An Ethics Alarms Challenge: How Would You Respond To This?

I am a racist

A distinguished lawyer of my acquaintance (though we have not spoken in decades) just posted what follows in a professional forum.

What is it? How did the lawyer come to believe that it should be posted? What would you say in response as a friend? A colleague? A critic?

I am a racist.

I grew up in a small farming town that had less racial diversity than The Villages does today. My only first-hand exposure to people of color was in the summers, when migrant workers would come to do backbreaking work in the fields 60 hours a week. I was taught they were lazy Mexicans. I am the same age as Opie, Dennis the Menace and the Beaver. They were my windows to the world. Their childhood lives, like mine, were never complicated by race.

I was taught the Euro-centric version of history. Columbus discovered America. That the Indians were savages was routinely reinforced in the movies. The only thing I learned about the Middle East as a child came from reading The Arabian Nights and seeing Lawrence of Arabia. In my 20 years of formal education, I’ve had two teachers who were people of color. One taught volleyball.

I was into my adulthood when I learned that cabs don’t stop for Black men, that realtors don’t show houses in certain neighborhoods to minorities, and that banks had/have discriminatory lending policies against women and minorities. I was in my 60s when I first knew of the Tulsa Race Massacre, which I learned from a TV show.

Even though I began everyday of elementary school reciting the Pledge of Allegiance – with liberty and justice for all – I’ve routinely witnessed prejudice, if not racism, as part of the legal profession. The law school admissions process is built on biased criteria. The bar exam is racist, hiring practices of and advancement within the largest law firms reflect the male whiteness of their corporate clients. High filing fees have resulted in a user-pay system to access the courts, precluding a higher percentage of minorities from seeking justice.

And I’ve bought into this systemic racism. I don’t think of myself as an evil racist, but rather one who has done too little to advance equity. I am challenged to be an anti-racist. But, if the first step is recognizing that I have a problem, I’m there.

27 thoughts on “An Ethics Alarms Challenge: How Would You Respond To This?

  1. I’m afraid that your colleague has already drunk the kool-aid. It’s too late to deliver an antidote. I would merely make note of it, sadly shake my head that another person I respected has gone ’round the bend, and get on with my own life.

  2. I would start by asking: How much of his wealth, which from his narrative he stole for a minority, he will be donating to correcting his unearned position in life? Hit him in the pocketbook to test his resolve.

    That aside. It amazes me how many people suffer from Stockholm syndrome via guilt trip!

  3. I would say “do you realize that by calling yourself a racist when you aren’t only feeds into the condescending and racist frame of mind that “people of color” can’t get ahead because of you or white people in general.
    If you prefer “equity” over “equal opportunity”, are you willing to give up most of your money to make things more equitable? I doubt it.
    How about this: it takes a week or so to train a janitor to clean a building; it takes a brain surgeon a decade of expensive and difficult training and study before he can practice his profession. If you believe they should get equal compensation, no one can help you.

  4. Well, racist is as racist does. I think this colleague is saying that while he never thought enough about race to have explicit beliefs about the relative superiority of any one human ethnicity over another, he just assumed that marginalized groups brought most of their socioeconomic problems on themselves.

    He considers that assumption to be “racist.” I’m inclined to disagree, because it gets too confusing if we use the word “racist” to describe widely different beliefs with different consequences for how people treat each other. The assumption that marginalized groups are marginalized because they have less character does cause problems, because people with that assumption are less likely to care about alleviating poverty through education and investment. It’s not the same thing as prejudice against a biological heritage, though; it leads to different behavior, and it should be handled differently. Humans need more words in order to have more nuanced discussions. (Wealth-ist?)

    This colleague is now realizing that while some people do cause their own problems, it’s measurably difficult to get out of a poverty pit that was created as a giant prison even when the guards have mostly left. (The same thing goes for communication barriers.) Even if he was a racist before, he isn’t one now (by what I understand to be his own definition above), so he shouldn’t use the present tense. I would expect a lawyer to be more clear and precise with his words.

    Finally, anti-racist is as anti-racist does, too. The question now is whether he can do something constructive about the world he finds himself in, or whether he will signal virtue and make flailing gestures to try and smash the problems he perceives (or the one’s he’s told to smash).

  5. The next steps should include:
    1. Give up your ill-begotten privilege to be an attorney. Get a job working alongside the lesser privileged.
    2. Liquidate all assets you have achieved from the practice of the ill-begotten. Give away the proceeds equitably to all lesser privileged.
    3. Go into the highways and byways of the less privileged. Gather them into your home and support them by your own means without assistance from the rest of us.

