Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Kindler, Gentler Racism?

Governor Blanco made the following comment about Nagin and New Orleans' majority black government:

"Blanco has said Nagin's office has difficulty understanding the process through which federal aid flows and has urged Nagin staff to be more 'hands on.'"

Again, I think Nagin and company are doing a horrible job, so criticism is certainly warranted. The motivation behind this particular critique, however, I find questionable. Anything is possible, but I find it hard to believe that her conception does not flow from our society's tendency to question the intelligence and capability of black people, despite any evidence to the contrary. Because several factors likely led to this conceptualization of the problem, her view is, at best, only partly rooted in a stereotype that has been instilled in Americans of every race.

Note that she criticizes not the inefficiency of city government, but a core intrapersonal trait, their ability to understand something complicated.

I speak not only from personal experience but with the knowledge that multiple studies show that white people, even when they don't consciously believe or support such stereotypes, still subconsciously link black people to poverty, crime, and lower levels of achievement in psychological experiments. Even when they have documentation of a black person's socioeconomic standing or achievement, white people as a group (not all white people) still tend to underestimate that black person's social class and level of education, or undervalue that evidence. (e.g., Dovidio et al., 2002; other relevant studies )

It's the new racism. Twenty-first century prejudice. An almost kindler, gentler racism, subtle, unconscious, and even unintended and contrary to one's conscious and espoused beliefs. But it's still there and still every bit as wrong.


slate said...

Excellent post, although I think you were way too kind in saying "kinder, gentler racism." Racism is never kind, nor gentle. It's just that it's become subterranean, underground with more politically correct verbage.

And you're right, it's still there and I do think it is unconscious in people sometimes. In the old days, the standing line was "Some of my best friends are. . . . fill in the blank"--black, hispanic, gay, whatever. Now the fact is that that statement is often true, which is a step in the right direction. The problem is that while one's fill-in-the-blank friends are "alright" or even "great", and one might not define their friend by their fill-in-the-blank-ness, the other unknown fill-in-the-blanks might not be so great.

I think this happens across the board, no matter what side of the blank one falls on.

My grandson came home the other day asking me if there really was a time that he couldn't have been friends with his friend Eddie. He'd been learning about Jim Crow at school, although he didn't know it. I told him yes, there was a time that he couldn't have been friends, gone to school with him, eaten lunch with him. He was astonished and asked me "But, WHY? That's just stupid!" I told him that people were stupid sometimes. He's six. He's the hope.

Sorry for the long comment. As you know, I've been thinking about this topic for a long time.

E.J. said...

The "kinder, gentler" was an attempt at sarcasm, which I keep forgetting doesn't translate as well in written form. lol

It makes me smile that kids today can't even imagine things that only took place 40 or 50 years ago. Even better that kids still have enough since to know it was a stupid thing to do in the first place!

Roux said...

Oh come on.....give it a rest. I can't stand Blanco but racist. No way.

Speedy said...

That is NOT a racist statement. I probably dislike Blanco more than most but you guys are trying to play the racism card for no apparent reason. I you drop the racism card at every given turn in your life, there is going to be racism. Drop it, move on, let it go, just because a white person says something you don’t like or agree with does NOT mean it was a racist statement. Look to the future, be happy, be thankful you’re not in Africa.

e.j. said...

Roux and Speedy, I appreciate your comments.

I agree. I'm playing the race card FOR NO APPARENT REASON. That's the problem with this sort of prejudice. It's more difficult to acknowledge and address because it is subconscious and not apparent. Also, I do not think Blanco is a racist. It just seems plausible to me that her opinion may have been unwittingly influenced by negative stereotypes of black people.

What's your take on the data in the research literature? (I put links to a couple of them.) Neither of you seems convinced of their results.

I don't recall references to Africa in any of these studies, but I highly doubt that I could ever be more thankful than the people who profited handsomely from the free and cheap labor provided by the people of the African diaspora who ended up in the U.S. I don't think I'll ever be rich enough to be THAT thankful!

bayoustjohndavid said...

Get Real. Politicians use that phrase all the time. It's a euphemism for "he's lying" or "he's spinning" or passing the buck or whatever. I can think of a few local bloggers who call the president, the mayor and the governor stupid, is it racist in one of those cases? Would it be racist if Edwards were still governor and Clinton still president, i.e., they only considered the mayor stupid?

Personally, I don't think the mayor's stupid, just lazy. Since that fits into a stereotype, I should rephrase that. My honest impression of Nagin is that he's always been one of those guys who's smart enough to go through life winging it.

bayoustjohndavid said...

"Get Real" may have been a little harsh, but if anything it sounds like somebody higher up in the chain or in the loop dismissing the comments of somebody lower in the chain or out of the loop than a racial thing. If she didn't need New Orleans votes, Blanco would have said that the state is responsible for misspent money if the city's going to attempt to overbill FEMA for overtime and garbage disposal, Nagin has no right to complain.

As somebody whose shyness or awkwardness in certain situations is sometimes mistaken for snobbery or prejudice, I can tell you that something akin to Hanlon's law often applies. One obvious test is to ask whether the speaker would say that of a white person. In this case, it was probably the most diplomatic thing that our silver-tongued governor coould come up with.

E.J. said...

bsjdavid, your points are thoughtful and reasonable. i went through a very similar thought process and came to a different conclusion. i guess it's that my thoughts have the context of personal experience mixed in, which always changes how people view things. i can see where you're coming from though, and i respect you for not immediately blowing me off without giving it much thought.

this was a bad scenario to pick to illustrate my point. had i known the joe biden thing was about to blow up, i'd have waited a few days. lol