Dropping out of (the) race

My last post really infuriated the “Con or Bust” bunch on Twitter and almost broke this blog’s (rather small) record for views in a day, so I think I’m on to something. Let’s push the envelope some more.

In the 1860s, slavery was abolished in the USA. In the 1960s, most laws mandating racial discrimination were struck down or repealed. By the 2060s, I hope the very idea of race will be on the trash heap of pseudoscience along with creationism and astrology. Sooner would be better.

My first encyclopedia claimed that the human species is divided into the Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid races and a bunch of sub-races. It rejected notions of racial superiority, but the biological subdivision of Homo sapiens was a scientific “fact.” Since then, scientists have found that there’s far more genetic variation within “races” than between them. The differences that supposedly define races are superficial things such as skin color and facial features.

In spite of this, many people have a deep investment in the notion of race. At most big companies, you’re expected to disclose your race, though you’re told it’s optional. When I worked at Harvard, there was an online form with a supposedly optional question about my race. I unchecked everything, and the website wouldn’t accept the form because I hadn’t answered the “optional” question. I reported this as a bug. As far as I know, it has never been fixed.

However, the form didn’t stop me from checking all the boxes, so I did that. Under the “one drop” theory of race, it’s almost certainly true that I belong to every “race” there is.

I try to avoid racial terms, though sometimes they’re an inescapable shorthand for appearance. But think about it: Have you ever seen a person whose skin is actually white or black and isn’t a corpse? Have you ever encountered anyone who isn’t a person of color? It would have to be the Invisible Man.

There are people who want to keep the idea of race alive because they think they’re the Master Race. They’re living rebuttals of their claim to intellectual and moral superiority; rebutting them is like beating a zombie horse that refuses to die. Then there are the people who push the notion of “racial identity”; they see people as representatives of their race rather than individuals and think that the most important form of diversity is diversity of looks. They manage to get a degree of intellectual respect, but it’s the same old poison in a new sugar coating. If you think you know what people are by looking at their skin, you don’t know them at all.

It takes work to break free of ways of thinking that pervade a culture. It can be hard to stop making assumptions about people based on their skin, but it allows discovering things about them that are much more interesting than their albedo.

So when they ask your race, just say “human.”

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18 Responses to “Dropping out of (the) race”

  1. thnidu Says:

    «when they ask your race, just say “human.”»Usually I do, when the option’s available.
    (Once more into the breech. O Eternal One, or whoever watches over idiots, please spare me a kindly thought.)
    Absolutely, genetic “race” within homo sap. is pseudoscientific bushwah. But the concept of something called “race” is strong in the minds and behavior of a large portion of our species of saps, and it cannot be swept aside with the same broom; as you say, “It takes work to break free of ways of thinking that pervade a culture.” So far, we agree.
    You wrote in the same post:

    In the Popehat thread which I quoted in an earlier post, Elizabeth R. McClellan replied to a comment of mine:

    You think “of color” and “non-white,” as stated, and “the qualification that their skin must be sufficiently dark” as claimed here, are the same thing?

    It’s a lie to say that their criterion is color; the criterion is color! Did McClellan think people would fall for such transparent nonsense, or has she bisected her brain so that color and color really are two different things?

    (Now I put on my linguist hat, tie it under my chin, and jump off the cliff.) The expression “person of color” is non-analytic, which is to say that its meaning cannot be derived from the sum (or other function) of its parts; to rehash my favorite old example, a cupboard is not just a board for storing cups. Although this idiom could be construed as referring to a complexionally inferred assignment of a person to a pseudo-“race” or set of such, McClellan’s reply makes it quite explicit that that is not what she and her fellows mean. They are addressing the social concept of “race”, not the pseudo-biological would-be classification. In short: color = color, but “person of color” ≠ “person who has (any or a specific) color”.

    • Gary McGath Says:

      I’m afraid that last just sounds like doubletalk to me. If they aren’t talking about color, but about social classification, then why use, of all possible terms, “color”?