    I’m sure if you put your privileged education to work you will be able to find many other ways to personally mend the injustice.

  6. Go for a jog on Albany Avenue in the North end of Hartford, CT, and dodge all the bottles and rocks being forcefully thrown at you while hearing things like “KILL that white motherfucker!” if you want a taste of actual racism, moron!
    What an insufferable, sniveling idiot. Don’t we all have equality before the law? Does a lawyer, of all people, think that we can legislate and punish away any and all lingering racial bias out of the species without that horribly backfiring? Don’t we have enough examples of that very thing; the results of putting your thumbs on the scales in various ways (affirmative action, preferential hiring practices, etc) that anyone with a SHRED of common sense can predict would do nothing but generate MORE discord, division, and resentment?

  7. Dear Friend,

    Wow, thank you for sharing such a heartfelt and personal journey.

    In reading your words, I can see you are deeply moved. I’m thankful for your awareness of your experiences.

    What I’m not understanding is how what you shared makes you a racist. In fact, that you see there have been injustices to me would show the opposite.

    Can you clarify how you specifically are racist? Do you believe Mexicans are lazy? Do you hold that native Americans were savages? That black people are lesser because of skin color? Have you deliberately treated others badly and wished them harm because of their race?

    I’m not seeing that in your writing, but if so, then yes, you have acted with prejudice in the past and that’s wrong and good to become aware of.

    It sounds more to be by what you’ve written that you’re not racist at all, but have seen that some of what you were thought is not only incorrect, but can cause us to treat others poorly if we hold such beliefs.

    Again, I have not seen you act that way, and being raised as you have doesn’t mean you are a racist and more than if you had been told all women are beneath men would make you a woman abuser.

    Your conclusion isn’t making sense to me. Let’s continue on the woman analogy.

    Women have been treated inferior in society. They have been denied things purely because they are a woman. Additionally they have been objectified by men. Men have been taught many wrong things about women as well.

    Would you conclude you are “sexist?” Or an abuser of women? Or God forbid if you have ever participated in locker room talk or even heard it, are you a rapist and abuser too.

    Because you recognize injustices because of your upbringing and what others believed doesn’t mean YOU are that.

    I applaud you for the new awareness you have! Many don’t ever see that.

    However, your conclusions seem illogical and misplaced. A true racist would never admit they were. In fact they would deny, defend, and justify.

    I don’t see you in you, friend.

    What I see is a person who is questioning their beliefs, and that I see as a good thing. Most don’t want to because often our identities are held in our beliefs.

    But you are now claiming an identity when you never had those beliefs at all. At least from what I know of you!

    If you have held them and no longer do, then it would be more accurate to say you are a former racist. And there are countless ways to start making amends. Especially with a lawyers salary, and lifestyle. You could begin today donating a large portion of your salary to help those you think you have stolen from. I would be happy to point you to some organization doing good work.

    If you realize after all you’ve never believed those things and aren’t a racist after all, it still may do your soul good with your new awareness to connect with some people helping blacks and minorities… and heck, why not add women too?

    My point is there are many awesome people doing great work advancing equality where it’s still imbalanced.

    I’m proud of you for the honest look at your lives experience. I’d just be cautious to label yourself as something and someone I’ve never known you to be.

    Sincerely,

    Your friend

  8. He’s a lawyer, yes? Challenge him to prove all his claims beyond a reasonable doubt. Or even probable cause. His claims of racism and sexism are present day America; convince the jury that modern America is a white man’s game, no others need apply. If he refuses, at least you carried out the duty to confront this anti American nonsense.

  9. I am so tired of such vapid virtue-signaling!
    I must live in an alternate universe, because my day-to-day interactions with people of all races, economic status, religions, etc. etc. don’t shadow the hatred and angst we are suppose to have towards each other as portrayed in the media. Nor are we burdened with a mountain of guilt because of the actions by others long ago. We understand that American society has changed since the 1950s.
    I grew up during the time of “colored” and “whites only” drinking fountains in the south…but while my 8-yr-old eyes could read the signs, I also saw my foster father – a railroad dining car steward – having the time of his life sharing stories, family photos, and life’s moments with the predominantly black crew on his route from NY to Florida. I learned from his example how to treat and interact with people of all backgrounds.
    Today, I see most folks just wanting to be nice and helpful. Maybe it’s because so few of us believe in lugging the crutch of victim or oppressor around. Unlike the lawyer quoted above, we don’t wallow in some nebulous guilt, trying to display our nobility.
    We are too busy treating others as we would like to be treated.

