A Philosopher's Blog

The New Black Barbie Dolls

Posted in Race by Michael LaBossiere on October 22, 2009

Mattel recently released a new line of black Barbie dolls. Not surprisingly, the reactions have been somewhat mixed. On the positive side, some people approve of the fact that Mattel is doing more to provide a greater ethnic diversity in the Barbie lineup. On the negative side, some people have been critical that the dolls fail to be “black enough.” Interestingly, this is a criticism that was once made against Obama.

While I do understand the concern that Barbies should reflect ethnic diversity, it is somewhat interesting to hear people complain that a specific ethnic Barbie of type X does not look properly X or X enough (for example, that a black Barbie does not look black enough). After all, these are Barbie dolls-plastic dolls whose measurements and plastic perfection cannot be matched by real woman and girls. Obviously, the Barbie doll has been subject to numerous feminist criticisms over the years and these still seem to generally apply. After all, are there overweight Barbies? Short, stocky Barbies? Weight lifter Barbies? I suspect not.

This is not to say that the fact that Barbie exemplifies a stereotype of female appearance excuses Mattel from not creating ethnically diverse Barbies. Rather, it is just an observation that it struck me as interesting that people would be concerned that black Barbies don’t look black enough when Barbies generally look more like sculpted androids (or fembots) than human beings.

Obama, Race and Comedy

Posted in Ethics, Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on November 14, 2008

I recently heard a bit on the radio about comedy and Obama. The point was raised that white comedians are tending to avoid making fun of Obama out of fear of seeming racist. It was also said that the Obama victory has helped bring greater opportunities for black comedians-they will be needed because they can make fun of Obama without seeming racist. This does raise interesting issues about race and comedy.

I teach a class on Aesthetics and have included a discussion of race and comedy for the past several years. Naturally, when I teach the class this spring we will no doubt be discussing this issue as it relates to Obama.

The general consensus in the class has been that race is quite relevant when it comes to the question of who can make fun of whom and in what manner. Content is, of course, relevant and presumably any comedian could cross the line into racism. Put roughly, I’ve found that the majority of students think that comedians can “mock up and across”, but that “mocking down” is not acceptable. “Mocking up” means to make jokes towards those who are seen, as a class, to have more power. Or, as one student put it, “towards the oppressors.” For example, women making fun of men could be seen as “mocking up” as could blacks making fun of whites. “Mocking across” is to mock other groups that are seen as being at the same level. Obviously, one’s own group would be included here. For example, a Hispanic comedian making jokes about Hispanics or blacks might be seen as “mocking across” because Hispanics and blacks are seen as being oppressed by whites. “Mocking down” has often been seen as being unacceptable by my students, mainly because such humor can be seen as part of the tools of oppression. For example, it might be regarded as belittling or condescending.

In contrast, “Mocking up” can be regarded as an act of defiance against the oppressor classes and “mocking across” could be seen as comradely. Obviously enough, this sort of view takes the notion of oppressors and oppressed very seriously (even in comedy).

This view does have some plausibility. However, the fact that Obama is the President elect does change the power dynamic. Any comedian making fun of Obama would be “mocking up”, unless the comedian also happens to be a world leader as well. In this case, she would be “mocking across.” As such, it would seem to be fine for white comedians to make fun of Obama.

Then again, it might be the case that the direction of mocking (up, down or across) depends not on the individuals but the status of the classes they belong to. Since Obama is black, for white comedians to make fun of him would be “mocking down” because whites as a class are above blacks as a class on the power curve. So, until blacks and whites are on equal footing, white comedians will need to be careful in what they say about Obama (and the next black President).

Race can also be taken to matter in ways other than in terms of classes and power. I have heard people argue that it is acceptable for the members of one race to make fun of their own race, but not others.  This has often been based on the view that a person cannot be racist to his own race. For example, David Alan Grier can present comedic pieces on Chocolate News based on black stereotypes without being racist because he is black. Some people extend this privilege to all minorities in terms of comedians from one minority making jokes about another minority. Not surprisingly, whites are fair game for everyone.

