The truth of racism

Before explaining the truth of racism, I need to explain the truth of truth. People might say, “He’s accused of racism, but is it true that he is a racist?” That’s clumsy wording, so let’s first figure out what we are talking about.

Various statements are regarded as true by various people, with various degrees of confidence. I believe it’s true that drugs should be legalized. Most experts believe it’s true that CO2 is warming the Earth. All experts believe it’s true that 2+2 = 4.

All humans are regarded as racists by at least one other group of humans. If you favor “reverse discrimination” (affirmative action), then some conservatives view you as racist. If you oppose affirmative action, then some on the left view you as racist. Don’t bother trying to live a life where no one views you as racist; it’s not possible.

Nor does it help to say, “X is viewed as racist, but actually he’s not racist.” All you are saying is that one group of people regards someone as racist, and you disagree. So say so!

I have a set of views that many 60s-style liberals would put in the “non-racist” basket:

1. A colorblind society is best.

2. One race is not innately superior to another.

3. There is structural racism in America, relating to drug laws, occupational licensing laws, zoning rules, education system, the legacy of Jim Crow and slavery, etc.

4. Free speech is very important.

But I also hold other views that would cause many young woke people to label me “racist”:

1. I oppose all identity politics (right and left-wing.)

2. I oppose all identity epistemology.

3. I strongly support cultural appropriation.

4. I treat oppressed minorities as if they have personal agency (i.e. dignity).

5. I don’t view inter-ethnic income differences as ipso facto proof of racism.

So there’s no need to out me or cancel me. I already acknowledge everything. I acknowledge that 60s-style liberals and moderates and conservatives would regard me as non-racist, and I acknowledge that today’s woke people would regard me as racist. There is nothing more to say on the “truth” of my racism.

But there is more to say on how a person should regard these perspectives. Should you be concerned if others call you racist? Speaking for myself, I’m concerned when people I greatly respect on other grounds point to a specific flaw in my behavior.

If bloggers I respect warned me that my views were racist, I’d be very concerned. If black intellectuals like John McWhorter, Glenn Loury, Thomas Chatterton Williams, Kmele Foster, Coleman Hughes and Thomas Sowell (who range from left wing to moderate to right wing, by the way) viewed me as racist then I’d be very concerned.

But when I look around the Twittersphere I see a group of extremists that combine stupidity, dishonesty, self-righteousness, cruelty, and humorlessness. If that group ever reads this blog (God knows why they’d even bother) and then calls me a racist, then all I can do is to respond, “Yes, you are right that by your standards I am a racist. But I don’t respect you and I hold a different set of values.” Ditto for white nationalists who call me a cuck.

The woke Twittersphere is to anti-racism what the McCarthyites were to anti-communism and the Red Guard was to anti-capitalism—fanatics that are mostly attacking their own side, damaging their own interests.

You can tell that I don’t live in fear of being canceled. As far as I’m concerned I’ve just cancelled myself in the eyes of left-wing identitarians. They need not even bother.

Yes, it’s easy for me because I basically live isolated from the broader society. I understand that people like David Shor and Andrew Sullivan and Matt Yglesias live deeply enmeshed in our intellectual culture and have a much more difficult time navigating these waters. I’m not naive about these complex human realities. I have it easy.

Call it loneliness privilege.

PS. The Straussian reading is that this post is not about race at all; it’s a defense of Richard Rorty.



56 Responses to “The truth of racism”

  1. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    25. July 2020 at 08:42

    I don’t think you’re racist and I don’t take the extremists on Twitter seriously. I’ve been called fascist, a neoliberal shill, and a socialist/communist there.

    Overall, Twitter is taken too seriously, but if you curate your connections there, you’re largely spared the nonsense.

  2. Gravatar of milljas milljas
    25. July 2020 at 09:46

    Can you expand on the second grouping, mainly 1,2 and 4? If you don’t care to, no worries. Thanks for the references. FWIW I’m in debt to a hedge fund manager that recommended you and a bunch of retired bloggers in 2010.

  3. Gravatar of D.O. D.O.
    25. July 2020 at 10:18

    Prof. Sumner, your post makes a lot of sense, but can I quiz you on “identity politics”? American politics is location-based by design. And many locales require that their representatives (to whatever) live in the communities being represented. Presidents routinely appoint federal judges from the states they will be ruling over etc. Aren’t those the examples of identity politics and what do you think about that?

  4. Gravatar of Market Fiscalist Market Fiscalist
    25. July 2020 at 11:58

    I also would be interested in your definition of ‘identity politics’.

    A couple of times recently I’ve been involved in discussions on BLM with conservatives and I’ve noted a tendency for any effort on my part to acknowledge (as you do ) that ‘There is structural racism in America’ and to support measures that might address this structural racism is labelled as ‘identify politics’ and therefor regarded as off limits in their eyes.

  5. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    25. July 2020 at 14:04

    Is there a good article by Scott Alexander that “structural racism” like “redlining” really exists in the US and really continues to exist?

    I’m not an expert, but it’s a bit hard to see the racism part of redlining at first sight. For example, why should banks in a free market economy base their risk assessment on genuine racism??? That doesn’t make much sense.

    It may look like racism at first glance, but I doubt that it really is racism. Where’s the motivation?

    I don’t view inter-ethnic income differences as ipso facto proof of racism.


    you put that very nicely.

    The racism theories of the other side seem to have crucial flaws.

    Let’s take the education sector, as an example: so it is primarily because of racism if blacks do worse there? But then why isn’t it racism if Asians or Hispanics do better?

    Also (so far) nobody comes up with the idea to shout racism when black people dominate basketball and all sprint competitions. Why is this different result no racism, but the other different result is?

    A theory that needs so many absurd exceptions to the rule makes not much sense, especially since it produces enough other hypotheses that can explain all outcomes sufficiently well, better at least than “racism”.

    Especially since there should be more than enough hypotheses that can explain all outcomes sufficiently well, in just one theory.

  6. Gravatar of Mark Z Mark Z
    25. July 2020 at 15:08

    “Nor does it help to say, “X is viewed as racist, but actually he’s not racist.” All you are saying is that one group of people regards someone as racist, and you disagree. So say so!”

    But… that is saying so. “X isn’t racist” and “I disagree that X is racist” are equivalent (or if you insist on being Rortian about it, pretty much everyone views these as equivalent). “I disagree with X” and “X is false” are saying the same thing. That ‘X is false’ is my opinion is implied by the fact that I’m the one saying it.

