Monday, April 28, 2014

Symbolic Racism: A Look At The Science

"I am not a racist"
The subtitle for this post might be "Symbolic Racism: One Result of Cultural Toxins of Power."

More about that deeper into this post, but first let's set the foundation for some of the things we want to build upon that foundation in this post.

Subconscious social dynamics are always at work in cultures, tugging, pushing, and pulling this way or that way, subtly shaping and forming cultural activity and cultural evolution.

These dynamics originate in the ever changing structure of culture and society that, to use a metaphor, develops like a tree --with roots, trunk, limbs, and leaves (Tree Root Facts).

The human subconscious cognitive system is like the underground system of a tree, generally hidden from daylight, but always crucial to the function of the entire system.

And, generally tending to add up to a substantial portion of the total relative volume of the entire tree's systems.

Scientists tell us that our human subconscious brain activity is somewhat similar, in that, the subconscious is some 98% of our entire cognitive activity:
Probably 98 percent of your reasoning is unconscious - what your brain is doing behind the scenes. Reason is inherently emotional. You can't even choose a goal, much less form a plan and carry it out, without a sense that it will satisfy you, not dis­gust you. Fear and anxiety will affect your plans and your ac­tions. You act differently, and plan differently, out of hope and joy than out of fear and anxiety.

Thought is physical. Learning requires a physical brain change: Receptors for neurotransmitters change at the synapses, which changes neural circuitry. Since thinking is the activation of such circuitry, somewhat different thinking re­quires a somewhat different brain. Brains change as you use them-even unconsciously. It's as if your car changed as you drove it, say from a stick shift gradually to an automatic.
(What Orwell Didn't Know, by Dr. G. Lakoff). The "it takes a village to raise a child" concept fits in here if we consider that "the village" means our culture.

We are parts of something larger than ourselves, something that literally molds and shapes our heads and our brains within it (The Skulls They Are A Changin').

Some of that "something larger than ourselves" is not of the purely human species, rather, it is "of" a living ecosystem, on this planet ---but most importantly, it is something not to be afraid of (The Human Microbiome Congress).

Yes, something in what we call culture or society ("my/our" home town, "my/our" city, "my/our" state, "my/our" country, "my/our" alma mater) is larger than we as an individuals are, yet we consider both the parts and the sum of the parts to be part of "my" and part of "our" at the same time.

For better or worse, that is in varying degrees the source of and operation of the "my/our" cultural amygdala (Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala).

Since that culture is also composed of human individuals, those individuals have the ability to have some impact on molding and shaping the culture, although in general, mere individuals have a lesser degree of impact on the larger culture than the larger culture has on individuals:
The president said the comments allegedly made by the basketball tycoon were “incredibly offensive” and showed how the United States continued to wrestle with the legacy of race, slavery and segregation.

"When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don't really have to do anything, you just let them talk. That's what happened here," he told a press conference in Malaysia, the penultimate stop of an Asia tour.

The furore, following an outcry over comments about slavery made by the Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and a supreme court blow to affirmative action, helped to put race back on the US political agenda.

In a rare display of bipartisan unity, Republicans joined Obama, rap stars, athletes and others in lambasting Sterling, 80, who has owned the Clippers, a National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise, for nearly three decades.
(Backlash Against LA Clippers Owner, emphasis added). The professional sports eruption came of the heals of the Clive Bundy fiasco of racial comments, Jonestown type religious machinations, and mob-type unlawfulness.

A large surprise in the Bundy subterfuge was who was supporting him in right-wing media and other right-wing organs (Politicus USA).

At least in the context we are talking about in this post, the problem is only sensationally exposed like this occasionally, from time to time, nevertheless, it constantly lurks and persists down in our collective cultural subconscious.

Sometimes, as we have seen in recent days, the individual impact on culture can go viral and have a significant impact on the public dialogue, and thereby have significant impact on other individuals and potentially on the entire culture (Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala - 2).

We can see this quite clearly if we take a look at the history of cultural racism in America, for example, and doing so from the perspective of the evolution of the U.S. Constitution.

For reasons that would take up too much of today's post to go into (more in future posts), the U.S. Constitution has some indications that toxins of power induced a racially infected document at its inception.