Of course, it seems obvious that a person can be racist towards his own race and that being in a minority is not proof against racism. This can easily be shown. Imagine you heard someone expressing all the hateful stereotypes about blacks and his hatred of blacks. You would no doubt think “what a racist.” But, suppose when you saw him, he turned out to be black. Would you then say, “well, I guess he is no racist after all”? Obviously not. Naturally, I have in mind the fictional blind black racist from the Chapelle Show.

In the case of why a minority can be racist, simply imagine that the white population became a minority and that people in the Ku Klux Klan and other such groups still held the views they do now. It would be absurd to say “well, since whites are a minority, the KKK is suddenly not racist.” Mere numbers, one suspects, is not a decisive factor in defining what is racist.

It might be thought that race provides a person with a special status that allows certain behavior between members of that race that is denied to others. An obvious example is the use of the N-word. I sometimes hear black students using that term when referring to each other and people generally do not take offense (there have been some rather notable exceptions). Obviously, if a white student started throwing the word around, things would be just a bit different. Perhaps the same applies to comedy.

Of course, the view that race grants such special comedic and language privileges does seem to be a bit racist. This is because it is based on the assumption that racial distinctions are real and that people are to be granted certain privileges because they belong to a particular race. So, to think that white comedians cannot make fun of Obama without being racist and that black comedians can safely do so because they are black would seem to be a racist view. After all, race would be the deciding factor rather than the content of the comedy. Obviously, there can be racist comedy-but the color of the comedian should not be the determining factor.

So, everyone should be free to make fun of Obama (within the limits of comedic taste, of course). He is the President of all Americans and we have a God given right to make jokes about whoever sits in that oval office regardless of race, creed or color.

Mohawk in America

Posted in Philosophy, Race by Michael LaBossiere on November 13, 2008

Now that Obama is President, people are talking a great deal about race-at least in terms of blacks and whites. There is, on occasion, some side mention of Hispanics and Asians-perhaps as a modest acknowledgment that there are people who are not black or white in America. However, I almost never see references to Native Americans. For example, I carefully followed the political discussions of the white voters, the black voters and the Hispanic voters. However, I cannot recall any mention of the Native American voters. After the election, I began reading about race in America and, once again, the emphasis was on blacks and whites. Asians and Hispanics are, once again, sometimes mentioned on the side. However, Native Americans are consistently left out. In this way, and in many others, Native Americans seem to be invisible in their own country. Of course, they do get a bit of the spotlight in November-people remember the Indians when they serve the Thanksgiving Turkey. After that, Indians go back to being seen mainly as mascots for sports teams.

Naturally, I wonder why Native Americans are so consistently ignored.

One reason might be the desire to avoid reminding people about what happened in America. Massive theft and attempted genocide tend to be things that most people would rather forget. Perhaps it is a subconscious thing, perhaps not. Or perhaps this is not the reason at all.

Another reason might be that Native Americans make up only about 1% of the population (down from 100% before the Europeans arrived). Hence, they might be seen as largely irrelevant when it comes to politics and concerns about race. In contrast, blacks make up about 12% of the population, hence they are of greater concern to the media and politicians.

A third reason is that Native Americans seem to lack the spokespeople needed to gain the attention of the media and the politicians. There is, as far as I know, no Native American equivalent to Jesse Jackson or Oprah. Without such people to attract attention, the media has little interest.

This situation does bother me. In part, it is an ethical concern. It seems wrong that Native Americans are now all but invisible in their own lands. In part, it is a personal concern. My great grandfather was Mohawk,  although I look white (and not just white-“Nazi recruiting poster white” as my friend Lena once said). This leads to another possible reason why Native Americans are effectively invisible.

America has had a long obsession with race and this has mostly focused on an obsession with blacks and whites. This is most manifest in the “one drop rule.” The idea is that someone is black if they have “one drop” of “black blood.”

This view is still held today. After all, people do not say that Obama is white-they say he is black. The same is said of many black people who are actually mostly not black. Interestingly, the “one drop” rule does not apply to other ethnic groups.