    It would probably be better if these discussions were more in terms of what’s right or wrong, rather than what is or isn’t racist. Technically, refusing to consider casting a black person as John F. Kennedy in a movie is racist by the strictest definition of the word, just as technically refusing to date people of a given sex is sexist. But we make ‘common sense’ exceptions for some kinds of obviously discriminatory behavior because otherwise there would be acceptable vs. unacceptable forms of racism/sexism. Merely noting that something is racist wouldn’t lead us to the conclusion that it’s wrong, as it does now. I think what people like Ibram X Kendi and Robin DeAngelo are doing is trying to take advantage of this transitive property to get around the question of whether certain things – capitalism, disparities in outcome, suburbs, legos, etc. – are good, bad, or acceptable, by assigning them as racist (I don’t know if legos are racist yet actually), which automatically makes them bad. It is ironic though that they – most of whom I assume in college read the likes of Foucault or Derrida, who used to be popular on the left especially – leave no room for linguistic indeterminacy. They act as though their definition of racism were etched into the fabric of the universe rather than just a word whose meaning is a social construct.

  7. Gravatar of Uhoh Uhoh
    25. July 2020 at 15:09

    Thank you for this post.

  8. Gravatar of Mark Z Mark Z
    25. July 2020 at 15:17

    I also think it can be debated (not saying I know for sure in any case, I just don’t think it can necessarily be breathlessly asserted) that certain policies, like drug laws or occupational licensing laws or minimum wage laws are so much the product of structural racism anymore. This often seems like a genetic fallacy. Conservatives like to do it too now, pointing out that min. wage laws and organized labor were largely rooted in racism. If, absent racism, a policy wouldn’t have happened, even if it’s modern defenders aren’t racist, it’s a legacy of racism. But even if no one had ever been racist, I think we’d still have minimum wage laws, occupational licensing laws, heroin would still be illegal, and abortion would still be legal, and each of these would probably still disproportionately affect black people.

  9. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    25. July 2020 at 15:31

    I have almost exactly the same views as Scott Sumner on the matters herein, but then I am almost exactly Scott Sumner’s age.

    I might add that immigration and tax policies work against people in the lower wage brackets.

  10. Gravatar of M Krie M Krie
    25. July 2020 at 19:39

    You say you think “A colorblind society is best”, and that “There is structural racism in America, relating to drug laws, occupational licensing laws, zoning rules, education system, the legacy of Jim Crow and slavery, etc.”

    Great. I assume in saying that the former is best, and the latter is actual, you’re not just blowing steam but are committed to working against the systemic racism. Politics are the means by which one works toward that sort of thing. So you’re committed to politics fighting against systemic racism.

    This sounds great to me. And you’d probably call me a radical leftist. I couldn’t imagine why any serious radical leftist would call anything in that stuff I just repeated racist.

    What then is this thing you reject and call leftist identity politics?

    I do think the left-right comment a serious misjudging of the current situation in the U.S. But, whatever, that’s not racist, just naive about the current threat from the right to many things you are valuing here. It seems like you go more in for the kind of paranoid fantasies the orange one pushes, or the foxnews, and I’ve never understood why you would. But I’d still be pleased to have your help fighting systemic racism.

    P.S. Rorty was sometimes hilarious but not a great philosopher, and I wouldn’t think his view of truth would have use for you.

  11. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    25. July 2020 at 20:26

    Just a beautifully thought out and written post.

    One quibble:

    “John McWhorter, Glenn Loury, Thomas Chatterton Williams, Kmele Foster, Coleman Hughes and Thomas Sowell”

    Where’s Karl Smith? Where’s Karl Smith? (For that matter, probably a whole bunch more, but KS is the obvious one). (Or maybe I don’t know KS’s views well enough).

  12. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    25. July 2020 at 20:27

    Possibly related (ICYMI):

    Particularly zingy quote:

    “The first is that any process for deciding which ideas to ban is bound to make mistakes. All the more so because no one intelligent wants to undertake that kind of work, so it ends up being done by the stupid.”

  13. Gravatar of Postkey Postkey
    25. July 2020 at 23:46

    The truth of antisemitism?

    Look, look, over there, it’s the ‘hateful and manipulating Jews’.
    Don’t look here at the US ‘plutocrats’ and the M.I.C., there is nothing to see!

  14. Gravatar of D.I. Harris D.I. Harris
    26. July 2020 at 02:41

    As someone who is relatively invested in identity politics and has been a reader (and appreciator) of yours for a long time, I don’t think you’re racist.

    I realise this probably means little since I’m one of the people you don’t respect, but I respect you.

  15. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    26. July 2020 at 03:14

    Very heartfelt post Scott. And of course I’m in the same camp as you.

    There are many paradoxes about the racism question. One, in my opinion, is that the left and the right basically agree on some important framings of the question, which to me are absurd:

    – both the left and the right imply (without ever stating it) that the intrinsic value of a human being, and their human rights, are somehow to be derived from a bunch of performance parameters. Example, intelligence, sociability, rationality. As a result, the racists gloat whenever they see their pet race coming out ahead in some statistics and the anti-racists deny that any such statistical differences exist, in the panicked belief that if they, their whole worldview would collapse. My truth here is of course that value is orthogonal to all of these statistics and I as a white person am not concerned if, say, white people end up coming out sub par in some racial statistics. Mere IQ, say, or mere artistic ability, doesn’t relate to the intrinsic value of a person.

    – the very act of calling someone a racist (or a fascist, or a communist, or a gay person etc) is an act of identitarianism. It takes a single quality of this person, in itself debatable, maybe temporary, depending on circumstances, or otherwise finely differentiated, and uses it as an identifier that equates the entire person with this quality, once and for all. It is therefore an act of exclusion. If you see shades of general semantics in this, that’s because GS formulated this nicely (trying to write in e-prime is a particular eye opener, Robert Anton Wilson is a fun read on this). It would be much more nuanced to say “X sounded racist with this statement” or “Y has some conservative views” but of course, labelling people is not about finding “truth”, it is about finding allies and defining friend from foe.

    To summarize, the greatest paradox is that the left and the right often agree on the framing – the values against which things are judged.

  16. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    26. July 2020 at 06:08

    When I hear the anti-racists railing against racism, i am reminded of Jimmy Swaggart railing against sin.

    26. July 2020 at 07:18

    Finally, a non-mentrary post the Scott gets right.

    This is exactly correct Scott, Bravo.

    Might I suggest the motto I think we ultimately need to put forward AND STAND ON, because it carrries a credible threat, a line drawn the woke cannot cross:


    I think it clarifies the end game, tells everyone what the final rebuttal looks like.

    One motto answers ALL:

    1. CCP family members and their money must leave western world. the 20% of China that is in the party, for the jobs and Visa, suddenly lose the Visa. And they and their one child are stuck in China forver.

    2. Black capitalist lives matter.

    3. Antifa eat sh*t.



    Harkens back to, “are you now or have you ever been…”

    And as massive budget cuts are coming in the academy as the whole thing is Internetted…

    ALL the acadmic marxists will read and hear this motto and AND GET THE FEAR.

    They will feel threatened.

    At first they wil lash out…

    But we simply say, YOU DON’T MATTER, if it omes to your head on a pike vs. keeping the US free market and liberty friendly, we WILL oppress you.

    Because thats the truth. It is credible. And they can all sense it is something they can be cancelled for…

  18. Gravatar of douglas douglas
    26. July 2020 at 07:36

    “…There is structural racism in America, relating to drug laws, occupational licensing laws, zoning rules, education system, the legacy of Jim Crow and slavery, etc.”

