight arose in a time and place in which there were no black people (probably as far back as 8th Century France).

        It is extremely unfortunate for blacks that whites became the dominant race in the second half of the second millenium and applied these traditional symbolic categories in support of their theories of racial superiority. But you are mistaken if you believe that the connotation between “blackness” and “bad” is rooted in racism. That relationship is as old as humanity.Report

  10. George says:

    If black women really want to end racism, they will marry black men from Africa and the Caribbean in large numbers, bring them and their families to this country, and soon make whites a minority. But, obviously Africans and the Caribbean blacks are not black enough for these women!Report

    • Jaybird in reply to George says:

      They obviously are enjoying the status quo, I guess.

      What should Hispanics do if they really wanted to end anti-undocumented worker fervor?Report

    • sidereal in reply to George says:

      Yes, I know when I’m out deciding whom I should marry, my first priority is downstream demographic effects. Honestly, I don’t even need to know the other party’s name, as long as it leads to eventual racial dominance. Great insight, George.Report

  11. Hudson says:

    The other night, ABC put on a one hour special to promote the latest Disney cartoon about the Princess and the Frog, and also put that in the context of Disney animation. Nearly all of the interviewees were non-white, presumably because the princess in the latest flick is non-white. Nonetheless, they had very definite opinions about older Disney characters such as individual dwarfs in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. So that even if expressions like “black hearted,” which long predated the slave trade in the Americas, originally had a racial cognate, non-white children, now adults, were still able to take pleasure in these Disney classics and negotiate their way among the different personalities and moral issues in the same way as white children have done for generations.Report

  12. Jaybird says:

    Ta-Nehisi is talking about how there are, apparently, folks who are upset that Tiger had affairs exclusively with women of pallor.


  13. JohnR says:

    Well, it just goes to show: my “racism” is not really racism, and is, in fact normal and even laudable, while your “racism” is evil and bad and excuses my “racism” (if it actually were racism, which, of course, it isn’t). I think it’s blackly amusing (oops! no offence intended!) that most definitions of racism seem to boil down to “some attitude that offends me personally or offends my group”. So, when Blacks hate and even harm Yellows, it’s not racism at all. When Japanese Yellows hate and even harm Korean or Chinese Yellows it’s not really racism (after all, they’re all Yellows, right?) Apparently, only White-on-Black racism is really racism, not any of the varieties of White-on-White or Black-on-Black or any c0lor-on-any color racism. It’s the same as thinking slavery didn’t exist before the evil White Man began collecting Blacks around the 7th or 18th Century. Tremendously arrogant on everybody’s part, I say.
    Anyway, Jamelle brought up a very interesting point – that there is this variation in humans between what I see as “inbreeders” and “outbreeders”. You can see this in every human group, I think – some of us find different=sexy, and others find different=scary. You can (and lots of us do) turn this into some sort of socio-political thing, but I think it’s the same when Chinese do it as when various groups of Americans do it. It’s all about telling other people to do what you think is normal and right. Personally, I said “Bugger off” when my family tried to tell me who to socialize with, and I would hope that other people could muster the courage to buck their families as well. The world would be a vastly better place.Report

  14. greginak says:

    One of the problems with these discussions is the vague or messy use of terms. Bigotry is the hatred of person based solely on their race, ethnicity, gender, etc. Racism is usually defined as more then just bigotry, but also when one group has a significant power deferential over another. So a black person hating a Chinese person just for being Chinese is bigotry but not racism because the black person has no institutional power advantage over a Chinese person. Whites (leaving aside all other factors) practiced bigotry and racism against blacks for years because they had a tremendous power differential over blacks.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

      This means that such things as a white person calling a Chinese person an ethnic slur is “racism” but a black person calling a Chinese person the exact same ethnic slur would be “bigotry”.

      So when Seng-shi tells you “I got called a slur today”, you have to find out what the color of the guy who called him a slur was before saying “man, that’s racist”… because, hey, it might only be bigotry.Report

      • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

        Whatever, these definitions are an attempt to be precise with language and meaning, a …..ummm… doohickey, people often use sloppily. Context matters.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

          Was my post imprecise with language or meaning? Was the context fuzzy?

          I can make it more precise, if you’d like.Report

          • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

            My point was that definitions matter and I, and lots of others, think that bigotry and racism for good reason are defined differently. Part of pointing this out is that many discussions of an anything to do with race are unproductive because people use words wildly or without remotely shared definitions. This makes actual communication impossible.

