A CRITIQUE OF THE SCHOOL OF "WHITE RACISM":
WHAT IF BLACK MUSLIM KAHLID MOHAMMED EARNED A PH.D. IN
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
"Third World activists on the Berkeley campus and elsewhere advanced viewpoints that built on ideas and rhetoric associated with anticolonial revolts in the Third World, contending that America's ghettos, reservations, and barrios were "internal colonies," the result of a process of domination and exploitation similar to that which defined the relationship between European colonizers and their overseas colonies. Years later, scholars would engage in hairsplitting debates about the relevance of the "colonial analogy." What was most important was not the specific claims, but what it gave rise to, the political and economic dimension of race instead of attitudes and prejudice. Eventually this was translated into academic jargon with the term "institutionalized racism," which was introduced into the sociological lexicon with the publication of Black Power." (Steinberg 1995:2-3)
They argued that race prejudice was in retreat; yet the discord over issues of race persisted and, in some ways, became even more divisive. So it seemed necessary to researchers of the 1970s and 80s to rethink what prejudice consists in, and how it fits into liberal democracy on the American model. Sniderman and Piazza (1993:173)
According to the central thesis, the overt expression of racial prejudice is now frowned upon. People therefore favor disguised, indirect ways to express their bigotry. The perception that blacks "violate cherished values," particularly the values of hard work and individual initiative, has been the spur to a new kind of racism. What is new about the new racism is its expropriation of traditional values as a cloak to hide its true nature, which consists of prejudice and bigotry. "The crucial issue is the claim that racial prejudice now has the out-and-out backing of America's most cherished values. Prejudice came to be seen as the product of the finest and proudest of American values"(Sniderman and Piazza 1993:68 and 174)
Researchers started to study the so-called subtle racism of the post-civil rights movement era. They called this the "new racism" as if racism was new. Like Eldridge Cleaver, they said that racism was a prime expression of mainstream American values, that racism is as American as apple pie. Racism had wormed its way into the core of American values.
The problem with the criticism of the school of new racism or white racism is that it comes from a position to the right of the new scholarship. The criticism here will come from the left of the sociologists in the school of white racism.
Politics Parading as Scholarship
It may at first seem odd to call those sociologists working on attacking the more subtle explanations that whites use to justify the continuance of the considerable inequality between blacks and whites in the United States racial separatists. Most of the sociologists of the white racist school are multiculturalist. They are actually multicultural separatists. While parading as the saviors of sociology and fighters for the rights of blacks, the proponents of the school of white racism are actually doing great harm.
As multi-culturalism became the accepted new version of liberalism in America, sociologists began to do research to help support this philosophy. They began to say that there is a new expression of racism, one that has wrapped itself in the traditional values of American life. And since this new racism is so closely identified with the traditional culture, then the promotion and advancement of competitive cultures is justified as offsetting ways of thought. Proponents of the new racism include Blauner 1972; Feagin, 1996; Hochschild 1984; McConahay and Hough 1976; Sears 1988; Wellman 1985; and Wilhelm, 1973.
What the theorists of the new racism have not realized is that the new racism is not new, but has always existed in America. It has just been hidden by various ideologies such as biological racism, but was always there and was always the real racism. The equality of opportunity needs to be stripped of its historical associations with racism and made an actuality rather than be used as an excuse to establish another separate but equal system of segregation (even if the new ethnic liberals call it a "plural and equal" system).
The multiculturalists are not only parading New Left politics as the truth, but actively backing up their politics with censorship. These sociologists positively believe it is their duty to censor and censure those persons not speaking or writing the truth about race and ethnicity -- they believe in enforcing what has become known as politically correct multicultural ideas and speech. They are so biased that they do not realize they are often engaging in emotionally abusive language and behavior. (Old liberals also engage in censorship because they refuse to accept that racism could be integral to America -- different reasoning, same result -- censorship.)
The politically correct censors justify their censorship by declaring their opponents racist. If we declare we are to the left of the multiculturalists, they like to use the insult of "reactionary". We support the use of the term racist, but the issue here is, who are the real racists? We contend that both the old liberals and the new multicultural separatists are racist.
