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The Right to Be Racist

You may know that I don't particularly espouse the idea of rights, as in, I do not believe that we even have the "right" to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness, unless we collectively grant these rights to each other. We have some disputes about the "right" to bear arms, or the "right" to say whatever we like, even if it is untrue or aggravating. In general, here in America, we tend to let people be the dicks that they are. The few laws that we have that try to make people be more decent to each other are hotly contested. Now this whole question of the "right" to be racist is in the news, because of Rand Paul and John Stossel. Other intellectuals are stepping forward, trying to make a case for it.

I don't know if I'm up to it. I know that the vast majority of you won't even care to entertain the ideas on the other side, because the American collective consciousness is so strongly rooted in the 1960's reaction to centuries of racism. But our collective consciousness, and unconscious, are evolving. Nothing remains the same.

The truth is that no matter what the law says, the individual has the unalienable right to think whatever they think about others. No law, at this point, can stop us from thinking horrible things. The laws we have are oriented at making us BEHAVE in civilized ways. The part of the Civil Rights act that is currently so contentious has to do with forcing business owners to admit patrons regardless of their race or creed. It seems very American to do so, the racist business owner being the bad guy, and the wrong-color patrons being the ones who have been done wrong. It is the fact of our history. But can we see more sides to this? Can we envision a future that is not in reaction to that past? Or is it too close, still? Can we imagine a situation in which a business owner caters to a particular group and does not want to admit others, when that owner is not a bad and evil person?

It blows me away how the media and a great number of regular people easily sway to accusations like racism. The emotional reaction precludes rational thought. We need to be able to have a discussion about our laws, our culture, and our choices. I'm not saying that today I want to change the law. I am saying that until we are able to consider such questions with calm, we will find no clarity on the matter. Boiling blood clouds communication. Calm down, people. Imagine that there might be a legitimate point on the other side, and see if you can hear it. Think about it for a while. And instead of calling someone a racist, try talking with them. These people who get dismissed with false accusations are the leaders of our future, waiting for our collective consciousness to catch up.

Do you see that there is a difference between saying that business owners can be whatever kind of pigs they are in their own place of business, and being a racist? Do you see that there is space between those two statements? That is all I hope for.

The truth is that we are all racist deep down. Every single person on this planet is wired, deep down, to recognize those who are "different" by sight, sound and smell, and to treat them with defensiveness and suspicion. This is instinctive, and while we deny it on the intellectual level, and force ourselves to behave as if we don't feel it, it operates in all of us. Those of us who have trained ourselves to respond to all people with apparently equal respect are, to at least some degree, acting. We are acting civilized, and some of our neofrontal cortices are indeed civilized. But our limbic systems never will be.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 22nd, 2010 11:59 pm (UTC)
If we look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is agreed throughout the world that humans have the right to life, liberty and security of person; the right to be recognized everywhere as a person before the law; a right to not be held in servitude or slavery; a right to not be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. I see all of these as reasonable and believe there is a reason humans across the world believe that everybody is entitled to certain rights. There is a line where the majority of people agree on what is moral and what is not.

Now, as far as the racism thing goes... I can't comment on what's happening in the news. I only learned of Rand Paul through reading your journal. I'm on a hiatus from the news at the moment. However, my own feeling is that the law was put into place to prevent people from discriminating against others based on anything - and I do agree with the law. If somebody doesn't like me because I am a woman, or a lesbian or black or Jewish... fine. Don't like me. But if I'm in the middle of BFE and need gas and the only gas station for 50 miles has a sign that says, "We do not serve women, lesbians, blacks or Jews"... well then I'm screwed. At least let me pay at the pump and be on my way.

My point is, where do we draw the line at "racism"? What, exactly, is race? Is it color? Religion? Ethnic background? Is the person of Asian descent whose grandparents came here two generations back not American? And should I be allowed to not let them into my store because I don't like people with slanted eyes? Is this sort of treatment to be regarded as "cruel and degrading"?

It's a lot of food for thought.

P.S. Sorry for all the edits. First time was formatting and second time I added a thought.

Edited at 2010-05-23 12:00 am (UTC)
May. 23rd, 2010 04:24 am (UTC)
Food for thought indeed. I wish that our society were better at the fulfillment of "rights" after we have named and even legislated them. People discriminate against each other based on all manner of bias and impression. If we do not discriminate, we may find ourselves wishing that we had. When I'm a practicing physician, I will provide my services to people who are willing and able to pay for them. That is a form of discrimination: against the poor, and by extension, against minorities and homeless, who are by and larger poorer than whites and people with homes. ...So I'm a bigot? I don't care? Maybe not. The deeper we dig into issues like this, the muddier it gets at the bottom of the hole. I wish that there were a firmer definition out there for what is inhuman treatment...because I think it's happening a lot these days.
May. 23rd, 2010 01:20 am (UTC)
...yeah, I can be a dick or nice guy and think/feel whatever I want, but behaviours and actions are different...some of the stuff I as a jerk/homophobe/racist/antisemitic/whatever/ might want to do is not legal, or just not nice, and that part has to be controlled, but me thinking jerk stuff, while unwholesome and only going to make me more of a narrow jerk, is not forbidden by anybody except some religions or advisors...
May. 23rd, 2010 04:27 am (UTC)
Ah yes this is an interesting point, that we become what we think about. So rather than attempting to repress the actions of active bigots, might our collective efforts be better placed at preventing the development of bigots? A stitch in time saves nine, they say. Perhaps the best method we could possibly have for making our society more peaceful and egalitarian would have more to do with elementary schools than police forces....
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )



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