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If it is not immoral to love one's own children more and put them above all

If it is not immoral to love one's own children more and put them above all other children, then why can't that concept be extended to one's own race? Biological polygenesis and philosophy of history makes it clear that colonialism and destruction of indigenous cultures and peoples is not always immoral and human perceptions of skin color will never go away.

Let's start with your second sentence: "Biological polygenesis and philosophy of history make it clear that colonialism and destruction of indigenous cultures is not always immoral." A few obvious points.

First, biological polygenesis (distinct origins for different races) is not widely accepted among scientists. In fact, far as I know, the evidence points in the opposite direction.

Second, even if polygenesis happens to be true, that wouldn't show that colonialism and destruction of indigenous cultures and peoples was okay. Compare: suppose that sometime in the future, humans travel outside the solar system and find intelligent creatures on other planets. Those beings certainly have different origins than we have. But from that it doesn't follow that we would be justified in colonizing them, let alone destroying their culture or killing them. After all, if intelligent aliens make it to earth, that wouldn't make it right for them to colonize us or kill us.

And finally, "philosophy of history" doesn't show what you claim without a very specific, detailed argument about particular cases. No doubt such arguments have been offered. Whether they are any good is another question.

But let's go back to the question you begin with. Let's agree that it's not immoral to love your own children more than other children. That doesn't allow you to ignore the welfare of other children. It doesn't justify you in doing things that actually harm other children. And it certainly doesn't give the law any reason to favor your children, or mine, over anyone else's.

Our emotional attachments are a complicated business. It's true: most (though not all) of my friends are white, like me. But that's a very different thing from my having some sort of general preference for the Caucasian "race" as such. If I subscribed to all sorts of peculiar beliefs about people of other races, I might end up with that attitude. But there's no reason to think the beliefs would stand up to scrutiny. In any case, it would be one thing if, as a matter of psychological fact, we tended to prefer people of our own race to people of other races. But if I think it would be wrong for me to treat my white neighbor in certain ways, then I ought to think it would be equally wrong if my neighbor wasn't white.

Maybe humans will always pay attention to skin color. What they make of it is another matter. My daughter and her friends are much more "color-blind" than people were when I was her age. This strikes me as a very good thing, which brings us to the point we'll end on. In spite of what you seem to suggest, it's hard to make the case that racial preference has done the world any good and easy to make the case that it's done a lot of harm. Extending concepts like love of one's children or love of one's friends to love of one's racial group is skating on micro-thin moral ice.

Is judging a person by their intelligence analogous to racism? A person can't

Is judging a person by their intelligence analogous to racism? A person can't help the genetics that determines their intellectual capacity and the belief in the superiority of intelligent people seems to arguably be a basis for social inequalities.

Great question!

Some preliminary thoughts: Racism seems to involve treating a group of persons who share an ethnic identity with derision, disrespect, and partial disadvantage. Accounts of racism today are controversial, but I propose that a comprehensive account of racism should involve both action as well as attitudes. What you write suggests that one reason why racism is inappropriate / unjust / wrong, is that persons cannot help being a certain ethnicity. I suggest, however, that racism would be wrong whether or not one could voluntarily adopt or abandon a race or ethnicity. If I converted to Judaism and, in the eyes of the world I became Jewish, anti-semitism would still be wrong even though I could have remained a Christian. In a related way, I suggest it would still be wrong to discriminate against homosexuals whether or not a person can choose whether to be homosexual or not.

It should be added as a side point that the very category of "race" is vexing. Some think of race as a social construct. If that is true, then (paradoxically) it could turn out that races do not exist as real things / categories, but racists do. This might be analogous to the idea that while it turns out that there are no witches (persons with supernatural powers to cast spells etc) but there have been witch-hunters.

On to intelligence: I suspect that some kinds of preferential treatment of persons based on intelligence would seem like racism. The following examples seem unjust: a policy in which only highly intelligent people have a right not to be tortured, but less intelligent people may be tortured for any reason whatever; a policy in which intelligent people can enslave those less intelligent, etceteras. But sometimes discrimination in which intelligence is a factor seems fair and prudent. Wouldn't you want intelligent persons to be pilots, surgeons, sailers, etc, rather than persons who are not intelligent --here I mean intelligent in the sense of mastering the relevant skills? Presumably, too, for a university to accept students on the basis of intelligence (including the capacity to learn) seems reasonable, right?

But you may be on to a very interesting worry. Some persons may be very vain and assume that they are superior to others on the grounds of some kind of measure of intelligence, when they are utterly inferior when it comes to matters of compassion, caring for others, generosity, courage, humility, poetic and artistic expressiveness, and so on. I suggest that someone we might call intelligent could turn out to be merely clever, but that is different from recognizing that someone is wise.