This has various implications for how race is viewed. In my case, I’m seen as white. First, because my non-white ancestry is Mohawk (hence the “one drop” rule does not apply). If my great-grandfather had been black instead of Mohawk, I’d be black. Interesting how that works. Second, because I look white and race is a very visual thing.

When I first started teaching at Florida A&M University (an historically black college) I had an experience that nicely showed the typical American view about race. We were discussing race in class and I told the students that my great-grandfather was Mohawk and asked if that made me a Native American. One student laughed dismissively and said “you’re white.” The other students agreed that I was, in fact, white. Then I asked the obvious question: what about “black” people who have mixed ancestry? The unanimous view was that such people are black. Then I asked the next obvious question: what about someone whose last “100% black” ancestor was his great-grandfather? They all agreed this person would be black. So, I asked the last obvious question: so, why am I white and not Native American? No one had an answer to that one. But, the clear answer is that I’m white because of how people see whiteness and the black person would be black because of how people see blackness.

So, one reason that Native Americans are largely invisible is that many of us are not seen as Native Americans. In my case, people just see a white guy and the Mohawk is invisible.

Is America Post Racial?

Posted in Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on November 6, 2008

My ethics class has long featured a section on racial equality and yesterday gave me the opportunity to discuss the subject in a new light. Not surprisingly, my students were quit pleased with Obama’s victory and they felt quite optimistic. However, they were also realistic about what his election means.

To focus the discussion, I used Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech. In his speech,  three of the problems he mentions are segregation, discrimination and poverty.  As the class discussion revealed, while segregation and discrimination are now illegal, they still remain serious problems. After all, it is possible to segregate and discriminate in ways that do not break the law. For example, while African-Americans make up a disproportionately large percentage of the the prison population in America, they make up a disproportionately small percentage of those in leadership positions (political, academic, and business). Poverty is, of course, still a concern and wealth still seems to follow racial lines in the United States. These problems and other factors clearly indicate that America is not post racial.

Not surprisingly, racism and concerns about race cross racial lines. Despite the fact that I have been a professor at  Florida A&M University since 1993 and have written extensively about race, some people made it clear on November 5th that they assumed I had racist tendencies simply because I am white. I was (once again) informed of the racism of white America and how it was thought that white America would not permit a black man to be President.

My responses were the obvious. First, it seems racist to assume that a person is racist simply because s/he is white. This is similar to assuming a black person uses crack simply because he is black. Second, to talk about “white America”  and making assumptions about how all whites think is to group people into a stereotypical class based solely on race. This certainly seems to be racist. Just as blacks are individuals with their own views, whites are also individuals with their own views. Third, obviously “white America” was, in general, just fine with electing a black man President.

Initially I was slightly surprised that people would make such remarks about whites and “white America.” After all, Obama had just been elected President and had spoken about the need to get beyond race. Of course, a moment’s reflection revealed the obvious: his election has been a major milestone, but people do not change quickly. Many people, regardless of their color, are still very much concerned about race. As such, while we are heading towards a future in which race will matter less and less, we are still here in the now. And now race still matters.

Is the White House Ready for Black Man?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 7, 2008

While Obama is enjoying a growing lead in the polls, my students still ask me if I think that America is ready for a black President. Some of them also express concerns that the election will be stolen from Obama or that he might be assassinated if elected. While these are both legitimate worries, I will just focus on the first concern in this blog.

The question “is America ready for a black President?” can be taken as meaning many things. When people ask it now, they often seem to really be asking “will Obama win?” The answer seems to be: it is possible.

The question can also be taken as asking whether the majority of Americans are willing and able to set aside the consideration of race when voting for President. The answer to this could be yes, but Obama could still lose.

Interestingly, some people I have spoken with about this think that unless a person votes for Obama, that person must not be ready for a black man in the White House. However, this need not be the case. After all, a person could set aside consideration of race and still prefer McCain to Obama (or another non-black candidate to a black candidate). For example, a voter might believe that McCain can keep America safer than Obama or she might be pro-life and consider that a decisive issue. In this case, it is not that the person must not be ready for a black President. She just prefers McCain to Obama.