The Radicalism of Multiculturalism
The multi-culturalist sociologists are either consciously or unconsciously hide the real nature of multiculturalism; they hide just how radically different this perspective is compared to how the American society has always worked.
But the neo-conservatives realize how different is the new philosophy. Glazer (1983) realizes how radical what the black separatists are asking for is. And he honestly states the nature of the conflict between blacks and Jews. Intellectuals from other white groups have not been as out-spoken as many of the Jewish intellectuals because they are not minorities and don't feel as much of a need to oppose multiculturalism.
Glazer (1983:37) says that when blacks oppose the system of testing they are also challenging the very system under which Jews have done so well. He adds that "Paradoxically, . . .the ultimate basis of resistance to their demands . . . is that they pose a serious threat to the ability of other groups to maintain their communities."
He further adds that in America we do not recognize groups, only individuals. Black separatism poses a threat to this. Glazer (1983:42) also realized that "The Negro now demands entry into a world, a society, that does not exist, except in ideology."
Race consciousness became a necessary part of the remedies that courts fashioned, but its presence legitimized ethnocentrism as a force in American politics. In the late 1960s, the courts, Congress, and policy makers . . . frequently heard compelling testimony by political activists and social scientists about the value of ethnic particularism in the curriculum. (Ravitch 1985:267)
The congressmen believed that bilingual educators saw the program as an opportunity to maintain the language and culture of the non-English-speaking student, while he was learning English. (Ravitch 1985:268) Bilingual Education Act of 1968. The aim is to use the public schools to promote the maintenance of distinct ethnic communities, each with its own cultural heritage and language. (Ravith 1985:273)
The recent shift in focus from antidiscrimination to group preference has splintered the civil rights coalition of the 1960s and has changed the nature of civil rights coalition of the 1960s and has changed the nature of civil rights issues. (Ravitch 1985:250)
We have moved to the situation where the government had taken on a commitment to facilitate the maintenance of the ethnic heritage and a commitment that requires that school authorities take into account ethnic and linguistic differences in education. (Glazer 1983:132)
This is not a problem of a revolt against assimilation because in terms of culture blacks were pretty assimilated. Rather black separatism developed a de-assimilation -- a reverse assimilation. a deliberate attempt to create a new culture where before there was none. The Afrocentrist writings are just the silliest of the poor quality of the new research parading as scholarship.
Our thesis is that liberals do not understand America. And one illustration of this is the failure to understand Proposition 187. The liberals say "Don't worry. The immigrants actually bring economic improvement." That may be so, but it misses the point. Given an anti-government atmosphere, it is virtually impossible to increase local and state taxes to cope effectively with immigration. The resultant political deadlock is real, and to a considerable degree independent of the real contribution of immigrants. The problem is that the United States because of its racism created a system of government unable to function effectively and unable to plan a sound immigration policy.
White Racism Ignores Sociological Racism
Americans themselves deny they are racist and have increasingly scored "liberal" on polls asking about race relations. Americans have come, however, to be less supportive of those measures needed to bring about the inclusion of blacks into the system of equality of opportunity (Schuman, et. al. 1985). If one asks white Americans about various means of improving the situation for blacks, these Americans reject one method of social improvement after another until almost all viable options are rejected. Social scientists are going to have to become more sophisticated in their approach to white racism. The discussions of the results of opinion polls on racism are very misleading simply because Americans are not only deluding the pollsters on the role of race, but themselves as well.
Racism as a belief in the biological inferiority of blacks is no longer socially acceptable in the United States. This does not mean, however, that racism is dead. Since biological racism has been seriously weakened, white America has increasingly turned to sociological racism. Racists have had to turn for support to the traditional racism that has always underlain all other racist theories: equality-of-opportunity racism. Heard everyday somewhere in the United States is the following argument. In the United States we have eliminated the legal barriers to discrimination against blacks. Therefore, if any hiring preferences persist it is due to the poor performance of blacks themselves or to their communities. Blacks should organize themselves, emphasize traditional American values of hard work, and pull themselves up by their own boot straps.
