Saturday, September 20, 2008

One last time...

I had intended to let this matter drop, but since I have been addressed directly by Rev. Sean , I'll take one more stab at what I meant.

There's an old joke that rewritten for this situation might help explain how I see it. There's a long line at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and people are starting to grumble. A conservative says, "Typical government inefficiency- they should contract this out to private enterprise." A liberal says, "Typical of this miserly administration- they should raise taxes on the rich and hire more clerks." A Unitarian Universalist says, "They're just stalling to avoid waiting on the black man in line- typical of our oppressive society."

Any of their theories might be true. Or maybe the Bureau is having computer problems. Maybe someone is sick, and they're shorthanded. Maybe it isn't the clerk's fault at all- the people in line don't have their paperwork in order. It doesn't really matter what the truth is. All three of the complainers, with no objective basis for their opinion, using only their predisposition to believe certain things, have constructed a scenario that "obviously must be true". This is what the author of "This is your nation on white privilege" did.

He took ordinary political hypocrisies, (some of which weren't even true, but that's beside the point), rewrote them as racial hypocrisies, then criticized the nation for what were, after all, his own assumptions. Example: "White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don’t all piss on themselves with laughter,..." Four years ago, Howard Dean ran as Governor of Vermont- a state with a smaller population than Alaska, much smaller in fact than the city of Indianapolis- and a much smaller Gross State Product than Alaska. He had no political experience prior to his election as Lt. Governor, (He became Governor when Richard Snelling died in office); not even as Mayor of a small town- not even as community organizer. Not only did people not piss themselves laughing, he was the early front-runner. There is no objective basis for the charge of "white privilege".

The Eclectic Cleric did much the same thing. He set up a series of hypothetical situations, presumed to know what our reactions to them would be, then presumed to know the motivation for those presumed reactions, then said "This is what racism does." Doesn't anyone see anything wrong with that?

Of course, all the hypotheticals of both authors exist only to set up their basic assumption: the only reason that Senator Obama isn't 20 points ahead is racism. That's possible, of course- but what is the objective reason for believing so? As I pointed out in my previous post , Senator Obama is polling as well as or better than every other Presidential candidate has in the last twenty years at this point in the cycle. There's simply no discrepancy to explain away.

Rev. Sean doesn't accept that answer. "And sorry Joel, “Other elections were close too” is NOT a logical argument. It’s possible that if Obama were a white man the polls would be showing a landslide in his favor. We’ll never know." He's right- we'll never know. But since we don't know, why are you assuming that an unknowable possibility is more logical than a known history? It's also possible that if Senator Obama were a white man, he'd have lost the primaries in a landslide and Senator Clinton would be the nominee. We'll never know.

Rev. Sean also said, "See, there is one huge fallacy in Joel’s response: He argues that pointing out systemic racism is itself an act of hatred. He thinks uncovering and talking about racism is the same as “an ugly desire to see the worst in the other side.”" He has two fallacies of his own there. The first is that his "quote" is not my words. But more importantly, he has the concept wrong. I applaud pointing out systemic racism. What I object to is inventing systemic racism when there's no objective reason to believe that it's an important factor in a given situation. I object to assuming that a given situation must exist, and then when it doesn't, assuming without evidence that the reason for the discrepancy is not a flaw in your own logic, but rather a flaw in other people's character. I do believe that you must have a deep contempt for your fellow man to believe that the reason half of them disagree with you is racism.

Rev. Sean also says, "Neither of the essays accused people of racism. They did, however, look at some of the ways systemic racism (the preference for white folks over black that is built into our culture and systems) may be affecting the election." That is sheer sophistry. This whole discussion is about why Senator Obama isn't as far ahead as his supporters think he should be. Well, cultures and systems don't answer pollsters. Cultures and systems don't vote. Oppressive laws and corporate practices don't vote. People do. It's not possible to blame racism for poll results without accusing the people who answered those pollsters of racism.

Nobody is arguing that racism isn't a pervasive problem. Although they do argue about whether it's "white privilege" or "class privilege", no one is arguing that unearned privilege isn't an obstacle to raising people out of poverty. Racism is a factor. But it is A factor, not THE factor. I believe that today- not in the days of slavery, not in the days of lynching and Jim crow, but in 2008- there are other "isms" of equal and even greater importance.

Sexism: Does anyone seriously doubt that sexism- and the cover-up of the Edwards affair- is the reason Senator Clinton isn't the nominee? Polls showed that even in the deep south, men preferred a black man to a white woman in the White House- and an amazing number of women agreed. Women have always ridden in the caboose of the civil rights train. I remember hearing Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, say at a convention that he got more complaints over Lt. Uhura, a woman, giving orders to men than he got over having Capt. Kirk being court-martialed by a black admiral.