Obviously, if someone votes against Obama because he is black, then he would not be ready for a black man in the White House. As such, you would have to know why a person did not vote for Obama to know whether they were ready for black man as President or not. Naturally, this will be a hard thing to determine: few people will come out and say that they vote based on race.

One obvious way to get some insight into whether America is ready for a black President or not is to look at how the election turns out. If Obama wins, then the answer would seem to be yes. If Obama does not win, then things are far less clear. The explanation for such a hypothetical loss could be race or perhaps not.

Since people are unlikely to admit to racism, one method that can be employed if Obama loses is to compare the election results with the poll results. If the poll results indicated a commanding lead and then Obama does not win, then one explantion could be the Bradley Effect: Some voters say (in polls and surveys) they will vote for the black candidate, but cannot overcome their views of race and actually vote against him/her. If this is how it turns out, then this would indicate that America seemed to be ready for a black President but was not. Of course, this would be a fairly weakly supported conclusion. White candidates running against white candidates sometimes poll well and then lose the actual election (like Kerry) and that obviously cannot be attributed to racism. The same factors that lead to such situations for white candidates could occur for a black candidate and race need not be a factor at all.

So, if Obama wins, the answer to the question would be a clear “yes.” If he does not win, then the answer is less clear. Perhaps America is ready for a black President, but perhaps not enough people want that black President to be Obama.

Obama & Black Republicans

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on September 4, 2008

Race and gender are significant factors in the United States. Not surprisingly, people are sometimes pulled one way by their political values and another by their race or gender concerns. The Republicans are hoping to cash in on the gender pull exerted by Sarah Palin. The Democrats are hoping to cash in on the race pull exerted by Obama.

While many blacks are Democrats, there are numerous black Republicans. Naturally enough, some of them feel pulled towards Obama even though they disagree with his political values. This, of course, raises the question of what such Republicans should do.

One possibility is that they should vote for Obama because he is black. After all, many thinkers have argued that minorities (and women) need to support their own in order to fight back against past and present oppression. As such, black Republicans should vote for Obama because they and he are black.

One problem with this view is that it, obviously enough, seems to be racist. If white voters vote for McCain because of white solidarity, they would be considered racist. As such, for a black person to vote for Obama simply because he is black would be racist as well. Of course, it could be argued that there is a relevant difference between whites supporting a white and blacks supporting a black. Whites, one might say, are not an oppressed group and blacks are. Hence, the situations are different in a way that would make voting for Obama because he is black non-racist.

Another problem is that voting for someone (white or black) because of the color of his skin seems to go against Dr. King’s dream. To base one’s judgment on skin color would be, ironically enough, a step away from that dream. Naturally, it could be argued that having a black man in the White House would have such a positive effect that it would justify supporting him even on grounds that are racist.

Another possibility is that they should vote for him not because he is black, but because he would make a difference that they would support. In this case, they would not be supporting him simply because he is black, but because of what he would do. This might seem to be a subtle difference, but it is actually quite significant. Naturally enough, the desire to support him would have to stem from shared values: they value his Democratic agenda. However, this would be problematic for most Republicans-if they supported his Democratic agenda, then they would be Democrats and not Republicans.

Yet another possibility is that they should vote for McCain because they disagree with Obama’s views and agree with McCain. While they might be accused by some of turning their backs on their fellow blacks, they would be acting in a way consistent with Dr. King’s dream: they would be making a judgment based on their values and not on the color of a person’s skin. While it could be argued that as blacks they should vote for Obama, that could be seen as an attack on their values and their right to chose as individuals. To be guided solely by race would be, obviously enough racist. To be guided by one’s values (even if they might be regarded by some as mistaken) would be moving beyond race. After all, people should vote for the candidate who matches their values rather than the one who matches their skin color. This is why some white people should vote for Obama and some black people should vote for McCain.

Will Obama Win?