    – Where is the evidence that education is racist? NYC recently scrapped a literacy test — meaning we actually have illiterate teachers now — because blacks and Hispanics were overwhelmingly failing the test. Somehow the “test itself” was deemed racist. Is that good policy?

    – If you legalize drugs it will not end poverty for blacks. It will not end the fact that 70% of black people grow up without a father. It will not end the fact that 52% of our nationwide murders are committed by 7% of the population: namely, black men. Do you think culture might have a role in this?

    Zoning laws have destroyed not just black communities, but many Irish, Jewish, and Italian communities. Are the Irish systemically oppressed? My home in South Boston in the 1980s was demolished by a busybody with no real skills – he sure could destroy our communities with a stroke of a pen though. These apparatchiks are not just taking peoples homes, they are taking the businesses too.

    When you say “intellectuals” are you referring to people like Paul Krugman who has been wrong at every turn? Are we talking about the multiculturalists who want open borders, because they believe in a utopian ideal in which the human spirit is intrinsically beautiful – both in and out – and that self interest has no bearing. Are we talking about the lunatics that want to overturn 500 years of biological study, replacing it with 70 different genders? Are we talking about the fact that 20% of social scientists in the United States identify as Marxists. Are these the intellectuals you love and admire so greatly?

  19. Gravatar of Ralph Musgrave Ralph Musgrave
    26. July 2020 at 07:46

    Intelligent people define their terms. The proportion of people who go on about racism who can give you a dictionary definition of racism is bout 0.01%. Ergo the vast majority of those who go on about racism are not intelligent. QED.

  20. Gravatar of rob rob
    26. July 2020 at 07:51

    Academics are under attack; lists a number of abuses.

    We are in dangerous times.

    Douglas your analysis about “intellectuals” is sadly correct. Very few academics fit that description today.

  21. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    26. July 2020 at 08:20

    For people of Scott and my generation everything he said is “obviously” the correct way to view things (except the Straussian reference, which for most is too arcane, and for others (like me) irrelevant. As a Columbia trained “political philosopher” (I was very average—-for real) we were taught Strauss was almost crazy with his hidden message concept. We called Straussian thinking as the Chicago School” (where Scott went). I think it’s funny

    Back to the main point. While it does not surprise me that Scott thinks this way, I wonder if he realizes he could be canceled at many universities today. He seems a little bit naive—or I am a little bit paranoid. He seems less aware of how many on the left despise the black intellectuals he sights, even as some are political liberals.

    They are Uncle Toms to many—-especially if they are also conservative. Scott is a libertarian. He thinks Trump (GOP too?—don’t know) is worse than the Left—at least he has said that. But I am fairly confident that more Trump voters agree with what he wrote than Dem voters (sorry, I do not believe there really are “Biden” voters).

    Well, for what it’s worth, I am glad that Scott can admit to what he believes——but I really do not think he realizes how poisonous the Left really is. What I mean by that is he thinks that Trump is worse. Or, a Trump Administration would be worse than a “Biden” Administration. Notice, in this note at least, I am not saying how “good” Trump is.

  22. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. July 2020 at 08:32

    Michael, You said:

    “I don’t think you’re racist and I don’t take the extremists on Twitter seriously.”

    Yes, but I am a racist in the eyes of many people, as is every other human on this planet. You can’t be a non-racist in at least some people’s eyes. It’s impossible. And I’m OK with that.

    If person X says I’m a racist, then I’m like “That’s fine, that just means your a member of an ideology that views my ideology as racist.” Just as a socialist might view my economic ideas as selfish. I’m OK with that. People have different opinions.

    Milljas, #1 This is politics where race/religion/gender/ethnicity etc. becomes a sort of organizing principle. Thus instead of “How can we make the criminal justice system better for minorities”, I prefer “How can we make the criminal justice system better for those it abuses.” Yes, that’s disproportionately minorities, but I don’t think that framing helps. Identity politics oriented around minority groups inevitably leads to majority group identity politics (White nationalism, Han nationalism, etc.) And of course that’s far worse because of power imbalances.

    #2 This is where people are told their opinion doesn’t count because they are not a member of a certain group. Opinions should be judged on their merits.

    #4. For instance, you sometimes see people on the left who seem almost eager to attribute all the problems in non-white countries from the perspective of white colonialism. That’s really condescending, really insulting. It’s suggests they are merely passive victims, and that white people drive history. All groups have good and bad points. All groups make mistakes. All groups have agency. The evils of humanity are universal.

    You may not think the issues I’m talking about are important, but if you read non-white critics of woke ideas, you’ll find dozens of such examples. It’s pervasive. There are now even claims that the caste system in India was imposed by the British. (It wasn’t.)

  23. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. July 2020 at 08:41

    D.O. I have no problem with a judge from Arizona being appointed to fill a seat in New York. And I don’t want judges to “rule over” us, I want them to judge cases.

    Market fiscalist, See my reply to Milljas above.

    Christian, Structural racism is indirect, not like redlining. It’s when towns won’t allow apartment buildings to be built because they don’t want “poor people” moving in.

    Mark, We agree, but you’d be surprised how few people understand Rorty’s ideas. Most think he’s nuts.

    You said:

    “I think what people like Ibram X Kendi and Robin DeAngelo are doing is trying to take advantage of this transitive property to get around the question of whether certain things – capitalism, disparities in outcome, suburbs, legos, etc. – are good, bad, or acceptable, by assigning them as racist”

    Good point. It’s like when people say Hiroshima was terrorism, as if that fact (certainly true) tells us ANYTHING about whether the bombing was justified.

    Ben, You said:

    “I have almost exactly the same views as Scott Sumner on the matters herein, but then I am almost exactly Scott Sumner’s age.

    I might add that immigration and tax policies work against people in the lower wage brackets.”

    Actually, you don’t share my views, or you wouldn’t write comments that suggest immigrants are not “people”.

  24. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. July 2020 at 09:00

    Krie, You said:

    “It seems like you go more in for the kind of paranoid fantasies the orange one pushes, or the foxnews,”

    LOL, I don’t know of anyone on the internet that’s been more critical of Trump than I have. Perhaps you are new here.

    And there’s no shame in not understanding Rorty; he is making extremely subtle points, which are quite counterintuitive.

    anon/Portly, Yes, I enjoy reading Karl Smith. My list was not intended to be exhaustive.

    And that point on censorship has been made many times. On a related note, if viewing pornography makes one a pervert, then the people who censor pornography are perverts. Do we want perverts judging our films?

    Harris, Nothing personal. When I say I don’t respect people, I obviously mean I don’t respect their ideas on identity. You seem like a level-headed person, so I obviously painted with too broad a brush. I was thinking of the “cancel culture”.

    mbka, Good points. I also do too much labeling. I shouldn’t say Trump’s a racist; I should say Trump makes a lot of racially offensive remarks.

