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Political Talk Show Host and Internet Radio Personality. My show, In My Humble Opinion, aired on RainbowRadio from 2015-2017.
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Thursday, April 29, 2010
So why do these racist stereotypes persist? The way I see it, it’s a special form of Magical Thinking strongly reinforced by Confirmation Bias. Those links will connect you to arguably the BEST material available on those subjects, but I think my claim of ‘Magical Thinking’ might require some explanation.
First of all, ‘Magical Thinking’ is basically non-scientific causal reasoning. In other words: It’s where superstitions come from. Here’s a completely non-partisan example of what I talking about. My Das is an avid golfer. He also had a bad back, and occasionally this affects his game. For many years he swore by the medicinal (magical) power of wearing a copper bracelet. He swore this improved his game, and he had the data to back it up! He put on the bracelet… his game improved. He took it off… it got worse! How could I argue with that?! Well, I might cite the regressive fallacy. You see, chronic pain comes and goes. It gets worse, then it gets better, then it gets worse again. And it’s reasonable to conclude that when it’s BAD, it would affect your golf game. Now… ask yourself this: When are you MOST LIKELY to put that bracelet on? Probably after a few days of bad pain that have started to affect your game. And when would you be most likely to take it off? Probably when you’ve felt pretty good for a few days, and don’t have that nagging reminder in your back to put it back on. If you think about that for a moment, you’ll realize that when you have a condition that waxes and wanes, and you’re sort of being tricked here: You’ll try your magical solution when it’s bad, and then credit it for the inevitable improvement – one that would have happened anyway! And you’ll take it off, and then BLAME THAT for the pain inevitably coming back! Now, this same fallacy is why we have superstitions, religious ritual, alternative medicine, 'as seen on TV' products and any number of other bullshit things that people swear WORK.
So… how does this apply to racism? One of the most common arguments I hear, living in Southeast Michigan, is, “Just look at Detroit.” It's 98% Black, and they’ve ruined it! Now, I will grant you that there IS a connection between Detroit’s Blackness and its state of urban decline, but I hope that I don’t have to explain to most of you why this is not a simple, causal connection. The number of economic factors that lead (and are caused by) to urban decline, the relative impoverishment of minorities, white flight, crime, corruption, etc, etc… Are far too numerous to describe here. But white people left, black people moved in, and the place went to hell. What more proof do you need?!
Correlation is mistaken for causality all the time. And a justification for racist sentiment such as this one is no exception. The logic here is the same as with magical thinking, and it ignores every factor except our desire to blame all the world’s problems on that other tribe while exonerating our own. But it’s not superstitious thinking alone that perpetuates it. There’s also a heavy dose of confirmation bias.
This fallacy basically describes how we are far more likely to remember, and place far more value and emphasis upon, those incidents that reinforce what we already believe than those that contradict it. A man who thinks women are lousy drivers, for example, will remember every woman who ever cut him off, or paused when the light turned green, or lost her way and had to bang a euie, forget about every MAN who ever did the same, and feel that he has more than sufficient data to conclude that women are the inferior drivers. And no amount of auto-insurance industry data that shows that MEN make more at-fault accident claims than women will convince him that what he saw with his own eyes is somehow an incomplete picture. I’m sure you can find numerous parallel examples like this one that support SEXISM, but the same is true of RACISM.
How many people, when discussing immigration, will tell you about all the crimes that these ‘filthy, lazy, uneducated Mexicans, who come in here and drain all our resources’ have caused? Now… first of all, you already know that they’re filtering out most all crimes committed by whites from their minds. And if they DO acknowledge any 'white crimes,' they’ll still BLAME them on the influence of minorities. (After all: We had NO CRIME before all these damned Mexicans moved in, right?) It's like mixing coloreds and whites in the laundry: The whites just get more colored, the coloreds don't get more white now, do they? Now, one only has to consider what was going on in Boston and Chicago and New York in the early 20th centry, for example, back when these cities were almost completely white and yet riddled with violent crime and political corruption, to realize just how much bullshit this conclusion really is. (And if you want to blame the (white) immigrants of the day, I’ll remind you that Tammany Hall was hardly staffed by anyone fresh off the boat!)
