DEFENDING THE LANGUAGE: Racism vs. Bigotry vs. Culture

[NOTE: this one is long, but it is also important and complicated, so I took the time to make my case as best I could.  If you stay with it, I believe it may help you see the issues a bit more clearly.  If not…  Well, in that case, you either don’t care, or you are part of the problem — as I once was (and may still be)]

I am just going to assume that the majority of us can agree that racism is wrong, but I wonder whether or not we can agree that there are two types of racism, and that government should only be involved in one of them?  I got these two types of racism from a respected friend.  They are ‘institutional’ racism, where prejudice and discrimination based on race are built into a society’s laws; and ‘personal’ racism, where that same prejudice and discrimination based on race is a part of a persona’s character.  There is a proper role for government in the first type of racism (‘institutional‘), but there is absolutely no role for government or force in the second.  This is because the second type of racism (‘personal‘) is a heart issue, and any time people start using government to force a change of heart, we have crossed the line of playing God.  Then, to make this situation even more confusing, we need to understand that things we sometimes think are the result of racism are actually due to another form of bigotry that has nothing to do with race at all: cultural bigotry.  We get confused over the difference here because we equate race with culture, but they are not the same and I hope you’ll let me tell you a little story to illustrate the difference.

When I was earning my sociology degree, one of my professors shared a study with us (if it matters, she was white, but she was dating a black man and was 100% politically correct). Luckily for me, she taught in a time when there was still some intellectual honesty in our colleges and she wanted to make sure we understood the lesson in this study. The study she shared dealt with a group of black Americans who tried to immigrate to Africa in the 1970’s. They were not ‘forced’ to go; the movement was created and lead by black nationalists who believed they could find the equality they were seeking if they could just return to their ‘mother country.’ However, when these black Americans got to Africa, they were rejected by black Africans who told the Americans they didn’t belong and to ‘go home’ to America (once again, it is important to remember there were no whites involved; this was an ‘all-black’ exchange).  Now, the Africans in this study were not racists, but they were bigots, and it is in understanding their bigotry that we can learn an important lesson.  Let me give you a little more background before I try to explain the lesson.

The Americans who tried to immigrate to Africa were caught up in the Black Nationalism movement of the 1970’s. This is part of what Malcolm X was advocating. Malcolm X rejected what he saw as hypocrisy within Western society and the Judeo-Christian ethic upon which it is founded. For this reason, Malcolm opposed MLK and his movement. Instead of trying to gain equal access to mainstream American society, Malcolm advocated for a separate but equal society within America. The black Americans who tried to immigrate to Africa were taking this movement a step farther. To them, they were African-Americans. In other words, they saw themselves not as a product of the West, but as Africans who had been forcibly relocated and held captive by and in the Western world. However, when these ‘African-Americans’ got to Africa, they were shocked to discover the Africans did not see them as ‘African’ and they told the Americans to ‘go home.’  That’s right; the Africans saw the ‘African-Americans’ as just Americans.

The Africans told the Americans to go home not because of the color of their skin, but because of their culture.   The Africans had to explain to the Americans that their ideas of ‘African-American’ and of rejecting Western hypocrisy were – themselves – Western in nature and foreign to the African way of thinking and understanding the world. In other words, whether the Africans were telling the Americans that, whether they understood it or not, they were as much a part of the Western culture as the ‘White’ America they were trying to escape.  So it was this Western way of thinking that the Africans were rejecting, not the Americans with the dark skin. This is the lesson I think we need to re-learn today, but we will miss the lesson unless we understand the differences between culture, bigotry and institutional racism and the proper role of government between them.

[NOTE: For the purpose of the rest of this post, I am going to use the word ‘racism’ to mean institutional racism: the type of racism where the discrimination and prejudice is supported by law.  And I will use the term bigotry to refer to personal racism.  The context should be enough to distinguish between the two, but I will make sure to note it if I feel it necessary to do so.]

Today, we have confused bigotry with racism. Bigotry can be but doesn’t have to be connected to skin color. As the story I just told shows us, people can be bigoted against many things, and culture is definitely one of them.  But people can be bigoted against almost anything. Democrats may be bigoted against Republicans, and Republicans can be bigoted against Libertarians. People can be bigoted against different religions, against age groups, against languages… There’s no end to the things we can be prejudiced against (notice: bigotry and prejudice are almost identical in meaning, so I will use them interchangeably). However, in all cases, bigotry is a private matter. It is a personal character flaw. It does not carry the weight of law, so it cannot be rightfully called ‘racism.’ In order for us to call something racism, it has to be based on the color of a person’s skin and be officially supported by the law. This is why racism is a proper subject for the public to address — through their properly elected officials: because it deals with the law, racism is a public matter. But the public has no place using government to intrude on matters of bigotry because bigotry is private.