    Douglas, LOL. Between you and Krie (above) I must be in a pretty good place.

    Yes, legalizing drugs would not end poverty, but it would reduce the prison population by hundreds of thousands.

    Michael, I don’t know how bad the cancel culture is? Is it worse than 400,000 in prison for drug “crimes”?

  25. Gravatar of LB LB
    26. July 2020 at 09:57

    Gross oversimplification. To be called racists today is to have been called witch or Communist in previous periods. Your future is in peril if such a moniker sticks. You may shrug this off now but if you were looking for your first job after graduate school such a label would destroy any hopes of a professional career. Could a young Milton Friedman find a job at many colleges these days?

    Your argument about structural racism is overstated. Many of the worst systems in this country are run by minorities so I assume you are claiming that they are poorly run because minorities are secretly racists against their own.

    Related to this, redlining was in part a reaction to arson for profit. Blacks move into a community and whites flee. (Racism, fear of crime, whatever) The first Blacks in the community tend to have higher incomes than the average Black.

    However, with so many whites fleeing home values drop. People in the neighborhood quickly discover that they owe more on their homes than they are worth. Arson becomes profitable for people who want to get out but can’t afford the financial loss. Insurance companies have to raise rates, lower coverage, tighten underwriting standards, or exit the market. They will be called racists regardless of the option they choose.

    Other homeowners just walk away leaving vacant homes and unpaid loans. The vacant homes and difficulty getting insurance coverage cause an even faster decline in home value. Banks don’t want to lend in a community where projecting the future value of the assets is difficult and insuring against loss is becoming impossible. The few lenders that try to remain in the market raise rates or tighten lending standards. Some exit the market. All are called racists institutions and are sued.

    The Federal Government steps in and starts guaranteeing loans. They encourage lending standards that no sane private bank would follow. The remaining whites are happy because they can now find buyers and leave. White flight accelerates. Blacks who have government loans start defaulting at high rates. The lending standards were so lax that many lower-income Black families were overextended and quickly fall into financial difficulty. Some private lenders discover that because of Federal guarantees on loans they make more money on defaulted loans. FBI stickers go up on abandoned homes as the Federal Government becomes the largest slumlord in the community. Upper-income Black families have fled the community. Public housing is a failure. Crime increases. Community slides into neglect.

    In the ’70s Federal money is pumped into the community for jobs programs and other social programs. The jobs programs are comically awful. The other programs are filled with corruption. Most are expensive failures, Street gangs in Chicago are given Federal dollars to run programs. Some filtered through churches and other community groups. They use the money to grow the drug trade and the gangs become very large profitable criminal enterprises. Politicians spread the money around to favored groups. Some people get rich (look to Maxine Waters.) but the communities decline.

    The cries go out that the system is racist. Was it?

  26. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. July 2020 at 10:59

    LB, Not sure if you are attacking my views, but many of the views that you are attacking are views that I do not hold. I never said it wasn’t a problem when someone is called racist. I never said banks are racist when they don’t make as many loans to minorities as to whites.

    You might want to find out what my actual views are before attacking me. Or maybe you don’t care, and just like to spout off.

  27. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    26. July 2020 at 12:37

    A badly thought out strawman post by Sumner, who is not a racist for the simple reason hinted by Mark Z above: Sumner’s other is from a difference race than him. Likewise by definition I cannot be a racist since my girl is an Asian and I’m a white/brown (Greek). Case closed. By contrast, the vast majority of BLM / Antifa people are racist: look at their other (Kayne West is not, but most are). It’s that simple, a sort of legal positivism but it works.

    @MORGAN WARSTLER – you mention ideology and putting Marxist head on pikes, but in Greece my fiend, they literally did that in the post-WWII civil war. Not pretty, one of my close relatives saw the head of the local Marxist paraded on a pole. Later the family members of this hapless Marxist got rich with a business that still exists today. I think one reason Europe is more mellow than the USA about ideology is that they’ve seen this kind of stuff, how it plays out, and don’t want to repeat it, so it’s ‘live and let live’. I don’t have a problem with socialists even though they raise my taxes. You just have to work harder. Or cut corners. Or both actually. Peace.

  28. Gravatar of LB LB
    26. July 2020 at 13:42

    To Clarify. I think your views are an oversimplification. Disagreeing with another person’s views on a topic is too easily twisted into a race issue these days. And to be called a racist is not a point of disagreement, it is a call to cancel you or if given the chance, destroy you.

    Disagreements over affirmative action shouldn’t lead to charges of racism that can destroy people. Yet it can. Your argument seems to say that racism is sort of in the eye of the beholder, so what can you do. You sort of say: call me a racist if you want, by the way you define racism I guess I am. Turning the other cheek is, I suggest, not an option for many people. Yet defending yourself from such charges is increasingly difficult. With no objective standard, how do you defend yourself before the mob? Can you just walk away saying whatever?

    The second point was about systematic racism. Protestors today increasingly call for the destruction of the “American” system because it is racist at its core. From Columbus through Trump, America is a cesspool of systemic racism. This is not the civil rights movement of the ’60s where minorities fought for a right to be represented at the table. A change that has brought numerous Blacks to positions of power and influence, even into the White House. These protestors ignore that and view the system as so racists that it must be destroyed.

    My discussion of redlining, which is often used as an example of systemic or structural racism, offered an alternative explanation. For example, the programs designed to fight racial inequality were well-intentioned disasters that worsened the situation. The calls to defund the police and channel money to “social” programs looks more like a repeat of the mistakes of the past. Throwing money at organizations that are easily corrupted and in the current case wish to fund a radical left agenda with disturbing racial animus. Just as the money in the past help fund street gangs.

    You say you believe that structural racism still exists. I think that statement exaggerates the problems facing minorities in America.

    I don’t think legalizing drugs will be helpful. Who will want to hire a person with a drug problem? What do you do with children living in a home with drug addicts? Portugal had to start giving drug addicts guaranteed incomes and housing. Is that the path we take. Create drug colonies supported by the community? People I have talked to from Portugal said that the drug addicts still engage in crime to supplement their incomes. They have little incentive to use drug rehabilitation facilities so they stay until death it seems. Won’t these drug colonies locate in or near poor communities? Will that attract investment in nearby communities? I don’t see it as an easy fix. Or what are you proposing?

  29. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. July 2020 at 16:15

    LB, You said:

    “To Clarify. I think your views are an oversimplification. Disagreeing with another person’s views on a topic is too easily twisted into a race issue these days.”

    I don’t think you know what my views are. I completely agree that disagreeing with another person’s views on a topic is too easily twisted into a race issue these days.

  30. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    26. July 2020 at 17:53

    Well put and I agree, but….

    …. how do you feel about affirmative action? You could add it to your list and make it even 10 points.

    Also… to what extent do you think you prejudge or generalize about people based on their color, race, or culture.

  31. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    26. July 2020 at 18:24

    Scott Sumner: I regard all people as people.

    Are you applying “woke”-type descriptions of my views?

