Systems of Oppression (Liberals) Meet Moral Responsibility (Conservatives)

Ok, so I went down the conservative rabbit hole with the news media. And then I went back to the liberal press to recover. What follows is an honest attempt to make sense of the divergence. Bear with me!

A great article in the Atlantic (January 2021 after the coup) ended with this story and the author’s observation about it:

An ex-conservative friend of mine told me a story about a conversation she had with someone who remained much more active in the conservative movement. The active conservative had raged about “liberal elites” until finally my friend could stand it no longer: “You went to law school. Why aren’t you an elite?” The active conservative paused, reflected, and then answered, “Well, what do you want me to call the people I hate?”

Maybe it’s time to stop hating so many people. Maybe that’s the beginning of the way back from following Trump to rejoining America.

David Frum,
“The Conservative Cult of Victimhood:
Trump was a perpetrator who thought himself a victim, and American society has indulged that same illusion among Trump supporters.”

Frum, the author, is a former speechwriter for George W. Bush and is no Trump supporter. Far from it. “Maybe it’s time to stop hating so many people,” the author, Frum, writes to conservatives.

But I am afraid we could say the same of the liberals; namely, that we hate people and call everything white supremacy that goes against liberal dogma. We treat people who don’t follow our woke standards as if they are irredeemable and worthless. That they will never amount to anything. There was even a Black woman who got cancelled from her job as a lead editor because when she was a teenager she said something racist in a tweet. It was 10 years ago and she apologized, but now she’s dirt.

At what point are ideas those of an individual? and when is racism an isolated individual incident?

It’s as though there were a net thrown over society, or at least our liberal minds, that abdicates responsibility for violence when it is committed by people of color. If it had been a white editor who had said something racist 10 years ago, she probably wouldn’t have had to take the fall. So I still see the Black woman as a victim of racism.

I reached out to a friend who is Asian to express concern and worry about the recent events, specifically, the shooting of 6 Asian women in Atlanta two days ago. Here’s what he wrote back:

“Most of the overt verbal discrimination I’ve experienced in my life has been from non-whites, possibly because of where I grew up (in a heavily Latino/Hispanic community in Los Angeles).  I’ve also had two distant relatives killed in robberies (they owned small businesses in urban settings), also by other people of color.  So, I found myself dismayed during the recent uprisings when many Asian owned businesses were destroyed and people dismissed the suffering as “it’s just property.””

Here there are people of color attacking fellow people of color and no white people involved. And yet we’re, as liberals, going to call that white supremacy?

Another friend who is Asian described how her Japanese friend was banned from gatherings with the family because my friend’s grandma, who was Korean, hated the Japanese. So there’s also intra-Asian conflict. And yet we’re, as liberals, going to call that white supremacy?

Maybe it’s supremacist thinking to say that the racist thinking of one country has set the tone for the whole world. People are calling homophobia white supremacy, too. And transphobia. And then it is redirected from its being a system, – that is, white supremacy is a racist system, – to white people. It is referred to as “white heteropatriarchy.” Straight white males are the problem, and not the system that privileges them.

White people who defend their integrity and humanity are “fragile.”

But white supremacy is indeed the problem.

Actually, let’s put it this way: Human nature is the problem, and white supremacy is the problem. Racism and group in-fighting and genocide have been going on as long as there have been people of differing ethnicities.

As white people we do need to do our homework and learn about our negative impacts on people of color as a group. We need to acknowledge that our racist thought structures have been adopted by other ethnicities and they fight out our prejudice and racism amongst themselves in this society. We are the dominants who are looked upon as individuals first and not as representatives of a race.

But it is also more complicated than that.

White people thrive in a world structured by what is called the “halo effect.” We are given the benefit of the doubt in professional settings, are more likely to be promoted, even when our performance is poor, and more likely to get away with crimes. Furthermore, the severity of a given crime has been set by whether or not whites commit it. The sentencing process is corrupt, and the bail system keeps more people of color in jail and, conversely, more whites out of jail. Jail has profoundly negative impacts on one’s psyche and has a morally corrosive impact on inmates.

We often think that we are above the law. We talk our way out of tickets. I even heard a story where a man asked the judge what the right answer was to the sentencing question after “getting the answer wrong” when he told the truth, and the judge told him what to say in order to get off the hook and not even pay a fine. The interaction took all of 30 seconds. If English wasn’t his first language or if he had been an immigrant, there’s no way he would have had the cultural capital to negotiate such a feat. The judge was more like, “Oh, you don’t belong here. Let me help you out of this mess.”

Justice is not blind.

But the opposite is also true. A man or woman who kills another person is guilty. No matter their skin color. People of color who kill fellow people of color are not just pawns, even if it is the structures of the system that make this more likely. When I was a teacher, I was super conscious of white female teachers and our potential racism perpetrated against Black boys. The impact of this, however, was that I just let them get away with everything. Not to do so felt racist. I wasn’t aware of how to get around the problem, so I was just super nice to all my students and then left the profession.

