America’s “Original Sin”

Mr Schraub talks race. Before I get to the claim that slavery is America’s “Original Sin” I’d note that Mr Schraub says that the toxicity of being labeled racist makes “true dialog” about what constitutes racism impossible. ‘Cept that’s not really true. Racism is pretty a pretty simple thing to define. Racism is when one makes decisions or assessments based on race, e.g., voting for Mr Obama on account of his racial makeup. And yes, that makes most “race” activists racist themselves, which on reflection is quite obvious. Those who are conscious and likely to notice race are those more likely to make decisions based purely on that. Racism is felt quite universally to be a bad thing, yet given its prevalence, especially amongst those most vocal about the evils of racism and the neutrality of the definition given, perhaps what Mr Schraub is hinting at is that we need a better discussion of why racism is wrong. If one were to assume that the progressive/left is more racially conscious than the right … and therefore more racist is born up by the data linked last week that highlighted the finding that Black elected officials when elected from a mixed race district were more likely to be Republican than Democrat and those who were Democrat were more often from majority Black districts. In past conversations, Mr Schraub noted that race theorists indeed are aware that their work might serve to heighten and strengthen malign race consciousness that they hope to combat. Yes, but the personal imperatives of personal employment in their chosen field seems to defeat that idea quite handily. 

However, the primary point of this essay is to examine original sin in the context of American history.

St. Augustine of Hippo is perhaps the primary theologian influencing thought regarding Original Sin in the Western strand of Christian theological thought. There are a lot of parallels between that theology and strands of thought about slavery and race in America. Both notions suffer however, from the same sort of mistake. St. Augustine, in summary, taught that Adam’s primordial sin in the garden passes on to all of us. Adam as proto-human committed the sin of disobedience. All men, from birth, share in that guilt. From this viewpoint then, the importance of Penal Substitution and Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross becomes a linchpin of Western soteriology. 

This is however, a quite unnatural way to view justice. If my father steals, I and my children do not share in his guilt. The weight and import (the guilt if you will) of his crime, legal or moral, do not pass to his children. We don’t even consider that in sexual crimes, if a child results, that the child of that act is legally or morally impugned or tainted by that act (well, we don’t justifiably view the child in that way). This is the crux of Augustine’s error.

A better way of viewing Original Sin, which is the prevailing view in the Eastern/non-Augustinian strands of Christian theology, was that we do not inherit guilt or sin from Adam. What we inherit is his exile. Adam, by not being repentant, was cast from the Garden and God’s presence. The consequences of that are estrangement from God and death entering the world. He was exiled. We, as his descendants, share his exile (and to the point, not his guilt). To look at the example from a criminal point of view as was done above, if my parents were exiled as a result of my father’s crime, then I grow up in that place of exile. I inherit the consequence, that is my residence, not the guilt or blame. I and my children are not accountable for this act. From a theological perspective this means in the East, it is the Resurrection which is the dominant soteriological event, not the crucifixion. 

Take this back to the notions about American, race, and slavery. Guilt is, contra-Augustine, not heritable. The social conditions and ethnic consequences do exist. However, nobody living today is accountable for the actions begun in the 16th century by Bartolomé de las Casas and the social mechanisms that unfolded from those social/economic innovations. Perhaps it is the prevalence of St. Augustine’s error found so prevalently that allows those who consider slavery America’s “Original Sin” implies that guilt and things like reparations logically follow. They, alas, don’t. 


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  1. Boonton says:

    First, the analogy (and keep in mind its an analogy, reading too deeply into it is a sin in itself) is that slavery was America’s original sin, not Americans. America as an entity existed back then as it does now and it was an ‘original sin’ in the sense that the ‘fall from grace’ at an otherwise great beginning caused horrorific consquences later on in the Civil War and then beyond.

    Adam, by not being repentant, was cast from the Garden and God’s presence.

