Racism, the Holy Ghost and 12-stepping
1.) There is a conjecture that the decline of organized religion in Western societies has not led to more rational modes of thought, but rather to a disaggregation of magical thinking as people find other ways to express the innately human religious impulse. This may manifest itself, for example, through belief in horoscopes. In fact, according to a recent survey in the UK, belief in ghosts is now much higher than it was in the immediate aftermath of World War II.
2.) The recent incident in the U.S. involving the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates of Harvard University led to discussion of whether race was a motivating factor in the arrest. In the absence of any direct evidence of racism it was assumed by many that race must be a factor in any interaction between men of different races.
What links the paragraphs above? Well, some sociologists claim that racism, like the God of the Christian faith, is inside you whether you know it or not. In this spirit, Eileen O’Brien distinguishes two types of people who are opposed to racism: the selectively race cognizant, who oppose overt racism which they perceive outside of themselves; and the reflexively race cognizant, who “spend a great deal of energy analyzing their personal relationships and how they can reduce the racism they may unintentionally perpetuate in those relationships, both intraracial and interracial”.
Considering such a categorization, it may be of value to consider some forms of racial awareness as sharing some characteristics of religious movements: there are initiates who engage in self-contemplation and so find “the truth”, and there are outsiders who are unaware of the racism within themselves and “may resort to defensiveness” when asked to look for it.
Furthermore, according to O’Brien, some antiracist organizations hold discussion groups with “white participants emerging referring to themselves as ‘recovering racists’, borrowing from the Alcoholics Anonymous idea that one can transition into a process of unlearning racism, but that people cannot be suddenly ‘cured’ of the racism in one short period that they have socialized into for their entire lifetimes.” There are strong elements of spirituality in Alcoholics
Anonymous programmes, with several of the “12 steps” referring to the powerlessness of the agent concerned and his acknowledgement of his dependence on God, as he understands Him. The link between antiracism/racial awareness and religious thinking may well warrant further exploration.
Read More: Henry Louis Gates arrest.
Read More: BBC News – survey of beliefs in the supernatural.
From Antiracism to Antiracisms by Eileen O’Brien
What an interesting connection. Your use of sociological literature is very creative. Thanks for a great post!
Gosh, you’ll make me blush! Thanks 🙂
That was interesting, thank you for the post.
The 12 Steps work when one comes to the realization of what is not working. In the case of Alcoholism, I have a disease that tells me I do not have it. The principle in the first step is honesty.
The 12 steps are for people who want it, not those who need it.
ie. Glen Beck and, he is supposedly a recovering Alcoholic – go figure…
I must admit to stumbling onto this post quite by accident as it peaked my intrigue. Very interesting and creative thought pattern!
I am left with a question; in this format racism, God/god, and sin seem defined as part of human nature (inseparable). Granted that racism is a highly ideological and fundamental hyperrealism to a human bias. However, is it possible that the nature of God/god, racism, and sin is entirely an entity to itself and instead acts in a parasitic nature to human identity? (We’ll leave out the discussion of good or bad for another time.)
while I find these terms ‘selectively” and “reflectively” extremely useful, particular b/c I talk about this phenomena fairly regularly on my own blog and in teaching about oppression, I am concerned about the ways you have couched them in a discussion of religiosity and/or faith that you’ve implied is less fact than fiction. In other words, by comparing racism and anti-racism efforts to a belief that is outside of “rational modes of thought” you posit a situation in which belief in racism becomes a matter of perception and not a documented and tangible system of oppression upheld by specific socio-political institutions and individual acts of violence (some sanctioned by the state – as in racial profiling – and others not).
While it is an interesting exercise to see how the language of faith works in the context of racism, I’m unclear as to how this exercise lends to an understanding of the tangible impact of oppression. When you ask how racism and/or anti-racism is related to religion or religious institutions that you assume are bankrupt, what is the outcome you are hoping to reach? What does it illuminate? Where is the “good” in your research?
Here’s a thought: Why is the white person always blamed for racism? The God of the Bible loves all regardless of color. Racism is in every race against another race.
this is really interesting , best of luck .
We are all born with fleshy defects and racism is only one issue and we must fight to cure.
Thank you all for your comments. I’ll address them one by one.
