Saturday, May 18, 2013

Racist America?

The World's Most and Least Racially Tolerant Nations
Many of my academic colleagues are dedicated to the proposition that the United States is racist to the core. That, in fact, is the thesis of the influential book Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations, by former American Sociological Association president Joe R, Feagin. The nation is so deeply poisoned with white supremacy, in this view, that the country must pursue a massive mandatory re-education program for whites and compensatory political, economic, and educational benefits for all non-whites.
This argument has always puzzled me. I’m aware, of course, that racial inequality is one of the fundamental dilemmas running through American history. I grew up in the South during the period of the Civil Rights Movement. But I have also lived and traveled widely outside the United States and I have continually been struck by the fact that the U.S. is actually more egalitarian and more tolerant in attitudes and practices than most of the other places on our imperfect little planet.
A couple of days ago, I happened on the map above, which, according to an article in The Washington Post, shows the world’s most and least racially tolerant countries.  This was the work of two Swedish economists who used data from the World Values Survey to see whether economic freedom made people any more or less tolerant. Apparently, they did not find a relationship between racial attitudes and economic freedom, but it is notable that “racist America” is, by their measure, one of the world’s most racially tolerant countries.
One can raise questions about the measurement. Attitudes are difficult to measure. I suppose one could also take the position of Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, that racism is not a matter of attitudes, but of social structures, so that we have “racism without racists.” This ultra-radical proposition means that any statistical variation at all among groups, regardless of attitudes, is evidence of racism and requires the continual redesign of American society until a goal of complete categorical equality can be achieved.  Like Feagin, Bonilla-Silva has no real world, historical basis of comparison for his condemnation of American society.
This lack of a real-world basis for comparison, I think, is the reason that social critics are often so willing to portray what is arguably one of the world’s most open, inclusive, and tolerant nations as redeemable from its racism only by a regime of radical transformation, and also the reason they blindly believe that some such regime of transformation actually would create their fantasy of a “just” society. These critics are not judging the United States by the standards of world history or by the standards of existing nations. Instead, they judge by the standards of a “counter-system,” the perfect society that exists nowhere but in their own imaginations. Measured against Cloud Cuckooland we will always fall short.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Tamerlan Tsarnaev's Body: Rites and Rights

Mr. Tsarnaev
In an earlier post, I commented on some of the strange, logically and psychologically contorted responses to the Boston bombings, such as David Sirota’s  early “I hope the bomber’s a white guy” article. The weirdness apparently continues. Meghan Darcy, writing on Policy Mic, has accused the United States of being “barbaric” for refusing to bury Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
I don’t know if I agree that everyone “deserves” a place of burial, as Ms. Darcy has asserted. No such right can be found in the U.S. Constitution, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, or the French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1793. Apparently, Ms. Darcy believes that her own sensitive feelings are sufficient to make assertions of universal rights and obligations.
Ms. Darcy
The bizarre part, though, is the accusation that the murdered was not yet buried because the United States refused to bury him. “There have been countless articles,” She writes indignantly, “asking why other countries and religions seemingly hate America … refusing a body burial and religious rites is a pretty good reason. But maybe that’s the new plan; maybe the U.S. hopes to deter future terrorists with the threat that if they die on U.S. soil they won’t be given a proper resting place.”  Let’s overlook her senseless suggestion that “other… religions seemingly hate America” (Is America a religion?  Can a set of beliefs and practices hate?) Let’s also overlook the fact that no critic of American foreign or domestic policy has ever complained about the unavailability of funerals for murderers in this country.  The claim that the U.S. has refused to bury Tsarnaev is clearly and obviously not only wrong, but ridiculous. The United States has never refused to bury anyone as a matter of policy or for any other reason.  The federal government has no authority in this matter.
At the time that Ms. Darcy wrote her piece, no city or town within the United States had agreed to accept the remains. This civic reluctance cannot be attributed to any pressure from the national government. Surely, since Ms. Darcy has such exquisite sensitivity on matters such as the civilized treatment of dead murderers, she should be able to extend a tiny bit of that sensitivity to the grieving people of townships in Massachusetts and elsewhere.  
An update at the top of her article informs us that someone has provided a burial plot and quietly resolved the problem of the unwanted body. Apparently, no representative of the United States interfered in any way with this civilized proceeding.
My point in writing this is not that one blogger shows a poor grasp of facts and an inability to think clearly.  Rather, I suggest that her craziness is symptomatic of a reflexive self-righteousness among some of our fellow citizens that leads them to cast aside reason and realism whenever they can find any excuse, however far-fetched, to preach against the evils of Satan America.