OK, I know that what I just said will probably anger a lot of people, so, before I move on, let me try to make sure you understand exactly what I am trying to say. It’s important to me that you understand, so let me try to illustrate my point using something other than race. Let’s look at the same principle as it relates to matters of sexuality. As the argument goes in our society today, we should be able to have sex with and marry whomever we wish, so, as  a matter of law, homosexuality and gay marriage should be legal. This would justify public involvement – through the government – in matters of sexuality and gay marriage as both used to be illegal in America.  As a result, the people had to change the laws before homosexuality and gay marriage could be made legal.  In principle, this example would be roughly equivalent to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. Now let’s put a point on it.

If we assume that who we sleep with and who we marry is a personal matter, then why is who we like and who we don’t like a public matter?  Whether you are gay or straight is a matter of private choice, but why should they be private?  They are both forms of discrimination, and we like to think that discrimination is bad and that government has a ‘right’ to stamp it out wherever it is found.   The problem here is that we many of us are bigots.  We want things our way and only our way and we have no tolerance for anyone who disagrees with us.  If you disagree, I would ask you to learn what the words we are using really mean and how they relate to this general discussion.  ‘Discrimination’ just means ‘to choose between things and treat one or more differently based on some set of criteria.’  The word does not have to have a negative connotation, but it can, and where it is used in connection to bigotry, it generally does.  So, in the minds of most people, this gives them ‘license’ to send the government into the private lives of those with whom they disagree and to force them to ‘comply.’   Worse, many of us feel justified in doing so; we think we are somehow serving justice by lending our voice to the use of government force to make people think the way we do.  But do you see what you just did here?  You have constructed a world where you feel perfectly happy telling people how they must think based on your personal biases.  So, let me ask you: based on this very line of reasoning that so many of us use today,  how is the racial bigot any different than you, and why doesn’t the heterosexual have the same right to force the homosexual to think as he/she does?

In principle, we are dealing with the same thing here. If sexuality is a private matter, than all personal bigotry is a private matter and the government has no place getting involved.  If it does, it is creating ‘though crime,’ and if you think that is acceptable, then you really need to go read Orwell’s “1984.”  The public has a right to address racism because it concerns the law, but the public has no more right to address bigotry than it does to tell you who you can and can’t sleep with or marry. Hopefully you can and do understand the distinction I am trying to make here.

This brings us to the stickiest part of this post. Now that we understand that racism requires the support of law, we need to face the truth: there is no racism in this nation. Now, don’t get upset. I did not say there is no wide-spread racial bigotry because we both know there is. But there is no racism in the sense that the law allows a business owner to refuse service to blacks. You have to get the emotion behind you here so you can focus on the principles we’re discussing. Otherwise, if you allow your emotions to rule you, you will open yourself to falling under the control of those who have intentionally created the racism issue for their own political gain. In many cases, the majority of this nation has already fallen for their lies. I just don’t want you and I to be among that number. I want you and I to understand that what we are told is racism is mostly the result of racial bigotry and not ‘institutional’ racism — yet they are treating them as though they are the same. This is because it gives government access to our private lives and they can then use government to control us in the name of fighting racism.  It is a lie.  It is all a lie, but then, so is the equivocation between race and culture, which brings us to the last point of this post.

This brings us to the reason I opened with my story. I believe that we are being played by ‘race hustlers’ for their own political power and economic gains.  They tell us there is wide-spread racism in America when – according to the definition of the word – there hasn’t been racism in America since MLK defeated it in the 1960’s. In truth, much of what they tell us is the result of racial bigotry is actually due to cultural bigotry — not race. Yes, there is a lot of racial bigotry, I get that.  I admit it.  But I think the majority of the bigotry we experience today has more to do with cultural divides in our nation — not race.  But our ‘leaders’ and the media refuse to explain this to us. That’s because there is nothing they can gain by explaining the difference to us, but a lot for them to lose.  If they tell us bigotry against culture is the same thing as racism, they can keep the issue alive, use our past to play on our emotions and set us against each other where – many times – there isn’t a problem of race-based bigotry.  In fact, if we were left to our own, we would actually find we have more in common than not.  But that would destroy the power of the political class in America, so they avoid it and flame the fires of racial tension instead.

You see, if I am white and you are black, and my bigotry is against your culture not the color of your skin, but our leaders and media tell you this means I am still a racist and hate blacks, you will probably believe that I am a racist.  It may even appear to you that those leaders and media are correct. If I think culture is based on race, they would be correct.  And if my bias against your culture is based on race, they are still correct.  But, what if my bias against a culture has nothing to do with the color of skin?  What if I just can’t stand the way Latino gangs dress or their music.  At this point, the truth no longer matters: you hate me because you have been convinced that I am a racist. In truth, I’m not — not in this case, but the truth no longer matters once they get us to this point. All that matters is I am a racist and that justifies anything you want to do to me to ‘get even.’  But when the truth no longer matters, how can we ever make anything better?  All we can do is become the flip side of the same coin we claim to be fighting: no different than the people we oppose, just the same type of bad from the other side.

