Saturday, February 16, 2013

Come Together, Part 2

Missing the Point

Come Together discussed how irrational racism is used as an explanation for anger produced by rational economic threats. When White Red Stater gets upset at Brown Immigrants, we can easily call it race-based decision-making, but when Brown Recent Immigrant gets upset at Brown Current Immigrant, the "race-based decision-making" model proves inadequate, and casts doubt upon whether the model applies to whites, either.

(We'll get into sexuality and gender in the next part, but upon request, we'll go a little farther into race first.)

In the absence of simplistic color- or flag-based modeling, social scientists have attempted to substitute more advanced forms of color-based modeling: among them, the tendency of human infants to look longer at faces that are more like those of their parents. The infant attempts to memorize the similarities in the features of its "tribe" so that it will recognize its caregivers faster for increased safety, and advocates of a racism-based world have used this look-time data to suggest that people are naturally racist. They were easily countered, decades ago, by idealistic true-believers in a racism-based world, who preferred the idea of "taught racism" to "inherent racism," and demonstrated how carefree babies would play with babies of all sexes and races, unless otherwise interfered with by their parents.

In that, the true believers were accurate. "Taught" stereotypes have existed as long as humans have been able to teach their children to not pet those really large cats with orange and red stripes.

21st century human politics, though, enjoys clinging to the terminology of traditional racism. Obama claims America is post-racial, when it's clearly not, while American ethnic studies departments focus on a confessional, antiquated notion of unabashed racism. Both perspectives--the former deceptively reassuring to white voters, the latter controlled by misguided anger--miss the origins of and justifications for real racism, and with that, the chance to successfully get rid of it and, more importantly, to prevent new ones from springing up (the American academic perspective does regularly brush up against real stuff, though it doesn't like to talk about it a lot).

The "missing of the point" is, like most official point-missings over centuries of colonialism--from the Napoleonic Wars to the new Baghdad embassy--missed on purpose. As said earlier, if low-wage, asset-less serfs hate one another for speaking in nasal accents (Britain v. France), liking Allah (U.S. v. Iraq), or allowing Madonna to roam free (radical Islamists v. the Great Satan America), they're less likely to be upset at the people who left them low-wage and asset-less, or in danger of becoming low-waged and asset-less.

Saving Ourselves

Saving ourselves from the isms doesn't seem like fun. If you're confronted with an actual jerk who actually dislikes "Mexicans" because his father's father's father did, it can be difficult to come up with the idea of forgiving him--with acknowledging that the grudge had a short-sighted, misguided, but otherwise rational origin in economic competition. As said earlier, the rational portions of the origin do not excuse the jerk's behavior; do not make it right; do not make it okay. Acknowledging those rational reasons, though, allow us to stop pretending that racism emerges from an indecipherable past of scary hatreds beyond our comprehension.

The jerk is a jerk for a reason. If growers and manufacturers stop manipulating the idea of "governments" and "citizenship," using the Fed to control business loans and bubble/recession cycles, et cetera, and the jerk gets a stable job, a reasonable salary, a future for his old age and children, then he'll suddenly care a lot less, or not at all, about whether or not Hispanics are doing other work, or shopping at the local Walmart. Modern governments love addressing "racism" and other isms, because the implied message is that cultural divisions are caused by morons who think skin color and bodily features are more important than they really are.

Consider the insult of calling someone's anger "racism." Take our example jerk: Joe.

Joe's Day

Joe is sitting in his trailer, desperately flipping through a two-weeks-old newspaper in search of a job that he mighta missed last time. His back hurts, but he hasn't had insurance in years. The kids are complaining because it's ramen for dinner again, when Joe's wife Betty notices that they'll all be splitting ONE ramen, since as cause her hours got cut at the beauty shop.