Consider one learned comment on that:
The San Francisco Patent and Trademark Law Association knows this well. In 1987, that group asked Justice Thurgood Marshall to give a speech in commemoration of the Constitution's bicentennial. No one can be certain what the group expected to hear from Marshall. One reasonably could assume, however, that the group knew that Marshall was the nation's first black Supreme Court Justice and the man who, as a lawyer, made the Constitution the centerpiece of the legal strategy he employed to persuade the Supreme Court to end school segregation in the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education. Whatever the expectation, Justice Marshall did not deliver a celebratory address. Invited to speak about the nation's Constitution and its founding precepts of equality, freedom, and justice, Marshall generated national headlines by telling his audience that the Constitution "was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights we hold as fundamental today."
(The Survival of Racism Under the Constitution, William and Mary Law Review, Vol 34, Issue 1, Article 3, emphasis added). The original draft of the constitution, which was not ratified or approved, did not even contain the Bill of Rights (later, the approved draft had Amendments One through Ten - The Bill of Rights, but still it institutionalized slavery within the boundaries of the U.S.).

Another interesting factor concerning the beginning of the U.S. as a slavery nation, is the subtle self-deceit, in terms of feebly thinking that racism could be covered up so that no one would really notice:
The text of the Fugitive Slave Clause is:
No person held to service or labour in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labour, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labour may be due.
As in the other references in the Constitution dealing with slavery, the words "slave" and "slavery" are not specifically used in this clause. Historian Donald Fehrenbach believes that throughout the Constitution there was the intent to make it clear that slavery existed only under state law, not federal law. On this instance, Fehrenbacher concludes:
Most revealing in this respect was a last-minute change in the fugitive-clause whereby the phrase "legally held to service or labour in one state" was changed to read "held to service or labour in one state, under the laws thereof." The revision made it impossible to infer from the passage that the Constitution itself legally sanctioned slavery.
(Wikipedia, Fugitive Slave Clause; cf. Three-Fifths Compromise). Those non-slave states that ratified the improved constitution, which had the Bill of Rights, nevertheless did sanction slavery to the extent that they compromised --rather than require the slavery practicing states to abolish slavery before becoming members of the union.

This may have been the act that planted the seeds of denial, which persist in our culture, a persistence through which we are all potential carriers of those cultural circuits --we have an exposure to the cultural toxins of power that still infect the culture with symbolic racism and even "religious hatred" (Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala - 4).

Cultural circuits may be wired into us, depending on our very local culture, which we must rid ourselves of, and rid our government of.

Otherwise, eventually those toxins will work more corruption within us, like infections of other diseases tend to do.

The scholars who wrestle with the concept of residual racism have terms of art for the residual effects of historical, institutionalized slavery that we still wrestle against:
One line of research has revolved around the idea that a new form of racism has taken over the political role once played by "old-fashioned," "redneck," or "Jim Crow" racism. Those older belief systems incorporated social distance between the races, beliefs in the biological inferiority of blacks, and support for formal discrimination and segregation.

The new form of racism has been given a number of different labels. One set, conceptualized and measured in similar ways, includes symbolic racism (Sears, 1988), modern racism (McConahay, 1986), racial resentment (Kinder & Sanders, 1996), and subtle racism (Pettigrew & Meertens, 1995). These theories all share the underlying assumption that, among whites, new forms of prejudice embody negative feelings toward blacks as a group combined with a sense that blacks violate cherished American values. But each marks an important evolution in the concept of a new racism.

"Symbolic racism" was the first of these terms to be introduced ... It is usually described as a coherent belief system combining the following ideas: that racial discrimination is no longer a serious obstacle to blacks' continuing anger about their own treatment, their demands for better treatment, and the various kinds of special attention given to them are not truly justified ... These beliefs come out of what has been known as a psychological "blend" of negative affect directed against blacks with conservative values, particularly the belief that blacks violate cherished American values. The word racism was chosen because the construct was thought in part to reflect racial antipathy. The term "symbolic" was chosen to highlight the idea that these beliefs were rooted in an abstract system of early-learned moral values and ideals (rather than in more concrete personal experiences or self-interested motivations) and that these beliefs referred to blacks as an abstract collectivity rather than to specific black individuals.
This variety of theories reflects a widespread view among social scientists that a new racism has evolved, as well as considerable effort to document that shift.
Symbolic racism has often been shown to have strong effects on whites' political attitudes, both their candidate preferences ... and their racial policy preferences (...). A considerable number of different symbolic racism items have been used in such research over the years.
(“The Symbolic Racism 2000 Scale”, Political Psychology, Volume 23, Issue 2, pages 253–283, June 2002). The way these social storms swirl, backtrack, and go forward again, develops unexpected impacts and conflicting approaches.