Racism is innate (in everyone, regardless of their colour) in the (weak) sense that when humans decide which coalitions they belong to, race is an attribute which they notice. It is easy upon seeing a group of people to sort them by race, whereas if you were to try to sort them by, say, whether or not they were a fan of Wagner, you would have to do some research to find this out.
Racism is not innate in the sense that it is very unlikely that humans would have evolved cognitive machinery specifically for the purpose of detecting race. Because of this there exists the possibility of racial identification being overriden by other forms of identification. There is a fascinating paper by Kurzban, Tooby and Cosmides on this. A good and understandable discussion of this work is available here. The FAQs at the bottom are particularly good to read.
Racism as part of human nature I discuss in my reply to Nicole above.
Humans would seem to have a habit of creating and enforcing moral rules and taboos. Whether this is ‘sin’ depends on how we justify these rules, especially if they are justified with reference to….
God. There is a literature on whether a predisposition to religious belief exists in human nature, and multiple theories about why such belief might have evolved. This is, however, a separate question to whether or not gods exist. In fact, a predisposition to religious thought can be used as an argument either for or against the existence of God.
If I’ve missed something in your question please let me know! I like your description of racism as a “hyperrealism to a human bias” – poetic.
I would suggest a more reasonable explanation is that WWII was a devastatingly bloody, horrifying period in world history that people were not eager to dredge up and re-live while recent history has been a period of relative peace and content, and believing in ghosts today is something people are much more willing to do.
I would also suggest that “racial cognizance” or “racial awareness” is not not evidence of opposition to racism, but it defines racism! Or more precisely the author is attempting to rationalize racist behavior by redefining racism. Racism is allowing the color of a persons skin to affect how you relate to their ideas and behaviors — color vs. character. Which is precisely the underlying idea the author is espousing: constant fixation on race!
And finally, magical thinking? How depressing that education has so deteriorated that one of the great disciplines is derisively dismissed as magical thinking by intellectual wannabees regurgitating fashionable claptrap. But the left has always been about replacing religion with State.
And yet try explaining, without theology, why all the laws of physics break down the closer we are able to look at the first instances after the Big Bang.
The most important questions of all time, and the left have utterly closed their minds to entire disciplines! not on evidence mind you, but out of abject fear for the sanctity of their conflicted world view. no intellectual curiosity whatsoever.
Thanks for your comment.
Open racial discrimination is clearly a tangible thing, other forms of alleged racism are much less obvious. Some might suggest that in the “reflexively race cognizant” approach there is an element of coming to a conclusion before looking for evidence to support such a conclusion. It is also not obvious to me that looking carefully for racism everywhere will not increase it. The psychological research I linked to in my response to Nikole is worth a look.
You ask how my analysis leads to an “understanding of the tangible impact of oppression”. It doesn’t: the post is about people’s approach to racism rather than racism per se. Also there is no “good” in my analysis, I’m simply trying to observe and keep my value judgments to a minimum.
PS. I don’t assume religious institutions are bankrupt – simply less popular in most of the West than they once were.
Thanks for your comment.
1) Your explanation of why more people believe in ghosts probably has truth in it. My point is simply that despite a decline in attendance at religious institutions in much of the West, there has not been a corresponding decline in belief in the supernatural.
2) You suggest that “racial awareness” may feed racism. This may be true. I heartily recommend that you look at the research I link to above in my reply to Nikole.
3) By use of the term “magical thinking” I by no means intend to disparage religion. I use it to encompass a whole bunch of ideas of the supernatural, from sun worship to belief in ghosts, animism to Abrahamic religions, regardless of the truth of any of these ideas.
Since you mention the Holy Ghost …
John 14:23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
John 14:24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.
John 14:25 These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you.
John 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
John 14:27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
I think we are speaking at cross purposes here.
to clarify, I am not using the term “good” as a subjective value but rather as an outcome or unit of measure. Research is meant to illuminate something in a tangible, while good research never begins with conclusions or is led by hoped for outcomes, you ask the questions you ask for a reason, you are looking to know something, and at least in feminist research or PAR you hope that there is value added at the end not just intellectual masturbation.
