In which we assist Brother Drum: Kevin Drum asks a fairly decent question today. It appears as the headline of an intriguing post:
"What's the Best Way to Talk About Racism?"
Eventually, Drum says he doesn't know how to talk about racism. Needless to say, the racism he has identified can be found Over There, among Those People, The Others.
Drum starts by offering a pair of short excerpts from two liberal writers. Then, he starts his rumination. Truer words were never spoken than the ones we highlight:
DRUM (5/3/16): Needless to say, there's no real disagreement here. Both writers are suggesting that Trump is winning because he appeals to a Republican Party base that thinks white people are getting screwed and doesn't much like all the non-white people they think are doing the screwing. So they're all pretty happy about Trump's wall and his proposed Muslim ban and his endless griping about "political correctness.""There's no real disagreement here...I think it's safe to say that nearly all liberals believe this."
I think it's safe to say that nearly all liberals believe this. There's voluminous evidence beyond just these two charts, after all. But here's my question: what should we do about it? This has been bugging me for a while.
Truer words were never spoken! From there, Drum proceeds to the question which has confronted the missionary down through the annals of time:
God's chosen people that We are, how can We persuade Those People to be more like Us?
DRUM (continuing directly): If we attack it head on—"Republicans are racists!"—it accomplishes nothing. Or worse than nothing: it pisses off our targets so badly that they'll never hear another word we say. Besides, it's all but impossible to prove that racism is at the core of any particular belief, and doubly impossible to do so in the case of any particular person. It's also really easy to go overboard on charges of racism once you get started.("It pisses off our targets." No really, that's what it says.)
Alternatively, knowing that this is a political loser, we can skirt the direct charges of racism and focus instead on tangentially related topics. The upside is that we have at least a chance of winning over some voters who aren't too far gone. The downside, obviously, is that we're avoiding the elephant in the room. How do you fight racism if you're not willing to talk directly about it?
I don't have a good answer. Accusing people of racism is the fastest way to shut down a conversation and ensure implacable opposition. Avoiding racism is the fastest way to make sure nothing serious ever gets done about it. So what's the right approach?
"I don't have a good answer," Drum says. Luckily, we do! For starters, you might consider this:
As you can see, Drum's post tilts a bit toward the slightly ugly. As the missionary always does, he takes it upon himself to pass a sweeping judgment on the souls of tens of millions of people, some of whom he hasn't met or spoken to on the phone.
Needless to say, the judgment is highly negative; no exceptions are imagined. (Just like that, we get from Trump voters to all Republicans! No qualifiers are offered.) It then falls upon the Good People like Drum to find a way to address the sweeping evil which has been so skillfully diagnosed among our targets Over There.
(Does Drum really think this way? Or is he just showing us that he "knows his customers?" We have no idea.)
"What's the best way to talk about racism?" Drum says he doesn't know, and we agree with him on that point.
Luckily, we do. When you decide to talk about racism, you should do so with great care.
You shouldn't offer a sweeping indictment of tens of millions of people. You should allow for the possibility that somewhere, someone is almost as moral as you, even though they don't vote or answer survey questions the same way you do.
This brings us to Matt Yglesias' piece at Vox. Yglesias is one of the writers to whom Drum refers at the start of his post. His contribution to this discussion involves a question from a survey—a question he doesn't even transcribe accurately in his piece at Vox.
Let's ignore Yglesias' two mistakes as a copyist. In his piece, he cites a survey in which respondents were asked whether they agree or disagree with the following statement:
"Today discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities."
Among all respondents, 43 percent agreed with that statement. Fifty-five percent disagreed.
Among Republicans, 64 percent agreed. On this basis, Drum offers his immortal words: "Republicans are racists!"
You'll note those words came straight from his text, along with the exclamation point. We assume he's merely playing us rubes, but it's always possible he forged that claim in some sort of good faith.
Please note: Young Yglesias was so thrilled by his moral certainty that he couldn't even make himself report what respondents were asked. In his excited attempt at a report, he excitedly and mistakenly says that respondents were asked this:
"Is racism against white people a bigger problem than racism against racial minority groups?"
Racism is different from discrimination. Similarly, bigger is different from as big as. Whatever! Yglesias was so sure of his moral goodness that he didn't even bother transcribing what respondents were asked. (Needless to say, his errors make their answers seem ever weirder.)
That actual question they were asked is often asked in surveys. How should we talk about those damning responses, Father Drum piously asks.
"Very carefully," we would suggest.
For starters, we'd recommend this. Instead of telling respondents that they're racists, we might consider asking them something. We might consider asking them why they gave the answers they did.
Quite a few people agreed with the statement in question. Indeed, 28 percent of Democrats answered the question that way.
Why did they answer that question that way? What kind of discrimination did they have in mind? Being less pious than Drum, we'd be curious to hear what they said.
Drum has decided to save us some time. He simply decides that "Republicans are racist!" He doesn't even seem to restrict it to the 64 percent!
How should Kevin Drum talk about racism? Once we're assured that he's being sincere, we would suggest that he talk some lessons from history's most decent people. For today, we'll skip Dr. King's ruminations on the Montgomery city fathers. We'll go straight to Edie Dugan, speaking to Terry Malloy, not far from the waterfront in a very famous film.
In this, their first conversation, Terry and Edie remember their days at the local parochial school. “Boy, the way those sisters used to whack me, I don’t know what!” Terry says. “They thought they were going to beat an education into me, but I foxed them.”
“Maybe they just didn’t know how to handle you,” Edie says, launching an exchange for the ages:
EDIE: Maybe they just didn’t know how to handle you.According to Terry, everyone thought the very same way down on the waterfront too!
TERRY: How would you have done it?
EDIE: With a little more patience and kindness. That’s what makes people mean and difficult. People don’t care enough about them.
TERRY: [Long pause] Ohhhh— What, are you kidding me? Come on, I better get you home. There’s too many guys around here with only one thing on their mind.
To Drum, we'll offer the following thought about his question:
How should we talk about racism? Try not to make your diagnosis before you've spoken to your millions of victims. Try a little more patience and kindness.
Also, climb down from that f*cking high horse. No one but tribals believes you.
How should we talk about racism? Like real human beings, we said.