One of the most powerful tools we have when trying to parse an argument is the analogy. We can take the elements of a position, plug them in to a different context, and then press ‘play’ to see whether or not the argument still logically follows. So when a religious apologist talks about the perfect love and perfect mercy of YahwAlladdha, we can ask if it would still be considered ‘loving’ to lock your children in the basement and torture them (for any amount of time, let alone eternity) if they disobeyed your rules. We can point out the absurdity of demanding that atheists ‘play nice’ or ‘leave well enough alone’ by pointing to the similarities between ours and other civil rights movements, and show how active engagement in the public sphere is vital to progress.
Accustomed as we are to the incredible usefulness of this tool, there are cases where it goes horribly awry – namely, those cases in which privilege plays a significant role. At once, argument by analogy becomes completely derailed, and to the person drawing the (flawed) analogy, it seems as though the “privilege card” is being pulled out of nowhere. The argument seems to be, to them, that one is wrong simply because ze is white, or male, or cisgendered, or whatever dominant group identity is germane to the conversation – that the mere fact of being in the majority immediately disqualifies your arguments. Then out come the waterworks: “you’re just as bad as those you criticize – my opinion is being dismissed as you complain about people dismissing yours!”
Let’s just jump ahead a few paragraphs to the end of the argument and state unequivocally that your argument is bad, and you should feel bad.
Now that everyone who needs to learn this lesson has stopped reading, let’s forge ahead, shall we? … Continue Reading
Part of the challenge of incorporating anti-racism into mainstream skepticism is that skepticism has been primarily focused on developing techniques of inquiry honed in material sciences (by which I mean the study of physical systems like cosmology, biology, and physics – not materials science which is an entirely different thing). Ask most mainstream skeptics, and they’ll display an admirable grasp on at least the basics of astronomy, evolution, mechanics, some quantum physics, and if you’re lucky a bit of biochemistry to go with it. Many questions that atheistic skeptics have had to learn to answer are focussed on the origins of the universe and of life, necessitating this basic ‘toolkit’ of scientific knowledge.
We have not yet, and I mean yet, turned our eye toward the study of human sociopolitical systems (although I am enthused to note that most people have a fair-to-middling grasp on some core psychology, which builds part of the foundation). I am certainly not exempt from these educational blind spots, despite my impression of myself as a skeptic who is more interested in sociology than average. Without the same basic knowledge of methods of sociological inquiry (which surely extend to history, literary analysis, and other things that aren’t, in the strictest sense, ‘sciences’), it becomes very difficult to parse the often labyrinthine mechanisms of cause and effect in human organizations, especially in a way that satisfies the more ‘tactile’ minds among us.
Luckily, every now and then racism expresses itself so clearly and unequivocally that it transcends the need for rigorous study to unravel the mechanism behind the effect: … Continue Reading
I’m not sure how many of you are aware of the sheer unmitigated genius that is the comedy of Mitch Hedburg, but if you haven’t heard his repertoire of brilliant one-liners, please do yourself the favour of wrapping your ears around one of his albums. One of my favourites of his goes something like this:
“If you had a friend who was a tightrope walker, and you were walking down a sidewalk, and he fell, that would be completely unacceptable…”
His bits are all like that – observations that were seemingly plucked from the weirdest and most non-sequitur place imaginable. This one in particular resonated with me because it almost perfectly encapsulates how I feel when I hear fellow skeptics repeating, often with no ill intent, the same kinds of racist nonsense I hear from the general public.
The thesis underpinning this blog, at least the part of this blog that specifically deal with race, is that we can use skeptical methods to identify the racial components of attitudes, behaviours, and institutions. In so doing, we can learn to mitigate the damage caused by these things, and find productive ways to address topics that are often fraught with emotional landmines that can be triggered by careless statements, no matter how delicately put. Anti-racism in this context is therefore simply the application of skepticism to issues of culture, history, and social constructs around ethnicity.* … Continue Reading
Last week I sat down with Daniel Fincke from the FTBlog Camels with Hammers to chat about race and race-related subject matters. We were trying out the Google+ hangout environment that we used for last week’s FTB + Skepchick group conversation. I imagine that I’ll be finding more ways to use this tool and be releasing more videos.