Posted in Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on August 18, 2008

Obama recently promised his donors that he will win. Obviously, no candidate is going to tell the people who have given him (or her) money that he (or she) is going down in political flames. No doubt his donors have faith in him (or are at least hedging their bets). What remains to be seen is whether he can keep his promise when election day rolls around.

Predicting a candidate’s chances is a tricky thing. National politics is a complex subject and the relevant factors shift and change constantly. However, it is possible to provide a general assessment of his chances by considering his strengths and weaknesses. Interestingly enough, many of Obama’s strengths and weaknesses are the same.

First, Obama is young. While he is older than I am (so I rather like hearing people say how young he is), he is considered somewhat young for a Presidential candidate. This can help him or hurt him. On the positive side, youth is valued in our culture and many Americans look back favorably on another young Democrat (Kennedy, of course). Some Americans also seem to be looking for a President who has vitality and energy and Obama has both. This can give him an edge over the much older McCain especially among the younger voters On the negative side, many voters prefer an older leader. The stereotypical image of a President is often of an older man and this seems to indicate a bias towards older candidates. The fact that Obama is spoken of as being young shows that he is up against this perception. While it is close, I think that the country is leaning more towards youthful energy and I think this will help Obama.

Second, Obama is not a Washington insider. While he is a senator, he has not been one for long and is not perceived as part of the old system. On the positive side, this helps to separate him from the old system and the dismal approval ratings of both the President and Congress. Americans seem to be eager for a change from the old Washington and Obama clearly is in a position to deliver. On the negative side, as much as people claim to dislike Washington insiders, they seem very inclined to keep supporting them. After all, to become a Washington insider a politician has to be re-elected regularly. Thus, if Americans really loathed Washington insiders and it strongly impacted their voting behavior, then there would not be many (or any) Washington insiders. I think this outsider approach (which McCain is also trying to tap into) will help him, provided that the approval ratings for the insiders remains low.

Third, Obama does not have very much experience. He is young and his national political experience is limited to being a senator for a short while. On the plus side, this lack of experience separates him from the failures of the past. It also means that there is little political dirt that can be dug up on him and that he is far less beholden to those with whom he has become entrenched. These factors can help him in the polls. On the minus side, a lack of experience makes him an unknown quantity and people tend to be a bit wary of the unknown. Further, the Presidency is not generally regarded as an “entry level” position. Like employers, voters generally seem to prefer someone with experience. McCain has an edge in this regard, although it makes it harder for him to claim that he is not part of the Washington establishment. Somewhat ironically, when McCain attacks the Washington establishment he seems to help Obama. While McCain used to be regarded as an outsider and a maverick, that image seems to have worn down by the necessity of appealing to the party base. Overall, I think that this lack of experience will help Obama, provided that he can keep playing on the past failings of experienced politicians.

Fourth, Obama is liberal. On the positive side, many voters are liberal and much of his “liberal agenda” consists of causes that are currently very popular such as health care reform and ending the war in Iraq. Naturally enough, the catastrophic failures of the Bush administration are helping Obama out a great deal here. Neo-conservatism and conservatism are no longer as well regarded as they were in the past. McCain is stuck in the unenviable position of having to be conservative to appease the Republican base while distancing himself from the failures of the Bush administration. On the negative side, there are still many people who are conservatives and while they are not very happy with Bush, they have no desire to vote Obama into office. If McCain can convince voters that he is a true conservative while also making them believe that he will not be serving Bush’s third term, then Obama will have quite a fight on his hands. I think that some Democrats are making the mistake of thinking that unhappiness with Bush means support for Obama. This need not be the case.

Fifth, Obama is male and is not Hillary Clinton. On the positive side, all Presidents have been male and the stereotype for the President is also male. On the negative side, there are some female voters who will remain die hard Hillary supporters and might not support Obama. While there are rumors that some will turn to McCain out of spite, this seems unlikely. Even if it does happen, the impact will be minimal. The main worry is that such voters will stay at home or write in Hillary’s name on the ballot. While these will not be votes for McCain, they will be lost votes for Obama. I think that while a few hard core Hillary supporters will give into their spite, most will fall in behind Obama.