    The story I always heard that Adam was cast for disobeying the commandment not ot eat the fruit, not for lack of repentance. The way I always heard the story once the deed was done, Adam’s goose was cooked. God was pissed and Adam was getting a whopping whether or not he said he was sorry. At no point does it appear that Adam asserts he wasn’t wrong to have done what he did. In fact hiding themselves from God and covering their nakedness would seem to indicate that they were sorry for what they did.

  2. Racism is pretty a pretty simple thing to define. Racism is when one makes decisions or assessments based on race….

    What warrant do you have for that being the definition of racism? You throw it out as if it is too obvious for explanation, yet you seem aware that this definition is, to say the least, bitterly contested.

  3. Mark says:

    What warrant (by which I guess you mean justification or support)? Hmm. There’s this guy who was something of an authority on race issues and in part he said,

    … a dream of a land where men no longer argue that the color of a man’s skin determines the content of his character; the dream of a land where every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality-this is the dream. When it is realized, the jangling discords of our nation will be transformed into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood, and men everywhere will know that America is truly the land of the free and home of the brave.

    I’m guessing you of all people might identify the source of that quote.

    So. What does it mean when someone does make decision based on the “color of a man’s skin” (that is race)? Hmm. That would seem to coincide exactly with the definition given.

    It seems to me we’re not “bitterly” what constitutes racism but that you (along with the KKK) seem to think that some racism is good and while many do not.

  4. First, Dr. King’s statement is not necessarily congruent with your own (believing that race “determines the content” of one’s character is quite logically distinct from making decisions or assessment based on race, unless you think that every decision or assessment is based on one’s evaluation of the “content of one’s character”.). Second, it’s merely an appeal to authority, but it doesn’t do you that much good even assuming you’re interpreting Dr. King’s position correctly, since you yourself seem to concede that many other authorities (the dreaded “race theorists”, who, whatever else their foibles might be, are certainly “authorities” in the normal sense) disagree. The whole problem here is that authorities are split.

    So again — what is your reason for defining racism the way you do (for siding with one set of authorities over another)? It can’t possibly be “whatever MLK says, goes”, since you and Dr. King disagree on many important policy questions (“It is impossible to create a formula for the future which does not take into account that our society has been doing something special against the Negro for hundreds of years. How then can he be absorbed into the mainstream of American life if we do not do something special for him now, in order to balance the equation and equip him to compete on a just and equal basis?”). It can’t be simply that one side isn’t disagreeing about the definition of racist but is racist — that’s tautological. Not exactly leading with your strongest arguments, I hope?

  5. Mark says:

    I cited MLK because I thought he’d be an authority to which you would respond. Apparently you do not.

    The reasons that I follow that definition for racism is that I think it is logically consequent on the definitions of racism that I see offered. You (and all the other racists groups) want to argue that there is such a thing as “good” racism. On that I disagree … but not “bitterly.” I think the “bitter divisions” are between different racist groups that argue whether their form of racism is superior.

  6. So we’re still at a (probably bogus) appeal to authority and a tautology (in other words, two logical fallacies). These aren’t even bad reasons, they’re not candidates to be reasons. It’s pathetic. Conservative anti-intellectualism strikes again, I guess.

  7. Mark says:

    I see. Liberal/Progressive pseudo-intellectualism consists of resorting to strawmen and ad hominem as the height of dialectic.

    I didn’t appeal to “authority”, I quoted authority on the off chance that you would find the authority compelling. As for the definition of words, dictionary definitions are reasonable authorities. A paraphrase that depends on inescapable logical consequences of that definition is also reasonable.

    As far as I can see the tautology exists only in your mind, not in anything I said or inferred, or as noted above is your strawman which when raised allows you to cast aspersions. ‘Cause aspersions are the best argument you have, I guess.


    Racism: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.

    or Princeton’s Wordnet adds

    discriminatory or abusive behavior towards members of another race

    My definition of a racist is one who “Racism is when one makes decisions or assessments based on race.” I claim that my definition is logically equivalent. If your action fits my definition it will also fit the ones above.