This more sophisticated version of racism is often backed up by sociology in the idealistic tradition. Many whites believe not that blacks are racially inferior, but sociologically inferior. This racism is in part based on the culture of poverty idea (Lewis 1959, 1968). More recently, it has been given support by political scientist Edward Banfield (1974) and black sociologist Thomas Sowell (1975). The idea is that poverty creates a culture of misery and inability to defer gratification such that the culture itself takes on a life of its own and works to keep the poor in poverty. There is some truth in this thesis, but it must always be remembered that social structure is primary. This culture of poverty is primarily a result of racism and poverty. Although the authors vehemently deny it, books like William Julius Wilson's The Declining Significance of Race (1978) and Shelby Steele's The Content of Our Character (1990) are also basically little more than nicer versions of neoconservative equality of opportunity racism.
The real tragedy is that popular commentators and the average white American have adopted this theory of poverty. They have transformed it into a new excuse for racism by simply dropping or deemphasizing the role of the social structure and white racism. (See Steinberg, 1981 for an excellent criticism of the culture of poverty thesis.) This reasoning ignores the fact that blacks experience prejudice and discrimination virtually every day of their lives (see Hacker, 1992). This discrimination takes the form of refusing to hire blacks, refusing to rent housing units in white areas to blacks, opposing inter-racial dating and marriage, and a myriad of other ways too long to list. The new, more sophisticated kind of racism in America today makes it questionable whether or not the nation can move forward to meet the challenges of the new world order.
Within the Johnson administration, in March 1965, Moynihan circulated a 48-page report entitled "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action." The report argued that the federal government had goo reason to organize its scattered anti-poverty efforts around the objective of strengthening the black family. The report suggested that legalized discrimination was not the main problem facing most black families in city ghettos. It declared that, if one were able to eliminate in one stroke all the discrimination practiced against blacks, they would still be at a competitive disadvantage against the rest of American society. (MacInnes 1996:34-35)
The treatment of Moynihan and his ideas chilled the atmosphere for scholars, journalists, and politicians to the point that, a full generation later, only a few academics and fewer politicians were prepared to deal with the questions Moynihan raised and analyzed. . . . you run the danger of personal attack if you mention individual or family responsibility or point to negative statistical correlations about black Americans. (MacInnes 1996:41)
Moynihan's most effective assailant was William Ryan, then a psychologist at the Harvard Medical School. In his article that turned into the book Blaming the Victim (1971). He accused anyone who sought to discuss problems that disproportionately affect black Americans of "blaming the victim." (MacInnes 1996:42-43)
Kenneth Clark's Dark Ghetto (1965) called liberalism the "Negro's affliction," and chided liberals for a "persistent verbal liberalism that is never capable of overcoming an equally persistent illiberalism of action."
Edward Banfield published a book in 1968 that made a simple and well-documented cast that the problems played out in ghetto neighborhoods were a consequence of concentrated lower-class populations. Race was not the critical issue, he said. The black poor, Banfield suggested, were no different from other (white) lower-class Americans: they had no fondness for work, no strong family ties, an easy acceptance of criminal behavior, no brief for schooling, and no future perspective. Banfield argued that even well-pruned government programs could not undo the harm caused by class differences. For this sin, Banfield was effectively banished from one campus after another, his books vandalized, his lectures shouted down, and his sponsors threatened. (MacInnes 1996:57)
In the field of race relations a new ideology of race slowly developed. Conservatives used code words such as "forced bussing" and "quotas" to appeal to those opposed to the liberal agenda. Patrick Moynihan advised President Nixon to begin a period of "benign neglect" in the area of civil rights. The new conservatism stressed that there is plenty of equality of opportunity in the nation, but that minorities fail to take advantage of this. Social scientists, such as Edward Banfield (1970) and Charles Murray (1984), even began to declare that now that racial barriers had been destroyed, any further failure to make progress had to be ascribed to the minorities themselves. The new conservatism became so strong that most liberal commentators found themselves pushed off television and radio and replaced by conservative spokespersons.
