Informed racism is better than uninformed racism

Condemning all racism over-simplifies the issue of prejudice, when a distinction should be drawn between informed racism and uninformed racism. On the one hand you have people who lived with minorities throughout their lives, and who don’t really think it’s a big deal to work with other ethnic groups. These people take a realistic and informed approach to making generalizations from experience. They might have made friend first-hand with those groups, so if they say “Koreans are bad drivers,” they’re actually talking about how they noticed a trend after their Korean friend at college said he hit someone in the school parking lot, and they saw him mom ding a street post, etc. We can call this”Realistic racism.”

On the other hand you have people who grew up racially isolated and apart from the groups they’re talking about. They usually cling to political correctness as a shield, and suspiciously enter a defensive or “holier than thou” mode when race is realistically discussed. (Whites particularly have a hard time being honest, because it’s a taboo for them to talk about other races. They don’t want to be seen as racist, or to be stereotyped as being ignorant & insensitive.)

To the extent this group of people talk, they can only convey “second-hand prejudices.” By this I mean prejudices which are based on conjecture, limited information, hearsay from friends, the media, smaller sample-sizes, or figures of authority. (Think of the limited firsthand interaction you’d have if you lived in a gated community as an upper-middle subburbite within a predominately white neighborhood.)  These people are simply less well-informed than the other group.

The goal should be to make these people as educated and rational as the group that has lived with diversity, but it’s silly to pontificate for unlimited tolerance and throwing away all assumptions. Generalizing and bigotry isn’t just natural: it’s helpful too so long as it is grounded in truth and accurate statistics. Rather than removing prejudices, it’s better to sharpen your prejudices to be more in light of facts, and to be mindful of any fallacies (namely the genetic fallacy and association fallacy). The counter-intuitive truth is that more exposure to diversity actually make you more “prejudiced” in the sense that you’re more likely to generalize about groups. The exposure actually causes you to become aware of cliques and the characteristics of types of people that you weren’t aware of before.

Focusing only on tolerance without fighting people’s ignorance is a poor way of combating racism. A degree of tolerance towards others comes naturally anyway. We are all forced into tolerance by implicit threats of force, because otherwise if we tried to coerce someone into following all of our wishes, they would get mad and fight back until they hurt us.

But I do enjoy trying to guess what will be the next big button issue for civil rights activism. What oppressed scapegoat minority will society suddenly become aware of tomorrow? The sleeper defining issue of this generation actually wasn’t homosexuality – it is religion that is creating a generation gap. As for what follows racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious bigotry…well, it’s always the matters that you can’t talk freely about or question freely that shows where the era’s prejudices lie. It seems that the history of civil rights is just discovering that it never was rational to repress some group that the majority previously were suspicious of.

On a related note, the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird” has just died. She was taken advantage of by a publisher and was coerced into releasing a “sequel” that is of inferior quality, and which may have been a discarded first draft of her only other novel. It’s a shame because the subject matter of her second book would have been interesting had it been properly edited. If she was anything like Scout, even in the fifties she had a more progressive outlook than your average American today, and I would have liked to have known her. Your heart naturally goes out to people who seem to stand ahead of the tyranny of their times. They ascend high enough in our collective memories for a long time.

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