      Granted, and already noted in my post, “black” doesn’t mean black or “white” white in the optical sense. But these are terms which have been around for ages and have stuck around. The term “person of color” gets away from the implication of stark contrast which people (the light-colored ones, anyway) once loved to imagine, so it has that much going for it, even though it sounds very stilted. (I just can’t imagine saying “that person of color over there” when pointing someone out.) It can even imply physical features that aren’t color-based, but which make people think of the traditional color terms. Chinese and Japanese are said to be “yellow,” American Indians “red” (though that term has fallen into serious disrepute), and so on, even though they aren’t. Whether they’re talking about literal color differences or conventionally assigned ones doesn’t make any real difference; they’re still using superficial physiological characteristics as a basis for categorization.

      Even granting that McClellan meant something that had nothing to do with color, if she were remotely honest, wouldn’t she have explained that she was using “color” in a non-literal sense? Instead she flung an accusation of lying, like the cornered rat she was.

      • thnidu Says:

        Gary:
        They aren’t molding the language, and have sense enough not to try. Like it or not, the idiom “person of color” is very well established for many people (see below) as a term of self-identification, and taken up by their “white” allies. Con or Bust are using the language as it exists.
        I don’t know exactly what the site says, but I’m sure that she didn’t feel it necessary to explain «that she was using “color” in a non-literal sense», because she didn’t expect anyone to fail to recognize and understand it. I find it hard to believe that you were completely unaware of its history and idiomaticity– though knowing you as I do, should you say so, I would take your word for it– but that’s just how you’re coming across here. And _if_ that’s how you came across to McClellan, I’m not at all surprised at her reaction.

        *Google search: define:”person of color”*
        • Google’s own definition: per·son of col·or / noun
        noun: person of colour; plural noun: persons of colour; noun: person of color; plural noun: persons of color; noun: man of color; plural noun: men of color; noun: woman of color; plural noun: women of color; noun: man of colour; plural noun: men of colour; noun: woman of colour; plural noun: women of colour
        1. 
a person who is not white or of European parentage.



        TOP THREE HITS:
        • Wikipedia
        Person of color (plural: people of color; persons of color) is a term used primarily in the United States to describe any person who is not white. The term is meant to be inclusive among non-white groups, emphasizing common experiences of racism. People of color was introduced as a preferable replacement to both non-white and minority, which are also inclusive, because it frames the subject positively; non-white defines people in terms of what they are not (white), and minority frequently carries a subordinate connotation.

        http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2013/03/2013321whats-wrong-with-the-term-person-of-color/
        …or at least how it’s used.
        [First encounter with the term, as one of three Asian campers at a sleepover camp whose participants were mostly from St. Louis, Mo., and discovering how they did and did not fit in “racial” categories.]

        Still, it’s helpful to understand ‘POC’ is still a useful term.  Quoting Loretta Ross of the Sistersong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective in her interview with Racialicious, ‘woman of color’ emerged from a Black feminist platform at a National Women’s Conference in Houston in the 1970s:
        “So they actually formed a group called Black Women’s Agenda to come [sic] to Houston with a Black women’s plan of action that they wanted the delegates to vote to substitute for the Minority Women’s Plank that was in the proposed plan of action.”
        Identifying as a person of color in solidarity with other people of color says ‘hey, my people have been oppressed by White people, maybe in a different time and space than your people, but we can work in solidarity.’ 

        • “People of Color” (Race Ethnicity and Society, by Schaefer) by Salvador Vidal-Ortiz
        http://www.academia.edu/2078986/_People_of_Color_Race_Ethnicity_and_Society_by_Schaefer_
        In the United States in particular, there is a trajectory to the term—from more derogatory terms such as negroes, to colored, to people of color. … Although in this genealogy the term refers predominantly to Blacks, at certain historical moments and in various regions Mexicans, among some of the oldest “immigrants,” were excluded from “White”-only spaces under the nomenclature of “colored” along with Blacks. One of the developments of the term people of color is precisely its flexibility in accommodating various groups similarly disadvantaged, even if their disadvantages are based on different variables (e.g., access to education, housing, employment, immigration status, English proficiency).

        • Gary McGath Says:

          The terminology isn’t the issue; it’s what they’re doing. When I was writing my post, I thought of including some text explaining that simply because race has no scientific reality, it doesn’t follow that there’s no such thing as racism or racial discrimination. I left it out to keep the post short, but maybe that was a mistake.