    You appear to be saying someone (me) who favors legal immigration, and rule of law, does not regard immigrants as “people.”

    Scott Sumner goes “woke”?

    Ye, I think open borders harms US employees in the the bottom half the employee-pool, in terms of wages.

    I regard US employees as people.

    I sometimes wonder if globalist regard people as inanimate objects on earth to improve profits multinationals.

  32. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    26. July 2020 at 18:27

    I can’t resist but picking on some issues with the comment section, e.g. Douglas, LB, also Christian List.

    If you want to blame social issues on race (usually, “black” people, see below), at least be consistent. Be a proper racist, if you will. The near entirety of the discussion of “race” on the internet centers around African Americans. So, commenters would generalize to, e.g. “blacks would default on their loans” or “blacks failing literacy tests”. But it’s all about narrow local issues with African Americans. Now this is not to say that you can’t make some generalizations about social issues around African Americans, but this isn’t about race anymore. Groups of people do cluster ethnically, but being black has nothing to do with it. A lot of Indians are “black”. Australian aborigenes are “black”. Yet they are ethnically totally different from Africans. And Africa itself has the highest genetic variability, between groups of Africans, of any group of humans. It has to be that way btw because with humanity’s origin located in Africa, it is African groups that had the longest time to to diversify genetically. The lumping together of people based on skin tone alone is ludicrous. Ethnicity certainly exists but it is literally not black and white. So if you want to discuss things along racial lines, at least be precise. “Black” has no meaning as a racial term, it’s just a US-centric obsession with the sociological problems created by the legacy of slavery in the US.

    Then there is the other confusion, culture. If you want to blame it all on “race” (code for “black” which is code for “African American”) then why, as Douglas does it for example, do you bring in culture? Which one is it now, race or culture? Because if it’s culture then not to worry – that’s not genetic. It’s changeable within a generation. I do happen to think that sociological issues come from culture, but precisely… race is not the issue. And if you want to point fingers at “black culture”, hard to say this without a chuckle, then again which is it? African American Culture? When even East Coast and West Coast rappers can’t agree? Have you ever talked to Africans (recent immigrants) in the US? They’d tell you they feel very different from African Americans (and vice versa). And from one another. Nigerians or Senegalese? Somalis or Kenyans? I mean where do I even start? And even within the legacy of slavery: Caribbean “black” people, also behaving very differently from “African American” people. Yes, culture has something to do with it, but at least talk in an identifiable way about any of the hundreds of possible candidates for “black” culture.

    (as per my point in my other comment above, the anti racists often do the exact same thing – everything is lumped into “black”).

    Finally. To those who can’t comprehend structural racism. When I lived in LA in the 90s, the public rail system was under construction. Some of the better-off neighborhoods fought long and hard NOT to get a subway station in their area. They were afraid that “black” people from South Central would suddenly just be a few train stops away. THAT is structural racism.

  33. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    27. July 2020 at 02:00

    Oh and while we’re at it, if any of you claim to subtly (or less subtly) imply that “black” as a race or as a culture produce sociological issues, then please o please don’t cherry pick your “whites” either. Lump all whites together. East coast WASPS from the US. Serbians. Portuguese. Irish. Norwegians. Hungarians. Georgians (yea, don’t forget the original Caucasians!). Argentinians. What have you. All white. I’d love to hear your generalisations about race and culture.

  34. Gravatar of bb bb
    27. July 2020 at 05:52

    I struggle with the opposition to identity politics for two reasons.
    1. How do you address structural racism if discussion of race in politics is out of bounds?
    2. Most politics is identity politics. The republican party is essentially a party of white grievance. The “real Americans” vs. “coastal elites” is identity politics. Rural vs. urban. Evangelicals feeling they are under attack is identify politics. Conservatives like to define identity politics narrowly and then declare it invalid. I think supporting that tactic is a cop-out.

  35. Gravatar of LB LB
    27. July 2020 at 07:11

    To Scott
    Ok I don’t understand your views. I agree with the sentiment you seemed to express above while disagreeing that such views are allowed today. I wish that there was once a Camelot where you could exchange ideas and express views where facts were more important than politically correct filters. If such a cloistered place existed it was destroyed on college campuses and now in the greater society.

    Don’t let it be forgot
    That once there was a spot
    For one brief shining moment that was known
    As Camelot.

    To mbka

    Thank you for making my point. I write about how well-intenioned government programs intended to help the Black community actually had a negative impact and I am called a racist. I would also argue that the growth of the Black street gangs that grew from theses programs (generalized as the Folks and the People) have had a much more negative impact on inner cities than the legacy of slavery. But once again I would be called a racist by some.

    LA unlike east coast cities does not have a central core. LA grew with the highways and urban sprawl. Public transportation did not make a lot of sense for LA given its layout. I suppose that was all a racist plan.

    They spent huge sums on a super train that has a very limited market. The fact that there isn’t much of a market is no doubt a racist plot. I’m sure you see one.

    Perhaps those “better-off” communities saw no need for public transportation for their community. Wouldn’t use it, don’t need it, why build it. Your argument is that Blacks wanted it so they could visit “better-off” communities? Please tell me you have a better argument than that.

    As to whether the Black community has some specific issues please explain the phrase, Black Lives Matter. That would seem to imply that the Black community has issues that separate it from the rest of society. Some even consider the phrase All Lives Matter as racist. Is BLM a racists scam trying to subtly or not so subtly create racial differences were such differences do not exist? And why does BLM seem to lump all “whites” together? Is that another plot.

    But again thank you for proving my point that some people just love to claim racism these days.

  36. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    27. July 2020 at 07:26


    hilarious misreading of my comments, plus implying things I haven’t written, and a lot of random rambling. I’m sorry I can’t respond, you’re not making any sense to me. Just this one little ironic nugget, various “black” people in LA specifically have told me, unprompted, just what you wrote, that well-intentioned government programmes had created perverse incentives and had a negative impact. So if you just listened to people, you’d discover that they’re not so different from you after all, that their opinions are not homogeneous, and that they think about causes and solutions too. Gangs hurt their own communities the most, but the problem is not solved by having the police brutalize dark skinned people indiscriminately.

  37. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    27. July 2020 at 07:50

    Christian, Structural racism is indirect, not like redlining. It’s when towns won’t allow apartment buildings to be built because they don’t want “poor people” moving in.


    thank you for the explanation. So structural racism is often not genuine racism either, but distancing from poor people.

    Thanks to your example I now understand better how this might support a downward spiral for poor people. In any case, it won’t be easier for these people to move up with this kind of policy.

    But it’s not like I have a solution to this problem. It’s just the way people are.

    My father is on a local council and one day there were big plans for social buildings. I don’t know how my father voted on the issue, but he certainly put forward the argument that the poorest people in society will definitely move into these buildings, people who have not previously lived in the area, at least not in this number. That was a little scandal in the local newspaper at the time, and most of the other members of the local council faked their outrage. But it was just the simple truth. If you build a lot of social buildings, in the lowest value range, then it won’t be millionaires moving in.

