I Still Don't Understand Why Racism is Defined Assymetrically

What if I wrote this:

"For me as a white man, it's really nice to just go out with other white men sometimes," ... "I have to do so much less translation. When you're white around black people, you have to explain every little thing, even with people who are perfectly nice and well-meaning."

My presumption would be that this would be treated as evil and racist.  But what was actually written was this, which by its reception by Kevin Drum and others is apparently perfectly OK

"For me as a black woman, it's really nice to just go out with other black women sometimes," said Sabrina Stevens, an activist and progressive strategist. "I have to do so much less translation. When you're black around white people, you have to explain every little thing, even with people who are perfectly nice and well-meaning."

The answer I generally get for treating racism asymmetrically (e.g. almost anything a white person says about blacks is racist, but nothing a black person says about whites is racist) is that it's all about privilege and power imbalances.  But the author, at least in this passage, is not talking about privilege and power imbalances.  She is merely talking about differences in outlook and perspective, which are presumably symmetric.  She is more relaxed around similar people, which is likely true of many of us.

Drum, fortunately, seems to get the point about safe spaces, that there is a huge difference between people privately creating spaces populated only by folks of their own selection (ie freedom of assembly) and public institutions (such as universities) enforcing segregated groups and spaces, particularly spaces meant to avoid contact with ideas at an institution dedicated to spreading ideas.  The first strikes me as fine, the second as generally unacceptable.    Of course women have spent the last 30 years of trying to purge private spaces where men choose to hang out solely with other men, so they shouldn't be surprised if they get a teensy bit of push back when they try to create such spaces for themselves.


  1. cerf:

    I don't think either statement is racist or would be perceived as "evil" - there's a rationale (less work overexplaining) and there is a relative qualifier (sometimes).

    The definition of racism includes an assumption of relative status, which is absent from the statement above ("the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.")

    Racism isn't defined asymmetrically, rather the practice of actual racism in America has Pink People(tm) come out on top on average, which is why complaints of racism are frequently asymmetric. Never really saw that being pink myself, until a good friend of mine got dragged into the mills of justice and I had some striking differences to compare.

  2. joe - dallas:

    Some of the most racist people I have met are black individuals, including a former black co-worker.

    In Dallas -- think of John Wiley Price, Diane Ragsdale

  3. John Say:

    What is to figure out ?

    This is the kind of crap we get when the definitions of words become maleable.

    That is fine in poetry and fiction, but in law and factual communications muddling the meaning for words results in muddy thought and failed communications - most of us think in words.

    Racism is discrimination against someone because of their race.

    They may be little wrong with saying it is more of a problem when the powerful discriminate against the weak, or the majority discriminate against the minority.

    That does not mean a minority can not discriminate.

    Another error involves allowing government to sanction us for private discrimination,

    The consequence of private conduct that does not involve violence, breach of contract, or actual harm to another should only be private.
    More is a violation of the social contract, and should have been unconstitutional.

    The 14th amendment bars discrimination by government.
    There is no basis in the constitution for baring private discrimination.

    The statement that you are citing should make it clear why government can nor bar private discrimination.

    The statement you cite is discriminatory, and it is also perfectly reasonable human conduct. It would not change if we substituted
    jew/gentile christian/non-christian, rich/not rich or ....

    We all are more comfortable arround those we share attributes with.

    A black catholic may be more comfortable arround white catholics, than black muslims - or not.

    As individuals we get to decide. None of those private choices should ever be illegal. If you think they are offensive - speak out, boycott, form your own group. pickett.
    But dragging government into it is both immoral and creates a mess that will never be possible to sort out - like we have.

    As an example is a rich black jewish man capable of illegally discriminating against a poor white muslim woman ?

  4. John Say:

    What is offensive - is up to people to decide on their own - individually.
    You are free to think something is "racist" that I do not.
    You are free to think something is evil that I do not.

    What is illegal must be constrained more narrowly.
    Government may only legitimately punish a use of force or fraud, a breach of contract or an actual harm.
    we as individuals may something deem offensive, evil, racist, but we can not make it illegal on that basis alone.

  5. Craig Anderson:

    The University of Chicago did a marvelous - and totally un-PC - thing recently and announced to incoming Freshmen that:
    1. There would be no "trigger marnings"
    2. They would not be creating "safe spaces"
    3. They wouldn't disinvite a speaker just because they might say something that offends you

    If only all the universities would do this instead of bending over backward to appease every little student-perceived slight. It would go a long way toward eliminating the racial divide and help reduce the real racism. I don't buy the idea that all white people are racist, and that blacks can't discriminate against white people. That hate seems directed not just at white people, but people of every color except black.

  6. Handle_MZ:

    On a recent EconTalk podcast, Mike Munger defined racism the same way he does in his papers:

    a combination of bigotry and an institutionally privileged position. So,
    any person can be a bigot. Racism requires that the sense of racial
    revulsion that you feel is combined with an ability to impose
    that institutionally. So, sometimes you'll hear a question, 'Can a black
    person be racist in the United States?' And by this definition, not
    very easily. It's the dominant people who control institutions or who
    make choices about other people's access-

    This is usually the meaning progressives give the term, and even conservative and libertarian academics usually have to adopt this version of the definition when they are writing scholarly papers for publication.

