Thursday, January 22, 2009

America, Racism, and What Didn't Happen at Virginia Tech

All Muslims are not terrorists. Islam isn't attacking America and other countries. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and like-minded fanatics are.

(I do tie all this together, just a few paragraphs down.)

But, since those terrorists think they're Muslims, it's not beyond belief that they may contact, or try to influence, Muslims in America. Which means that law enforcement agencies might want to talk with American Muslims, and encourage them to feel like part of the local society. Not everybody thinks this is a good idea. Putting it mildly.

And it's very easy, given some rather common assumptions, to cry "racial profiling," and be taken seriously - whether you've got a case, or not. I realize that it's wrong to assume that's someone is guilty, based on having a funny name, or some other irrelevant factor. That sort of "racial profiling" isn't just wrong: it's stupid, wasting time and resources.

But institutionalized, officially supported, racism is, if not completely gone, well on its way to being eliminated. The Rutherford B. Hayes administration ended a long time ago, World War II has been over for more than a half-century, and it's time for everyone to pay attention to what's happening now.

And, what's not happening.

Another Murder at Virginia Tech: And Nobody's Crying "Yellow Peril!"

Another murder on the Virginia Tech campus hit the news today. Xin Yang, a graduate student from China, was killed - an decapitated - by Haiyang Zhu, another graduate student from China.

" 'An act of violence like this brings back memories of April 16,' university President Charles Steger said. 'I have no doubt that many of us feel especially distraught.'..." (The Associated Press) That masterful understatement referred to the last acts of Seung-Hui Cho, a Virginia Tech student who killed 32 people before killing himself, back in 2007.

There's something missing from every news article I've read about the murder, and the mass murder at Virginia Tech in 2007. Nobody seems to think that there's some significance to the killers in both cases being Asian.

It makes sense, since there isn't any reason to think so, in what's been published.

But 'making sense' isn't a high priority for the sort of people who were worried about the "Yellow Peril" a century ago.

America has changed since the Rutherford B. Hayes Administration

"Everybody knows," in some circles, that America is fundamentally racist. I would no more expect to change the opinion of someone who believes that, than I would expect to convince a white supremacist that it's okay to share a neighborhood with blacks, Jews, and Catholics.

There's a bit of truth to the idea that America is a racist country. Particularly if you ignore everything that's happened since about 1950.

For example, my ancestors faced "Irish Need Not Apply" signs. One of them, asked about the family of an utterly unsuitable person who was sniffing around her daughter replied, "he doesn't have family, he's Irish."

Quite a few Irishmen, and Chinese, built the American railroad network, back in the nineteenth century. If anything, the Chinese were treated worse than the Irish.

When a lot of people came to the American west from east Asia, after the 1849 Gold Rush, they were the target of racist attacks. I don't think it helped, that some of these immigrants were shipped east to break strikes. President Rutherford B. Hayes wrote in his diary, "I would consider with favor any suitable measures to discourage the Chinese from coming to our shores." That was in 1879.

Congress passed The Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, and made the act permanent in 1904. Well, fairly permanent. Times had changed in 1943, when China was an important ally against Japan. The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed, and it didn't come back.

But What About the Japanese?

I haven't forgotten Japanese Americans during World War II, the internment camps and confiscated property.

It took a while, but the American government finally apologized for Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 (February 1942), with Public Law 100-383 (better known as the Civil Liberties Act of 1988)- signed into law on August 10, 1988.1

And, putting money where its mouth was, started the process of paying reparations to the people who had their property and their freedom take from them. (Actually signing the checks took even longer, but it did happen.) 2

What's the Point?

America isn't perfect, but it isn't the racist oppressor that some people seem to believe it is. As I've written before, I'm relieved that American courts are dealing with all those broken treaties with Indian nations. And, I can't approve of the way this country acquired Hawaii, or how the Union treated the south in the days of the Reconstruction's carpetbaggers.

But that was then. America has learned, and changed. I think it helped that people from all over the world have been coming here, and showing that you don't have to be a Yankee to be a good neighbor and citizen, but that's a whole different topic.

There will always be people with severe biases, racial and otherwise. But they aren't the ones running the country.

Wake up, everybody: It's the 21st century.

Related posts:
In the news:
Background:
Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.

Updated (January 23, 2009)

Speculation about the recent murder being "racist" has begun (in a poker forum's 'off topic' area).

