Friday, July 10, 2020

Racism: Is It Worse Among Younger People?

I keep hearing that racism is much more common among young people than it was when I was young.  My wife and I are old enough to think of racism as a stupid and backward thing, but I keep hearing that it is getting worse among younger people.  A student a semester or so back who worked in a call center here in the Boise area told me that people she was talking to were insistent on only talking to a white person.  Has 30 years of the left running K-12 and higher education failed to educate against racism?  (And yes, this requires education; prejudice is the default human setting: see below.)  Have they failed to teach racial equality for the same reason they have failed to teach the 3 "R"s?  Or is this perhaps a reaction to heavy-handed leftist teaching about race?

When my wife and I were attending Sonoma State University, as a grad student she was teaching in an English class about Samuel Johnson's "A Brief to Free a Slave."  One student argued that the morality of slavery was culturally dependent.  At first she thought he was parodying the widely held liberal belief that there is no absolute right and wrong and thus laws against homosexuality are wrong.  (This liberal belief either went away or was forgotten with divesting from South Africa, requiring states to recognize gay marriage, and adding sexual orientation to anti-discrimination laws.)  No, he had successfully internalized the "no right or wrong" belief in which SSU tried to drown anyone with a moral absolutist belief.

I find myself wondering if the continual hammering of moral relativism hybridized with "racism is wrong" to create a rebellious racist tendency among those educated after 1990.

Why Prejudice is the Default Setting for People

When I say default, I do not mean good, but a value that must be educated away.  You are a member of group A.  If someone that is also group A does something bad to you, even traumatic, you identify enough with him or her that you don't think of all members of group A as bad; that would make you bad.  If someone from group B, who is clearly different (sex, color, national origin) does something bad to you, you might on the first experience say, "That's one bad person."  But as Ian Fleming's Goldfinger observed, "Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.”  It does not take too many robberies, threats, or sexual assaults by a member of group B for a group A member to start saying, "Group B is a bunch of thugs." 

This is utterly unfair to nearly all members of group B, who really are not so different from you; those thugs are probably victimizing them as well.  But once bitten, twice shy.  If you see a member of group B, the similarity to previous attackers will cause you to make the decision to take no unneeded risks.  Some years back, Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader and specialist in extorting money from corporations observed, "There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then (I) look around and see someone white and feel relieved."  You may even be able to rationally discuss this subject with group A victim, but at a deeply injured level, this rational knowledge does not matter.  The risk of trusting unknown members of group B is likely higher than the benefits.

Let me give you an example.  Many years ago, I worked for an employment agency in Los Angeles.  One of my co-workers lived in Venice.  One night, his wife and him had come home from a night out.  They had their front door open, and the screen door closed.  Before they knew it, three black guys smashed through the door threatened them with a gun, tied him up, and forced him to watch while they gang-raped his wife.  They stole not only everything of value, but even their wedding pictures.  (Were they going to fence them?)  LAPD had fingerprints galore; they never ran them; he was informed that this was just not that important a crime.  (In the late 1970s, L.A. was one massive wave of crime and destruction.) 

A few months later, our boss hired three young black men to work out of our Inglewood office.  They came into our office one day, and my co-worker starting shaking uncontrollably.  He knew these black men were not the monsters who forced their way into his home, but the terror was still tied to members of group B.  I have no idea if he ever worked his way past his terror and what had developed into a pretty frank racism.

1 comment:

  1. As far as young people and learning go, I think they are also pretty quick to pick up what will yank other people's chains and usually dumb enough to write checks with their mouths that other parts of their anatomy can't cash.