I discussed in my last post what my experience with Mexico and with Mexicans has been, and I’ll add that I’ve never worked with, or gotten to know a Black that I could respect and get along with either. And I’m not ignoring the crimes committed by minorities. I’m merely also not ignoring crimes committed by whites. Hey: Bernie Madoff and Ken Lay, and Jeff Skilling, and Goldmann-Sacks and Bernie Ebbers… THESE crimes are 100% White, and each has caused more harm to our country and our economy, and cost us more, than every crime ever committed by a Mexican or a Black in this country combined. But hey: They wear the BLUE face-paint instead of the RED face-paint, so they’re in OUR TRIBE. So it’s only natural that we forget about them, and forgive them, even though they’ve wiped out the life’s saving of millions of people, and the average Black or Mexican can only steal your car or what’s in your wallet. Wrong face paint? We’re just going to fear you more, and we're just more incluined to remember your crimes.
The other reason I think we are naturally drawn to negative stereotypes is our own fragile egos. We can’t stand the thought that we might be inferior in some way, any way, and so we slander the other in what amounts to a defense of our own egos. Mexican’s are lazy? Every one of the hundreds of Mexicans I’ve met make the average American look like a outright bum. And it’s not just negative stereotypes that work this way: Ostensibly positive ones work this way as well.
Take for example, ‘Asians are good at math.’ Well, I went to go to an 80% Asian high school, and I can tell you quite clearly that Asians are NOT ‘better at math’ (or science) on the whole, as a people than the Americans or Europeans are. Do you want to know why they get good grades in these subjects? THEY WORK GOD-DAMNED HARD FOR THEM! And that’s why ‘Asians are good at math’ is in fact a NEGATIVE stereotype: It deprives them of credit for the great effort they put into their studies, dismissing it instead as merely a genetic superiority. And we’d rather do THAT than just admit we’re lazy or try to match their work ethic. (And the more we see how hard we have to work to match them, the more we'd like to think - hope, relly - that they do have sort of genetic advantage. Again: we'd rather make an excuse that admit defeat and give credit where it's due.
Also, one also has to realize that the average American only sees the BEST of what, say, China or Japan has to offer. Many Americans have gone to school with the son or daughter of a Asian-American engineer or businessman or entreprenuer. How many have met a typical Chinese subsistence farmer? And I’m not denigrating them either. There are plenty of illiterate, uneducated white people as well, right in this very country. Hey: Every country has their share of people like this. But to claim that this is ALL that’s in say, Mexico, or to deny that there are any in Japan, is every bit as harmful and insulting to both groups, and to every individual within each group.
And I don’t want anyone to think I’m claiming to be any better here! I still check my door locks when a group of black people walk by my car. And I would still feel more comfortable if I was carrying a gun when I’m in Mexico. And as I’m not ignorant of the dangers that certain situations pose, I’m also not completely immune to the irrational thoughts that something comes with from those situations, into other areas of our lives. Also, I have to say that I LOVE IT when I catch a Japanese or German engineer (both of whom I've worked with in my career) really screw something up. In my experience these groups both look down on American engineers, the way Americans look down on Mexican labor. So I love it when they accidentally reveal a little bit of good old fashioned HUMANITY. You can call it schadenfreude, but I take it as a reminder that these people are not machines; that they are, in fact, perfectly imperfect HUMAN BEINGS. And I’d love to say or think that I’m perfect, but I know the fact is that I’m not. The only advantage I have is that I realize this and that I want to be better than that.
For a more humorous take on stereotypes, please see Cracked.com's skewering of the five most statistically full of shit national stereotypes.