The idea that this disgusting murder has something to do with "racism" seems to be spreading, judging from this blog post: "My thoughts on Virgina Tech, Asians, Condolescences,[!] Racism and etc[!]"

I see that the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) had some pretty good advice, dating back to the 2007 mass murder at Virginia Tech:

"Media Advisory: Coverage on Virginia Tech Shooting Incident"
AAJA (April 16, 2007)

"As coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting continues to unfold, AAJA urges all media to avoid using racial identifiers unless there is a compelling or germane reason. There is no evidence at this early point that the race or ethnicity of the suspected gunman has anything to do with the incident, and to include such mention serves only to unfairly portray an entire people.

"The effect of mentioning race can be powerfully harmful. It can subject people to unfair treatment based simply on skin color and heritage.

"We further remind members of the media that the standards of news reporting should be universal and applied equally no matter the platform or medium, including blogs.

I see that I was following the AAJA's 2007 advice, since "there is a compelling or germane reason" for mentioning race and ethnicity in this post.

I'm not at all surprised. There are people who believe that Asians are 'those people,' and 'not us.' And, who don't like anybody who is not 'us.' But, as I said, they're not running the country.

1 Curiously, two of America's better-known presidents were involved in taking property from Japanese Americans and locking them up. Franklin Roosevelt gave the order, Ronald Reagan signed the act that apologized for it, and got the ball rolling on at least a token restitution.

2 Eventually, someone's going to figure out what I think about racial reparations, from what I wrote (December 18, 2008) about "...'social justice' - which seems to involve taking money away from one set of people and giving it to another, because of what a third set of people did over a century ago...."

I don't think race reparations, American style, are a good idea, since there are no people alive today, who actually experienced slavery in the Old South. And, if we're going to start rewarding people damages because of what happened to their ancestors, there's almost no end to it.

For example, since I'm half Irish, I could claim that I should be given reparations from England, for the way Henry VII and others treated my ancestors. And, I could join the English in demanding reparations from Norway, and Denmark, based on what the Vikings did, about a thousand years ago.

I'm half Norwegian, and the odds are pretty good that I've got ancestors who were involved in the Viking raids: so I'd better start looking for someone else to demand money from.

The Irish, English, and Norwegians could, collectively, as northern Europeans, demand reparations from Italy, since their ancestors were more-or-less directly oppressed by the Romans. And Rome is in Italy.

It doesn't need to stop there. All Europeans, Italians included, could demand reparations from Ukraine, since the Scythians (people who lived where Ukraine is now, more or less) harassed the Romans (and practically everyone else they could reach). And Ancient Rome, after all, laid the foundation for Western Civilization. (Inconsistent? Sure, why not? We're talking Rights and Social Justice here.)

Ukrainians, in turn, could demand reparations from Iran, since the Persians oppressed them. Well, Darius I tried to invade their territory. Unsuccessfully.

Iran? My guess is that, digging back far enough, I'd find someone who 'oppressed' Persia.

The point? Bad as slavery was, that was then. This is now.

The individuals around back in the days of slavery are dead: slaves and slave owners alike. I don't see the point in rewarding one ethnic group, based on what happened to (many of) their ancestors, at the expense of other people who had nothing to do with the offense.

The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 is, really, different.

It involved an official apology - long overdue - and payment to individuals whose property was taken, and who were imprisoned during WWII. The reparations were not to all Japanese Americans. Just, as far as I can tell, to the individuals who were hurt. It's been expensive: As of August, 1994, the Civil Rights Division's Office of Redress Administration (ORA) had paid about $1,590,000,000 to 79,943 Japanese Americans. But, I think, worth it.

http://anotherwaronterrorblog.blogspot.com/2009/02/honor-killing-muzzammil-hassan-and.html

9 comments:

James said...

Just, as far as I can tell, to the individuals who were hurt.

Actually, no, which is why I'm surprised that you're suggesting this act can be distinguished from reparations for slavery.

In cases where the victims themselves were dead, the Act paid reparations to their spouses. If the spouses were also dead, the money went to the descendants of the victims.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

James,

I see.

I did not find that stipulation in my research.

Thanks for bringing this up. For what it's worth, I thought that descendants of the victims were rewarded, too: but couldn't back that up.