            For instance it is common on conservative blogs to see affirmative action described as racist because it accounts for race. This comes off as spectacularly stupid to liberal types because it is using a definition of racism that doesn’t make any sense/isn’t’ shared by both parties in the conversation.Report

            • Reason60 in reply to greginak says:

              I would disagree that we should call it “bigotry” in one case, and “racism” in another.
              But it reinforces my thought that we don’t have any other words to talk about race other than the blunt meat axe of “racism”.
              Yes, blacks and asians have negative ideas about each other, just as white people do.
              There needs to be a dialogue that doesn’t shame people for the unconscious feelings they have about strangers, but acknowledges its reality, and works to overcome it.
              I may be as liberal as the day is long, but if I walk into a restaurant and everyone is Chinese, I feel odd, out of place, and a bit apprehensive.
              This is a normal feeling- but by burying it under shame, I think we end up inadvertantly finding other outlets for it, such as latching onto the notion that they are somehow malign, evil, and trying, you got it, “take our wimmin!”Report

              • greginak in reply to Reason60 says:

                i think part of the reason to use different terms is to make these issues more amendable to discussion. the entire debate is often to toxic to get into because of a lack of terms and a massive lack of listening. there should be different terms for normal reactions, sort of sketchy kinds of things and burning crosses on the front yards of black folk.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                The problem is that if this attitude leads us to absurd conclusions (when a white guy yells a racial slur at a Chinese guy then it is racism but when a black guy yells a racial slur at a Chinese guy then it is not racism) then people will jump to the conclusion that the premises are equally absurd.Report

              • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                check Jay, neither history or power differentials matter, got it. but if you want i can easily come up with a hypothetical that makes your attitudes sounds silly. thats the fun of hypotheticals, you can do anything with them.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                I would appreciate a hypothetical that demonstrated the absurdity of saying “if it’s racist when a white person calls a Chinese person a slur, it’s racist when a black person calls a Chinese person a slur”. I’m wondering if my inability to come up with one is indicative of a lack of imagination on my part.

                The closest I could come up with is “Black people can use the n-word but White people have lost their n-word privs” (which I’m prone to agree with, for the record).Report

    • Kyle in reply to greginak says:

      bigotry – 1 : the state of mind of a bigot 2 : acts or beliefs characteristic of a bigot
      bigot – a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance
      racism – 1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
      2 : racial prejudice or discrimination

      It seems to me that if you want to make a statement about differential power structures with regards to race based animus, the best way to do so is explicitly in a follow up, not implicitly by adding onto racism a particular but not widely presumed assumption.

      It seems to me that bigotry is the general hatred and intolerance of a fill in the blank group. Racism is a specific form of bigotry, as is ageism, homophobia (though I prefer amorism), sexism, etc…

      Jaybird’s point is well made. Using your “clarifications,” any allegation of racism, would have to fully understand not just the race(s) of the persons involved but the underlying institutional power structures involved to verify correct usage of the term that ultimately doesn’t communicate anything more effectively than the paragraph necessary to justify the use of the word racism, as defined by gregniak.Report

  15. Hudson says:

    Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of those smarter-than-you black female writers who take names meant to infuriate white people, and thereby gain favors from them.Report

  16. Hudson says:

    Ooops! This is the second gender error in this thread, the first for me—both mistakes by whites on black names. Now I’m really ticked! As a male name, TNC doesn’t work to infuriate. Just doesn’t. There are subtleties to these things…the way a name plays to your ear. TNC gets favors from the Atlantic, the man, not from me.Report

  17. pgee says:

    texts like The Autobiography of Malcolm X illustrate where this attitude stems from. Malcolm X illustrates in his narrative the status a white woman gave a black male. ..Report

  18. Scott says:


    Is it racist if light skinned blacks look down or their darker brotheren or vice-versa?Report

  19. Kyle says:

    1.) I disagree that this isn’t racism but not with the points Jamelle’s made about Black American culture. If anything this is a post sharing cultural nuance that provides a needed context to understand and perhaps justify racism. If we call white in-group preference racism, because the critical markers of group identity are racial or culturally derived by race, then the same definitional standard should apply to black in-group preference. It doesn’t escape from the ugly maw of racism because the users are/were victims of racial injustice.

    You all may find this simplistic but a solid litmus test for racism is whether the anger or action in question would be substantially different or mitigated if the race of the person(s) in question were different. In this case, black anger at black men who are with white women (or at the women themselves) simply would not exist if the women were black, the very fact that the race of the two people involved is the critical determinant for acceptance, comfort, or anger makes it by definition racist.

    In context, it is understandable and perhaps justifiable. The defense is that not everything that is race based is racist, which is partially true. However, in this case, intolerance towards a coupling or spouse based primarily or solely on their race, is racism. The easy test is, if you switched all the races involved, how would we feel about whites uncomfortable with somebody taking a black spouse, many would say racists and/or bigots.