    We’ve all met bigoted, mean people in our lives, but we understand those are the true minority in a land full of interesting, curious, kind, productive, and loving people across the country. Invariably the mean ones are those who don’t like anyone who is different – whether it’s skin color, height, weight, faith, ideology, disability…whatever – they don’t like what they don’t understand, nor do they take the time to get to know people as individuals rather than representatives of group identities.
    I learned this decades ago in the 7th grade, when midway through the school year my foster family moved us six states away. I have a congenital eye problem which is very obvious, and my first class in the new school was an auditorium-filled math class with four monitors around the room and a teacher with an overhead projector in the front. I was about 10 rows back and recognized a boy in front of me as having been in my homeroom that morning, so when he turned around to look at me, I smiled and said “Hi”. He immediately nudged kids on either side of him, pointed to me and laughed. Within five minutes, all of the students if front of me had been nudged and were all pointing and laughing at “the girl with the funny eyes.”
    It was a life-changing moment, because I realized not one of these kids knew anything about me – I’d only been in the school for one hour! They didn’t know what interests we shared in books, music, sports, art, etc. – they didn’t know what my hopes and dreams were…they only knew I was different.
    I learned at that moment – as have so many others in similar circumstances – to look for the best in people.
    Maybe it’s because those different-from-each-other folks I encounter don’t head out the door each day with a chip or a mountain of guilt on their shoulders, nor do they think they are helpless when it comes to improving or changing their lives. Quite to the contrary, they are invariably determined to get on with whatever new path attracts their interest, and to welcome others – of any background – to join them in the wonder of discovery.
    I and many kindred spirits only turn our backs on people when our optimism is betrayed by those whose sole goal is to keep us divided.

    • Funny you mention that, because my experience in recent years mirrors yours, in that I very rarely encounter black and hispanic people who have been anything but normal and friendly, with no apparent animosity towards white people in general that the media would have you convinced MUST be ubiquitous among them. In fact, I’ve often had in-depth conversations with blacks and hispanics who see right through this nonsense, which breaks down the media trick of making you feel like you must be the only one who sees through this. Inner-cities have been the only noteworthy exception, but I believe that has more to do with the sort of intellectual deficit you’d be likely to encounter among the economically impoverished-due-to-poor-decision-making of any race.

      • True…the inner city issue is a whole different ballgame – and much of it derives from the fact that the mob mentality in any group drives behavior and speech in ways that many would not think of engaging in during a one-on-one encounter. And that’s nothing new….just recorded more these days.

  10. “I grew up in a small farming town that had less racial diversity than The Villages does today.” Therefore you are racist? THIS … this bias is where the “isim” is. You had a cultural disadvantage, so by default being born and raised rural you are naturally a racist. It stems from your childhood and rural upbringing. There are 20 million rural Americans you now believe to be inherently racist because of where they live.

    I wouldn’t say anything because he is a bigot and he’s not open to any views but his own echo chamber.

  11. I am a racist.

    I don’t care. I don’t know why anyone would care. If navel-gazing and self-flagellation make you feel more virtuous, fine. Just leave me out of it.

    I am the same age as Opie, Dennis the Menace and the Beaver. They were my windows to the world. Their childhood lives, like mine, were never complicated by race.

    And why should your childhood life have been “complicated by race?” Racial complications are largely present because of adults, not children. It makes no sense that sitcoms in an era where whites were almost 90% of the population in America should be “complicated by race.” Both the genre and intended audience make the introduction of racial complexity undesirable.

    In my 20 years of formal education, I’ve had two teachers who were people of color.

    A situation shared by most white Americans of that era. I am not clear as to why your lack of non-white teachers made you racist, unless you’re saying that all your teachers were racist. If so, perhaps you’d like to know that apparently has not changed, except now they’re racist in the other direction — against white people.

    I was in my 60s when I first knew of the Tulsa Race Massacre, which I learned from a TV show.

    Perhaps you’re not really racist after all, but merely historically ignorant.

    [Senseless navel-gazing inanity omitted for brevity and the sanity of all] …

    I don’t think of myself as an evil racist, but rather one who has done too little to advance equity.

    I have a question — is racism evil, or not? Apparently, according to you, it is possible to be both a racist and not evil. I suspect most “woke” folks would not agree with that.