    In general it means that it is only possible for someone or some statement to be racist if it is 'punching down', or 'aimed down the totem pole' of your society's racial hierarchy. The order of that totem pole for the four major ethnic categories, from top to bottom is, apparently:White, Asian, Hispanic, Black.

    So, in practice, almost anything a white person says about any race is suspect and subject to being declared as 'racist', with other ethnic groups' determinations of such trumping any white persons opposing view, while almost anything a black person says can never be declared as racist by anybody.

    Now, this is also quite perverse, distorted, and a political abuse of language in my opinion. And one that is completely awful insofar as one cares about the prospect of actual progress in terms of building a more harmonious multi-ethnic society. But, alas, that's the way it is, and this is the rationalization that justifies the asymmetry from their perspective.

  7. ToddF:

    "an activist and progressive strategist."

    I imagine most of what a professional leach says is alien to those of us in the productive half of America.

  8. GoneWithTheWind:

    It depends on who defines it. Most white people spend 0.01% of their time thinking about race. If they make a mistake, as in use the wrong pronoun it seems unimportant to them but is a perfect opportunity for those who think about race 99.99% of the time to act out and call names. Most whites aren't interested in what the race baiters and bigots are doing but they need to understand that the race baiters and bigots are very interested in them. This is a scam, call a person a racist and gain power and maybe even money. Call a political opponent a racist and win election. Call an institution or employer a racist and win a lawsuit. If we allow this to continue do not be surprised to find yourself at the wrong end of the charge.

  9. J_W_W:

    What's really insulting it that Progressives use this to claim that white waitresses and blue collar worker are racist because of all their "power"???

    Pretty much proves that they are judging people purely because of skin color.

    My definition of racism: Judging people purely because of the color of their skin.

  10. J_W_W:

    Yeah, it was interesting how people shouting "get them they're white" during the rioting in Milwaukee were totally not racist because those specific white people had so much white privilege. How the mob determined that baffles me...

  11. Peabody:

    That leads to a rather humorous conclusion. If a white member is a bigot on the Vail, CO town council they are racist. If that same white person is a member of the Gary, IN city council, they are not racist.

    I would love an actual white racist when asked if they are racist to say something along the lines of, "Yes, except for two weeks I spent in Nigeria as whites had no institutional power".

  12. randian:

    "It's the dominant people who control institutions"

    This is an outrageous redefinition of the word "dominant". It is blacks and women who make the rules and steer the institutions that enforce them, not whites or men. Ergo, by their own definition white men aren't racist.

  13. John Moore:

    Today, unlike in the past, racism is simply a charge used by the PC police to demean anyone they don't like. That means they get to set the rules, and one rule is that blacks cannot be racist. You don't get it, because the logic is about power, not reasonableness.

  14. Gil G:

    Wouldn't that be a good thing? Racism used to be a strong word whereas nowadays is feels more like a filler insult.

  15. irandom419:

    I want to know what she has to explain to white women because black people don't know what a saucer is.


  16. kidmugsy:

    Good for Chicago. How are things going at Harvard, Yale, and Princesston?

  17. ano333:

    Odd, I have never met a black person who felt the need to explain every little thing to me.

  18. marque2:

    SAT is getting rid of the analogy section - but the whole point was to throw words at people that they probably don't understand. The first few analogies, used easy words, and the last few used very complex words many people don't know. Sometimes by analyzing word, you kind of know, or because you are aware of latin roots, smarter kids would be able to muddle through and get the right answer anyway. One of the favorite words is Daguerreotype. Would you be more likely to know that word because you were rich? Probably not. Would you be more likely to know it because you studied hard in history class, yes? Ruth, is another favorite, that no-one has heard, except in the SAT, but is the opposite of Ruthless, you just got to think it out. So some of this, I don't understand Comb, because I use a Pick, business is overwrought.

  19. marque2:

    As in calling Trump a fan of the KKK, when Hillary is the only one who actually kissed a High Klansman, and told us that he (Robert Byrd) was an important mentor to her?

    Yeah, the press won't report that, just that Hillary said Trump = KKK and therefore it must be true.

  20. marque2:

    So if I believe that Black people, in general, make better top tier basketball players than Hispanics, or whites, am I racist, for believing that the one race has a skill-set not attributed to another race? Hmm.

  21. TruthisaPeskyThing:

    Years ago, when I was working on multiculturalism activities for my corporation, a fellow worker gave me this observation: "When you think of yourself, you see yourself as just a man. When I think of myself, I see myself as a black person. That perspective makes a lot of difference."

  22. John Moore:

    Unfortunately, not. It is still taken extremely seriously by way too many people. Yes, a lot of us understand that it is far less meaningful than in the past. Unfortunately, people in government bureaucracies, universities and company HR departments have a different view. The very reason that racism is used is that it is a powerful weapon.

  23. wreckinball:

    Life at least successful life is not racial at all.
    The onlly color that matters is green.

  24. SamWah:

    There are those who will work to make it so.

  25. Zachriel:

    Coyote: I Still Don't Understand Why Racism is Defined Assymetrically

    Because history is asymmetrical.

  26. markm:

    That sounds like a personal problem to me.

  27. markm:

    The very first time I heard that definition of racism about 20 years ago, it was to claim that a black professor who discriminated against white students couldn't be racist because as a black he was powerless. IOW, ignore the actual power and judge only by the color of the skin. Ever since then, it's been the same nearly every time: they were defending a person of color who was in a position of power and misused it.