    My father also made the argument that local schools are influenced by this. Again, the same fake outrage.

    Anyway, the social buildings were built. The German state was very happy about this, because there’s quite some demand. Many refugees were settled there, very poor people, little or no education, at that time many from Lebanon; in parts also migrant workers from Italy, Greece, Turkey.

    The end of the story was that the vast majority of supporters, and all members of the local council sent their children to completely different schools within a few years, far, far away from the migrants. More hypocrisy is hardly possible.

    For my father another school was out of the question, so he sent all his children to this one school, the proportion of foreigners was now almost 50%, because all the rich natives had left, but the school was not as bad as the hypocrites claimed, it wasn’t great, I mean it’s school, forced learning, what do you expect, but it was endurable, and certainly better than certain episodes I had to endure with “natives”.

    But still, never underestimate the massive hypocrisy of the gauche caviar, these two-faced hypocrites have all switched schools or even their residence.

    When I was at an American high school for a year, it was exactly the same there, I think it’s more or less the same in all Western countries resp. all over the world. I don’t really see an obvious solution.


    They were afraid that “black” people from South Central would suddenly just be a few train stops away. THAT is structural racism.

    Being afraid is not racism per se, but I agree with you that it is racism if one tries to prevent infrastructure so that a certain race is kept in distance.

    Of course, only very few people argue this way nowadays, most people use positive terms such as “environmental protection”, which ultimately has the same effect. From this point of view I almost prefer the old racists, these people at least did not hide their mindset and their motives so much.

  38. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    27. July 2020 at 08:03

    Christian List,

    I actually agree on two points. One, people usually couch their self interest in noble causes such as environmentalism when in fact it’s just NIMBY. Also see Timur Kuran’s “Private truths, public lies” ( Two, I know various leftist-to-totally-marxist people in Europe, “69er” generation, i.e. my parents’ generation. Mostly they live off rent from owning entire buildings, usually inherited, and underdeclared to the tax man. Or they are on the public payroll railing against the very economy that pays their salaries. They feel totally justified in their hypocrisy. It’s not even funny.

  39. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    27. July 2020 at 08:09

    You make a good argument, which I will grossly oversimplify as “race is not descriptive.” Those who focus on race trap us both purposefully and accidentally in the false associations and dis-associations of tribalism.

  40. Gravatar of bb bb
    27. July 2020 at 08:49

    The story about your father is a very good example. An important distinction is that structural racism is not dependent on racist people. The system can be racist even if the people aren’t.
    Add to that a fair number of actual racists, and systemic racism is pretty hard to fix. Hence the need to by anti-racist.
    From what I’ve seen, structural racism in Germany is bad and there seems to be very little awareness of the concept.

  41. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    27. July 2020 at 09:00

    bb, You said:

    “1. How do you address structural racism if discussion of race in politics is out of bounds?”

    These problems can be addressed most effectively by making utilitarian arguments. Voters will be easier to persuade on those grounds. If you make the argument about helping “minorities”, then it’s likely the majority will vote against.

    Thus point to how reforming our drug laws, zoning laws, education system etc. will help America as a whole. Lots of luck trying to convince white voters to support school vouchers because “it will help minority groups”.

    I completely agree with your second point about the hypocrisy of conservatives. The GOP has become the “white nationalist” party.

  42. Gravatar of LB LB
    27. July 2020 at 10:31

    I spent many years living and working in the inner city. I grew up with Larry Hoover in the Englewood community in Chicago. I’ve probably worked with and for more Black-owned firms and community groups then you. I’ve worked with inmates trying for a second chance. I was on staff for a leading Democrat. I’ve lived it so keep your snide insinuations of racism to yourself. The world has enough woke liberals running around destroying things.

    And Scott makes racially inflammatory comments like “The GOP has become the “white nationalist” party. Maybe we all should just go into armed camps and call it quits on the whole system.

    I was told he was a serious scholar. Well, scholars aren’t what they use to be.

    I’m at the wrong place so excuse me.

  43. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    27. July 2020 at 12:19

    Seems like LB won this thread, mbka more or less lost and Sumner as usual pleads he’s misunderstood. That’s my neutral and unbiased view.

    @mbka – “And Africa itself has the highest genetic variability, between groups of Africans, of any group of humans. It has to be that way btw because with humanity’s origin located in Africa, it is African groups that had the longest time to to diversify genetically.” – no. I think–and this is what I’ve read–Africa has the highest genetic variability since the tribes there don’t intermarry. By contrast, Han Chinese have one of the lowest genetic variability since they go to great lengths, even as far back as the Han dynasty if I recall my Great Courses series on China, to send leading families to the far ends of China to find a suitable match with other leading families (it’s another reason, and I hate to sound racist, why so many Chinese ‘all look the same’). Europeans are somewhere between the two groups. It’s like genetic drift in genetics: small populations can become very different from each other due to lack of DNA exchanges.

  44. Gravatar of ro2b ro2b
    27. July 2020 at 12:32

    On structural racism or the lack thereof.

    I may be not understanding some of these comments, but I think that I am hearing that some people believe that we don’t have any structural racism.

    So my question is what is your explanation of the fact that Americans of African descent are generally worse off economically, Educationally and staying out of jailedness than Americans of European descent?

    It seems to me to be structural racism, and (at least I think so) that is the commonly accepted opinion on both the right and the left. Certainly Congressional Republicans often endorse this view. There are obviously differences as to what to do about this or we wouldn’t need our wonderful partisan superstructure.

    But apparently a number of commenters disagree?

  45. Gravatar of D. I. Harris D. I. Harris
    27. July 2020 at 16:14

    I’m sorry, I think I wasn’t clear. I wasn’t hurt by what you said, so you don’t need to apologise.

    I more wanted to extend an olive branch. I respect you; I have learned so much by reading your blog for years. And I felt that, by expressing that, I’d hopefully be able to help you feel like we’re less… of a threat to free speech.

    I agree that the excesses of cancel culture are horrible. Going after David Shor and Steven Pinker is inexcusable, and anyone who participated in either of those should be ashamed. I think people on the (identity-politics) left need to be more vocal about the extremists who will torpedo our movement if we do not cast them out. So I am vocal about them.

    Though I would say that most people who also participate in identity politics agree. It’s just that vocal crazies often are loud on twitter.

    I also agree with a utilitarian focus on policy. There are many systemic issues that face PoC much more than white people, but it’s by showing how they will benefit everyone that everyone will get on board. So much of the GOP’s strategy is to say that programs benefit people who aren’t good like you—and it works. You don’t beat them by proving their main point right.

    I also agree that a colourblind society is best. That is my end goal.

    For me, identity politics are the way to get to a colourblind society.

    Let’s take something like voice-acting. The race of the actor is never seen by the audience. And yet when we think of the neutral voice, it’s a more or less midwestern, Ohio accent. Which means that a black actor who has a more “regional” or “urban” accent will be less likely to be picked for the role.

