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Disparate Definitions of Racism

Sam Taylor

Posted on July 14, 2020 17:14

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Assuming we're ethically rational, we can all agree that racism is evil. But what, precisely, is racism? Though some may find the notion's definition intuitive, an analysis of the competing denotations of racism reveals that (most) modern liberals and conservatives conceive of racism in entirely different ways.

If recent events are any indication, racism is both a unifying evil and a divisive concern: the former because most seem to despise it, the latter because people can't agree on what it is or the extent to which it pervades society. 

This duality is, principally, the result of politicized definitions of racism. That is, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, simply conceive of racism differently. In turn, this creates a schism between left and right-wing politics as they relate to racism, with proponents of each formulating the issue according to their definition of racist action. 

So, what are the conflicting definitions of racism, and why do liberals and conservatives hold them? To answer this question, let's look at some of the basic aspects of liberal and conservative ideology. 

Modern liberals, and those "leaning left" on the political spectrum, commonly value egalitarianism and social equality, seeing injustice where inequality exists. Hence, if there's a disparity in the general wellbeing of two groups, liberals are more likely to consider that inequality a societal injustice. 

Conservatives (and those favoring right-wing politics) also have a commonality: they tend to value meritocracy, or a society in which inequalities are determined by individual merit and choice. This makes conservatives more hesitant in conflating inequality with injustice, as they don't necessarily consider demographic inequalities unjust. To use our previous example, if a disparity exists in the general well-being of two groups, conservatives are more likely to consider that inequality the result of individual action, not structural injustice. 

Now, none of this is to say that conservatives don't recognize injustice, or that liberals unquestioningly amalgamate disparity with immorality. Rather, both tend to view the world according to the focus of their politics (egalitarianism for liberals and meritocracy for conservatives); this tendency certainly holds true for racism. 

Because of their focus on egalitarianism, liberals frequently, indiscriminately consider inequalities between races examples of racism. It doesn't matter if these inequalities are the result of conscious malice, unconscious bias, institutional structure, or equal treatment which happens to cause racial discrepancy. All that matters (to many liberals) is that inequality exists, which, in their view, constitutes a racial injustice (i.e. racism). 

On the other hand, conservatives usually hold a narrower view of racism. They commonly consider an act racist only if it arises (consciously or otherwise) from a notion of racial superiority/inferiority. To many "right-wingers," racial inequality doesn't necessarily mean racism, as such inequality may not result from prejudice. Where liberals see institutional racism, conservatives frequently ascertain that "inner-city" culture, individual choice, and communal crime rates produce racially-correlated inequality: an inequality, in their view, based on individual action. 

If we recognize that political disagreements on race are often the result of these polarized definitions of racism, perhaps we'll be better equipped to engage in thoughtful discussion of racial politics. Perhaps, if we're willing to listen to other's perspectives, we'll be able to unify in combating the vague evil of racism. 

Sam Taylor

Posted on July 14, 2020 17:14

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Source: WIRED

Finding balance between science and politics has never been trickier. The post The Topsy Turvy World of Political Science...

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