That is something any culture can expect when it, as a pluralistic culture plagued by ancient racial dynamics, seeks to shake itself free:
“There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then look around and see somebody White and feel relieved.” —Jesse Jackson
Survey research on racial attitudes in the general American population has shown a trend with potentially profound political implications: Overt White hostility toward African Americans began to decline markedly in the early 1960s and by the 1990s had reached historic lows (Schuman, Steeh, Bobo, & Kyrsan, 1997; Sniderman & Carmines, 1997). Whereas Americans were once deeply divided over whether African Americans and Whites should be allowed to drink from the same fountain, sleep in the same hotel room, attend the same schools, or intermarry, there is now close to consensus at the level of both mass and elite opinion that de jure segregation is unacceptable.

Survey results notwithstanding, the most influential observers of race relations in the United States—prominent academics, journalists, and political figures—are deeply divided over the prospects for overcoming traditional racial divisions (Black, 2002). On one side are those who see no relief in sight from continuing conflict between African Americans and Whites (Bell, 1992; Hacker, 1995) and an apocalyptic few who predict a coming race war (Rowan, 1996). These observers trace the problem to the pervasiveness and tenacity of White prejudice toward African Americans: “Racism lies at the center, not the periphery, in the permanent not in the fleeting, in the real lives of black and white people, not in the caverns of the mind” (Bell, 1992, p. 208). On the other side are those who paint a considerably more upbeat picture (Jacoby, 2000). Thernstrom and Thernstrom (1997) argued that African Americans have made substantial gains—economic, educational, and health—in overcoming the effects of past prejudice. They attribute pockets of persisting inequality not to White racism but rather to racial gaps in educational attainment, to the rise in African-American crime, and to the structure of the African-American family.

Most social psychologists who study racial attitudes seem to line up with the pessimists. They are skeptical of the depth and sincerity of the changes in racial attitudes shown in representative-sample surveys. Commenting on such surveys, they conjecture that it is only “plausible that prejudice was on the decline”; alternatively “it was also possible that prejudice was taking more subtle and insidious forms to which the available assessment methods were largely insensitive” (Brauer, Wasel, & Niedenthal, 2000, p. 79). Others echo this skepticism about whether the purported steep decline in prejudice is genuine (e.g., Dovidio & Gaertner, 2000; Greenwald & Banaji, 1995, p. 15; Rudman, Ashmore, & Gary, 2001.) Whites, they suggest, have learned to say the right thing, but they have not truly internalized the egalitarian ideals that would justify calling them nonracist (Jackman & Jackman, 1983).
(Attributions of Implicit Prejudice, Psychological Inquiry, 2004, 15, 4, 279). Institutions are in the same boat with social scientists, searching for ways to move forward even in the face of the storm of recent outbreaks in unlikely places - professional sports:
The NBA opened an investigation and the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People said it would not give Sterling a lifetime achievement award which he had been scheduled to receive next month. The NAACP honoured him in 2009 despite accusations of racism in a lawsuit brought then by the team's former general manager, Elgin Baylor.

Sterling became a national pariah over the weekend after the news site TMZ posted a 10-minute recording of what it said was a 9 April conversation he had with his girlfriend, Vanessa Stiviano, 38.

"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people,” the man identified as Sterling says at one point in the recording, scolding the woman for posting photos of herself with black people.

“I'm just saying, in your … Instagrams, you don't have to have yourself with, walking with black people.”

The male voice singles out Magic Johnson, the retired basketball star and investor: "Don't put him on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games."

In response Johnson, who used to play for the Los Angeles Lakers and is in the NBA Hall of Fame, used Twitter to say: "I will never go to a Clippers game again as long as Donald Sterling is the owner.”
(ibid, Backlash Against LA Clippers Owner). In an election year, when republicans seek to gain minority voters, this is a boon to democrats running for various offices in the government.

Meanwhile, the generators of social ignorance are busy in our culture, attempting to wire us with more ignorance about race (Agnotology: The Surge).

If further racial polarization takes place it will not help us to rid those old threadbare circuits from our cultural amygdala.

And like the return of the tornadoes last night, after breaking a record that has existed for 99 years (we had no tornado deaths this year until last night), a racial outbreak is not something we look forward to.

The next post of this series is here.

Telegraph Road, by Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits)


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