    2.) “To call this racist is, well, stupid. It is no different than the in-group preference you see in any other racial or ethnic minority. Indeed, it is best understood as another way to preserve cultural cohesion and push back against negative depictions of ones ethnic group.”

    Once you get past the emotion, these statements are not oppositional and the latter doesn’t refine or prove the lead assertion. In fact, if you lead with, “this is racism” it would make just as much sense, if not more. Which gets to my other comment on this post, that “clueless conservatives’ points” may be misguided, lacking in nuance or understanding, clumsy, or mildly offensive. They are not, however, stupid.

    This rather flippant dismissal and derision is, I think, at the heart of why emotionally infused intellectual liberalism has precious little traction with anyone who doesn’t already agree with the premise. (cue echo chamber)Report

  20. ptp says:

    My wife and I are from different cultures and have different skin colors. We’re both pretty thoroughly Americanized, so the main culture shock (and calling it that is exaggerating fairly heavily) is in holidays, family gatherings, and appreciation for different ethnic foods, not a lack of cultural common ground. I mention this only to draw the distinction that our marriage isn’t based on fetishization of the exotic or anything of that sort, which has it’s own set of complications in discussions like this.

    There’s a clear power gap between her ethnicity and mine. Her people have an uncomfortable tendency to celebrate (rather than revile) marriages to white people. I find it uncomfortable for two reasons.

    1) I don’t see race when I look at her. We’ve been together for 9 years, and she isn’t “my <ethnic> wife”, she’s just “my wife”. So it’s awkward to feel like we’ve moved past race – and that’s not to say that we don’t struggle with and appreciate our difference in heritage, just that it’s a matter of tradition and experience rather than race or skin color – and then every once in a while be dragged back into it by people who are turning our lives into something sociopolitical. They do it with good intent, but it’s still uncomfortable.

    2) At some point I expect someone’s going to come along with a bit of resentment in them at the perception or reality of the whitewashing of his/her people. They’re going to say the same thing you do, that she’s rejecting her ethnicity. And maybe that’s not racist – I’m more than willing to concede that – but I still think it’s wrong. On the macro level yes, it’s another link in a long chain of white normalization. But it feels wrong to me for my wife to have to accept that criticism as legitimate on a personal level.

    There are other forces at play, as well. For one, if you aren’t Native or African American, your ancestors came to this country willingly, and doing that accepts a certain inevitability of cultural absorption. But I think we have to be honest with ourselves. Remembering and honoring culture and heritage has proven to be an important thing for the children of immigrant families, too. It often manifests itself in different ways than their parents might like, but a child doesn’t inherit the parents’ decision to migrate to another country, so that inevitable cultural absorption is foisted on them whether they like it or not. Maybe it’s not the same, but it’s at least similar.

    Also, in my comment here we’re talking about my wife, a woman, whereas your example was a man. The male and female experiences don’t magically become congruent once race is brought into the equation. Honestly, would you level this same criticism at a black woman marrying a white man? I don’t know (and that is why I’m asking). I lack the context or experience to say whether it’s common or whether the compounded challenges of being both black and female in a white male-normalized world buys one a pass from that sort of criticism. Intellectually I don’t think so, but emotionally I sure hope so.

    Also, as an aside, someone mentioned the need for a dialogue that doesn’t shame people for their naturally developed biases, but instead serves to help overcome them. I’m not sure that changing the dialogue is the only way to solve that problem. I think if we accept that we have prejudices and predispositions towards bigotry, we’re accepting that we are flawed. Once you stop being scared of the possibility that you fucked up somewhere along the way, it’s a hell of a lot easier to talk openly. The mistakes you’ve already made are the ones you’re supposed to learn from, and it’s hard to learn from something you’re scared of. If you do all of this then the dialogue can stay the same because it can’t trip you up anymore, it can only serve to enlighten.Report

    • Jamelle in reply to ptp says:

      It’s really worth pointing out that I’m not endorsing the attitudes I describe in the post. I’m simply explaining them. For what it’s worth, I’m currently seeing someone “outside the race,” and I don’t particularly like the fact that my blackness is occasionally called into question because I’m not exclusively attracted to black women.Report

      • ptp in reply to Jamelle says:

        Understood, and I’m sorry you have to deal with this even more vividly than I do (nobody’s ever questioned my wife’s ethnic “legitimacy”). I guess I just wanted to say that while it may not be racist it’s still a dangerous mindset. I also apparently really, really wanted to do it in 1000 words or more.Report