    And what is an “anti-racist,” pray tell, in your view? Is it the Ibram X. Kendi version, the BLM version, or any of the other versions of so-called anti-racism informed by the academic mummery of critical race theory? Since you’ve already declared yourself historically ignorant, it seems clear that you are also ignorant of how the anti-racist ideology works. Let me help you out:

    – Racism is evil, and all racists are evil;
    – There can be no forgiveness for racism;
    – You will always be a racist even while you practice anti-racism;
    – The best you can ever hope to achieve in your life is the status of what is known as an “ally,” roughly the equivalent to a wizard’s familiar;
    – You will not be considered human by those you seek to apologize to;
    – You will be expected to sacrifice all to the service of anti-racism, and anything you hold back is merely more racism.

    That’s what you’re signing up for. Hope you enjoy it. I suspect, like the Branch Davidians, the cult of anti-racism will end badly.

    But you do you.

    • Yeah, Slate Star Codex has some excellent articles for bringing… well, not “common” sense, but refreshing sanity to issues where most humans tend to hurt themselves in their confusion. That’s why I’m refining and distilling rationality concepts to be more accessible and applicable to regular humans.

      The key lessons from “Against Murderism” seem to be the following:

      …if you want to be righteous, look for the non-racist motives in actually racist things.

      Rejecting the choice to attribute whatever we disagree with to murderism [or racism], even if it is murderist [or racist], and instead trying to trace it back to root causes that make sense that and humanize the people involved.

      To make it easier for humans to trace back “-isms” to root causes, I’ve developed a simple vocabulary for describing the four fundamental types of problems and the tradeoffs people feel compelled to make in order to deal with those problems. Equipped with this vocabulary, people can quickly understand each other’s underlying values and desires, hopes and fears, as well as their own. Only then can we start talking about how to build a world we can all be proud of.

      True, some people ask for unreasonable things, but any competent engineer will know that what people ask for isn’t necessarily what they actually want. What humans actually want is seldom as complicated as they make it out to be, and therein lies our common ground.

  12. The only worthwhile response is to back away slowly and get to a safe distance. Your colleague is beyond your help now, and has been indoctrinated into a cult. You cannot talk someone out of such beliefs, they have to find their own way out.

    • But there’s no rule that says we can’t speed up the process of helping people find their own way out, now, is there?

      The main problem with talking people out of things is that humans neglect to figure out why people believe things in the first place.

      • I don’t think it’s possible to speed up an awakening in someone who is at the stage of indoctrination that this person’s letter seems to indicate. He’s likely at the beginning of the process, when you’re still enamored with the ideas, and unable (and unwilling) to see any flaws. Reason and logic aren’t useful at this stage, and any attempt to talk him off the ledge now will likely push him deeper in, and cause him to mark you as an enemy to the cause. That hampers your ability to throw a lifeline later, when he starts to see the cracks in the facade and question the assumptions of his new belief system. If you’ve remained quiet until that point, you can help foster those doubts once they appear. If you make that move too soon, they just flee from you, and strike you from their life.

        This is doubly true if your interaction with the person is mostly electronic. It’s too easy to block and ignore someone online, and once you’re no longer interacting, you have no way to exert influence at the later, more critical stage of breaking out of the cultist mentality.

  13. Your friend wrote, “I am a racist” and then didn’t provide one shred of evidence to support his claim, you’d think a lawyer could do better than that.

    It appears that this person has completely swallowed the antiracist garbage and is literally parroting it…

    “The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’ What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.”

    That was written by the race hustling Ibram X. Kendi in his pure gaslighting book How to Be an Antiracist. Yup and the opposite of night is anti-night, the opposite of arrive is anti-arrive, the opposite of rich is anti-rich, the opposite of up is anti-up, etc. etc. These people are literally bastardizing the English language and they’re given prominent public platforms in the media and positions in institutes of higher learning and they’re brainwashing the public with their gaslighting garbage. In my opinion, Kendi is an anti-white racist and a race baiting liar.

    It’s going to be a hard thing to do but you need to tell your friend that they are absolutely correct, they most certainly have a problem but it’s not the problem they think it is, the problem is they’re being brainwashed by a culture war into joining a popular 21st century cult of anti-white racism. What’s happening is literally social brainwashing and it is destroying the foundation of our society.

    Steps Involved in Brainwashing
    1. Assault on identity
    2. Guilt
    3. Self-betrayal
    4. Breaking point
    5. Leniency
    6. Compulsion to confess
    7. Channeling of guilt
    8. Releasing of guilt
    9. Progress and harmony
    10. Final confession and rebirth.

    Where in that list do you think your friend is? I think it’s number ten.

    I’m really curious; what does your friend actually think they are going to accomplish with their public confession? Are they actually ignorant enough to think it will protect them from anti-white racists, if that’s what they’re thinking they’re delusional.

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