I still think there is a difference, between resolving an issue which, at the time of the 1988 act, involved people who had personally experienced the injustice - and an institution which was abolished over a century ago, and was practiced primarily in a part of the States which was brutally punished by Union generals, retributive aspects of the Reconstruction, and a regional bias which is only now beginning to fade.

I am no fan of slavery, I am profoundly glad that the practice was ended in this country, and I am certainly not among the "the South shall rise again" camp.

I am, however, concerned about the habit of classifying people by ethnic origin, and not individual identity.

As I've mentioned before, things aren't simple: and this situation certainly isn't.

Do you have any source for the reparations going to spouses or descendants? I thought this was the case, too, but did not find a resource to back up my assumption.

James said...

... an issue which, at the time of the 1988 act, involved people who had personally experienced the injustice ...

I'm not sure I quite follow you. Many of those people were long dead, and their descendants were being paid the reparations.

How is this any different from reparations for slavery, where the victims are long dead? True, they've been dead longer, and none of the slaves are still alive, rather than some of the victims, as in the more recent case. Is any of that relevant, though?

... an institution which was abolished over a century ago ...

I think it's important to bear in mind that most reparations advocates aren't asking for compensation for what slaves suffered through.

They're asking for financial assistance in making right the legacy of slavery and discrimination as that history affects blacks today. That's about direct harm being suffered by people alive today.

... practiced primarily in a part of the States which was brutally punished by Union generals ...

I agree that the South suffered tremendously, during and after the Civil War, and has endured regional bias ever since.

However, slavery was not "practiced primarily" in the South. This myth is another indignity which the South has had to suffer.

In fact, slavery was widespread in the North, and was not abolished until the Civil War. Slavery was central to the colonial economy in the North, and businesses directly tied to slavery were essential to the economy of the northern states after independence from Great Britain.

I am, however, concerned about the habit of classifying people by ethnic origin, and not individual identity.

So am I, Brian.

I do, however, want to make sure that we don't allow the goal of being a race- and ethnicity-neutral society to obscure the lingering effects of slavery and discrimination on our society today.

Even if we could suddenly abolish all remaining traces of prejudice, a completely race-neutral approach would blind us to the other remaining effects of our history on citizens of different races.

Do you have any source for the reparations going to spouses or descendants?

I've read the Act, and the various follow-up legislation, rules and reports. Do you want me to try to dig up citations?

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

James,

It's true that many of the people who had been interred during WWII were "long dead" by 1988. About 45 years had elapsed since internment started.

On the other hand, many were alive. Remember, even then, America wasn't trying to kill Japanese-Americans, just (unreasonably, unjustly) contain them.

"They're asking for financial assistance in making right the legacy of slavery and discrimination as that history affects blacks today. That's about direct harm being suffered by people alive today."

I'm sorry: I'm really not politically correct on this point.

Between Affirmative Action, low interest loans, racial quotas (which included keeping Asians out of west-coast colleges in some cases: they were too smart - There's a somewhat biased view of the practice at http://www.modelminority.com/article975.html.), and an assortment of habits which came to be called 'reverse discrimination,' I think an argument could be made that the 'disadvantaged' black has been reparated a little bit already.

And, I'd feel a little silly, calling the president of the United States a victim.

Which is a whole different topic.

And - slavery widespread in the North? Interesting assertion, and not entirely consistent with the 'underground railroad,' which allegedly smuggled people out of the south, into the north.

Harriet Tubman seems to have been engaged in an exercise in futility.

James said...

On the other hand, many were alive.

That's true. I'm just not sure how it makes any difference. If it's illegitimate to pay the descendants of a group of victims, all of whom are dead, then surely it's illegitimate to pay the descendants of the dead members of a group of victims, too?

In other words, if it's okay to pay reparations to the concentration camp survivors and the descendants of those who are dead, what's the principled basis for not paying the descendants of a group who are all dead?

I'm sorry: I'm really not politically correct on this point.

Well, please don't apologize for that. :-)

I think an argument could be made that the 'disadvantaged' black has been reparated a little bit already.

Only if you really mean it when you say "a little bit," but you sound like you mean this should dismiss calls for reparations.

We know how far behind the freed slaves were in 1865, how far their families were in each year after that, and how far behind those families are today.