  8. Finally, we’re getting somewhere, although quoting a dictionary is still an “appeal to authority”. So we’re really not. Never mind.

    Worse yet, your definition is self-evidently not equivalent, logically or otherwise, to the Webster definition (the Princeton one depends on how we define “discriminatory”, though the “or abusive” clause is certainly more expansive than your definition — taken literally, it would label any hostile interracial acts as racist regardless of whether race motivated them. Any abusive speech towards Obama by a White person, for example. I think that’s foolish and thus indicts the definition pretty severely).

    Much like Dr. King’s speech, your definition of “logically equivalent” appears to be some horribly deformed mutant unrecognizable to any logician or linguist. Webster’s definition has two conjunctive prongs: (1) that race is the “primary determinant of human traits”, and (2) that these differences “produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”. Your definition encompasses neither element. Webster, for example, wouldn’t label “racist” a claim that race is secondary or subsidiary (not primary) determinant of human traits, even though that presumably would be an “assessment” on basis of race (indeed, a statement could say absolutely nothing about race being a determinant of human traits and still be racist under your definition; yet, it could not be under the Webster definition). More to the point, Webster requires that the differentiation “produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”, whereas your definition is agnostic as to whether the assessment or decision produces such a superordinating effect (this, of course, is one of the prime differentiators between your definition of race and the main competitors, most of which, like Webster, build in a superordinating/subordinating requirement).

    Even assuming that your definition is congruent with Wordnet, the game is already up, because we’ve established that authorities are split. Which means you need to provide a reason for selecting the authorities you do. Your continued inability to provide one is actually refreshing — it demonstrates that your position just hasn’t been thought through at any level of rigor.

  9. Boonton says:

    So if Mark is using the Webster definition wouldn’t that mean that Charles Murray should be accurately described as a racist academic? His Bell Curve theory holds that IQ is the primary determinant of success, that it is mostly inherited and that races differ in that inherited trait. Yet when Murray was attacked as racist I suspect Mark felt more sympathy for those who claimed he was the victim of political correctness.

  10. Mark says:

    Apparently your notions of logic only apply to syllogism.

    Much like Dr. King’s speech, your definition of “logically equivalent” appears to be some horribly deformed mutant unrecognizable to any logician or linguist. Webster’s definition has two conjunctive prongs: (1) that race is the “primary determinant of human traits”, and (2) that these differences “produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”.

    So. Take the first definition. How will that play out when one considers a person holding those viewpoints regarding their assessments or decisions. It seems logical that race will be the basis of decisions made. Take the second. Hmm. The same holds. So all of these “split” authorities fit the scope of my suggestion. So when I hold that these are logically equivalent, I meant primarily that the result of holding the given positions is that one takes the actions given in the definitions and the converse (taking those actions is an indicator one holds the positions as defined).

    Your continued inability to provide one is actually refreshing — it demonstrates that your position just hasn’t been thought through at any level of rigor

    And, how do you conclude? It seems you conclude with your favorite argumentative technique, at least if frequency is our guide. The insulting ad hominem. Has anyone ever mentioned that’s a rhetorical error?

  11. Mark says:

    What you are dancing around of course, I’m guessing, is that you wholeheartedly agree that everyone you would label “racist” indeed makes decisions or assessments based on race. The problem is that you think this is too expansive. That you think race (and not the quality of a man’s character so to speak) are perfectly good in making certain decisions and assessments which you support. That is to say, as I’ve suggested, that within my definition of racism you think that there exist categories or specific instances which might be called good, necessary, or justifiable racism and reject my suggestion that all racism is rightly tarred with a black brush.

  12. Hey, a new fallacy! Affirming the consequent, come on down! [P –> Q; Q, therefore P].

    Basically, your new fallacy operates as follows. Each time one does something racist under the Webster definition (e.g., act as if race were the primary determinant of character), one is necessarily making an assessment based on race (your definition). Therefore (here comes the fallacy), making an assessment based on race is racist under the Webster definition.