My gleaning from today’s reading is that we need to meet in the middle.

Conservatives need to see that they are responsible in part for the systemically racist outcomes of our society. It is not all individuality and roses and meritocracy.

And liberals need to see that all people are responsible for their actions. And that it is dehumanizing to people of color not to acknowledge this. People of color have agency, too.

Published by Seahurst Wellness and Education Center

I’m a skill-building, proficiency-obsessed tutor and consultant who puts relationships first. I am also a certificated teacher with over a decade of classroom experience. Everything I do is geared to facilitate students’ familial and scholarly wellness and their sense of meaningful contribution to society..

One thought on “Systems of Oppression (Liberals) Meet Moral Responsibility (Conservatives)

  1. “I am afraid we could say the same of the liberals; namely, that we hate people and call everything white supremacy that goes against liberal dogma. We treat people who don’t follow our woke standards as if they are irredeemable.”

    This is very true. Neither side has a monopoly on hate.

    “It’s as though there were a net thrown over society, or at least our liberal minds, that abdicates responsibility for violence when it is committed by people of color.”

    Another good point. I think violence, or any harmful act, should always be attributed to the individual doing it.

    “Most of the overt verbal discrimination I’ve experienced in my life has been from non-whites, possibly because of where I grew up…”

    The United States is the least racist country in the world today. It’s ironic that it’s such a central topic here, though we do have a unique racial history. Over the years, the majority of my friends and romantic partners have been Asian. In Asian countries, there is multiple times more racism and xenophobia than here. Koreans hate Japanese and Vietnamese hate Chinese and China and India hate each other, and they all don’t like black people (generalizing of course). Living in the US for decades, I never once witnessed anything I considered racist in a meanspirited way. Yes, an older lady asked my black friend if he could rap. But nothing beyond microaggression. Full disclosure, it may be worse in the south and I’m not denying that some racism does exist, but from my perspective it’s basically a racial utopia. Why is this such a significant issue now?

    “White people thrive in a world structured by what is called the “halo effect.” We are given the benefit of the doubt in professional settings, are more likely to be promoted, even when our performance is poor, and more likely to get away with crimes.”

    I think people with money are more likely to get away with crimes due to better legal defense, which is not accounted for in most studies. In my experience, POC and women get promoted more easily to middle management, but it’s harder to get to executive level. For women, it makes some sense because more women spend part of their employment with children where they are not building their resume, and resumes are very important at the top level. In addition, women often have more flexible schedules because they take on more responsibility at the home. For minorities, it may be down to communication ability. In some of my workplaces, we have very talented immigrant workers who have a disadvantage compared to native speakers. A similar communication gap may be present for a subset of African Americans.

    “We need to acknowledge that our racist thought structures have been adopted by other ethnicities and they fight out our prejudice and racism amongst themselves in this society.”

    This is true to an extent, but racism would exist without European influence. Racial intuitions come down to our basic feedback mechanisms around what is good and bad and how our brain works. Beauty (and fashion and music) is more simple than people think. The people we consider beautiful are the average of those with which we have positive experiences and the ones we consider ugly are the average of those with which we have negative ones. It’s no different in any area of fashion, and an element even exists in music. But when you live in a place dominated by another cultures images or ideas, your cultural mores change with it. It is more confusing and difficult to adjust to a new culture, but it doesn’t make that dominant culture evil at all.

    “Conservatives need to see that they are responsible in part for the systemically racist outcomes of our society. It is not all individuality and roses and meritocracy.”

    I think the left is vastly overestimating the degree to which this is true. I think it is of course more difficult to live in a culture different from the one you grew up in, But I also think the vast majority of Americans are nice people who want everyone to succeed, and that regardless of race hard work will bring some level of success. Higher levels of success require luck in addition, or inheritance, or excellent parenting or peer groups. I wish we lived in a pure meritocracy, but we don’t.

    “And liberals need to see that all people are responsible for their actions. And that it is dehumanizing to people of color not to acknowledge this. People of color have agency, too.”

    I agree. One of my favorite quotations from Frederick Douglass is below. I’m not black, but I find this to be a much more empowering statement than “white man is keeping us down.”

    Frederick Douglassat the Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society just days before the end of the Civil War:

    “Everybody has asked the question, and they learned to ask it early of the abolitionists, “What shall we do with the Negro?” I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! If you see him on his way to school, let him alone, don’t disturb him! If you see him going to the dinner table at a hotel, let him go! If you see him going to the ballot- box, let him alone, don’t disturb him! [Applause.] If you see him going into a work-shop, just let him alone,—your interference is doing him a positive injury.”

    Like

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