          The idea that people come in different races — which, if I’ve got it right, is what you call the social definition — is still a pervasive one. People who not only believe it but think people should be treated differently on that basis are what we call racists. Racial discrimination is treating people in a different way because of the racial group to which someone assigns them, whether it has any basis in physiology or not. In some times and places, people have been fanatical about ancestry, so that people who by appearance were “white” were deemed “people of color” when it was discovered that their ancestors included people of color. (The term actually used was one which is considered much less polite today, of course. The musical Show Boat provides a stark example.)

          The problem with Con or Bust isn’t whether they use “people of color” or some other term, but that their policy is racially discriminatory, in the sense which I’ve just explained, and that they use evasions such as “we don’t use a color swatch” to deny what they’re openly doing. They are both racist and dishonest.

          I feel as if I have to explain some more, even though I don’t see how it can’t be obvious. Let’s suppose that someone puts up a sign that says, “No colored people allowed.” (There’s an excellent Bloom County cartoon on the relationship between “colored people” and “people of color” which I can’t find online; it’s summarized here.) When he’s criticized for discriminating against dark-skinned people, he says, “You lie! I don’t apply a color swatch! I turn away light-skinned people of color too!” The problem is not that the critic is ignorant of the real meaning of the term, which is based on a “social definition” and so can’t be racial discrimination; the problem is that he’s using word quibbles to excuse his racist action. Likewise for McClellan.

    • Eyal Mozes Says:

      Although this idiom [“person of color”] could be construed as referring to a complexionally inferred assignment of a person to a pseudo-”race” or set of such, McClellan’s reply makes it quite explicit that that is not what she and her fellows mean. They are addressing the social concept of “race”, not the pseudo-biological would-be classification.

      Thnidu, I see two problems with your statement here.

      The first is that you haven’t provided any definition of a “social concept of race”, or any explanation of why it is any more legitimate than the biological one. Neither, as far as I am aware, has anyone else. From everything I’ve seen, the people who talk about the “social concept of race” never provide any clear explanation of what this concept means; and in practice, they people they classify as “persons of color” are always exactly the same people who were classified in the “non-white” races by the old, biological racial classifications.

      If you can provide some explanation of what the social concept of race is, what the appropriate method is for classifying people by this concept into races, and what gives it legitimacy; or if you can point me to any such explanations; I’d be interested to hear it. But so far I haven’t seen any evidence that “the social concept of race” is anything other than an excuse by racists to continue to treat people as members of racial groups rather than as individuals, without having to confront the total debunking of the biological ideas of race.

      The second problem is that even if there were some legitimate social concept of race, McClellan has said nothing to explain that that is the concept Con or Bust intended, let alone “make it quite explicit”. She said nothing to indicate that in her responses to Gary on Popehat, nor is there any statement to that effect on the Con or Bust web site.

      I note that it’s now been two weeks since Gary’s exchange with McClellan on Popehat. If McClellan, and the other people running Con or Bust, had some meaning in mind for “person of color” that was unconnected to skin color, then Gary’s comments would have alerted them to how badly they’ve failed to make their criteria clear, and they’d have updated their web site by now to provide a clearer explanation of the non-color-related qualifications for getting help from their fund. And not only would McClellan have been friendly and civil in her responses to Gary, she’d have been profoundly grateful, for the service he’s done to Con or Bust by alerting them to the need for clarification.

      So how do you explain that the Con or Bust web site still provides no explanation for what “fans of color/non-white fans” means? And how do you explain McClellan’s rudeness in her exchange with Gary? I think these facts make clear that what they mean by “fans of color/non-white fans” is precisely the racist meaning that Gary identified; they mean people classified as “non-white” by the old pseudo-scientific racial classifications, nothing else. And behind all their self-righteousness, they do recognize that what they’re doing is wrong, leading people like McClellan to substitute rudeness for argument whenever someone like Gary points out what they’re doing.

  2. thnidu Says:

    Eyal: I did not mean to imply that the social concept of “race” has any justification whatsoever. It doesn’t. But to make an analogy, if gangs of skinheads are roaming the streets beating up whoever they don’t like the look of, we can’t defend our friends and ourselves unless we acknowledge that they’re out there.