    The fallacy is evident if we alter your definition only slightly: “racism is making assessments”. Not based on race, just assessments in general. And indeed, every time we say that one’s traits are determined primarily on basis of race, we are making an assessment. It will always “play out” that way, as you say. Therefore, making assessments is racist. Except, obviously not. Because P –> Q; Q, therefore P, is a fallacy.

    You aren’t quite correct that “everyone” (or anything?) I’d label “racist” makes decisions or assessments based on race, but let’s run with it for now. You are correct that I think some decisions which take into account (I don’t know how thick “based on” is) race are quite okay, despite the fact that you would call such acts (so far, with no stated justification) racist. What you’re resolutely ignoring is my assertion that these acts aren’t “racist” (not “good racism” or “justifiable racism”, just not racist at all), because I disagree with the as-yet-still-unsupported definition of racism you’re throwing out. And it is whether this (your) definition of racism is correct–or even supported–that we’re interrogating here. If your definition is wrong, then it’s entirely possible that the various race-conscious behaviors I endorse are not racist at all. Even if all racists make decisions based on race, that doesn’t mean all decisions based on race are made by racist, anymore than the fact that all racists contain carbon means all those who contain carbon are racist. P –> Q, Q, therefore P.

    But hey, try, try, try again Mark. At the very least, we’re learning a broad new array of logical fallacies today. I feel like I should be filling out a bingo card.

  13. Mark says:

    You’re falling fallacy detection. My statement was not what you think it was, i.e., [P –> Q; Q, therefore P] These definitions do not rely on one another. My claim is that they overlap. My claim is that these two sets overlap, therefore they can be interchanged. That is not the fallacy you think you found.

    Even if all racists make decisions based on race, that doesn’t mean all decisions based on race are made by racist,

    Actually, it sort of does … but there is an observation to insert which makes it follow. All decisions based on race will be, I claim, noted by those who don’t ascribe to your particular (hierarchical in your case) race theory but to a different one will can be claimed as racist. Therefore it is racist.

    Here’s another way to look at it in a more formal way (which apparently is your preference). For every decision based on race that you would try to label non-racist (justifiable) there exists a consistent counter racial argument for why that decision is unjustified. Since all such race based decision are both racist and non-racist the only recourse is to recognize that any and all race based decisions are racist.

    But hey, try try again yourself. At the very least you avoided the ad hominem this time. That shows some improvement.

  14. “Overlap” and “interchangeable” are not synonymous. The sets “White people” and “child rapists” have some overlap, but are not interchangeable. The sets “being in New York” and “being in the US” also overlap, but are not interchangeable. For overlapping sets to be interchangeable, they have to be coterminous (“being in New York” and “being in the Big Apple”), but we’ve already established that these sets are not (believing race to be a tertiary determinant of human traits meets your def but not Webster’s first prong; assessing Black people to possess more melanin than Whites meets your def but not Webster’s second prong). “Overlap, therefore interchangeable” is not just wrong, it’s the sort of wrong that’s evident upon 6 seconds of reflection.

    Next, you seem to argue that any decision based on race could be “noted” by someone who is a racist, and when they do it, it’s racist (I think — the sentence in question isn’t exactly grammatically sound with those two “will be”s). “Therefore it’s racist [when anybody does it]”. The inference is just floating there, and you don’t justify it. There’s no intrinsic reason why a second actor’s observation of and inference from the decision of the first actor should necessarily impute the second actor’s characteristics onto the first. I think there might be a fallacy of accident lurking in here (if B does what A did, it’d be racist; therefore, if A does it, it’s racist — compare “if I cut into you, I’d be a criminal; a surgeon cut into you, therefore, the surgeon is a criminal”), but again, the key sentence in this paragraph just isn’t grammatically complete, so I’m guessing a little (consequently, I won’t be adding it to my bingo card).

