Lecture on Blum, Racism: What It Is And What It Isn’t& on Kelly and Roeder, Racial Cognition and the Ethics of Implicit BiasBlumThe subject matter of the present discussion is how we should communicate about racism – about our moral vocabulary.Blum starts his article by pointing out that not all racial problems are racist problems, or that not all racial wrongs are racist wrongs. He is suggesting that we do a disservice to ourselves and to others if we do not keep this distinction in mind and if we do not employ it accordingly in our communication. It would be a “cheapening of the moral force of the idea of ‘racism’”.In order to make this distinction between racial problems and racism, Blum defines racism accordingly. Racism has two components. One, inferiorization, and, two, antipathy. A racist views or treats persons of another race as inferior – because of their race. And, a racist hates or strongly dislikes persons of another race – because of their race.Blum points out that even though the two components are related, and often occur together, it is also possible for one to occur without the other. Occurrence of one without the other is sufficient for racism to be taking place. But, since racism is possible without one of these, neither one of the two elements is necessary for racism to be taking place.We can now go to Blum’s examples. Blum gives us five examples to think about.Example one – a stereotype of black persons as intellectually inferior. Blum’s analysis and conclusion – this stereotype is racist since it contains the first, inferiorization, element of racism.Example two – a stereotype of black persons as good dancers. Blum’s analysis and conclusion –
this stereotype, as such, is not racist. It is not racist – because it attributes a positive attribute to black persons. Therefore, there is neither inferiorization nor racism here. However, Blum’s analysis consists of two additional comments. Comment one – the stereotype is still morally objectionable or immoral, in that it overgeneralizes about a group and blinds us to the internal diversity of the group. This stereotype discourages us from treating members of the group as individuals. This is a Kantian moral objection – individuals are not recognized as choosing for themselves to be and be seen as who they are but, rather, individuals are recognized in terms of who the person judging them chooses for them be seen and treated as. Even though racism also commits this Kantian moral wrong (inferiorization and antipathy are also forms of misrecognition of who persons choose themselves to be), misrecognition as such is not racism – since misrecognition can occur without basis in race. One can misrecognize persons on the basis of gender, eye color, profession, etc. This blinding is also morally problematic from the standpoint of the principle of democracy – that, in order for democracy to function, we must encounter and be challenged by persons who are different than we are and hold views different from our own.Blum’s comment two – the stereotype is morally objectionable in that “good dancer” used to mean intellectually inferior in another historical context in the past. However, this does not mean that that “good dancer” means the same in the present context.Example three. Ms. Verano is a fourth grade white teacher who does not have many (if any) black friends, and does not feel comfortable with black parents. She has racial anxiety – on the account that she fears that her communication may be misinterpreted by black persons as offensive without her intending to. As a result, she is awkward, defensive and inattentive with black persons and does not effectively communicate with black parents in her class. As a result, black children in her class are not as well guided as the white children, on the basis of the teacher’s feedback to the parents – and the education of the black children suffers. I this sense, the black children are discriminated against in Ms. Verano’s class. Blum’s analysis and conclusion – Verano is guilty of a racial wrong (since there is harm to the children and they are discriminated against) but not of racism (since Verano does not view or treat black persons as inferior or has antipathy toward them). Verano has racial anxiety or racial discomfort – but is not a racist. She is, of course, culpable for her racial anxiety, and must undertake steps to eliminate it, but she is not a racist and is not morally culpable for racism.Example four. Teacher asks for a “black point of view” from a Haitian-American student in her class. Here we have the same kind of racial homogenization as in the second example, and, it is morally wrong for the same reasons, but, again, it is not racist if the teacher does not view or treat black persons as inferior and does not have antipathy toward them on the basis of their race.Example five. A skirmish was taking a place outside of a diner in Rhode Island, and Officer Young, a black off-duty policeman, stepped outside of the diner with his gun in an attempt to resolve the disorder. Two white police officers arrived, and shot and killed Officer Young after they yelled for him to drop his weapon and he did not. A worry arose that white person would not have been shot in such haste – and that Officer Young was a victim of racism. Blum’s analysis and conclusion are as follows. There are strong reasons from the history of the two white officers that they neither view nor treat black persons with antipathy and inferiorization, and therefore they are not racists; since they are not racists in their motivation. However, Blum concludes, there may still be racisminvolved – in the stereotype that links black persons with violence and by which the white officers were guided. Many people are prey to such stereotypes without themselves being racists.The afterthought for the purposes of our class is that the source of racist stereotypes is, to a significant degree, communication. We mean here both mass media that relies on such stereotypes – that we have seen discussed for us by Patterson and Wilkinson, as well as Murphy – ands our interpersonal communication. For example, our jokes are frequently full of such stereotypes, but also other types of our interpersonal communication are also filled with such stereotypes. We will look at the topic of racism in jokes shortly. Meanwhile, let us also acknowledge, that Blum offers to us a possibility to reflect on racism in stereotypes due to his definition of racism, according to which not all racially discriminatory behavior is racist, and due to which we looked at racism beyond the motivation of persons, and, specifically, in stereotypes.Kelly & RoederOur interest in this Kelly and Roeder article comes insofar as we ask the following question with regard to the Blum article: what does it mean to say that a person is not racist in his motivation yet acts upon a racist stereotype?Kelly and Roeder appeal to a recognized phenomenon of snap judgments uncovered by experimental cognitive psychologists. They are judgments that we rely on in our behavior and that we make “quickly, … without moderating influence of introspection and deliberation and often without conscious intention … relatively automatic processes.” Snap judgments associate ideastogether – unconsciously, and without our control, as it were. They are revealed by the Implicit Association Test – in which experimenters ask subjects to record very fast (before they have time to think) how they associate ideas. These Implicit Association Tests revealed that one type of such associations that people in our society form is the Implicit Racial Bias. One experimenter demonstrated the existence of what has come to be known as the Weapon Bias – a popular snap judgment many persons have by which they associate images of black people with images of weapons. The Weapon Bias would explain the Officer Young incident analyzed by Blum with a conclusion that the white police officers were not racist yet they were prey to a racist stereotype. They possessed the weapon bias and made a snap judgment on its basis that the black man with a gun (Officer Young) is a lethal threat.Like Blum, Kelly and Roeder attempted to think through whether a person is morally culpable for the implicit racial bias, or a stereotype, that they are prey to. Like Blum, they concluded that the racist bias, stereotypes, and unconscious (or, in the language of cognitive psychology, “implicit”) attitudes are “morally wrong – and condemnable – but that the person himself cannot be blamed for having them.”The interesting thing about the Kelly and Roeder article is that they investigate the possibility of something like the Weapon Bias being “rational.” What do they mean by rational here? They mean that if a person has in fact been exposed to images and stories from which that conclusion follows, then it is rational for that person to draw that conclusion. To this, Kelly and Roeder comment that even though the bias may be rational in the sense of logical inference, it is still morally reprehensible as it homogenizes and does not respect individuals as individuals. We have seen Blum make this same Kantian criticism in his article in his example three.For the purposes of our class, it would make sense to point out that the data from which the carriers of Implicit Racial Bias derive their bias, is not necessarily one of their personal experience, or statistical in the rigorous scientific sense, but is likely originating from the images that we are bombarded by from mass media, and, perhaps even from the interpersonal communication in which we participate. Both of these sources of the Implicit Racial Bias are morally reprehensible and should be refrained from.