For a while now there have been controversies about professional sports teams

For a while now there have been controversies about professional sports teams that use Native American characters or tribes as mascots (the Washington Redskins, for example). One point often made by people that support keeping the mascots is that there are surveys that indicate that Native Americans themselves don't find the mascots offensive. Ironically, they say, it is only white liberals who seem upset about this alleged racism. Suppose it were really true than a strong majority of Native Americans did not find Native American mascots offensive. Would this show that there is indeed nothing objectionable about them? Or might we dare to say, "Well, Native Americans don't think that they are being insulted or harmed by these mascots, but they're just wrong about that."

Just because a group or even a person does not recognize they are being disadvantaged by a particular practice it does not follow that they are not being disadvantaged. Feminists have the notion of false consciousness, and ethnic minorities often internalize society's view of them so that this does not appear to be objectionable. So the feelings of the group referred to by the name is not a decisive aspect of the issue, although I agree it is certainly important.

I think we have to think about whether a particular designation is respectful and whether it could contribute to furthering stereotyping and systems of disadvantage.

Isn't racist to find the word "nigger" racist? As in when it's merely said

Isn't racist to find the word "nigger" racist? As in when it's merely said around you and not directed towards you. When someone calls another an "asshole," there isn't a normally a particular ethnicity that comes to mind -- yet The "N" Word is automatically associated with people of African descent. This all seems to fit into the ideology of race making racism possible.

I'll have to admit that I'm having a bit of trouble following you.

In the sorts of cases that matter for this discussion, the "N" word is a slur. It's also a slur that, unlike "asshole," has a racial meaning. It's belittling someone because of their race. I think we agree on all that. The reason the "N" word brings "a particular ethnicity" to mind is because of what the word means; no mystery there. You write "yet the 'N' word is automatically associated with people of African descent" as though this was somehow puzzling or in need of explanation, but there's no puzzle that I can see.

Close enough for present purposes, a racist is someone who has a negative view of some people simply because of their race or who mistreats people on account of their race. Seems pretty clear that that's bad; also seems pretty clear that there are plenty of people like that. Using a racial epithet like the "N" word is stereotypically racist behavior, and I can't see why that should seem puzzling.

So what's left is your first sentence and your last one. Start with the first. You suggest that it's racist to find the "N" word racist even when the person making is judgment isn't the target of the insult. But why? I don't have to be the target of an insult to recognize that someone has been insulted, just as I don't have to be the one who was hit to tell that someone was assaulted.

So let's consider your last sentence: "This all seems to fit into the ideology of race making racism possible." Now it's certainly true: without racial distinctions, racism isn't possible. You can't demean or mistreat someone on account of their race unless we can talk about their race in the first place. Same goes for gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, economic status, educational level and so on. But if I recognize that someone is being shunned simply because they don't have much money, I'm not buying into an ideology; I'm recognizing bad behavior. Same in the case of race.

Now someone might argue that by acknowledging race at all, we help make racism possible. But let's think that through. I might think that race is a category with no interesting biological basis. I might think that distinctions among so-called races are shallow. I might also think it would be better if we all just left the idea of race behind. But thoughts like that might be exactly why why I object to racial slurs. We don't live in a post-racial society, and pretending that we do doesn't make it so. Racism is real and it's wrong. Even if I dream of a world where people are judged by the content of the character and not the color of their skin, that's not the world we live in.

One last stab: maybe the idea is that the best thing to do with racism is to ignore it. By calling it out, we draw attention to it and help keep the idea that race is important alive. If that's the thought, then there's an empirical question in front of us: what ways of responding to racism are most likely to help bring it to an end? In particular: would ignoring people who make racist insults be better in the long run than worrying about it or calling it out?

Since this is an empirical question, I can't pretend that I know the answer a priori, but even a casual glance at history makes a strong case for saying that confronting racism rather than ignoring it is what's brought about the demise of many ills (slavery being an obvious example), and the diminishment of others (job discrimination, for example.) The question of how best to move forward isn't always easy to answer, and if that's part of your point, I agree. But it seems to me that we have a ways to go, and I find it hard to convince myself that racist acts and attitudes will go away if only people of good will ignore them.

Given how evil slavery was isn't it inappropriate that we (Americans) have

Given how evil slavery was isn't it inappropriate that we (Americans) have portraits of pro-slavery politicians on our money?

You raise a question which is particularly relevant where I live in Kentucky, since the town of Lexington is full of statues of Confederate soldiers, who were presumably defending slavery. Yet the former slave market has only a small plaque commemorating it. Should any civilized person have always realized that slavery was wrong, even it was legal? And should we as a consequence take a critical attitude to the moral stature of those who did not refuse to have slaves?