    So, when white voice-actors step down from voicing specific roles, as happened recently, I have mixed feelings. If they’re the best voice actors for that role, they should have the role. I assume you would agree.

    But I also think that the biases we as a society have made it harder for non-white actors to get white roles (because of accents), and yet allowed competition for non-white roles (because those roles don’t need to have an authentic accent). And I think drawing attention to that with actors stepping down, and making sure that people with authentic “ethnic accents” are welcomed for any role, this increases the diversity of accents considered normal, and, eventually, will mean that you can have black actors playing white people and white actors playing black people.

    I just think that things need to be shaken up a bit and a new normal established before we get there.

    (I don’t think this makes sense in something like an Orchestra though. There are no accents in that)

    As for things like the letter, I think mob-pressure should be reserved for those who try to shut down the voices of others. Because free speech should mean that everyone feels welcome to express their ideas.

    But, in order for that to happen, people who invalidate others need to be deplatformed. Because it’s really hard for everyone to share their views when some people are told that they are not welcomed as they are.

    But I would say that Zach Beauchamp makes this point better than I do:

  46. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    27. July 2020 at 17:45


    easy to address and completely uncontroversial in science: assuming a certain intrinsic rate of diversification (e.g. mutation rate), the oldest group will have the highest internal diversity. So, diversity serves as a proxy for age of a group. This is the basis for all and every phylogenetic analysis (say, whatever is currently done with coronavirus sequencing analysis). But the theory behind it is older than genetics, it was used by linguists before that. Their results match the geneticists’ results, in general. On Han Chinese – where they are in racially diverse societies (Singapore, US), they readily, happily and frequently intermarry with other ethnicities. In Singapore, the Indian-Chinese pairing seems to be quite common lately.


    I completely respect your experience. But here is the problem: you don’t seem to really read what I wrote (or Scott). You have not even commented on my main points. You went right away into some emotional triggers that I seem to have set off, interpreting all sorts of factual discussions as ad hominem attacks. I never even called you a racist. My 1st comment had a bit of an edge to it but not specifically pointed at you. I wondered about thinking patterns. My second one was genuinely trying to find out what happened. I even agreed with you in some points. The very idea that I or Scott are some kind of woke liberals shows you just don’t read. You have your preconceived notions, and see them verified at every corner. No wonder you see the world as circling your wagons and closing in.

    Ray again,

    thread’s about “truth” not about “winning”, is it? I know, in times of Trump, it’s easy to forget because he always reframes everything as zero sum winner loser games. But either way, name calling usually indicates who feels weaker in their position.

  47. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    27. July 2020 at 18:41


    yes, that’s one half of my point – if you need to cluster people by some features, and we all do this for purposes of generalization, personal, political, or in research, then race is a particularly poor descriptor. Now race sometimes can seem to be a good proxy, e.g. if all people you study for some purpose are both in a particular socioeconomic group and race, then it will seem that everything correlates with race. But that’s spurious. Race is too vague as a useful descriptor and likely not much of a causative agent.

    People are multi-dimensional and the interesting dimensions for a given question ought to be more specific. Scott once had a wonderful post where he mused about inequality. Just as with race, the left and the right agree on the framing of the subject: the left sees nothing but economic inequality and declares it as the defining societal problem (judges as of great value). The right declares that inequality is either your own fault (value judgment implied) or doesn’t really exist. Both agree to talk about economic inequality exclusively. What Scott pointed out in that post was that there are dozens, hundreds, of other forms of inequality that may be much more dramatic for one’s life experience than the economic kind. Age. Health. Education. Sexual experience. Social position in a group. IQ. Artistic ability. Athletic ability. Spatial intuition. etc. All of these can influence your life experience dramatically but the only descriptor most people ever think about is economic power or lack thereof, which is what the inequality discussion is about.

    Finally, most societal issues are cultural by definition. Ethnicity often correlates with culture for historical reasons. But ethnicity does not cause culture nor does culture cause ethnicity. So, race isn’t the thing people should think about most. Generally, all societal outcomes are vastly dominated by the culture that surrounds the individual.

    Now to part two of my point – if one does cluster people by some better descriptors than race, one still doesn’t get to make statements on people’s “superiority” from those descriptors. Just like no one race is inherently superior (in what?), or should be endowed with more inherent human rights (being human is sufficient for that), no one set of other features one may possess should do that either. For example, one should not replace racism by IQ-ism, replacing one descriptor for another in order to determine a fixed pecking order in society. As from Scott’s remark about MLK’s approach to race: let the individual’s actions be the basis for judgment. Not their belonging to a group. So: People belonging to a demographic cluster with higher average IQ do not automatically qualify to be right in an argument or make other claims to superiority. High average group IQ doesn’t even guarantee a higher individual IQ. A higher individual IQ may lead to better life decisions but even that is a case by case thing.

    To drive that point home, because there is so much IQ fetishism out there. Anyone inclined to assign human value based on group IQ should look at IQ data by profession, e.g. here . I hope they would not conclude, from there, that MDs should lead society and that e.g. craftsmen shouldn’t even vote. But when framed differently, a lot of people (on the left and the right!) act as if high IQ of a group, any group, automatically made one a superior human, and implied that one should have more rights. Not so. No one descriptor does that.

  48. Gravatar of bb bb
    28. July 2020 at 05:33

    You wrote:
    “These problems can be addressed most effectively by making utilitarian arguments. Voters will be easier to persuade on those grounds. If you make the argument about helping “minorities”, then it’s likely the majority will vote against.
    Thus point to how reforming our drug laws, zoning laws, education system etc. will help America as a whole. Lots of luck trying to convince white voters to support school vouchers because “it will help minority groups”.
    I’m more optimistic about people’s motivations. There is a long history of American’s voting against their own self-interests (both sides probably agree). Current support for police reform and justice reform is not motivated by utilitarian arguments, but by a realization that a minority segment of our society is victimized. I think last year’s just reform bill benefited from identity politics. The ADA didn’t pass because “who doesn’t like ramps?”. No child left behind leaned heavily on identity politics if I’m not mistaken. I recall that the early moves to legalize marijuana were justified by appeals to help a minority of people with chronic illnesses, not through utilitarian arguments. I think identity politics has been somewhat successful at moving public opinion. I can’t think of many policy achievements that benefited marginalized groups that were achieved with utilitarian arguments. Beyond that, you can make a utilitarian argument that justifies marginalizing groups as long as the majority succeeds.
    Separate note, I don’t think opposition to helping minorities is the main obstacle to school vouchers.
    You wrote:
    “I completely agree with your second point about the hypocrisy of conservatives. The GOP has become the “white nationalist” party.”
    I’ve noticed a few times not that when I reference other types of identity politics, you reply narrowly that “white supremacy” or “white nationalism” is identity politics. I think most folks on this blog think race/ethnicity and lgbtq are two of the most relevant examples of left-leaning identity politics. I think the best examples of the identity politics on the right are white nationalist, white evangelicals, and rural whites. It seems to me that the Republican party deliberately appeals to the sense of marginalization that these three groups feel. Do you disagree that many of the appeals to white evangelicals and rural whites qualify as identify politics?