Sixth, Obama is Christian. On the positive side, many Americans claim to be Christian and many of them seem to have a positive view of having a Christian President. On the negative side, some people still think Obama is a Muslim and this could lead to them not voting for him. However, I think that the people who would be inclined to believe that he is Muslim probably would not be voting for him anyway. As such, this factor is not a critical one. Overall, his professed Christianity will help him a bit.

Seventh, Obama lived outside of the United States. On the positive side, this means that he has had exposure to non-American culture and this can help him. On the negative side, this has provided fuel for attacks against him that attempt to portray him as foreign or exotic. As with the Muslim attack, I think that these attacks work best with people who would not vote for him anyway. As such, the impact of this will be minimal, although it has and will generate a lot of noise.

Eighth, Obama is regarded as being black. On the positive side, this seems to be helping him with some key demographics. Obviously enough, many commentators attribute his success with African-Americans and other minorities to this factor. Also, some claim that liberal white also support him because of this factor (of course, they would support a white Democrat as well). Minority votes will obviously be important in the election and Obama seems to have an edge here. On the negative side, racism is still a factor in the United States and this will impact voting behavior. McCain is obviously no racist, but no doubt some people will vote for him because he is white and Obama is black. It is difficult to predict how much of an impact race will have in terms of people not voting for Obama. Obviously, black candidates can get elected in the United States (Obama is, after all, already a senator). But it remains to be seen whether a black person can win a Presidential election now. I suspect that the race factor might balance out. While some will not vote for him because he is black, some will vote for him because he is black. Others will vote for or against him based on other factors.

Much could change between now and November, but I suspect the election will be a fairly close one. I am inclined to think that Obama will win, but only a fool picks a winner before the starting gun has even been loaded.

Jackson, Obama, Nuts, and Absent Fathers

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on July 10, 2008

Once again a major public figure has said something awful and has been forced to go through the standard media cycle of clarification and apology. This time around it is Jesse Jackson’s turn.

After an interview with Fox News, Jackson apparently did not realize that his microphone was still live. He remarked that “Barack, he’s talking down to black people” and apparently expressed a desire to cut Obama’s nuts off.

One thing that seems to have set Jackson off is that Obama has been critical of the alleged failures of black fathers. To be more specific, he has spoken of the need for absent black fathers to be more responsible.

While Jackson’s response might have been motivated by a general concern about Obama’s remarks, it is possible that his reaction was much more personal. Jackson himself had a child with his mistress and she has been critical about his behavior as a father in the past. As such, Jackson might have taken Obama’s remarks as hitting far too close to home. In any case, Jackson certainly has not provided a moral example of how a man should behave in this matter.

Naturally, there are also concerns that Jackson is jealous of Obama’s success and the fact that Obama seems to be less beholden to the “old guard” than they would like. People who enjoy the spotlight and power are, of course, often very resentful when the light shines on another. Some have even suggested that Jackson is worried that Obama’s success will undercut the traditional focus on victimhood that has allegedly served as a significant basis for his political influence. This is, of course, mere psychological speculation.

While the ongoing tension between the old guard and Obama is politically important, it does tend to obscure a rather important concern about black fathers.

The usual stereotype of black men is that they are irresponsible fathers. They are quick to have children as proof of their manliness and even quicker to duck out on their responsibilities. This stereotype has been played up in the media and has even been accepted to a certain degree by some black leaders.

While this matter has enjoyed a significant amount of media coverage, there is still a clear need to investigate the facts properly. It is easy to buy into a stereotype. It is much harder to sort through the data and draw a proper conclusion. One factor that makes doing this difficult is that accusations of poor parenting against black men tends to make headlines. In contrast, evidence in regards to good parenting tends to be left languishing in obscurity. I would certainly encourage more investigation into the facts of the matter and a greater effort to make positive findings known.

While I disagree with Jackson’s approach to the matter (cutting off another man’s nuts is not something I can endorse), I do agree with some of his follow up comments regarding the dual aspect to responsibility.

