Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

Prop. 8 Opposition Turns Ugly

Prayer had just finished when men and women stood up in pockets across the congregation, on the main floor and in the balcony. “Jesus was gay,” they shouted among other profanities and blasphemies as they rushed the stage. Some forced their way through rows of women and kids to try to hang a profane banner from the balcony while others began tossing fliers into the air. Two women made their way to the pulpit and began to kiss.

More. Nor, I’m afraid, can this just be written off as an isolated incident. As Natalie noted a few days ago, the success of Prop. 8 has stirred up a lot of anti-Mormon feeling, so much so that Bishop Weigand (who used to be Bishop for Salt Lake City) issued a statement defending the LDS church and calling on Catholics to “stand in solidarity with our Mormon brothers and sisters in support of traditional marriage – the union of one man and one woman – that has been the major building block of Western Civilization for millennia.” Last week at a rally to protest support of Prop. 8 by members of the LDS church, gay activities hurled racial epithets at blacks attending the rally (and who, ironically, were therefore on their side on the question of same-sex marriage) According to one account:

It was like being at a klan rally except the klansmen were wearing Abercrombie polos and Birkenstocks. YOU N*GGER, one man shouted at men. If your people want to call me a F*GGOT, I will call you a n*gger. Someone else said same thing to me on the next block near the temple…me and my friend were walking, he is also gay but Korean, and a young WeHo clone said after last night the n*ggers better not come to West Hollywood if they knew what was BEST for them.

And then there’s this:

(HT: Laudem Gloriae)

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November 12, 2008 Posted by | Democracy, Election, Homosexuality, Marriage, Mormonism, Race | 1 Comment

The Principle of Reparations

During his now famous sermon at Trinity United, Father Michael Pfleger said the following:

We must be honest enough to address the one who says, “Don’t hold me responsible for what my ancestors did.” But you have enjoyed the benefits of what your ancestors did. And unless you are ready to give up the benefits, throw away your 401 fund, throw away your trust fund, throw away all the money that’s been put away in the company that you walked into cause your Daddy, and your Granddaddy, and your Great-Grandaddy… Unless you are willing to give up the benefits, then you must be responsible for what was done in your generation, cause you are the beneficiary of this insurance policy.

This comment, among others, has brought Father Pfleger in for a great deal of criticism. Yet while his statement was more than a little intemperate, at the core of his argument is a perfectly respectable philosophical principle, which for lack of a better term I shall call the principle of reparations. According to the principle, if a given act of injustice X results in A being better off than he would have been absent X, and B being worse off than he would have been absent X, then A owes reparations to B, regardless of whether A was in any way responsible for X. The advantage of the principle of reparations is that it allows us to explain how members of one group might have special obligations to members of another group based on historical injustices without having to invoke some notion of “sins of the father” or collective guilt which would be morally problematic to say the least. Continue reading

July 6, 2008 Posted by | Morality, Philosophy, Race | 2 Comments

Racism without Racists?

So far all of our attempts to pick out the specific intent or motivation that make an individual act racist have failed. But perhaps we have been looking in the wrong place. Perhaps, as the example of the restaurant owner might indicate, our thinking about racism should concentrate not so much on the intent of an action and as on its effect, and even there not so much on the individual instance but on wider social outcomes.

This shift in focus from intent to effects has certainly been present in the law over the past few decades, and it has also been present, I think, in a lot of discussion about race and racism generally. Among some segments of the population, for example, it is common to hear more emphasis placed on what is called “institutional” or “systemic” racism than on the actions of individual racists themselves.

If what makes an action or institution or policy racist is not the intent behind it but its effects, then the obvious question is: what kind of effects are necessary for an act or institution to be racist? Continue reading

June 24, 2008 Posted by | Race | Leave a comment

“Rational” Racism

Start with a question that at first glance may seem far removed from matters of race and racism: why do teenagers pay higher rates for car insurance than do other drivers? The answer, obviously, is that they have a higher rate of accidents. Note, though, that a particular teenager will still be a higher rate even if he happens to be an excellent driver and will never get into an accident. Why? Because while a particular teenager might be safe, many of his peers are reckless and/or inexperienced, and it is not possible for the insurance companies to distinguish him from the others. To the extent that there was a low cost way of distinguishing between good drivers and bad drivers, insurance companies would use it, and in fact teen drivers do often pay more or less for insurance depending on their sex, because it turns out that teenage boys get into a lot more accidents than teenage girls.

This process is known as statistical discrimination, and in many areas of life it is considered unobjectionable. Yet, as with so many other things, when it comes to race matters are different. Continue reading

June 23, 2008 Posted by | Race | 1 Comment

Chinese is the New Black

A high court in South Africa ruled on Wednesday that Chinese-South Africans will be reclassified as “black,” a term that includes black Africans, Indians and others who were subject to discrimination under apartheid. As a result of this ruling, ethnically Chinese citizens will be able to benefit from government affirmative action policies aimed at undoing the effects of apartheid.

More. I remember reading a 19th century case concluding that Chinese immigrants were “black” for the purpose of California’s segregation laws. What goes around comes around, I guess.