We got cut off by a dropped connection, so there’s two parts:
We talked about a number of fun topics, including
- Affirmative Action
- Colour blindness
- Implicit racial processing
- Feeling safe about having ‘the race conversation’
- Liberal racism
- “The black community”
It was a fun and productive conversation, and I enjoyed myself a great deal! Hope you enjoy it too.
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*I feel it necessary to apologize for the inconsistent posting recently. Up until now I have prided myself on keeping a regular schedule; however, some recent (positive) changes in my day-to-day schedule have made blogging consistently a bit more difficult. I am trying to make adjustments, but those will take some time.
I remember my first job interview. I had applied for a position as a stock boy at a bulk food store, and the owner called me on the phone the day after I dropped off my resume. My interview was one question, three words: “are you big?” I replied that I was, indeed, big. “Come in and start tomorrow,” was the reply. I was there for nearly 3 years. Since that time I’ve taught violin, I’ve packed boxes onto trucks, I’ve managed an amusement park cleaning crew (easily the worst job I’ve ever had), I’ve been a doorman, a karaoke host (easily the best job I’ve ever had), and spent two mortifying shifts serving tables in a tapas restaurant. None of those jobs were particularly hard to get – in fact, when I was offered my current job I could scarcely believe it and spent the first year dreading the day when my boss would realized they hired the wrong guy.
At no point in my various job searches did I really actively stress over race. Like most people I’ve been rejected from more jobs than I’ve been given – even then, it never occurred to me to wonder whether or not race played a role. Why would it? After all, I live in the 21st century, and certainly nobody ever said to me “we don’t hire your kind” or anything so overt as that. I will likely never know the role, positive or negative, that race played in me getting my various jobs. However, I know too much to think that racism isn’t still very much a part of the hiring process: … Continue Reading
Because I will never NOT share something by radio host and vlogger Jay Smooth, here’s his take on an aspect of the Trayvon Martin case that hasn’t been fully explored:
It’s weird for me to hear my beliefs coming out of someone else’s mouth, but there you go.
Jay is making the same point that I tried to make with my posts about Occupy – that we have to be active participants in our system, whether that be political or judicial. No, we may not be the ones running for office or sitting on the bench, but we have to be actively engaged. Should we fail to remain vigilant, the system is allowed to run on its laurels, which inevitably serves only those at the top. In the case of Trayvon Martin, no justice was even pursued until people stood up and started paying attention. A man murdered a 17 year-old kid, and the police let him walk free, right up to the point where the cries of a small number of people who were acquainted with the case were heard by other people who believed that a just solution must be, and could be pursued.
This week I’ve been throwing examples at you in support of the basic tenet that we have to keep our brains switched on and our eyes open, because the system we live in is seriously flawed and unjust. We can and should expect more, and in order to achieve it we have to be asking the tough questions and demanding more than pat answers.
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I’ve been using Twitter a lot recently. I was deeply cynical about the platform when I first learned about it. To be certain, some of my cynicism was justified: there are a lot of people who do seriously just post whatever pops into their heads. I am sad to say that I am quickly becoming one of ‘those people’ in a sense, especially when I spend my Sundays on quiet introspection and wandering around. The funny thing is, whether by coincidence or as a function of how people use social media, my number of subscribers has increased since I have become a more frequent Tweeter
If you look at my description, I describe myself as (among other things) an “anti-racist”. I came across that term rather recently. Before I began seriously delving into issues of race and trying to engage with other people, I didn’t bother with trying to classify what was going on inside my head. Racism was, like history and psychology and philosophy and any number of other things, something that I was interested in thinking about. Of course, it had the added component about being relevant to my own day-to-day experiences.