There's no question that progress has been very, very slow over the years, and that it's hardly varied at all depending on such programs. Over all, the legal equality introduced in the 1960s, and these programs, in their clumsy ways, have done a bit of good, but not much. Certainly blacks have not been "put right," or anything close to it.

This is hardly a surprise, of course. Affirmative action, for instance, has benefited other groups (white women, for instance) far more than blacks. I'm not even familiar with the widespread, low-interest loans you're talking about.

I'd feel a little silly, calling the president of the United States a victim.

And yet we know that despite being half white, and having so many advantages in life, he still suffered racial prejudice all his life.

More importantly, though, he didn't labor under most of the material disadvantages that the descendants of slaves so often do. His ancestors owned slaves; they weren't slaves, and thus didn't lose everything in that process, or have to suffer in the century of discrimination which followed.

Interesting assertion, and not entirely consistent with the 'underground railroad,' which allegedly smuggled people out of the south, into the north.

There was an Underground Railroad, certainly.

There were also underground routes by which free blacks were kidnapped from the North and taken into slavery in the South.

But what's inconsistent about the Underground Railroad, which was obviously operated by abolitionists, and the existence of widespread slavery in the North? Abolitionists were a determined minority in the North.

It may help to mention that there were relatively few slaves in the North in its prime years, the decades leading up to the Civil War. The North primarily had slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries, while in the 18th and 19th centuries its economy was largely centered around slavery in other regions (the American South and the West Indies).

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

James,

I observed that things aren't simple.

That said, I'll make a simple reply: mostly since giving preferential treatment to one ethnic group, based on what happened in the 16th through 19th centuries, isn't the focus of this blog.

I outlined how race reparations could be applied to the Irish, English, Norwegian, and so on back to the Scythians and beyond, to show how, once we start demanding payback for past wrongs, there is no clear place to stop.

As for the poor, downtrodden, disadvantaged black Americans: I have no doubt that many black do feel downtrodden and oppressed. In their position, I might, too.

I'm just profoundly thankful thankful that my ancestors didn't get the sort of 'help' that one ethnic minority has been receiving for about forty years now.

James said...

I outlined how race reparations could be applied to the Irish, English, Norwegian, and so on back to the Scythians and beyond

Well, you outlined how you believe that might be done, and I respect that, but I don't see how you would actually justify it.

It's true that most groups have suffered at the hands of other groups in the historical past.

However, even if the original circumstances are as clear-cut as American slavery, in most cases that historical past is too distant, and with too many intervening events, to be able to say that the group as a whole still suffers from those disadvantages, and that another group benefits. The victim group may have oppressed other groups, or at least benefited from the enslavement or exploitation of other groups. The institutions which enslaved the victim group no longer exist, so that all that is left would be to seek compensation from people on the basis of mere ancestry.

These objections would nullify the examples you give.

In the case of American slavery, however, responsible institutions still exist, and they and the people they serve still enjoy clear benefits from the wrongdoing. Likewise, the descendants of the victims still suffer clear harm, without yet having enjoyed enough benefits from other sources, or simply enough time to overcome those disadvantages, that the harm is no longer recognizable.

I have no doubt that many black do feel downtrodden and oppressed.

You have no doubt that American blacks "feel" downtrodden? The statistics which show that they still suffer from racial inequality, derived from our history of slavery and discrimination, aren't enough to elevate them to genuine victims in your mind?

This sounds to me as though you're deliberately refusing to recognize basic, well-established facts about racial inequality in the U.S. I'm sure that's not true, but I'm at a loss to understand what is behind a comment like that.

my ancestors didn't get the sort of 'help' that one ethnic minority has been receiving for about forty years now

If your ancestors were white Americans, then they received far more in benefits from the legacy of slavery than today's blacks have received from programs like affirmative action.

This is true whether your ancestors were here in early colonial days, or arrived as immigrants after slavery ended.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

James,

In an earlier comment, you said: "Even if we could suddenly abolish all remaining traces of prejudice, a completely race-neutral approach would blind us to the other remaining effects of our history on citizens of different races."

That sounds good: until the question of where to stop comes up.

If blacks are special, so that only their ethnic complaints may be heard, and no other group is allowed to bring up their history of oppression, the chain of accusation and reparation will go back through white Americans and European countries in the slave trade, and end with whoever sold people to the slave traders in the first place.

And that will be an end to it.

