“You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
~ Howard Zinn
I called someone, a blogger named M.G,, a racist in a recent post. Actually, I called her blog post racist. In my post, there were quite a few discussions about racism and related topics. None of them seemed overly fruitful.
The least fruitful part was the discussion of the word itself. I was noting how odd it is that conservatives (and the conservative-minded) will criticize political correctness, except when they wish to use it themselves. I’m not a politically correct guy, but neither do I want to be mean-spirited. I wish to apologize for being mean-spirited.
Yes, M.G. made a blog post that was racially biased. Then again, we live in a society that is racially biased, pervasively and systemically. Going by studies, it is fair to say we all are racially biased to varying degrees and in various ways. It seems unfair to pick on M.G. who probably has no intent of being racist, just simply expressing a common attitude in our society.
Maybe it was wrong for me to call M.G. or rather her blog post racist. I could have called her racialist instead which some prefer. Racism implies intent to be racist whereas racialist is simply being racially biased. But that seems like pointless nitpicking. Tim Wise argues that intent is irrelevant or rather the specific intent is irrelevant. In terms of real world results, it doesn’t necessarily matter if your intent is to be racist or your intent is to not admit to the racial bias in yourself and not confront it in society; both end up supporting and promoting the continuation of racism. The real world results are what I care about, not what some blogger chooses to post.
In the comments section of my post (and in the post following it), I admitted to being an asshole. Or to put it in more polite terms, I was being mean-spirited. I was in a bad mood. I’m never far away from a bad mood as I’ve dealt with severe depression for a couple of decades now. It is a side of my personality I struggle with. I don’t like being mean. I don’t like being argumentative, critical and accusatory. My bad moods are my own problem.
However, I would argue, as Mark Fisher argues in Capitalist Realism, that mental illness like poverty and oppression are pervasive and systemic issues that get blamed on individuals, i.e., the externalization of costs translated into individualistic terms. This is a point that directly relates to what I’ve been trying to communicate to others. This is also why it is unhelpful to pick on individuals with racial bias. We are all products of our society. We need to put the focus on the source of the disease, not the symptoms. But we also need to realize that we are all part of the problem. We can’t just blame others. We have to take responsibility, myself included.
I apologize to any individual I picked on in that post, M.G. in particular. And I apologize to anyone involved for my overly confrontational behavior, my sometimes rude language. But no apologies will be offered for my passionate defense of truth (truth as I see it), even though it often leads me into conflict.
Now for the clarification.
In that same recent post, I also stated something that wasn’t stated as well as it could have been. It ended up being a distraction from the point I was trying to make. Here is what I wrote:
“We also know that poor rural Southern whites are the most violent group in America.“
The key word here is ‘group’. This statement is true or false, depending on how groups are being defined, how the demographics are being divided.
If you divide people by race, blacks are the most violent group. But what is this group?
Blacks in America include a vast diversity. Some are Northerners and others Southerners. Some are urban residents and others rural. Some Christians, some Muslims and some not either. There are African immigrants who have no European genetics and no history of slavery. There are mixed race people from countries all over the world and so with different historical and cultural backgrounds. Then there is the historical population of American blacks whose ancestors were slaves, but the Gullah in South Carolina are quite different from the African Americans of New Orleans. One in ten of African Americans have more European genetics than African genetics; and so why aren’t they grouped with whites instead?
By shifting away from race, we can look at regional and area populations as I was doing. According to Culture of Honor by Nisbett and Cohen, another view of violence can be seen if we break things down into more specific details.
The South is more violent than the North. Some argue this is because of the South having more blacks, but what the authors found is that the precise regions of high violence are those with the fewest blacks and with the least history of slavery. The region in question is the rural South, typically associated with Appalachia but including what some call Greater Appalachia, mostly the Upper South extending over to the Ozarks. Appalachia and the Ozarks have a long history of violence. They were the most violent areas during the Civil War. This population has a tradition of vigilante justice and blood feuds.
The border areas between Kentucky and Tennessee has the highest historical rates of violence in the entire country. It is the most violent area in the rural South. The rural South is the most violent sub-region within the South as a region. And the South of course is the most violent region in the US. I might also add that the US is one of the most violent Western countries and one of the most violent developed countries in the world.
Broken down in this way, rural Southerners are the most violent group as a specific (sub-)regional population taken in toto. This also happens to be one of the whitest areas of the entire country.
How we group people determines what data we include and exclude. It determines what we see and don’t see, how we interpret and what we explain away.
With my statement, I was trying to demonstrate this point. If you divide people differently, you get different conclusions about who is most violent. I don’t think it is any more helpful to group all whites together as to group all blacks together. This is a point that most HBDers understand, whether or not they would make the same point as I’m making with the data.
My purpose certainly wasn’t to pick on poor whites simply because they are violent. I don’t want to pick on any poor people, no matter race, ethnicity or region. My fundamental purpose was to put the focus on poverty itself and the history of oppression behind it.
Here is the takeaway message:
All personal problems are also public problems.
All public problems are also personal problems.
This mixing causes life to be messy. There is a lot at stake in our daily interactions. Issues of emotion and miscommunication are to be expected.
I didn’t write this post in hoping to change anyone’s mind or to appease my critics. I simply wanted to communicate myself more clearly. I didn’t want to end with a sense of unresolved conflict, at least on my end. These are my final thoughts to the discussions in that post. I don’t want to be in the role of endlessly explaining all of this. If someone doesn’t see it as I see it, then so be it.