It wasn’t until I started talking about racism that I began to cast about for useful ways of cementing my scattered thoughts on race into relatable, recognizable forms. Such forms required terminology, and the people who I found whose viewpoints were close to my own called themselves “anti-racist”, so I decided to run with it. Due to the diversity of approaches I’ve seen with this label, I have given little thought to what that term “actually” means beyond a very superficial definition. Generally, it is a critical stance on race and racism… and it doesn’t approve. … Continue Reading
Sometimes stuff comes up in the news and I just don’t bother going after it. There are low-hanging news stories that are so silly or frivolous that I can’t think of anything worthwhile to say about them. Sometimes I file them away for a rainy day when I don’t have a lot of time or energy, or on the off chance that I’ll be able to link to it later in a more substantive piece. So when I read about Sweden’s “racist cake” incident, I figured it was worth taking a pass:
Sweden’s culture minister is facing calls to step down after she was photographed cutting a cake shaped in the form of a naked black woman. The incident involving Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth happened at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm. According to Radio Sweden, the museum said the cake was supposed to highlight the issue of female circumcision. But the Association for African Swedes said it was a crude racist caricature and called for Ms Liljeroth to resign.
A few people asked me to respond, but I thought it was a waste of time. After all, it’s a very silly story about an art installation that, as is often the case, was provocative and not in the greatest ‘taste’ (sorry for the pun). Avant garde art is, by definition, ahead of public opinion and designed to shock to prove a point. The involvement of the Swedish culture minister was a regrettable move on her part, but what would you do if asked to cut into a living cake at an art gallery? Staunchly refuse and launch into a tirade against the artist? It was the result of really shitty staff work and a questionable piece of art.
But damn if that confection didn’t have staying power. I guess it’s true – chocolate just doesn’t come out! So here’s a brief issue-by-issue breakdown of my thoughts. … Continue Reading
Those of you who read this blog regularly will be familiar with its central thesis: slavery is the only thing that matters when discussing racism, because it allows me to demonize white people. After all, even though slavery ended a thousand years ago, exploiting that part of European/American history (which, when you think about it, wasn’t really all that bad) allows me to make white people feel guilty enough to give me what I want, whether that be reparations or reverse-racism jobs. It’s the reason that I never stop bringing up the Atlantic slave trade, and why all of my posts on the topic of anti-black racism explicitly reference the fact that black people used to be slaves, and therefore white people are evil.
Of course, anyone who’s actually read this blog knows that all of the above statements are complete blinkered bullshit. Slavery is a topic that very rarely makes it into any of my discussions of racism, except when it is relevant to explaining a historical (or, in much rarer cases, contemporary) phenomenon. A quick review of my history reveals that less than 5% of my posts even use the word slavery – that number climbs to 16% if I restrict to only those stories tagged as ‘race’. The fact is that while an honest and comprehensive understanding of slavery is helpful in understanding contemporary race relations, it is most certainly not sufficient.
Which is why I am continually baffled by people who talk about the complicity of African leaders in the trafficking of slaves. One doesn’t have to dig too deeply in the muck of a comments thread before one finds someone protesting that black people weren’t completely innocent, and therefore… I dunno, anti-black racism is their (our) fault too? I sincerely do not understand the purpose that this taking point is meant to serve. Regardless of its uselessness as a counter to anything, it manages to worm its way into the conversation over and over again, like a dandelion of stupidity bursting through the asphalt of sensibility. … Continue Reading
On Tuesday I talked up the results of a survey that showed that Canadians are far more apathetic about religion and doubtful about gods than our southern neighbours:
It still remains fascinating to see that religion in Canada seems to be expiring without the need for a lengthy, showy campaign forcing religious believers into the margins of society. Like the Grinch’s Christmas, the ‘war on religion’ came without boxes, it came without bags – we didn’t have to steal Christmas, we just had to wait until it got a little long in the tooth and we sent it to a farm upstate to run and play with other faiths.
Sometimes I feel like I should wash my hands after quoting myself.
Anyway, I feel a little silly at this point, because as a self-proclaimed skeptic and anti-racist, I still left a giant gaping hole in my analysis of this result. Luckily, Douglas Todd from The Vancouver Sun is on the case: … Continue Reading