    But so far I haven’t seen any evidence that “the social concept of race” is anything other than an excuse by racists to continue to treat people as members of racial groups rather than as individuals, without having to confront the total debunking of the biological ideas of race.

    The idea of race exists, and you can’t discuss American society without dealing with it. Many people treat other people partly on the basis of something that has been, and usually still is, called “race”. If you [meaning “anybody”] want to deal with reality, the question whether or not it’s got a scientific and precise definition (and it doesn’t) doesn’t change the fact that you’ve got to deal with these people’s belief in it, and with its effects on society. THAT is what I mean by “the social concept of race”.

    “People of color” was revived in the nineties (see my reply to Gary, above) as a term of self-identification, much like the LGBTQ communities’ reclaiming of “queer”, and the use of “nigger” by some African-Americans among themselves to refer to themselves and to “black” people in general. You and I can’t use that word, with its history, because we’re not “black”. I think “queer” is generally more acceptable from non-LGBTQ allies. For “people of color” I get the impression that the communities’ opinion [the plural is deliberate] is divided, but that it’s certainly closer to the LGBTQ acceptance of “queer” from an ally than it is for “nigger”.

    I note that it’s now been two weeks since Gary’s exchange with McClellan on Popehat. If McClellan, and the other people running Con or Bust, had some meaning in mind for “person of color” that was unconnected to skin color, then Gary’s comments would have alerted them to how badly they’ve failed to make their criteria clear, and they’d have updated their web site by now to provide a clearer explanation of the non-color-related qualifications for getting help from their fund.

    See my 2nd ¶ to Gary, beginning “I don’t know exactly what the site says”.

    Best regards,
    Θνἰδου

    • Eyal Mozes Says:

      Obviously the reason we’re having this discussion in the first place is because Gary recognizes that many people – including the people running Con or Bust – ‘treat other people partly on the basis of something that has been, and usually still is, called “race”’; and because he feels strongly enough against it to feel the need to speak out. That’s what prompted him to write this post, that’s what prompted him to speak out against it on Popehat and on Twitter, and that’s what subjected him to so much hostility. Thnidu, if by “social concept of race” you meant the recognition of the prevalence of fallacious racist thinking, then Gary is the one recognizing and dealing with this concept, his attackers are the ones evading it.

      All of the discussions you quoted in your response to Gary, of the concept of “person of color”, support my point in my last comment, and support Gary’s point in his post: the people classified as “persons of color” are precisely the same people who were classified in the “non-white” races by the old, biological racial classifications. There’s nothing in anything you quoted to suggest that the set of people classified as “persons of color” is anything else. Which proves Gary’s identification on Popehat of Con-or-Bust’s policies was exactly right; discriminating for or against “persons of color” is exactly the same as discriminating based on the old, pseudo-scientific racial classifications.

      I note that in your initial response to Gary, you wrote that ‘McClellan’s reply makes it quite explicit that that is not what she and her fellows mean. They are addressing the social concept of “race”, not the pseudo-biological would-be classification.’ Then in your second reply you wrote that ‘I’m sure that [McClellan] didn’t feel it necessary to explain «that she was using “color” in a non-literal sense»’; implicitly admitting that you were wrong in your first statement, and that McClellan in fact never did clearly explain her meaning. Let me suggest that if you’re going to admit having been wrong, it is better to clearly and explicitly say so. That is true in pretty much any discussion; but given that we are here continuing a discussion that has become so hostile and unpleasant on other fora, and given the cowardly defensiveness we’ve seen from people like McClellan, it is even more true here.

      Why, then, would McClellan, and the others running Con or Bust, find it unnecessary to explain what they mean by “person of color”? I see two explanations for that; either they in fact do mean it in the racist meaning in which it is commonly used, and which Gary correctly identified; or they have some other meaning in mind, but didn’t realize how their use of the phrase is likely to be misunderstood because they’re “completely unaware of its history and idiomaticity”. Two weeks ago, I might have accepted the latter explanation as possible; but now, given that McClellan’s exchange with Gary didn’t alert them to the need to put a clarification on their web site; and given McClellan’s failure to apologize to Gary and then warmly thank him for helping alert Con or Bust to the need to clarify; I think the latter explanation can be ruled out, and we can regard the former one as proven. Gary was in fact completely correct in identifying their policies. McClellan’s failure to admit it, and her accusations of lying against him, prove that in addition to being racist, rude and a coward, she is dishonest as well.