  49. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    28. July 2020 at 06:34

    Thanks for the elaboration. Regarding the concept of rights based on IQ or some other trait: I agree with the Founding Fathers concept of inalienable rights.

  50. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    28. July 2020 at 10:20

    dtoh, I’m not a fan of affirmative action programs, although I’m not sure I’d go so far as to ban them.

    Hard to quantify the amount of prejudging that I do, or that anyone else does.

    LB, You said:

    “And Scott makes racially inflammatory comments like “The GOP has become the “white nationalist” party.”

    LOL, that comment may be idiotic, but it’s obviously not racially inflammatory, as the GOP is not a race. I base that claim on two facts:

    1. Trump is clearly a white nationalist.

    2. Trump basically controls the GOP (except Romney). They are terrified to break ranks. Maybe in 5 years the GOP won’t be a white nationalist party, but right now it is.

    The right likes to say the Dems are now socialist. But in case they didn’t notice, actual Democratic voters picked Biden, not Sanders. GOP voters selected a white nationalist in 2016.

    D.I. Harris, I agree with many of your comments, but not this:

    “For me, identity politics are the way to get to a colourblind society.”

    bb, You said:

    “I recall that the early moves to legalize marijuana were justified by appeals to help a minority of people with chronic illnesses, not through utilitarian arguments.”

    Actually, I think that is a utilitarian argument.

    On identity politics, I’d emphasize the useful role of the narrative arts in presenting members of minority groups as sympathetic characters. Didn’t someone say poets are the unacknowledged legislators? The narrative arts contributed to ending slavery, and also contributed to gay rights in the latter part of the 20th century. But good films and novels are almost never “identity art”.

    So I certainly don’t mean to suggest I oppose political movements that help certain groups of people that are currently oppressed. I worry when it spills over into the politics of tribalism, and yes the conservative cases you cite are good examples. See my new post.

  51. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    28. July 2020 at 15:40


    From what I’ve seen, structural racism in Germany is bad and there seems to be very little awareness of the concept.

    Maybe because it’s a bad concept that isn’t even known under this name by wikipedia?

    Racism to me is when something is genuinely racially oriented. Affirmative action for example. This seems to be really racist.

    All the other examples that have been presented here so far are directed against poor people. In old blog posts a certain blog owner wrote several times that he does not want to live next to poor people and that this is his right. Correct or not?

    I don’t deny that “racism” exists, I just don’t believe that it’s such a big problem as claimed anymore. The opposite is true: It’s getting less and less.

    I also don’t believe that racism explains the different outcomes well. It doesn’t.

    You can easily check this by looking at middle-class and upper-class immigrant children in Germany, and surprise, surprise, these children do very well. There seems to be no relevant discrimination and why should there be? I bet it’s the same in the US. Oh yes, it is. These people are better than the “natives” quite often.

    In this sense even the old Marxists were more right when they talked about “classism” and blamed everything on classes. They “only” drew the wrong conclusions.


    So my question is what is your explanation of the fact that Americans of African descent are generally worse off economically, Educationally and staying out of jailedness than Americans of European descent?

    What is your explanation that certain groups from Asia, or Jews for example, do better? You need a theory that explains all aspects of a phenomenon, not just parts of it. Aren’t possible explanations obvious?

  52. Gravatar of bb bb
    29. July 2020 at 08:46

    I’ve spent some time in Germany and I’ve always been surprised by the narrow definition of racism that I hear. My takeaway is that you haven’t familiarized yourself with the concept(s) of structural/systemic/institutional racism. It’s been several years since I looked at the numbers for Germany, but my recollection is that there are significant difference in wealth, income, and other measures between ethnic Germans those from immigrant backgrounds. Your argument is that if you control for the starting point and other structural factors the difference becomes much less significant, which is the common argument against systemic racism. I do recall reading some years ago that racial profiling is a problem in Germany, but it’s difficult to measure because Germany doesn’t collect good statistics on the subject. I also recall that social mobility is Germany is bad across the board, and is often attributed to the education system that categorizes children at a young age. I also recall that non-ethnic Germans are sent to the lower school at an alarmingly disproportionate rate. Why is that? It’s almost certainly partially due to prejudice by individuals within the institution, but it’s also just as likely due to structures in the in the institutions that lead to racist results. This result is racist, unless you believe that ethic Germans inherently superior to non-ethnic German, which would make you a racist. So if you have a system in place that relegates a racial group to a permanent lower class, you have systemic racism. And last I checked, that describes Germany. Germany has racist systems, structures, and institutions, regardless whether people have racism in their hearts. And so does America, so I’m not throwing stones.
    Other folks explain it much better than me.

  53. Gravatar of jj jj
    29. July 2020 at 10:12

    wonderful post. You neatly sidestepped the question “what is racism”, which is unanswerable these days. The shifting definition of “racism” has led to a comedy of errors (in the original tragic sense) as people talk past each other.

    When I was a lad, racism had the simple meaning of disliking people from other races. Why must every new extension of racism get rolled into the same term? New concepts such as structural racism are useful extensions but get lost in the muddle, and denied by people who don’t want to be known as racist. I will never admit that “I am a racist” — but perhaps I could be convinced that “I am a structural racist”.

    (Actually that still sounds too harsh — maybe “I am a structuralist”?)

  54. Gravatar of ro2b ro2b
    30. July 2020 at 12:28

    Christian List; So you are saying that your explanation is racial superiority?

    I would agree that some people of Jewish descent or some Asian groups do better than say, me. But I think that it is a reach to believe that it is group genetics which is the main factor.

    Do you think it is?

  55. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    30. July 2020 at 15:39

    It simply makes not much sense to me to label differences that are not caused by racism as such. As far as I know, there have recently been two good predictors that predict with a very precise correlation how the child’s success at school will develop: Firstly, parents’ educational background and secondly, parents’ income. Nothing else.

    Racial superiority is obviously the wrong word, because it is historically biased, and because it is not true in all areas but only in a few very specific ones. Let’s call it differences.

    It is also not permanent, forever valid, but rather changing. It is also not only genetic, but also epigenetic, cultural, etc., an interesting mixture of genetic, epigenetic and cultural factors.

    I would agree that some people of Jewish descent or some Asian groups do better than say, me.

    It is not about individuals, it is about noticeable differences between certain groups, in places where one would expect strong overlaps, maybe even close to perfect.

    What’s your explanation? If you believe so strongly in racism and its strong negative effects, then you must explain this phenomenon by racism as well, but how? It just doesn’t work out.

  56. Gravatar of The Truth Of Racism | Transterrestrial Musings The Truth Of Racism | Transterrestrial Musings
    7. August 2020 at 11:08

    […] Yes, there are always going to be people (often crazy people) who think you are a racist. That doesn’t mean you are one. […]

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