I am not sure that we should. After all, there are many issues on which apparently good people do not appreciate the full ethical ramifications of what they do. To take an example, I think that one day our society will be amazed that it was prepared to slaughter and consume animals, especially in the mechanized ways in which this miserable process often takes place. Does that mean that all contemporary carnivores are insensitive and immoral brutes? Not at all, some of my best friends are carnivores and apart from their proclivity to eat animals, everything else is working very well in their moral sphere.

The same thing could be said about former slave owners. Indeed, we might go further and say that important historical figures were often very flawed and yet it is worth celebrating their contribution to our country despite this. To take another example, I have no doubt both that Heidegger was a great philosopher and an unrepentant Nazi. Should the latter interfere in our celebration of his philosophical status? No, there is a difference between being great and being nice. Life would be simpler if this difference did not exist but it does.

Is it racist to assert that violence within African-American communities is

Is it racist to assert that violence within African-American communities is driven more by cultural factors than economic factors?

I think the natural question to ask here is: why do you think that? I am not aware of any evidence that would license such a claim, and in the absence of any such evidence, I would have to conclude that such a judgment could only be based on racism.

Is the expression "white trash" racist toward non-whites because it implies that

Is the expression "white trash" racist toward non-whites because it implies that non-whites or certain non-white races are "trash" by default? Does the expression really imply that though? That is, is it (either the expression itself or the utterance, considered as separate questions) racist if we look at the expression in itself without considering whether a person understands its implied meaning? Perhaps we could also ask if maybe those who don't understand its implied meaning still have an unconscious understanding of its actual meaning and are therefor racist for making an utterance of that expression? Obviously the expression is an expression of class contempt which is arguably as ugly as racism but that's another issue.

It is racist and you cannot divorce a statement from its implied meaning. That is what implied meaning means!

In the part of the United States in which I live "white trash" is often used to describe white people who live like black people, and the expectation is obviously that this is inappropriate or worth noting by the use of the expression.

Is it racist to use the word "niggardly," despite the word not being

Is it racist to use the word "niggardly," despite the word not being etymologically related to the notorious N-word?

It's not clear to me which of two questions you're asking: (a) Is it always racist to use the word "niggardly"? (b) Can it be racist to use the word "niggardly"? I'd answer "no" to (a). It's not racist, and it's accurate, to describe Ebenezer Scrooge (before his conversion) as a niggardly character. But suppose someone uses "niggardly," perhaps mistakenly thinking that it's related to the N-word, in order to express racial hatred. I think that counts as a racist use of "niggardly," so I'd answer "yes" to (b).

Can a white male ever legitimately speak about racism or sexism?

Can a white male ever legitimately speak about racism or sexism?

As a white male myself, I guess I'm answering your question in the affirmative by even presuming to post an answer to it at all. Surely the question you asked is so broad that no one could reasonably answer it in the negative. Racism exists: some people or practices are racist. Sexism exists: some people or practices are sexist. There: I've said it, and I defy any reasonable person to deny my assertions or call them "illegitimate." Now, it's a harder and more interesting question exactly how much a white male can say about racism or sexism without losing credibility on those issues, but I'm inclined to think that a white male could, in principle, become the world's foremost authority on racism and sexism, and the burden of proof would rest with anyone who said he couldn't speak legitimately on this or that particular aspect of those issues: we'd be owed an explanation why not.

What is the nature of "privilege", as in "white privilege"? Is it just the

What is the nature of "privilege", as in "white privilege"? Is it just the statistical fact that (for instance) people of European descent tend to be more prosperous overall than others? Or is it something more substantial?

Perhaps examining the root meaning of "privilege" could help us unpack this question a bit. The term means "private-law" - or to put it another way - the laws that operate for most persons do not apply to some particular thing or person or group. For example, one might have "privileged information" which means it is not available to most others.

When I teach a college class of students from a wide variety of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, I am keenly aware of the disparity of their life circumstances. But the very fact that they are in college is a form of "privilege" insofar as the vast majority of human beings (across cultures and time) have not had access to higher education - and advantages that follow from this privilege may continue to accrue throughout life, regardless of race, gender or class.

When we look at various and exceptional gains that appear to be generated by groups, we see real clusters of advantages in terms of race or whatever other category/social marker you choose. The term White privilege suggests that the question of color does not occur to white folks - precisely because they are the "normative" human in some societies; others are outliers identified with markers such as "race." "White privilege" - even if dirt poor and uneducated - exists because the social laws that apply to them differ than from the "others". Think how different is the mundane experience of shopping or driving and how one is followed or pulled over based on perceptions of race.

The prosperity of persons of European descent is not neutral data or statistical fact, but must be understood within a whole context of a dominant culture that skews advantage in a particular way, unevenly, to the group deemed to be the norm. White males have been at the top of the pyramid with white women reaping the rewards of privilege by attaching to an elite male (i.e. a "good catch!").

A great question - I hope others will respond to give a more fulsome reply.

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