      • thnidu Says:

        Eyal, I guess I should have emphasized this more clearly as well as including and pointing up the quotation from its modern origin: One crucial difference between “people of color” and “n…..s” is that the former is self-chosen instead of applied by non-members. *”This is who we are! This is what WE will call OURSELVES.”* It’s a term not of scorn but of … I was going to say “pride”, but that could be taken to imply a connotation of superiority, which would also be racist, so instead I’ll say, a term of unashamed proclamation of membership (in a group that *is* defined by society, irrelevantly to its scientific vacuity).

        • Gary McGath Says:

          But that’s just a difference of connotation, and irrelevant when an outside group is using group membership is a criterion for its actions.

          I’m not even sure the distinction really is true. I can’t recall anyone saying “I’m a person of color.” In my experience it’s a catch-all term for all non-“whites,” and people who identify with ethnic groups prefer more specific terms for their own groups.

          • thnidu Says:

            I can’t recall anyone saying “I’m a person of color.” In my experience it’s a catch-all term for all non-”whites,” and people who identify with ethnic groups prefer more specific terms for their own groups.

            How often do you or I identify ourselves as “North Americans”? In terms of macroscopic residence or citizenship, we call ourselves Americans as in “United States of…”, or some semantic equivalent like USAians. But sometimes “North American” is more appropriate – at least for social or cultural referents, maybe not much for individuals – because the relevant international context includes Canada as well, plus maybe “whiteness” or “anglophony” or something of the kind, whether scientifically supportable or not. As above, if it’s socially meaningful, we need a handle for it.

            That analogy isn’t perfect, but “people of color” seems to me to be an inclusive term, meant to include “nonwhites” in general as the racist attitudes of “white” America exclude “nonwhites” in general.

            But that’s just a difference of connotation, and irrelevant when an outside group is using group membership is a criterion for its actions.

            “Just” a difference of connotation?! Man, what else distinguishes “African-American” from “n…..” in your “white” mouth or mine? If you want to work on good terms with a group that rightly sees itself as being commonly viewed by your group as different and inferior, it’s only sensible to refer to them by a term they’ve chosen as (a) referring to themselves and (b) acceptable for use by others?

        • Eyal Mozes Says:

          Thnidu, in your comments below you keep switching between talking about the language Con or Bust are using – specifically, their use of the term “person of color” – and talking about the discrimination they are actually practicing. Gary’s criticisms of Con or Bust have always been of their discrimination, not of their language, so arguing over the legitimacy of “person of color” are irrelevant to that. Gary has completely established his point, and neither you not anyone else have said anything to answer him. I think we can now regard it as settled that there’s no excuse for the racial discrimination that Con or Bust are practicing, and that Gary has been 100% accurate in his descriptions and criticisms of their policy.

          I think we should also regard it as settled that people who honestly disagree about such issues should be able to discuss their differences rationally and civilly. The demonstrated inability of Con-or-Bust’s supporters to do so; the rudeness and hostility many have them have shown in their interactions with Gary; and McClellan’s vicious attempts to paint him as a liar; all prove that we’re not dealing here with a honest disagreement. These people do know they’re in the wrong, no matter how much self-righteous posturing they may hide behind.

          All that said, we can now discuss the separate question you have been addressing in your comments here: are there other contexts, not involving discrimination, in which “person of color” is a legitimate term? On this, the issues are not nearly as clear-cut; but I’d still argue that no, this term is never legitimate.

          I don’t see that using the term “person of color” as “a term of unashamed proclamation of membership” is any more legitimate than the way old-style racists have used “White” as “a term of unashamed proclamation of membership”. If you recognize that some people classify you as a member of a racial group and treat you differently based on it; and if you regard the people who think that way as ignorant and stupid at best, vicious at worst; then you’re not going to refer to yourself by a term expressing the same classification. When you describe the usage of the term as “a term of unashamed proclamation of membership”, that expresses much more than simply a recognition that some people classify you as a member of such a group; it expresses acceptance of the legitimacy of this classification; i.e., it expresses racist thinking.

