Racism, Bias, and Utopia

Racism, if it means anything definable at all (and I have never been completely certain that it does), is strictly a description of a certain subjective attitude regarding racial differences, and in particular an attitude of irrational or illegitimate bias for or against people primarily on the basis of race, however race is defined. Racism cannot be treated as a crime, because it is not an action but a frame of mind. Neither can it be ascribed to anyone concretely by way of inference from anything he says which is not directly expressive of such irrational or illegitimate bias (e.g., “I hate white people”). An attitude is not susceptible to easy inference from indirect evidence, partly because an attitude is a subjective experience, and partly because few attitudes exist in isolation from many other, often contradictory, attitudes. 

Furthermore, I qualify the bias involved in racism as necessarily being “irrational or illegitimate” — such as presuming that one unknown individual is less intelligent, less virtuous, or less worthy of basic respect than another unknown individual on the basis of their racial differences alone — for to omit that qualification, as our progressively enlightened vanguard systematically attempts to do today, implies that all bias related in any way to racial differences is essentially immoral. But this latter implication is tantamount to condemning personal bias as such, regardless of context or intent. Two simple personal examples will clarify the distinction I have just made.

First, about thirteen years ago, I was the head teacher at a private English academy for children in an old, working class, somewhat parochial city here in Korea. As part of that job, I was tasked with interviewing and recommending all new native English teachers at the academy, and then training and orienting them upon arrival. One of the teachers we hired was a young black woman from California who had worked in Korea before, and therefore “knew what she was getting into,” shall we say. On the morning after her twelve-hour flight from Los Angeles, I met her for a short walk around her new neighborhood to help her locate the nearest supermarket, the coffee shops, and so on. At one point, we walked past two middle-aged men having a smoke on the sidewalk, and one of them stepped forward, laughingly, to spew some deep thoughts at my new coworker about “Africa” and “bananas.” Let that suffice as an example of what I would call “irrational or illegitimate racial bias.”

On the other hand, throughout my years teaching young adults in Korea, where I am a member of a small and considerably “marginalized” racial minority, I have often had occasion to ask classes to describe their ideal marriage partner. Sometimes, apart from all the usual considerations of character and temperament, a student will specify that his or her ideal mate should be Korean, i.e., a member of his or her own racial group. Though speaking to me, a white Westerner, these young adults feel no discomfort declaring that they find Koreans inherently more attractive. In our age of indoctrinated hypersensitivity, I suppose I should be deeply offended — “triggered,” as they say — at such a bluntly stated aesthetic bias against my race. And yet I am not offended, because I am not hypersensitive, and therefore grant that it is the most natural thing in the world for a person raised among members of a certain racial group to find the typical traits of that group more attractive and desirable, especially for purposes of marriage and reproduction. This will not always be true, of course, but it often will, and understandably so, just as people from distant regions usually prefer the foods they were raised on, and find your common diet strange or unappetizing. Habit and regular experience establish most of our tastes.

Thus, there is nothing that could properly be called “racism” involved in a person simply feeling more comfortable with people who display the visible characteristics common in the community within which he has lived most of his life. To call such an experiential bias “racism,” as is normally done today — at least when the bias runs in a certain direction — is to imply that all personal preferences which cannot be justified in strict, objective logic are morally objectionable, and hence that the typical, non-malicious emotional effects of our formative experiences must be categorically condemned outright, to be replaced with some sort of officially sanctioned calculus determining which feelings and tastes are the right ones on every subject, in every situation. Even harboring a lifelong preference for the music you grew up on, the stories you were taught as a child, or the particular family members you lived with, would have to be regarded as immoral on these terms. (Consider, if you think these latter comparisons are exaggerated, the frequent attempts by progressive education “experts” to stigmatize and eliminate the formation of “best friend” relationships among schoolchildren. Their reasoning is based on exactly the principles I have just described.)

To achieve the progressive goal of unbiased purity, perhaps friends, associates, and sexual partners ought to be assigned by lot, on a scheduled rotation, to guarantee that no individual’s emotional preferences, developed from personal context, ever influence social outcomes and arrangements in any way. Perhaps all experience, from earliest childhood, ought to be regimented according to non-experiential (i.e., universal and theoretical) computations of correct attitude and behavior, in order to iron out all the “kinks” — aka individual life and self-development — that used to be regarded as the necessary foundation of any kind of serious learning and character development that might be possible for humans. Perhaps this computational, formulaic method of mind-training would produce the desired social outcomes, though it could do so only at the price of outlawing genuine spiritual growth and self-discovery, which is to say that it would achieve artificial collective goals precisely by undermining the natural and indispensable conditions of individual life. But if your wish were to eliminate all personal bias outright in the name of some hyper-objective notion of justice, then what could be more effective than to dig up the very roots of the problem, and eliminate the individual person?

Yet again, my mind, reflecting on our current climate, bounces right back to Huxley’s Brave New World, and I am reminded, with painful familiarity, that we have already arrived.

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