    But it’s your adorable attempt at a “formal” model that’s my favorite contribution so far. You argue that every decision based on race will provoke some dispute as to whether that decision is justified (non-racist) or not (racist). Fair enough. But the conclusion — since there is disagreement, “the only recourse is to recognize that any and all race based decisions are racist” is a classic case of begging the question (there’s #4!). “Because there’s disagreement, the only recourse is to agree with me.” Sadly, no. The fact that we’re disagreeing means we have a disagreement, it doesn’t resolve the disagreement. It’s entirely possible that the folks in Camp 2 are simply wrong in their assessment as to whether the decision is justifiable. And if they are wrong, then the race-based decision would be non-racist. In any event, that’s the dispute that has to be resolved.

    What’s at least a little perplexing here is why you’re so insistent on trying to prove that your definition of racism is somehow logically inherent in the word, as opposed to making a normative or policy argument for it. I’m not convinced that language is such that it’d be amenable to such logical deductions, but even if it theoretically is, it’s certainly a much more difficult route to take (which perhaps explains why you’re stumbling so badly).

  15. Mark says:

    You must have been a frustrating person to debate against, continually assuming that your interlocutor was a moron by interpreting practically everything said into a straw man and then beating that into a pulp. The only problem is that it’s sort of a bad faith practice.

    Yes, “overlap” per se and “interchangeable” are not synonyms. However, “overlap” is not a set theoretic term either. “Overlaps” that set theory considers are injections, surjections, and bijections. If you review how I’ve been using the term it seems pretty clear that your “white/rapists” or “NYC/US” and other terms are in fact not what I’m talking about.

    Let me try to recast this for you. Every definition of racism fits this pattern: A person is racist if he make decisions or assessments based on race fitting the criteria in set S. The set S clearly is the rules or methods by which such decisions/assessments are set. You have your reasons for filling in criteria. A person who disagrees with you and has a set S1 has their own justification for his using a different set. Given two sets of internally consistent sets there is no (linguistic) or authoritative method of determining or setting apart specific sets except for one. There is a unique set that stands apart. A person with set S will call person using every other (incompatible) set racist and vice versa (all non set S users will claim the same about you). Your “bitter” disputes that you bring up are all he/she said arguments between about incompatible systems ethical frameworks but really all boil down to my set S is better than your set S1.

    Is there any unique set that has a distinguishing claim that sets it as different logically, i.e., can make a strong claim to define racism apart from the other. Yes there are, two actually. The identity set and the empty set are two such sets. The empty set yields nobody is racist (which sort of nullifies the word so we discard that as useful) and the identity set, which would note that all racial based assessments or decisions are racist.

    The realization that defining “racism” is not the problem, and that most of y’all are all a bunch of racists and spend your time arguing over whose form of racism is superior might denature the heat a bit. Policy-wise, the way I see it is that Dr King’s dream was that we might get to the identity set/racism world noted above but that they way to do that is by adopting a series of sets that get ever closer to the identity. My (and many conservatives) would argue differently saying that we should teach, try to live, and the government should lead by adopting the identity now and that is the best (if not only) way of actually moving to your target.

    What’s at least a little perplexing here is why you’re so insistent on trying to prove that your definition of racism is somehow logically inherent in the word, as opposed to making a normative or policy argument for it.

    Defining racism has no connection to policy. Definitions of words are a linguistic exercise. Policy is a political one. These are separate spheres.

  16. All this does is act as if disagreement between adherents of S and S1 represents some sort of fatal deliberative flaw that we need to rush in and fix via the power of definition. But we don’t — it makes just as much sense, if not more, to resolve it via political or normative deliberation — to actually have the argument about S versus S1, rather than simply fiat a winner. Which, when dealing with words that are primarily about communicating normative message is, I think, the proper way to go about things. “Racism” as a word wouldn’t, doesn’t, and probably couldn’t exist apart from its socio-political ambitions, so it’s definition is not just a linguistic exercise (or rather, the linguistic exercise is bound up in various contested normative commitments).

