Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Oedipus effect

I'm going to wade into shark-infested waters of racial politics.

i) The liberal establishment has a vested interest in not solving social dysfunctions. That's a source of power. That's a voting block. 

ii) Some Christians, usually white Christians (in my experience) advocate a colorblind policy. I agree with that in one respect. I think the justice system ought to be colorblind: equal justice under the law.

There are, however, people who disagree with that. They believe in distributive justice–a la John Rawls. They think inequality is inherently unjust. Not merely inequality of opportunity, but inequality of outcome. If there's social equality, that must be due to systemic racism. 

iii) A common contention is that due to past discrimination, it is necessary to have equalizing policies which offset past inequalities. "Level the playing-field." 

One problem I have with that framework is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If a people-group is routinely typecast as the victim, there's a temptation to play the part. It perpetuates a cycle of failure when people perform according to script. The script conditions them to views themselves in self-defeating terms. That, in turn, affects how they behave. They make it come true. 

The narrative about slavery and Jim Crow functions like an oracle of doom that predisposes people to be losers, in the self-fulfilling belief the system is stacked against them. The result is fatalistic. We need to break the vicious cycle of that self-fulfilling malediction. 

iv) In my somewhat limited experience, black evangelicals diagnose the problem is the same way as secular academics and pundits. That includes the white privilege trope.

But if you insist on casting the issue in terms of privilege, it would be more accurate, and less aggravating, to frame it in terms of social class rather than ethnicity. There are people who come from privileged backgrounds. But that's an essentially socioeconomic category, not a racial or ethnic category. 

Now, the socioeconomic category can often overlap with the racial or ethnic category, but that's incidental to the "privileged" component, for anyone of any race or ethnicity can either have a privileged or underprivileged background.

To routinely frame "privilege" in racial or ethnic terms is both inaccurate and counterproductive. Because it's inaccurate, it provokes justified resentment. 

If fact, you can turn that around. What about black privilege? 

v) In my reading, the black commentariat is paranoid about the police. I realize that's an incendiary way of putting it, but I say it because I think it's true.

When a black "suspect" is shot, they jump to the conclusion that the police must be guilty of wrongdoing. That's not my own position.

I don't think there's any general presumption one way or the other. I don't assume, in advance of the facts, that when that happens, either side was innocent or guilty. I don't prejudge which is more likely. 

Sometimes the "suspect" had it coming. Sometimes the "suspect" was innocent. Sometimes the police overreacted. Sometimes the police were thugs.

On the one hand there's a lot of bona fide criminality in the black community. On the other hand, police abuse is underreported. And I think a fair percentage of police are bandits with badges. 

Let's be clear on what I mean: I don't think it's paranoid for black individuals to be nervous around the police. I don't think it's paranoid for them to be nervous if they sense they are being tailed by police. That's both understandable and justifiable. But I don't think the police are out to get blacks. 

But by the same token, they don't know what feels like to be a white driver when the lights are flashing in his rearview mirror. When you deal with the police, it's a gamble:

vi) Apropos (v), the black commentariat says white folks like me just don't know what it's like to be black. That's a truism. But it cuts both ways. They don't know what it's like to be white. 

Whites are harassed by the police, too. Whites are shot by the police, too. 

That doesn't register with the black commentariat. They just assume if it happened to a white guy, that's an isolated incident, or he had it coming. They don't consider the possibility that we have a larger pattern of oppressive policing. 

vii) Apropos (vi), it's my impression that police are apt to profile young men, especially young men who dress and act like gang-bangers. That's the case whether you're black, white, Asian, or Latino. That's the demographic group that's most likely to be hassled by the police. 

viii) It wouldn't surprise me if there's a growing generation gap concerning popular perception of law enforcement. The older generation was raised to respect the police. Regard the police as trusted public servants. It's my impression that the younger generation is becoming more critical of law enforcement. The traditional deference is on the wane. 

v) I think one reason the black commentariat so often frames the issue in terms of white privilege, and discounts examples of police brutality against white "suspects," is that so long as whites are in the majority, that's ipso facto "privileged". 

However, that oversimplifies the nature of majorities. For instance, although whites are still in the majority, that doesn't mean conservative voters are in the majority. Just look at the last two presidential cycles. The minority experience isn't exclusively ethnic or racial. It can break along ideological lines. Conservative voters don't represent the dominant culture. Conversely, a coalition of special interests groups can add up to a majority voting block. 

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