While an individual father has a moral obligation to act responsible in regards to his parental duties, the all members of our society also have a moral obligation to address factors that can impede a person’s abilities to act in accord with those duties.

As has been noted in a previous blog, many black men are in prison. This obviously makes it difficult for them to be good fathers. While the reasons why so many black men are in prison are no doubt many and varied, some of them most likely include factors that could be corrected. Naturally, the main focus should be on factors that push people towards crime. If these factors could be dealt with, this would probably help with the problem at hand.

Another factor (which probably connects to the prison factor) is economics. While the economic woes of today slice across the color lines, black Americans have been facing economic hardships for quite some time. Such economic woes can significantly impact such things as the payment of child support and the ability of a family to spend time together.

A third factor is cultural. As many have argued, our current American culture does not greatly emphasize personal responsibility and solid moral values. While we are not the moral wasteland that some would claim, we could obviously do better in regards to our moral education. While individuals have an obligation to learn the good and act in accord with it, there is also an obligation to teach people the proper values and to shape them so that they live in accord with those values. As a nation, we can do a better job, but it is something that we need to work on together. After all, this is not just a black problem, or a male problem. It is a concern for all people who value family, responsibility and a good society. Looking at it as specifically black problem that blacks need to solve on their own is actually part of the problem.

Positive & Negative Racism

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Race by mclfamu on June 12, 2008

Race has, obviously enough, long been a major factor in American politics. Obama’s success to date has served to show that American racial views have chanObamaged over the years. But, it also shows that race is still a major factor.

Traditionally, racism has been seen in negative terms. To be specific, racism of this sort involves regarding the race in question as inferior or lacking in some way. For example, a white racist would traditionally be seen as regarding non-whites as inferior or defective.

This sort of traditional racism has long been a factor in American politics. Minorities have long had a very difficult time in getting elected on the state and national levels because, many claim, of racism on the part of whites. This sort of racism has also come out in the contest between Clinton and Obama. Some of Clinton’s supporters, such as Ferraro, have made remarks about Obama’s race. Further, Clinton and her followers have been stressing how Obama cannot sway certain white voters-presumably because he is black.

Various polls have been taken about the effect of race in the context of Obama’s campaign. Not surprisingly, race is still an important factor. Whites who are concerned about race are less inclined to support Obama.

While people still admit to holding positions that could be taken as racist, one interesting fact is that people tend to lie on such surveys in order to appear to not be racist. While racism still remains, it can be taken as a good sign that even some racists feel obligated to lie about there racism. This indicates that they might feel a bit guilty about such views. At the very least, it shows that they know that most people do not approve of racism.

Racism can also be positive. By this I do not mean that racism is good. Rather, positive racism occurs when someone attributes good qualities to a person based solely on race It also occurs when someone supports a person because of his favorable views of the person’s race.

This sort of racism has also been around a long time, but is usually referred to in terms of race pride or ethnocentrism rather than positive racism. For example, when members of the Klan talk about the superiority of the white race, they are exhibiting positive racism.

Positive racism is having an impact in the current conflict between Obama and Clinton. Followers of Clinton have claimed that black people are supporting Obama simply because he is black-thus accusing them of positive racism. Meanwhile, Clinton seems to be quite willing to cash in on the positive racism of white voters.

Interestingly, the gender issue has helped to fuel racism. To be specific, the contest between Clinton and Obama has served to put gender against race in a contest over which is the greater source of victimhood. Gloria Steinhem claimed that “gender is probably the most restricting force in American life”, thus setting the stage for the conflict over race and gender. After all, if gender is the most restricting force, then it follows that race is not as important as gender. Because of this sort of view, many feminist supporters of Clinton were quite dismayed about the support Obama has been receiving from black women. Presumably, these feminists think that black women should be more concerned with gender than race. This attitude no doubt has led some, such as Ferraro, to make remarks that might be construed as racist.

So, on the downside, racism is alive and well in America. On the plus side, racism is being openly discussed and is being addressed. While it might be disheartening to see race in the news so much, it is actually good that it is being exposed to the light of inquiry.  After all, admission of a problem is the first step towards solving that problem.

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