Lookism: I could never be elected to a position much higher than City Council because I'm fat. Despite being an overweight nation, it's been nearly a century since we've had a portly President. Even Governors have to be slim- you can count on one hand the number of overweight governors there've been since the invention of television. People simply won't vote for a fat person unless they know them personally. You have to be tall, too- there have only been a couple Presidents under six foot tall in the history of the United states, and none in the last hundred years. President Bush stands unique in the modern era for having defeated a taller man. And these qualities are very nearly as important in the corporate world as the political. People who go above and beyond in the recruiting of minorities still have no problem with telling fat jokes, and hiring, firing, and promoting by weight.

Able-ism: there has never been a candidate from either party with a widely known handicap (Roosevelt and Kennedy concealed their infirmities) except for John McCain and Bob Dole- and they're special cases in that their ailments were received in the process of becoming war heroes. Even so, they can still get around on their own in public. I don't believe we'll ever see a wheelchair in the oval office, because medical science will develop cures and life-like powered exoskeletons faster than the public will get over this prejudice.

CORRECTION: The Eclectic Cleric is not the author of the quotes I mistakenly attributed to him; they were emailed to him, and he just posted it. The authors:

Mary M. Gaylord
Sosland Family Professor of Romance Languages andLiteratures
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Undergraduate Adviser for Romance Studies
424 Boylston Hall, Harvard YardCambridge MA 02138

Jane R. Dickie
Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies.
Hope College.
Holland, MI 49423


The Eclectic Cleric said...

For what it's worth, I did NOT write the material everyone seems to be attributing to me; I merely reposted something written by two women college professors because I found it "telling" and thought it deserved wider exposure. Maybe "thought provoking" would have been less aggressive, but it still troubles me to ask those questions and then to sit with the answers I come up with. Maybe that does say more about me (and Unitarian Universalism) than it does about our society or the candidates themselves...I don't know. But it future it might be nice to give credit where credit is do with respect to the authorship of that post.

Tim Jensen, The Eclectic Cleric

Joel Monka said...

I do apologize for that; with all the windows I had open following quotes, I just missed it. I will correct it.

Chalicechick said...

(((( It's also possible that if Senator Obama were a white man, he'd have lost the primaries in a landslide and Senator Clinton would be the nominee. )))

I took similar thinking a totally different way a few months ago. When Geraldine Ferraro made the point that Obama wouldn't even be in the running if he weren't black, I thought to myself:

"Yeah, an attractive, telegenic WHITE senator with minimal prior political experience who started being talked about as a presidential candidate the minute he took office...would be John Edwards. And he didn't win, but he did very respectably."

(((Women have always ridden in the caboose of the civil rights train.)))

It amazes me how sexism in this campaign has been cynically ignored by exactly the same people who want to talk about oppression now.


SC Universalist said...

and the other joke: what do UUs do when they face racism and classism - they arrange for a lecturer and do a teach-in for themselves.

Sean said...

The blog spam software automatically "spams" any comment with more than one link. You linked to your own blog twice, which activated the spam software. It's automatic and based on the number of links. I despammed it.

Robin Edgar said...

Sure enough.

Thanks for "despamming" my SPAM wonderful SPAM for U*Us Sean. ;-)

I will keep in mind your spam filter's two links rule. It does seem however that some other U*U bloggers, including a good number of U*U clergy bloggers, have set their blogs' spam filters to block posts containing the URL of The Emerson Avenger blog, my email address, or other text that might identify me. It is a bit of a hobby of mine trying to find out which combination of URLs and (fake) email addresses will allow me to bypass their spam filters and submit a post for them to "memory hole" as soon as they see it, or to at least end up in the line-up of submitted posts to be "moderated" so that I can send them a private response to their blog posts.

You have been pretty good about not censoring me in the past, only doing so on a few occasions, but recently it seemed as though you had taken steps to completely block me from submitting comments. In light of what you said here I will probably submit some more comments to your blog. I have plenty to say about the proposed revisions of the UUA's Seven Principles. I dare say that I am positively chuffed that the UUA has seen fit to adopt my repeated suggestion that U*Us should "covenant" to "honor and uphold" the Seven Principles rather than just emptily and insincerely "affirm and promote" them. ;-) Now if only they can persuade more than 66% of UUA delegates to approve of that revision at the next GA. . . I do look forward to being able to demand that the UUA, and a certain alleged U*U "church", actually *honor and uphold* the Seven Principles in their human relations with me rather than continuing to make a total mockery of them.

Robin Edgar said...

@ Sean - I notice that your blog also has a no more than two comments in a row (or short time period) rule, but I am very confident that you will approve of the third comment I just submitted.