Contradictory Theoretical Perspectives
Certain scattered sections of the book on White Racism (Feagin & Vera 1996:24&33) take the position that racism among white workers is a real phenomenon separate from capitalism. But then there are other sections where the authors criticize the role of the corporate elite and the mass media for misleading the workers. These statements should be reconciled in a clear elucidation of your theory of racism in America: real or secondary byproduct of capitalism? Racism in America is more important than capitalist inequality in damaging the American system, although both factors work hand-in-hand and reinforce each other to cause the damage. America has a system of racist capitalism with both factors of race and capitalism working to harm the country. And, of course, criticising the middle class is out of the question.
The white liberal interpretation of race relations has always been a modified and weakened Marxism. Liberals love their dilemmas which allow them to have their cake and eat it too. Liberal thought is sympathetic to the plight of blacks in this country. But like the Marxists they also want to be empathetic to working class whites who do suffer exploitation under the system of capitalism. Also like the Marxists, they have never been able to really criticize the racism of working class whites. They always follow the Marxist line that working class racism is due to false consciousness and manipulation by the capitalist dominated media. This dual empathy allows them to be sympathetic with both blacks and racist white workers at the same time, while avoiding seeing racism as a real phenomenon. They feel no need to reconcile these positions for there is no one to the left of them who will challenge their contradictory positions.
The idea of institutional racism was an excuse liberal social scientists came up with to try to explain why so little progress was being made on civil rights. You cannot criticize the white middle class in this country, and institutional racism is a way of avoiding putting the blame where it belongs: on the real, deliberate and active racism of white middle class people.
The Approach is Too Attitudinal
A big problem with the white racist focus is that it is too attitudinal. It is not Marxist enough. Racism can endure even when there is little attitudinal prejudice against blacks. Because the social class inequalities are so great between the races and the blacks are so much to the worse, the whites would not be willing anytime to integrate with these people. It would be a great redistribution of income from whites to blacks in order to equalize the races. And there would be very little willingness on the part of whites to sacrifice economically to make these changes.
Attitude surveys can never reveal the full problem of racism. This is because racism affects every part of American society and politics. The disciplines of all the social sciences are involved, and these cannot possibly be found in a survey of a group of American citizens. American history is involved, the fact of historical slavery and it impact in creating a racist system; politics, the racist structures such as the built-in system of giving the states to much power; the economic system wherein blacks are disproportionately represented in the lower rungs of the class system; and the society itself (including the class structure and the attitudes that result from it).
Wilhelm makes it quite clear that by following the equality doctrine America will reimpose a northern version of the Jim Crow system on the nation. It is a brilliant and telling article. To show how racist America is, Reynolds said Wilhelm's work was never reviewed and therefore basically ignored. He became so discouraged that he gave up on sociology and became an Arkansas pig farmer.
They tend to mention morality too often (Feagin and Vera 1996:43). Equality-of-opportunity racism absolves whites of any guilt over possible white immorality. The analysis is not race-modified-Marxist enough. You cannot appeal to the white sense of morality on this issue. They are not listening. The definition of white racism therefore has to be clearly broadened to include sociological racism and not just biological racism.
In addition, the perspective of white racism creates unnecessary paranoia among minorities.
Not Structural Enough
Feagin and Vera's book (1996) book is too modest in describing the damage done to the United States by racism. The phrase "societal waste" is too moderate to capture the dangerous situation the United States is facing. They mention the "extreme wastefulness of racism." I would imagine that most whites feel that the racist system is actually necessary and cost efficient because it keeps the immoral and irresponsible blacks in check.
A better phrase might be something like racism as societal destroyer. The United States has a political system that is failing and will continue to fail in the future because it is a racist creation. The people of the United States are so paralyzed by their deep divisions that they are unable to address seriously the nation's many problems. Americans are risking their whole economic future because of their social divisions caused by racism. But whites of course have chosen to blame blacks for their problems, rather than try to eradicate white racism.
There are contradictory impulses in the writings of the school of white racism. Feagin (1996) misses the fact that whites are "active" racists. They active push racial themes and prejudice. They do not emphasize that whites are also actively engaged in pretense, lying, dissembling, hiding their real racist feelings, etc. There is an active pretense system going on.