          More specific ethnic terms such as “Black”, “African-American”, “Chinese”, or “Jew”, are sometimes used with a connotation similar to that of “bearded” or “wearing glasses”; sometimes such terms are used neither as a term of derision nor of “unashamed proclamation of membership”, but as a simple point of information. When used in such contexts, such terms are legitimate. They only become racist when used with the implication of expressing a significant aspect of a person’s identity. But as far as I’m aware, “person of color” is always used with such connotation; which makes it always a racist term. (I do have to qualify regarding “Jew”, because Judaism is not just an ethnic grouping, it is also a religion. When used as a label for a person’s religion, the term does express something significant and self-chosen about the person’s identity. The term becomes racist only when used to refer to a person’s ethnicity, if used with the implication of expressing something significant about the person’s identity.)

          I also would very much disagree with your claim that the term “person of color” is self-chosen. People of ethnic groups that are part of the “person of color” classification often face great pressure from their families, their peers, and the self-appointed “leaders” and “representatives” of their ethnic groups, to identify themselves as members of the ethnic group (for example, to identify as “African-American”) and also to identify as “person of color”, whether they wish to or not. When they give in to such pressure, calling it “self-chosen” implies regarding people of similar skin colors as interchangeable; because the choice was imposed on them by people of the same skin color, it is the same as having made the choice themselves. That is blatantly racist thinking which we need to identify and get rid of.

          Your analogy below, of “Jew” and “Kike”, exactly illustrates this point, and on this I can testify from personal experience. In Israel, everyone is legally required to carry a national ID card, and if you’re of Jewish ancestry, the card will have “Jewish” printed on it. Beyond the legal requirements, there is enormous social pressure to identify as Jewish, and to regard being Jewish as a central part of your identity. Being pressured, by people of the same ethnic ancestry as oneself, to label oneself a “Jew”, is no better, and no more “self-chosen”, than being pressured by people of other ancestries to label oneself a “Kike”. The same is true of terms like “African-American” or “person of color”.

      • thnidu Says:

        Eyal:
        discriminating for or against “persons of color” is exactly the same as discriminating based on the old, pseudo-scientific racial classifications

        There is a significant difference between Group A using a supposedly scientific concept as a basis for classifying people and justifying discrimination against people whom that basis puts in Group B, andGroup Ω using Group A’s unjustifiable classification – not the pseudoscience itself, or any substitute such as “children of Ham” – in an effort to ameliorate the discrimination, to enable them to focus their efforts on (the people that Group A describes as) Group Β.

        Again an analogy: If you want to get rid of hookworm, it is most efficient to focus your efforts on people who have hookworms or are at risk of developing them. Not because you have the same purpose as the hookworms (finding a host to live and reproduce in), but because the hookworm’s goal and methods of access to potential hosts define the group you want to help by defeating the hookworm.

        Group A, of course, is the racist elements of our society. Group Β is the “non-whites”, or as some of them prefer to identify themselves positively rather than as “other”, “people of color”. Group Ω is the people at Con or Βust and others like them, whatever their “color”. And it falls out as a happy coincidence that there’s no way of telling whether my “B” is a Roman be or a Greek beta. (Checking the binary doesn’t count, because we’re all agreed that there’s no scientific basis for the A/B distinction.)

        • thnidu Says:

          Oh rats, I tried to format “Group A…” and “Group Ω…” as an ordered list but it didn’t work, although the [i]italics[/i] did. How can I know how to format here?

        • Eyal Mozes Says:

          There is a significant difference between Group A … classifying people and justifying discrimination against people whom that basis puts in Group B, and Group Ω using Group A’s unjustifiable classification … in an effort to ameliorate the discrimination

          Consider again McClellan’s response to Gary, in light of what you say here.

          You think “of color” and “non-white,” as stated, and “the qualification that their skin must be sufficiently dark” as claimed here, are the same thing? … Stating that we qualify people by darkness or shade, even to exaggerate how wrong you believe it is for CoB to assist POC only, is a lie

          The central criterion at the base of the old pseudo-scientific racist classifications is genetic tendency towards darkness of skin. You have conceded that the “people of color” classification used by Con or Bust is in fact the same classification. You argue that the motives are different, but that doesn’t change the fact that the discrimination in both cases is based on the same classification, of membership in “group B”; in this case, people with a genetic tendency towards skin albedo below a certain level. Gary was completely accurate in describing Con-or-Bust’s policies, whether or not you approve of their motives for these policies.

