Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Racism: New vs. Old

David Brooks informs us,
But the other reason that the civil-rights era comparisons [to Ferguson] were inapt is because the nature of racism has changed. There has been a migration away from prejudice based on genetics to prejudice based on class.
How might that new class-based racism manifest itself in the real world?
This class prejudice is applied to both the white and black poor, whose demographic traits are converging.
That doesn't seem quite right. Consider, for example, Charles Murray's writings: poor white folk are on the wrong end of a cultural divide; poor black folk are on the wrong end of the bell curve.
But classism combines with latent and historic racism to create a particularly malicious brew.
And what is it that percolates from this brew?
People are now assigned a whole range of supposedly underclass traits based on a single glimpse at skin color.
So... unlike old-fashioned racism, where people might be judged by the color of their skin, we now live in a new era in which people are judged by class, which is merely inferred by the color of their skin?

Having described in some detail the manner in which the elite of "18th- and 19th-century Britain" looked down on the poor, it's pretty clear that there's nothing new in the class divide that Brooks describes. The elite of that era might have been more apt to ascribe their success to class and station, while Brooks is enthralled with the notion that we're in a different sort of "meritocracy", but other than that Brooks is still describing people who perceive themselves as being in an elevated social class looking down on those they regard as their inferiors. Classism is anything but new.

Even if I disregard that history and assume that Brooks has identified an actual change in the thought process behind racism, why would it matter? Is the distinction supposedly that the "new" racist will set aside his assumptions based on skin color if the person he assumes to be of an inferior class somehow demonstrates that he's part of the "respectable' meritocracy"? While certainly there are some people, past and present, who see skin color and reach the unyielding conclusion that the person they are looking at is inferior in every way, it seems to me that even in far more overtly racist times, racism has worked in pretty much the way Brooks describes -- an assumption is drawn based on skin color, but with some room for somebody to prove that they're exceptional -- that they're not like the majority of their race, people who can be discounted based on that glimpse of pigmentation. The change Brooks describes is one of degree, not one of kind.

1 comment:

  1. Racism has changed since the Civil Rights Era: it was driven underground and made more subtle and difficult to recognize. But it certainly hasn’t gone away. Like others before him, Brooks pretends that we’re over it, passed it, nothing to see anymore, move along, which is of course horseshit. Redefining and relabeling does nothing to change the basic discrimination still being practiced. Worst of all, though, is that racists are given easy refuge by obfuscation of the sort Brooks offers. Not quite sure why you keep up the Brooks-watch, other than his reliable foolishness giving you something to rant about.