    Indeed, now I’m simply confused about why this isn’t just a fallacy of accident writ large. “A person is an assailant if he cuts into the body of another in circumstances fitting the criteria in set S.” People may well disagree over what S entails — we can have competing S versus S1. But it doesn’t follow that the identity (or null) sets are thus automatically the winners because they “avoid” the fight. It’s entirely possible, indeed likely, that something in the middle is the right answer — and we’re likely to find that answer not by divining the true meaning of “assailant”, but via deliberative discourse designed at evincing what we do and don’t value and we are and are not trying to achieve in labeling certain acts “assault”. That the identity and null sets save us from having to go through that deliberative process is convenient, but it’s doesn’t do anything to establish their intrinsic merit. Sometimes things are hard.

    Of course, even in its strongest light, your statement re: the identity set only works if I concede the first principle: “A person is racist if he make decisions or assessments based on race fitting the criteria in set S. ” But as alluded above, I don’t actually agree with that — I think that sometimes a person can be racist if they fail to adequately take race into account in making a decision or assessment (analogize to ableism — if I build a new courthouse with no ramps or elevators, only stairs, and then say “well, obviously I would never consider ability or disability in designing buildings” — that doesn’t rescue me, it indicts me). Given that possibility (and remember, for where this conversation is at, it only has to be a possible competitor definition), it is not true that every definition of racism fits your pattern, and thus your identity set isn’t one.

  17. Mark says:

    I’m sorry, my imagination is not skewed the right way. Perhaps you could enlighten me with a definition of racism that you (a) prefer and which (b) does not fit my framework. Perhaps you might provide an example of a definition of racism that does not fit my larger definition. You offer that failing to being racist in the right way is racist, e.g., if I’m a hospital administrator and I choose to hire doctors based on their qualifications and not race then I might be somehow guilty of racism.

    All this does is act as if disagreement between adherents of S and S1 represents some sort of fatal deliberative flaw that we need to rush in and fix via the power of definition.

    No. That’s not what I’m saying. Have you ever read Alasdair MacIntyre’s Whose Justice? Which Rationality?. It seems that the post-modern education could/should not ignore that because the meeting and confluence of different ways of thinking is essential to the process. Wiki offers:

    MacIntyre’s account also defends three further theses: first, that all rational human inquiry is conducted whether knowingly or not from within a tradition; second, that the incommensurable conceptual schemes of rival traditions do not entail either relativism or perspectivism; third, that although the arguments of the book are themselves attempts at universally valid insights they are nevertheless given from within a particular tradition (that of Thomist Aristotelianism) and that this need not imply any philosophical inconsistency.

    The point being your deliberative discourse isn’t likely to get anywhere when people coming from rival traditions are (a) internally consistent in their own framework and (b) have few members of either traditions fluent in the modes of thought of the other, and (c) there is not meta-meta-framework by which to judge the competing merit of differing meta-ethics.

    Sometimes things are hard.

    Yes. But defining racism isn’t one of those things. Figuring out the way to a racist-free world might be (or seems to be) very hard but, what constitutes racism isn’t the hard part.

  18. I feel like you’ve contributed very little to this discussion other than placing your hands on your hips and stamping. I’ve deliberately refrained from giving my own definition of racism because, believe it or not, I wasn’t interested in debating between various definitions. I was merely curious as to what reasons one might have for adopting the definition you lay out. So far, this “identity set” point is the only one you’ve provided that isn’t clearly fallacious on face (and I congratulate for finally providing one … 15 comments in), and it’s still almost remarkably weak. The first premise — that all definitions of racism incorporate decisions or assessments based on race — is wrong as a matter of fact (I give two examples of one’s that don’t below). Even if that weren’t the case, the argument is dependent on us not caring what isn’t labeled “racist” (i.e., it matters to you that the Klan is considered racist, but it also matters to you that voting Republican isn’t labeled racist — similarly, if S says A, B, and C are racist, and S1 says D, E, and F are racist, it may well and probably does matter to S that D isn’t considered racist, and to S1 that B isn’t considered racist). And more broadly the argument assumes that when faced with (sure, let’s concede potentially intractable) disagreement, the best approach is a moral dragnet, which I’m dubious to the extreme about.