If, however, non-blacks are allowed to bring up what somebody else did to their ancestors, we have the absurd situation I outlined earlier.

You referred to it in this quote (italicized):

"I outlined how race reparations could be applied to the Irish, English, Norwegian, and so on back to the Scythians and beyond

"Well, you outlined how you believe that might be done, and I respect that, but I don't see how you would actually justify it."

I do not try to justify shaking down Ukraine because of what their ancestors did to the people who bugged my ancestors.

I made that chain of blame in an attempt to demonstrate how futile it would be, to try to extort money from all the bad guys, and give it to the poor victims.

You, and quite a few others, are convinced that black people should be given money because they're black, and had ancestors who weren't treated well.

You will probably get your way.

I tend to think of people as individuals, not units of ethnic groups, but that approach to humanity is not all that popular in the upper echelons of American society these days.

And, the idea that blacks are constantly suffering under the iron heel of white oppression is quite well-established. I won't be surprised, for example, when someone refers to President Obama as being "lynched," when someone strongly opposes or criticizes him.

And that point is as close as this discussion comes to the topic of this post.

The matter of race reparations and victimization as an economic/political tool is a valid topic for discussion: but that's not the focus of this blog.

James said...

That sounds good: until the question of where to stop comes up.

It's perfectly fair to argue that justice can become a slippery slope.

However, when you say it like that, it sounds almost as if you want to deny justice altogether, out of concern that it could be taken too far.

If blacks are special, so that only their ethnic complaints may be heard ....

They're not, and they shouldn't be.

It's true that the situation of each group is unique, but no group should receive justice to the exclusion of others.

If, however, non-blacks are allowed to bring up what somebody else did to their ancestors, we have the absurd situation I outlined earlier.

No, that's not the case. That's why I took the time to explain why I don't believe that most groups have a similar claim.

The flip side of this is that the United States doesn't have the same kind of obligation to most groups. To Native Americans, surely, and to a limited extent to Americans of Hispanic and Asian descent. But not to most groups, including any of those you mentioned before.

I made that chain of blame in an attempt to demonstrate how futile it would be ....

I appreciate that, which is why I tried to show that there are key elements of any claim for present-day justice which are present in the case of the descendants of American slaves, and which are absent in the other cases you mentioned.

You, and quite a few others, are convinced that black people should be given money because they're black, and had ancestors who weren't treated well.

Actually, no.

I don't believe that black people should be given money at all.

Mainstream reparations advocates don't believe in giving money to any individuals.

They also don't believe in giving money to, or for the benefit of, anyone because of their race.

And, finally, they don't call for reparations because of how people's ancestors were treated.

The mainstream reparations movement, whatever you or I think about it, is about seeking social solutions to present-day problems, not compensation to individuals, and is about redress for harm today which was caused by slavery and discrimination ... not payment for the harm caused to those long dead.

By the way, referring to the millions of American slaves as people "who weren't treated well" sounds as if you're minimizing the greatest stain on the nation's history. This was part of the most brutal system in human history, far worse in scope and treatment than, for instance, the Nazi Holocaust.

I tend to think of people as individuals, not units of ethnic groups ....

That's funny, so do I.

Of course, people are often treated on the basis of group affiliation or common characteristics, so it can sometimes be helpful to understand individual situations in part on that basis.

For instance, we don't have to examine the nation's 36 million blacks one-by-one, to appreciate that by and large, their ancestors were freed from slavery with nothing, and suffered terrible discrimination until quite recently, giving most blacks a substantial disadvantage.

This doesn't mean, of course, that we should treat blacks merely as an ethnic unit.

But if we look at all Americans as individuals without any awareness of race at all, we would be equally wrong. Whites and blacks do face different obstacles and challenges today, as well as benefiting or suffering from different family backgrounds, even if we also vary one-by-one as individuals.

the idea that blacks are constantly suffering under the iron heel of white oppression is quite well-established

This idea can certainly be exaggerated or misused.

But there is also significant racial prejudice operating in our society today, in employment, housing, and so on. Objective well-designed research studies demonstrate this, time and again.

that's not the focus of this blog.

I didn't want to get into this issue, either, Brian.

As you know, you raised the issue of reparations for slavery, and drew a parallel to concentration-camp reparations. I merely wanted to comment on the nature of the latter, since it seemed to me to be directly relevant to the validity of the comparison.

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Blogroll

Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.