In truth, I doubt there is one of us that doesn’t have some form of bigotry against a different culture.  It’s human nature.  But culture doesn’t have anything to do with skin color. Do you think blacks in the military look at their enemy differently than whites look at the enemy? Do you think college educated people – no matter what color their skin – see gang-bangers differently, or do you think upper and middle class blacks might tend to have similar opinions of that culture as upper and middle-class whites? How about the police? Do you think black cops look at suspects any differently than white cops, or do you think their culture might tend to make all cops look at suspects in a similar way? Do you see what I’m getting at here? I believe this nation has less of a race problem than a culture problem, but we are being manipulated into thinking it is all race-related.

To close, I want to share something a friend of mine pointed out to me in helping me with this post.  There is as much white-on-white crime in this nation as black-on-black, but which one gets the most media attention? Why are there so many stories about the number of black men in jail without any explanation for or discussion of the other factors behind those statistics? Do these stories ever explain the connection between fatherless children and criminal activities? Or how the welfare system was intentionally designed to destroy the black family by forcing the father out of the black home so they could create a class of government-dependent voters? Do those stories ever explain the cultural connections or do they paint an image of race-based injustice? Because, if they explained the cultural connections, they would have to tell you that nearly half the people on welfare are white, and they share the same culture as the rest of the people on welfare.  Now, don’t get me wrong: I believe there is race-based injustice  in all this, but not the way our leaders and media tell us it is. I believe it is a bunch of (mostly white) politicians who have found a new way to keep blacks ‘on the plantation’ so they can just assume they will have the black vote. These politicians then take advantage of the bigotry all humans have to paint a false image of wide-spread racism in America. It’s just that this is not true – not like it once was. If it were, you wouldn’t see so many white kids idolizing black entertainers or mixed couples in society. And how would you explain Oprah, Jordan, Tiger Woods, or a black President? However, all of this can be explained in terms of people who are confusing cultural bias with racial bias for their own political purposes.

Anyway, this is how I see this issue, but then, my opinion can be dismissed because I am white (see how easily that works? Convenient, isn’t it?)

Pastor Gentry puts it his own way, but note, he is still saying the same thing: we have more of a ‘heart and culture’ issue more than a ‘color of the skin’ issue.


10 thoughts on “DEFENDING THE LANGUAGE: Racism vs. Bigotry vs. Culture

  1. Again, good article Joe. If it can only reach a handful of people and help them understand it’s not a race thing. It’s a cultural thing and that “culture” has members from different races regardless of it they congregate together or not.

  2. A truly enlightened human being transcends culture and feels no need to exalt one culture over another. To cling on to this notion is actually more harmful than racism.
    The issue is that the “western” culture is smug in nature. Nothing detrimental about that, you might say. However, when you cast an unbiased glance around the world, you’ll see that this very same culture has a hard time respecting other cultures that appear dissimilar to it, to the point that it has made itself a self-appointed appropriator of what’s “acceptable” and “progressive” culture whilst ignoring it’s combination of bribery and force to maintain it’s self-appointed nature.
    Kinda like a mafia. No sane person likes a mafia to be perpetually in charge.

    1. Enlightened? According to who, the person in question, or 50.01% of the people? This is the problem with human notions of ‘enlightenment:’ by definition, there is no way to ascertain what ‘enlightenment’ is, only who can impose their version on another.

      As for Western culture: its foundation did not assume it was superior. One of the founding principles of the West was to ‘live-and-let-live.’ It is the influence of this world that has lead the West to trample on other nations, but your implication that the rest of the world is guiltless in this accusation is arrogant in a way far greater than that of the West.

      The short of all this is that ALL humans have a propensity to trample those who cannot resist them. So you will have to forgive me, but I see nothing but bigotry and special pleading in this comment.

  3. On your “private racism” hypothesis, tell us, please, how does society ensure your “private racism” doesn’t spill over into public life? How does society ensure your disdain of Latino gangs’ dress sense does not affect your decision making process when faced with two candidates for a single job, or two people waiting to be served in a shop? How does society ensure you won’t subconsciously seek to attend to the white person’s needs over the latino gangbanger whilst they are both waiting at the bar?
    How do you know you’re not racist? When you can count people from all corners of the world as your friends and brothers whom you would go to bat for, with the same level of enthusiasm and who would bat for you with reciprocated enthusiasm. If you can’t, you’re merely politically correct. I’ll hang with a gangbanger with a thirst for truth versus any politically correct lot from any race. 🙂

    1. It doesn’t, and it is not supposed to. the moment you assert that ‘society’ has a right to impose its notion of right/wrong on another, you have just established the tyranny of the majority. This is the nature of liberty vs. tyranny. Liberty gives you the freedom to be a racist: tyranny takes that freedom away based solely on the whim of 50.01%of the people.

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