    In any event, I offer two potential definitions of racism which wouldn’t fall under your definition. One would be “Racism is improperly taking or failing to take race into decision- or policy-making” (an aside: your reframe — that this is racism as failing to be “racist in the right way” — is an obvious case of begging the question, a seemingly recurrent problem you have. But I do appreciate the straw man you threw in with it (#5! If I had a board, I might have a bingo!)). Two would be “Racism is creating or perpetuating the unequal distribution of rights, privileges, resources, or opportunities amongst races without sufficiently compelling reason.” Both easily incorporate as racist actions which do not take race into account (the second one’s particularly brutal for you because it can label actions that do not take race into account as racist without necessarily requiring one to take race into account). Again, for where we’re at in the discussion, these definitions don’t even need to be “right”. They just need to be potential candidates (which they are, as I’ve just forwarded them as candidates). And they ruin your identity set.

  19. Mark says:

    I’ve contributed little to this discussion … hmm. Your most common form of argument has been the insult … and pointing out that your contributions outweigh mine is just another one.

    You’ve say your been concentrating on meta-level discussions of definitions not the particulars, and wonder what my reasons for the simple definition I gave might be held as correct. You’ve dismissed dictionary sources as a possible starting point for defining words, because that’s “just an appeal to authority.” Dictionaries not being an authority and source for the meaning of words is to be honest … more than a little strange.

    it matters to you that the Klan is considered racist, but it also matters to you that voting Republican isn’t labeled racist

    Oddly enough I don’t vote GOP on the basis of racial issues and don’t think it “matters to me” if that labels me a racist, however glass house dwellersr shouldn’t cast stones because it seems to me that is far more important that you be able to both label Klan/GOP as racist and yourself as not. Recalling our Badging/Covering discussion … I don’t badge or cover as a Republican. It is not a label I covet or protect. I’m curious why you would assume so?

    Unfortunately your two definitions are really lame, which might explain a bit why you were so hesitant to offer them and preferred to move to meta-level discussions. First you offer:

    Racism is improperly taking or failing to take race into decision- or policy-making

    Apparently you decided “racist in the right way” was a straw man … was too easy so you offer being racist correctly as a definition of racism … for that is the only way that “improperly” might be interpreted. But setting that aside, if Mr X hates, loathes, and despises Laplanders qua Laplanders with every fiber of his being and make no secret of it … but does not act and is in no position to make policy … by your definition Mr X is not a racist. Hmmm. I think few would agree.

    and second

    Racism is creating or perpetuating the unequal distribution of rights, privileges, resources, or opportunities amongst races without sufficiently compelling reason.

    So no person then who feels himself the subject of this unequal distribution of rights et al is ever racist. The only flaw of the Nazi progrom against the Jew, which one I’d think would agree was racism through and through, was that they were incorrect in their belief that the Jews were running/owning everything. If there Jewish control of banks and means of production then they no longer be racists. Again … few I think would agree that the error of the Nazis regarding their anti-Semitism was primarily that they were mistaken in their assessment of Jewish capital. One might add that all the leaders of the great mass murders of the 20th century were done for what the doers felt were “sufficiently compelling reasons”. It seems this definition might be one preferred by the KKK, i.e., as cover/excuses by those whom are clearly racist.

    Potential candidates. I think not. Or at least really really bad ones because things which I offer would universally be regarded as racist do not fit your definition.