The role of racism is actually understated in the work of the white racism school. Racism is not just a part of U.S. culture. It is the main cause and primary ingredient of America's puritanical and moralistic culture. Racism is not as American as apple pie and motherhood. Rather America is racism. The American stress on puritanism is the result of racism, not vice-versa.
They use weak words for terrible phenomena. Feagin's choice of words to describe white racism not strong enough. They are too weak because you fail to see just how deliberate the creation of the system of racist social control has been and is currently. The phrase "sincere fictions" underestimates the deliberative and convenient self-deceptive nature of racism. Whites want to be racists. It is in their interests in the short run (which is the only time frame they are concerned about) to be racists. To use a harsh word, they are "liars." This is probably an unacceptable word, but we need to find a more telling replacement for "sincere."
Another phrase that is too weak is racist rituals. Ritual is not active enough to catch the deliberate nature of American racism. "Racial myths" is also weak. Rather, these are apocryphal tales that white Americans spread deliberately to keep themselves in power. They don't really care that the tales are not true. Did conservatives care about Reagan's absolute disregard for the truth of his many stories? Their main concern is over the question "Whose side are you on, the moral majority of whites or the immoral blacks and white liberals?"
Feagin and Vera (1996) mention quite a few times how whites have a general lack of understanding and/or empathy for black people. However, they deliberately don't want to understand them. So they certainly are not willing to empathize with them.
Constitutes an Anti-white Racism
The senior author attended the Dr. Joseph Feagin's session on "White Racism." Dr. Feagin's group acted as if they were attending an SDS rally. Three of the four speakers spent most of their time reading statements from their white respondents, usually college students, in voices full of contempt and rage, mocking the students' responses. Many of the respondents answers were typical neo-conservative positions and not that surprising -- but what was surprising was the ridiculing stance taken by the researchers. The speakers were encouraged by the laughter and applause of the audience. It reminded the senior author of a post-demonstration rally where the participants, to buoy their own spirits and help build further camaraderie, engage in story-telling about just how bad were the actions of the police and counter demonstrators.
There was so much mocking laughter that most of the audience appeared to be clearly on the side of the New Left speakers. But in talking to some of the sociologists after the meeting, one told me he thought the readings were a bit of "pornography" (he did not mean that it a good way) and another said he had felt like walking out. So the laughter obviously did not represent the entire audience.
It is unethical to ridicule one's respondents in the way three of the speakers did. All three could have gotten in hot water if someone wrote a protest letter to the student newspapers at the universities where the students were interviewed. If college students knew what politicized New Left sociologists were doing with many of their responses to interviews, they would not be as willing to participate in the next sociological survey.
By commenting on Dr. Feagin's session on white racism in Toronto, we wanted to illustrate how hate speech (reminiscent of the "white devil" speeches of Malcolm X) parades as social science. This anti-white hate speech is acceptable to sociological ideologues like Dr. Feagin, but our reasonable approach is not.
The multiculturalists of today are descendants of the actual people who supported and the liberals who excused such people as Huey P. Newton of the Black Panthers. We now know that Mr. Newton was a homicidal psychopath. So what is wrong with sociology when its members support such lunacy?
We were always taught that ethnocentrism was a terrible bias and should be avoided at all costs. But today's multiculturalists parade the ethnocentrism of their respective ethnic groups as a badge of honor. Many of the more radical of the group could easily join in various violent ethnic separatist groups such as independence movements for native Americans.
Ignores Black Separatism (The Most Common Form of Black Racism)
The perspective of the school of white racism lets blacks off the hook too easily -- they are accommodating and apologists.
We have to redefine what is meant by both white and black racism. As you have noted, whites think of whites racists as just a few KKK and neo-Nazis types, while thinking of most blacks as racist because they are so full of anger and resentment. Isn't that convenient for them?
