Tuesday, May 18, 2010

And people still say it isn't racist...

Sometimes, I really get peeved with what is -- to me -- blatantly bigoted, while the majority remains blissfully unaware of their bigotry.

Well, it's happened again: Arizona's Department of Education has apparently just started to tell schools to get rid of teachers who spoke with a heavy accent. Like the past two policy actions by the state - having police check immigration papers and removing "cultural studies" from schools - there is no explicit statement of race or racism, however, there seems to be an implicit one that is being fueled; at it isn't against the teaching of Scandinavian studies by a heavily accented Dane whose papers just expired. From the Wall Street Journal article:
State education officials say the move is intended to ensure that students with limited English have teachers who speak the language flawlessly.
See?!? It's not racist! They are "just trying to help" those students with "limited English" (who might be having to go back to their "home countries" because of the immigration law that AZ passed, but let's not talk about that, because obviously the two are not related).

As non-racist as this happens to sound, I'm thinking that there's something rotten in the state of Arizona (and it isn't the Danish teacher of cultural studies whose overstayed his visa). In their recently published paper "But I'm no Bigot: How Prejudiced White Americans Maintain Unprejudiced Self-Images", Laurie O'Brien, Christian Crandall, April Horstman-Reser, and Ruth Warner delve into the means by which white Americans can harbor racial prejudice while still viewing themselves as "unprejudiced"; and the reasons seem to align with how the WSJ reports on how the Arizonan Dept. of Ed. parsed their language with this policy and the no-cultural-studies policy as well as how the language of the immigration bill is parsed: it's in the relative representation of racism. The epigram of the paper shows a clear example of a woman who holds racist views, but doesn't consider herself a racist:
I don’t say I hate every Black person, but the majority. . . . I don’t consider myself a racist. I, when I think of the word racist, I think of the KKK, people in white robes burning people on crosses and stuff.
If the definition of "racist" was epitomized by the KKK, then this interviewee -- not being a member of the KKK -- isn't a racist; no matter her viewpoints. If one looks only at one of the recent three governmental actions in Arizona, one might not (if one were generous) say that it was overtly racist, since it doesn't single out one racial group (i.e., it isn't definitionally racist). However, looking at the implication of the law, especially in conjunction with these more recent actions in education, then the actions do seem to be increasingly supportive of the idea that the policies are racist. To that end, I think that the discussion points of the study by O'Brien, et al. is really quite enlightening:
Many people believe that exposing White Americans to information about the prejudice that ethnic minorities encounter is a surefire way to reduce prejudice. Videos that demonstrate prejudice are a mainstay of multicultural education programs (e.g., HumaNext, 2005; Western States Center, 2005) and social psychology classes. White Americans are largely ignorant about the pervasiveness of the prejudice faced by ethnic minorities (Adams, O’Brien, & Nelson, 2006), and conventional wisdom suggests that if Whites were more educated about this prejudice, then they would act to end prejudice.

[However,] the results of the current research suggest that the results of prejudice education may not be so straightforward. At least among White Americans, the primary reaction to media portrayals of racism may be for people to distance themselves from the racists, while patting themselves on the back for their superiority. In Experiment 3, participants who watched a documentary about prejudice showed no increase in their perceptions of the commonness of prejudice. Although we found evidence that watching the video decreased prejudice toward Black Americans, a seemingly positive outcome, it also increased positivity toward White Americans. These synchronized increases in positivity toward White and Black Americans allowed participants to maintain their preference for Whites over Blacks, while simultaneously feeling more innocent of actual prejudice; not the preferred outcome of multicultural educators and tolerance workshops.

… The finding that learning about White racism increases liking of White Americans seems to defy logic and can only be understood in terms of defensive processes activated among White Americans who are exposed to what is apparently threatening information about their group and their social system…

The paradox of how White Americans simultaneously act in prejudiced ways while viewing themselves as unprejudiced has long puzzled social scientists (e.g., Dutton & Lake, 1973; Dutton & Lennox, 1974). The present research suggests one reason for the existence of this paradox: The predominant social representations of prejudice available in American culture provide people with a source of social comparison information. When White Americans compare themselves to these social representations, they tend to view themselves as relatively unprejudiced.

Furthermore, the present research suggests that, at least on some occasions, people deliberately seek out exposure to these representations of prejudice in order to reduce threats to their unprejudiced self-images. This self-protective strategy may serve to make White Americans comfortable, but it may also create the space for them to convince themselves that their failings are minor, and that as long as they do not join the Ku Klux Klan or start burning crosses on people’s lawns, they’re doing just fine.

In other words, so long as Arizona isn't doing something that is so obviously racist, the racist stuff that they do isn't racist (because racism is what the KKK does), and therefore people are able -- with a straight face -- to say that their actions aren't racist.

Furthermore, it is possible to see how some (previously shown to be very bigoted) proponents of the immigration bill parse their language about how the bill doesn't do racial profiling, and therefore it cannot be thought of as racist (ignoring, of course, that the majority of people who will fall under this law will likely come from non-White communities):

Also note how the state legislator in the following clip justifies the banning of cultural studies classes, stating that it these classes are actually racially biased against whites; that assimilation is actually non-racist; and pointing to extreme examples to make his case.

(Similarly strange incidents of Whites pointing out the supposed "definitional" racism of others includes all the talk of La Raza being a racist organization, because it translates to "the race", forgetting (perhaps conveniently) that translations are rarely ever one-to-one. In other words, there are nuances and word associations that exist in one language, but not in another, and one must translate not only the term, but also the sense of that term, as it was meant to be used in its original linguistic context. Therefore, while "raza" does have a primary definition of "race", it has other associated definitions as well. However, that is something of a different topic, but it does fit into the sense that some Whites -- such as Tom Tancredo -- feel justified to state that the bills and actions in Arizona that they support aren't "racist"; implicitly or tacitly seeming to compare themselves to an extremist-literalist translation of "La Raza" and (apparently) equating it to some Hispanic analogue to a racist White organization like the KKK.)

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