It’s clear you are arguing religion is less salient than in the past, you state it quite clearly in pt one. But what you also say is that decline has “not led to more rational modes of thought” by inference that means religion is irrational or as I put it “bankrupt.” I’m pointing this out not to be a troll, but rather to say if you are comparing two systems that you imply are irrational to another system (people’s reactions to racism) then it seems as tho you are in fact implying the third is irrational. Avoiding that by saying that it isn’t the structure but the reaction to it concerns you seems to only sidestep the issue particularly since you are dealing with a specific instance in which race was a factor not b/c “race must be a factor in any interaction between men of different races” but b/c there is a long history of racial profiling, harassment, arrest, &/or shooting of black men by the police without consequence, and b/c in this particular instance the police officer had a choice to not arrest Skip and when he chose to arrest him he did so based on what is generally termed a “scoff law” b/c it causes no harm, is seldom enforced, and often used to justify search for larger criminal behavior. In other words, this is a tangible example of oppression (not just racism but also Skip’s classism) that reflects even more tangible instances of oppression. Just like anti-racism trainings usually arise from tangible racist incidents at an institution or organizations and while they may seldom address those particular instances they are more often than not occuring b/c of them.
So it isn’t the psychological piece of your puzzle I am having trouble with, as I have published on racial formation, racial understanding, and racial interaction from a psycho-social perspective on multiple occasions. What I am not understanding is how you can either avoid committing to the implication that racism is intangible and subjective by the juxtapositions you have set up here or claim that you are not dealing with the tangible realities of racism when you are citing events directly or indirectly that are in fact the action not the reaction.
The answer may simply hinge on your use of “alleged racism” in your initial response to me, but I’m trying to trouble you on that. I’m asking these questions not to pass “value judgments” on you or your work here but to push toward more nuance. Tho I’ve sort of outlined the discourse surrounding the Gates case, I’m not caught up in that example as much as in challenging the slippages to better understand the kernel of what you are trying to get at and why you think it is salient/contributes to existing literature. If you take a step back from the pieces to the overarching argument, where are you going and are you willing to be self-reflexive about piece that may not mesh as well for your readers as you think?
wow that comment was really quite long. I apologize
The length of your comment is forgiven 😉
Thanks for the clarity of your writing, it makes responding much easier.
I do see an element of the mystical in the idea of people rifling through their souls to search for racism, i.e. “reflexive race cognizance”. This is where I make the comparison with religion. The comparison with AA isn’t mine, but the cited author’s.
Re. Prof. Gates, I still don’t see racism in the case. I understand there is history that can lead one to prejudge situations like this and I understand that prejudice can be useful; but in cases such as this case I feel that we should be cautious about prejudging. The officer overreacted in arresting Prof. Gates on his own property. I don’t see this as a racist incident, rather as a case of two men, frayed tempers, misjudgement and overreaction. I certainly do not see it as a tangible example of oppression.
Anyhow, my point about the Gates case was that the racism was in the eye of the beholder. The fact that we can disagree on whether race is relevant to the case helps to make this point.
If I were to summarize what I would like people to take away from this article it would be the idea that perhaps the importance of race in modern America is overstated, and that belief in its explanatory power does not always stem from rational analysis. Naturally, this is debatable.
two articles/authors I would recommend that dovetail with the concepts of selective and reflexive cognition:
Alison Bailey – especially her concept of privilege evasiveness
Gloria Yamato “Something About the Subject Makes it Hard to Name” especially her concepts of aware/covert racism and unaware/self-righteous racism
I do hope you take time look over this and other cited material these authors reference b/c I do not think that my questions about your research methods and goals do in fact prove your point in anyway.
Thank you, I shall certainly do so.
I’m reminded of Adorno’s 1954 essay “Stars Down to Earth,” where he argued that a propensity towards irrationalism made one more likely to succumb to authoritarianism, and thus irrationalism in society in general can be dangerous. In this essay Adorno studied astrology listings in the L.A. Times because astrology charts make the complex world seem simple and easy to understand. Adorno stated that “astrology, just as other irrational creeds like racism, provides a short-cut by reducing the complex to a handy formula–offering at the same time the pleasant gratification that one who feels excluded from educational privileges nevertheless belongs to the minority of those who are ‘in the know’” (p. 45).
Absolutely nathan. It’s the type of thinking that takes:
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
and assumes that any theory to fill in the gaps is superior to no theory, even if it is not well-founded.
Hamlet’s is a mysticism of humility, astrology is a mysticism of wild conjecture.