But we also have to redefine and broaden the definition of black racism. Blacks are also racists because they have chosen to work within the racist system. They only take positions that do not fundamentally challenge white racism. For instance, blacks in the biggest civil rights organizations like the NAACP and the National Urban League are just like white liberals. They accept the major liberal assumptions and only argue within this world of subtle racism. Our book rejected being part of the racist system in America, but other than a handful of black radicals, black leaders have failed to be sympathetic to our work. If blacks think, speak, and act like liberal white racists, then they are also racists. Until blacks see their own racism, they will not work for effective change.
The life of the Rev. Vernon Johns demonstrates just exactly what we are up against in fighting racism. In the South blacks and white liberals basically worked within the racist system, fundamentally failing to challenge it. The reason why Johns has been ignored is that blacks and whites alike want to emphasize how brave their leaders were during the civil rights struggle. The real story is how everyone in the South was so scared, but they don't want to hear that. Johns basically had to fight alone.
The Johns story also illustrates how the system cannot change in and of itself. It is too racist. The only strategies that have worked against racism have been to use the power of less racist sources (such as the North in the Civil War and the struggle against Jim Crow and the world in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa) to change the more racist systems. Nothing else works.
The United States cannot change by itself. John Egerton's Speak Now Against the Day clearly demonstrates the thorough cautiousness of both black and white Southern liberals. (And of course the radicals were misled by Marxist strategies emphasizing capitalism, not racism.) The history of the United States proves that proponents of change will have to wait for large-scale economic trends to put the country in such a precarious position that it will be forced eventually to do something. But even this will have to involve help from the world community.
One of the reasons why the members of the white racism school have not seen their link to black separatism is that they are separatists themselves. They could say with Booker T. Washington that as regards race and ethnicity and their associated cultures, the cultures can be as separate as the fingers on our hands, but as united as clasped hands on goals of the highest importance to the nation as a whole. From a separatist viewpoint, sociologists like Dr. Feagin see opposition to multiculturalism as just another expression of racism. This perspective condemns opponents of the new multicultural separatist system, as well as those with conservative beliefs, to one category -- racists. There is a built-in bias in this approach to reality. It denies the label of "person of the left" to people like followers of Martin Luther King, Jr., such as ourselves, who are actually to the left of the multiculturalists but who oppose multicultural separatism.
Liberals and New Leftist Sociologists Do Not Really Understand How the Racist System Works
Liberals don't understand fully the terrible nature of the system. The discrimination against blacks, reinforced by stereotypes and prejudice, actually creates a reality for blacks so ugly that whites are scared of their own creation. This then reinforces stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. But that is the way racist whites designed and want the system to work. (Except that it is working too damn well and creating too much crime even for them.)
Sociologists are too involved in trying to refute every conservative statement made by conservatives to step back and gain some objectivity on the system. If they would do so they would find that the system is actually nastier than they knew. For instance, Feagin and Vera (1996:29) complain that a reporter tried to make the case that white fear was realistic by citing data on black over representation in crime. The fact is that white fear is realistic. It is realistic because of the devastating nature of the treatment of blacks by whites. If people are treated terribly they will act terribly. Blacks do have higher crime rates. This is a sociological fact. But rather than run from this data as most sociologists do, we embrace it as proof of the racism of the system.
The higher propensity for crime combined with black anger and resentment means that whites will continue to be very careful around blacks. Even Jesse Jackson said that he was very careful around young black males, not because he is a racist, but because he understands the damage done to blacks by the racist system.
The liberal lack of knowledge of how the system works is illustrated by Andrew Hacker's test for racism that he used on one of the talk shows on television. Hacker asked which elevator would you go into if confronted with two cars arriving at the same time, one filled with young white males and the other with young black males. He claimed that if you chose the car with the white males you are prejudiced and therefore racist. What nonsense! We would choose the car with the white males every time not because we are racists, but because we, unlike Hacker, understand fully the cruel and devastating nature of America's racist system.
Connected with the failure to understand how the system actually works is the inability to realize fully that since white men see themselves as a separate group their group is actually hurt by affirmative action. The solution is for them to abandon their racist perception that they are a separate group threatened by all others. If, by their own standards, they are good enough they will eventually triumph even if non-traditional others also triumph.
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