Saturday, October 25, 2008

Journalistic Racism

I've noticed a tendency for journalists to describe various policies - especially "conservative" ones - as racist, without seeming to notice that while the policy is racially neutral, their interpretation is itself quite racist. Other people do it too, but for today I'm picking on the journalists because they really ought to know better.

Unless a policy (which I mean here as any law, regulation, etc.) explicitly applies only (or differently) to members of specific ethnic groups, it is highly unlikely that the policy is itself racist.

I qualify that statement with "highly unlikely" to account for things like voting being restricted to landowners in the immediate wake of the Emancipation Proclamation, which in all probability had the intention (and effect) of blocking the recently freed slaves from full participation in democracy. I can think of other far more recent examples, but those are for another day.

However, the vast majority of policies that get interpreted as "racist" are not actually racist at all. Instead, the interpreter is projecting their own racism onto the framers of the policy.

For example, let's say that a new law were passed saying that a ten dollar per day fine would be levied on anyone who hadn't bathed in the last week. Rest assured that editorials and blogs would immediately present rants along the lines of "this law is clearly intended to discriminate against Freedonians, because everyone knows that their hygiene is questionable at best".

See the problem? More to the point, can you identify the actual bigot in this scenario? If so, you're a large step ahead of most journalists, editors, and Democrats.

I've seen this principle at work many times. One of the worst was a feature in the August 30, 2001 issue (number 876) of Rolling Stone. As previously noted, I was an RS subscriber a couple of lifetimes ago, casting the magazine aside when I learned what "critical thinking" meant (shades of I Corinthians 13:11).

That issue had a feature article on how many states have laws restricting the right of felons (including those who have completed their prison terms) to vote. Two explicit arguments were then made, both of which I find very funny. I sometimes wonder if articles like these are satire written by conservatives, because the liberal arguments presented are so spectacularly stupid:

1. Laws preventing felons from voting, or making it harder for them to do so, are racist against black people. Subtext: black people are criminals.

2. Laws preventing felons from voting, or making it harder for them to do so, skew the electoral system unfairly in favour of the Republican party. Subtext: the terms "Democrat" and "sociopathic criminal" are largely interchangeable.

The sad part is that most readers, through a combination of politically correct sensory bombardment and apathy, won't even notice the switch. Many readers will go away from the article thinking that the author actually had a valid point and that other people are the bigots. After all, "they wouldn't print it otherwise", right?

Serious articles like this make it tough for those of us who are out here occasionally trying to be funny. It's tough to top genuine moral ignorance combined with a complete lack of self-awareness.

This all comes up because of an article I just read. I'm not above discussing a seven year-old magazine and calling it topical - in fact, I may do a lot more of it here in the future - but not today.

From the opening of an opinion piece by Douglas Cuthand published on October 23:

The re-election of a Conservative minority government could have a serious impact on First Nations and aboriginal people through the party's promise to get tough on youth crime...
While the article is mostly about other issues concerning Canada in general and First Nations peoples in particular, Cuthand returns to the youth crime issue before it's over. He holds his position: that toughening up youth crime laws will be especially bad for aboriginal communities.

I'd have a lot more respect for this kind of writing if the authors had the guts to come out and explicitly say what they believe: that aboriginal youth are congenitally criminal, that the Democratic party is full of sociopaths, that Freedonians are naturally smelly.

Unless you're prepared to say that there's something about Ethnic Group X that makes them inherently and irresistibly more likely to violate Policy Y, then Policy Y is not racist. And if you're prepared to say that, then the Ethnic Group X Anti-Defamation Brigade's lawyer is on line one. Good luck. And remember, there is nothing "soft" about the bigotry of low expectations.

A look around the Web tells me that Douglas Cuthand is of aboriginal ancestry himself. That doesn't change anything. People can be prejudiced against members of groups to which they belong.

I'd also like to note that in some cases, there may indeed be social factors that lead to members of Group X tending to wind up on the wrong side of Policy Y. That's a separate discussion that can and should be held. However, insinuations that the policy is intended to "trap" Group X'ers (with the everpresent nod-and-a-wink corollary that that was exactly the plan all along) don't help.

In the interest of full disclosure: I wrote this article mostly as another excuse to slander Freedonians.

Enough rambling. Here's another picture from our our recent church-sponsored afternoon of trap shooting. This is a box full of the clay "pigeons" we were using as targets.

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