June 20, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Race | Leave a comment

Not the Same

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that a good catchword could stop people from thinking for 50 years. Something similar seems to be true of the “it’s the same as race” argument. The argument is most prominent these days in matters relating to homosexuality, but it’s hardly confined to such discussions. Similar analogies have been made by everyone from proponents of deaf culture, to animal rights activists. In a society without many examples of moral righteousness, it is perhaps not so surprising that people would want to trade on the positive connotations of the Civil Rights movement by associating with it their own pet projects and causes. Such analogies, however, are almost always quite problematic.

Consider: next to racism, no discriminatory ‘ism’ is subject to more widespread opprobrium than is sexism. Yet both law and society treat differential treatment based on sex very differently from differential treatment based on race. With regard to race, for example, the Supreme Court declared in Brown that “separate but equal is inherently unequal” and has struck down laws mandating such things as separate bathrooms and sports teams based on race. When it comes to sex, by contrast, we have separate bathrooms and sports teams that are required by law to be separate but equal. Continue reading

June 17, 2008 Posted by | Homosexuality, Law, Race | 1 Comment

Racism Without Race?

In his book The Logic of Life, Tim Harford describes a recent sociological experiment which, he claims, has profound implications for the way we think about race and racism. Participants in the study (a group of students from the University of Virginia) were divided into two groups: employers, and potential employees. Employees were then further subdivided (randomly) into “greens” and “purples.” The experiment contained 20 distinct rounds of play, and the student employees were rewarded with a small cash bonus for each round in which they were able to secure employment. In each round, the employees first had to choose whether or not to “get an education.” Opting for an education cost the students a small fee, but it also increased the chances that they would do well on a series of “tests” (actually random dice rolls, on which educated students “passed” with a 4, 5, or 6, while uneducated students passed only on a 6).

Once the employees had made their educational decisions and perform the test rolls, “resumes” for each of them would be sent to the employer students, on which were listed only two pieces of information about each employee: 1) whether they were a green or purple, and 2) whether they had passed their tests. The employer students then had to decide whether or not to hire the potential employees, and received cash bonuses in each round for the employees they hired who had gotten an education (all of this was done via computer, btw, in order to avoid collusion and/or side bargaining). After each round, the students were presented with the results indicating the average test scores and hiring rates for greens and for purples during that round. And then the whole process was repeated.

Harford describes the results of the experiment as follows: Continue reading

June 13, 2008 Posted by | Race | Leave a comment

Race and Hatred

A couple of posts back, I said that it was problematic to define racism in terms of holding certain factual beliefs, because we typically don’t consider it particularly wicked to hold a mistaken factual belief. There is, however, a pretty glaring counter-example to this claim, namely Holocaust denial. Whether or not the Holocaust happened is a factual question, yet we don’t regard someone who denies the reality of the Holocaust as being merely mistaken, but as being somehow evil.

The fact that we regard Holocaust denial with such opprobrium is not due simply to the fact that it goes against the evidence. We would probably look more kindly, at least from a moral point of view, on someone who denied that WWII happened than on someone who just denied the Holocaust. Nor is there anything wicked about the idea of there not being a Holocaust as such. If the Holocaust really hadn’t happened, that would be a wonderful thing. Continue reading

June 12, 2008 Posted by | Race | Leave a comment

Race and History

Imagine a man, let’s call him Sam, who is a believer in astrology. Sam thinks that you can tell a lot about a person based on the date of his birth. He is fond of ascribing various personality traits and other characteristics to people based on their astrological sign, and will often make generalizations about people based on their signs, such as “Leos are arrogant” or “Scorpios are good problem solvers.” (I neither know nor care whether these specific statements are accurate according to astrology. The point is merely that astrology does make claims of this sort about groups based on their astrological sign) Many people think Sam is kind of flaky because of these beliefs, but no one would say that he is wicked or dangerous on account of them, nor would most people take offense if they heard him espouse his astrological beliefs, or feel that he should be shunned because of them.

Now consider Sam’s brother, Steve. Steve is a believer not in astrology, but racial stereotypes. He ascribes various personality traits and other characteristics to people based on their race, and will often make generalizations about people based on their race, such as “Blacks are lazy” or “Asians are good at math.” Needless to say, society does regard Steve’s belief in these racial stereotypes quite differently than we do his brother Sam’s belief in astrology. We do consider what Steve believes to be wicked and dangerous, people do take offense at his opinions when uttered, and many people do refuse to associate with Steve based on his beliefs. Continue reading

June 9, 2008 Posted by | History, Race | Leave a comment

Just the Facts

Our attempts to define racism in terms of equal dignity or in terms of colorblindness floundered because it turned out that the racist, by making certain factual assumptions, could comply formally with the principles while keeping his racist beliefs. An obvious solution to this difficulty would be to define a racist not as someone who violates a particular moral principle, but rather as someone who holds certain racist beliefs (e.g. whites are more intelligent than blacks). But this idea is itself problematic, for several reasons.

First, if racism consists simply in believing certain factual claims, then it is hard to see why racism would be intrinsically immoral, let alone why it would be viewed as being as wicked as it typically is. Simply believing something false isn’t ordinarily viewed as a grounds for moral condemnation, even where the beliefs in question are unreasonable. We might view the man or women who believes in the magical powers of crystals as a flake, but we wouldn’t view them as wicked the way we would a racist. Continue reading

June 8, 2008 Posted by | Race | Leave a comment