How Are We Going To Deal With Racists?

By Graham Peterson

Donald Sterling is a racist.  The question we have to ask ourselves is: how are we going to deal with racists?  If we want to scare the racism out of people, then making a public spectacle of them and demanding that their business associates ruin them is the right track — and exhilarating to boot!

But I think that on some honest reflection, you will agree that scaring people isn’t a very effective way to change their beliefs.

It is however a great way to make sure racists don’t subject their beliefs to argumentative scrutiny — and to make sure that they only associate with other racists.  In a world where activists are worried about micro-aggressions and the crypto-bigotry that still exists among elites, scaring those folks out of discussing those beliefs seems like a sure fire way to make sure their prejudices stay hidden and shared only among themselves.

We live with unprecedented public intellectual and moral engagement. The number of fora for people to engage their beliefs has exploded.  Groups of people who have really never spoken to one another except through representatives in Congress, the intelligentsia, and the newspapers, are now in direct confrontation with one another.  It’s ugly.  We’re trigger happy.

Well, so are spouses not happy during their first marriage counseling sessions after not having sex or talking about it for five years.  That doesn’t mean that the end game is to scream until the divorce papers are ready.

If we want to keep ventilating in perpetuity, the current approach guarantees that we’ll have a reason to vent.  Bigotry ain’t goin anywhere by reducing public discussion to a playground gossip mill and black list.  Making the world a more reasoned and tolerant place is going to take a lot more work than refusing to play with the kids we don’t like and talking about how gross they are.

10 thoughts on “How Are We Going To Deal With Racists?”

  1. You assume that the desired outcome is for the racist to change his belief, but the desired outcome is simply to remove his power to exercise it in service of his racism *to the detriment of others.* There’s no harm to racial minorities in racists, for fear of public shaming, keeping their racist opinions to themselves and begrudgingly playing nice with everyone else. Being openly racist isn’t getting him arrested or prosecuted, and apart from that, he has no right to be insulated from scorn for expressing his bigotry.

    Sterling and Bundy didn’t attempt “public discussion” in an attempt to subject malleable beliefs to change. They said stupid, bigoted things, and they were rightly shamed for it, which may give pause to other racists thinking of publicly acting on their indefensible beliefs as well as others — like young people — with still-malleable beliefs who might otherwise drift into the kind of casual racism for which these guys are apparently surprised to be punished.

    You can also believe the Earth is 6000 years old and that homosexuals should be stoned to death, but while the Constitution guarantees you won’t get locked up for it, you have no right to insulation from public ridicule for expressing these beliefs — or worse, pushing legislation to subject others to their constraints — and I don’t see why someone would lament those actions not being considered for serious debate. There’s nothing wrong with ostracizing and shaming *bullies,* which is not the same as “othering” arbitrary kids on the playground who aren’t bullying anyone.


  2. The goal is to persuade people to change their beliefs. Nobody wants to live in a world where the first recourse to ethical offense is to use the full array of sanctions just near the boundary of government force. And nobody wants to live in a world in which the main way we convey ethical lessons to children is by making a public spectacle of adults: “you shouldn’t believe X. “Why?” “Because everyone will hate you.” “Why?” “Because it’s wrong to believe that.” “Why?” “Because everyone hates people who believe that.” “Ok, that’s pretty scary – I guess I don’t need a reason to believe like everyone else does if the penalty to questioning those beliefs is so high.”

    Calling for people’s heads in the media like a bunch of dogs isn’t how you get an ethical society. It’s how you get a lot of senseless witch hunting and people who believe things like cattle because it’s the Right way to think.


  3. Oh and Sterling was playing by exactly the rules you set up above: keeping his racism to himself and private company while otherwise providing blacks with their full range of constitutional rights and indeed paying them hundredss of millions of dollars. His vindictive ex girlfriend taped a conversation he had and sent it to the media. It doesn’t make any sense to ask people to just keep their beliefs to themselves if you’re at the same time encouraging people (by participating in the feeding frenzy) to invade their private lives and put them on public display.


  4. I half agree with Jordan Peterson – a much larger part than aiming for the rehabilitation of the racist is to shame them. But an equally important factor (afaict) is self positioning on the part of the the shamer, to show that they are not a racist etc.

    Of course this is a theory of ‘human nature’ (or whatever) that runs counter to the libertarian utopianist notion that all we need to do is remove explicit (state designed) rules and force from the equation and everyone will play nice. ; )


  5. “self positioning on the part of the the shamer, to show that they are not a racist etc.”

    Yeah, I think most of this is driven by white guilt. If white liberals wanted to boost black outcomes, they’d go teach black kids how to read after school. What’s much more comfortable, and revelatory of the selfish vs. altruistic motives here, is to sign up for the story that the only thing standing in black people’s way is hateful whites, and to act like rooting out and shaming hateful whites is “advocacy” and a demonstration of one’s empathy. I don’t understand how screaming at people became evidence of one’s empathy for others, but that’s where we are.


  6. The goal is to persuade *people* not to exercise racism, not so much specifically to change *the racists’* beliefs, as @ronanfitz mentioned. That was a rhetorical leap on your part. If a parent stopped at “because everybody hates people who believe that” without explaining the context within which those beliefs came to be widely despised, that’s a failure of parenting, not an indictment of ethical normalization through public shaming.

    I don’t support the violation of privacy that brought about the public exposure of his beliefs, if that’s what you mean by “witch hunting,” but your OP was about the general principle of public shaming for public idiocy, not that particular transgression. That privacy violation is an unfortunate distraction, but to paint him as a victim of a public revelation that he was dutifully keeping to himself ignores his 10+ year history of racist exercise of power.

    The salaries he paid his players is irrelevant; that didn’t buy him the right to denigrate their race with impunity, publicly or privately. I’m not sure who believes that the *only* thing standing in the way of POC is hateful whites, but to ignore the massive effect institutional racism has on POC, regardless their merit or efforts, would be profoundly naive. I’d be willing to bet most liberals are somewhere between those extremes and understand the nuances of why both active oppression (“hateful whites”) and complicity on the part of anyone else are harmful.

    I don’t see how “white guilt” is an inappropriate motivator for white anti-racist advocacy, considering the shameful history and racist systems our ancestors bequeathed to us. White liberals do many things — which may or may not include public shaming of private conversations — to empathize with, advocate for, and improve outcomes of POC.

    Is my public advocacy against demonstrably racist drug prohibition invalid or insufficient because I’m not equipped to defend against POC’s drug offenses pro bono in court? Are my votes for school board members who focus on addressing racial inequality of opportunity in our schools unimportant because I don’t tutor black students? Do you know even one liberal you would consider fair-minded, rational, and effectively empathetic, or is every liberal deserving of dismissive caricature?


  7. Most of modern American liberalism is fundamentally egoistic, anti-social, and patronizing and condescending to the very people it purports to protect. It works on the same logic that politics of retribution always have: locate blame, hate, punish, repeat. The only reason people seem to miss this is because it’s all supposedly done on the behalf of someone else, absent any evidence that such groups asked anyone to save them with anti-social hate mongering.


  8. You’d already provided a generalization of liberalism, which is why I asked about specific behaviors. So the unprovided answers to my questions would be: “yes, it is,” “yes, they are,” “no, I don’t,” and “yes, they are?”


  9. Just to add, and to clarify, ‘self positioning’ applies to these specific cases of ‘public shaming’, and I personally wouldnt extend it (or concepts such as ‘white guilt’) to liberalism as a totality.


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