    And I might point out, that for the counter examples to the definition I gave that you offered … my reply was that you didn’t take my definition seriously and that your counterexamples were flawed. I had suggested that instead of insulting remarks you might review your examples again. I might suggest you don the devils advocate hat and accept my definition for a bit look for ways that you might argue that it does fit.

  20. I think this is the coup de grace for me. At first blush, your objections to my proposed counter-definitions are poorly taken. To the first one, even assuming that it is possible to hate a given group with every fiber of one’s being yet never express such hatred in any volitional manner (of which I’m dubious), or that even if such a state was theoretically possible, that we should tailor our definitions to account for such a vanishingly small proportion of cases (of which I’m equally dubious), all the definition has to do to still work is say “decision-making, policy-making, or assessments”. No sweat.

    To the second, I don’t even think the objection works on face, because it requires us to make the absurd claim that saying a given group is legitimately targeted for genocide constitutes equal treatment as to rights so long as that group “really is” financially dominant. But of course, I’d reject that — genocide is inherently unequal with respect to rights, regardless of the financial proclivities of the target group, and the financial wealth of the target group is most certainly not a sufficiently compelling reason to enact genocide (regardless of whether the perpetrators believed it to be so — though I’m amused to watch you out-perform me in the moral relativism department here).

    More importantly, though, by even having this argument, you’ve already conceded the key question. The whole point of this exercise was to demonstrate that there is no “inherent” content to the definition of racism. The proper definition of racist is dependent on whether it captures those actions, mentalities, and policies that we want to call “racist”, while excluding those we don’t want to call “racist”. So, as you say, if your objections were accurate, we could indict my candidates because they don’t incorporate certain acts which we want to call “racist”. But the same can be said regarding my objections to your theory — it is indicted because it does incorporate acts I don’t want to call racist.

    And that’s the key point: The theoretical claim logically can’t resolve this. It immediately collapses into circular logic: We should call affirmative action racist because it is so labeled by my theory; my theory is valid because it properly categorizes (among other things) affirmative action as racist. Self-evidently, this can’t resolve either the question of the validity of the theory, or the propriety of calling affirmative action “racist”. We have to resolve at least one of the questions independent of the other.

    So, we can either put forth a theory agnostic to whether it ends up incorporating/excluding all the things we want to call/don’t want to call racist, and then see what it catches (which I think would be foolish, and which you implicitly dismiss by evaluating the propriety of my counter-theories precisely on the basis of what they do and don’t “catch”), or, we debate over whether various actions/policies/assessments/structures which might (under various conceptions of what racism means) be called racist should in fact be so called, and then, if that debate ever resolves itself (which it may not), see whether or not any broad theories could account for our conclusions. But since that debate is pre-theoretical — comes prior to our establishment of a theory of racism — it means that one can’t say, in essence, we should call policy X racist because it is racist. That’s just begging the question.

  21. Mark says:

    How could you despise and hate someone without expressing that in a volitional manner. Hmm, let’s suppose the hapless Lapps from my example went beyond exposing infants they deemed unfit, but ate them. And furthermore you find that the most abhorrent thing which you’ve ever considered. Yet you, being a private citizen of a far away foreign country and never actually encounter such persons yourself … it seems quite likely that this visceral dislike of Lapps will never express itself in any manner. As you say, no sweat … if you have a bit of imagination.

    On the second objection to my objection … in hinging your take on my response on genocide per se, means that prior to 1942 and the Wannsee conference the Nazis were not racists excepting in that they were wrong in their estimation that property and rights did in fact not need redistribution. I think you are quite alone in thinking that in 1936 the Nazis were only racist in that they were wrong about the Jews.

    The problem with your definition is not that it calls things not racist (the Nazis for example) which I wish to deem racist. It calls things racist which everyone deems racist.

    But since that debate is pre-theoretical — comes prior to our establishment of a theory of racism — it means that one can’t say, in essence, we should call policy X racist because it is racist. That’s just begging the question.

    Which is the advantage of my definition. It does not require or depend on a theory of racism. No questions begged.