Coming to the end of the paper, Joe looks out the window, across a weed-strewn acre with seven burned trailers decaying in a cluster. On the other side of a pothole-laced street lies the chain-link fence around the Organic Vita Farms packing plant. A big green truck with Sonora plates is unloading sixty Hispanic guys from the trailer, where there isn't air conditioning, let alone seatbelts. Or seats. A cheerful, pudgy white security guy is there to make sure no one gets lost. The workers rush eagerly down the trailer's ramp, and through the plant's bay door.

Desperately, almost jealously, Joe watches them head toward twelve hour days of low cash pay and company lunches. Just like last summer, and the summer before, there were "no jobs" at the plant. No jobs, my ass. Staring at all the workers, Joe thinks of the guy at the service garage who fixed his car last year, who didn't speak English, and the night crew at Walmart. And the plant, right across the street, where his dad had made enough, thirty years ago, to pay for Sally's asthma inhalers and be able to hold his head high when he went into town. Into the plant, those guys, doing everything that needs to be done. "Lousy fucking wetbacks," Joe mutters.

Suddenly, dust stirs the bare ground outside his trailer. Rotors buffet the air. A rainbow-colored helicopter settles to the ground. A dozen people in mixed flannels leap from the side door, charge the trailer, and kick the door open.

Betty's hand drops a plastic fork into the boiling ramen. The television almost slides off the counter--one of the kids braces it, but keeps watching.

A young woman in stressed jeans marches up to Joe's couch, flanked by two men in hemp sandals. One points an iPad menacingly at Joe, who trembles while the young woman snaps a picture with her Blackberry. "Central Texas University," she informs Joe, with a voice like ice. "College of Social and Behavioral Sciences." She flashes a laminated ID.

Another shudder racks Joe's shoulders. An unlit Marlboro falls from his lips. "What...what you done the, that heli, helicopter for?"

"You," sneers the woman, pointing across the street, "don't like those human beings across the street because they are brown of skin." She tosses her head at the man to her right. "Get me that couch--this is going to take a while."

With a crisp nod, the man lowers his iPad. He takes a bag of thawing mixed vegetables off the paisley chair cushion, and wheels the chair over to face Joe. Behind him, several of the older students have turned off the television and moved Betty and the children into a bedroom.

Lip curled, the young woman sits on the paisley cushion. She draws herself even closer to Joe, until their noses are nearly touching. "Listen up," she hisses, "because I'm only going to say this once. Émile Durkheim was born in 1858. It was a time of crisis for the people of France. The core tenets of..."

The more she speaks, the harder Joe shakes.


Again, remember that there are still a few Joes who actually do have problems independent of any form of rationality, economic or otherwise. To understand is not to exonerate; to forgive is not to forget. Instead of telling Joe, "Hey, you dummy, just because they have different skin doesn't mean you should dislike them," we might tell Joe, "The factory owner is the one who is so greedy that he's busing in people at three dollars an hour so he can buy a sixth mansion, and so he doesn't have to hire you at seven dollars an hour. And they only came here because the factory owner's brother, Senator Owner, used the Fed to crush the Sonoran economy so that there would be workers willing to take your job for $3 an hour."

It's relatively complicated explaining to Joe how that works, and Joe's likely to get angry at you while you're doing it. Especially if Senator Owner has been promising to build a border wall. Like all real explanations, it takes more mental effort to explain and understand than sitcom-style explanations like "they hate freedom" or "they hate tan skin" (or "big wall is good!"). But, it is a real answer; a real plot with a real solution. Joe's anger at immigrants and stuck-up, real-world-ignorant students at Central Texas University, gets him nowhere. Similarly, those students' anger at backward, diversity-ignorant people like Joe, gets them nowhere. Combining those two elements (awakening the proles, if you like) into a realistically-directed anger at the schemes that create justified anger--justified anger at economic failure, and justified anger at racist expressions--is the bane of Senator Owner and his taxes and NAFTAs and quantitative easings.

Continued in Part 3.

1 comment:

  1. I am sometimes stricken by your bluntness,or obtuseness, however i never miss your barb. You have a singular wit.
    You are a splash of cold water on a chilly winter's day.