          Your claim, that the motive of Con or Bust is to “ameliorate the discrimination”, would be more believable if they inquired into the life history of applicants, and helped only people with a demonstrated history of having been victimized by discrimination. Had they done that, I’d be much more sympathetic to them (and I think it’s very likely that so would Gary). But they don’t do that; their only requirement is that the applicant be a “fan of color”. The only way to regard this as aimed at “ameliorating discrimination” is to regard all people of the same skin color as interchangeable; if you help a “person of color” who in fact has never been victimized by discrimination, that doesn’t matter, as long as they have the same skin color as others who have veen victimized. That is precisely the sort of racist thinking that we need to expose and fight.

          But if McClellan, and other supporters of Con or Bust, really disagreed with this; if they really believed that they have a good motive for the discrimination they are practicing and that they are doing something good; then why don’t they openly say so? Why didn’t McClellan respond to Gary by admitting that he has accurately described their policies, and then explain why she thinks these policies are good and helping to “ameliorate discrimination”? And why didn’t she do so in a civil and respectful tone? Why did she find it necessary to try to pretend that Gary’s description of their policies is “a lie”? And why were so many other supporters of Con or Bust so rude and hostile in their responses to Gary on Twitter? I don’t see any way that you can explain all this on the assumption that these people honestly believe their motives are good. It is evident from their reactions that they do realize they’re in the wrong, and the only way to evade this knowledge is to viciously attack anyone who points out the facts.

          • thnidu Says:

            Eyal:
            The central criterion at the base of the old pseudo-scientific racist classifications is genetic tendency towards darkness of skin. You have conceded that the “people of color” classification used by Con or Bust is in fact the same classification. You argue that the motives are different, but that doesn’t change the fact that the discrimination in both cases is based on the same classification, of membership in “group B”; in this case, people with a genetic tendency towards skin albedo below a certain level. Gary was completely accurate in describing Con-or-Bust’s policies, whether or not you approve of their motives for these policies.

            Language is much more than truth value. There’s a very big difference between “What I choose to call myself” and “What someone else calls me”, a point that I’d expect to resonate strongly with libertarian principles. Specifically, self-identification as a person of color is very different from being labeled “colored / n….. / nonwhite” by “white” people of privilege. And I ask you also to go upthread and (re)read my reply to Gary’s assertion about “just a difference of connotation”. A comparison that comes to this tired mind is another pair of descriptions that are applied to a single “group B” by other groups A and Ω: “Jew” and “Christ-killer”. I do not consider those descriptions equivalent or interchangeable, nor, I trust and hope, do you or Gary. (Oh, fooey. I expect now the counter-argument that “Christ-killer” has a denotation absent from “Jew”. Okay, then, use “Jew” vs. “kike”.)

            Not all “nonwhites” consider themselves POCs: see and read http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2013/03/2013321whats-wrong-with-the-term-person-of-color/, the second ghit I cited above. And I strongly suspect that not all “white” people who use the term will agree on who it includes. If, as I infer from your and Gary’s posts here, C-o-B offers assistance to any fan who describes themself as a PoC in need, it is not “the same classification” at all.

            Do you honestly think that being required to document discrimination will make people feel welcome? Do you think that PoCs don’t encounter discrimination? Do you think that anyone will pretend to be a PoC, or pretend to have encountered discrimination, in order to gain a subsidy? Or is your complaint grounded in the apparent exclusion of “white” fans from this program?

          • Gary McGath Says:

            At the moment WP isn’t letting me put my reply directly under thnidu’s last reply, possibly because of a limit on comment nesting, so I’m replying under it.

            Again, the question is which people Con or Bust makes eligible. How they determine whether people actually belong to the eligible group is a secondary issue, as is what words are used. However much you dodge and twist, what Con or Bust is doing is setting up a racial category for eligibility. If this makes potential candidates uncomfortable, it’s because a racial criterion is being used in the first place. (And I’ve already discussed what a racial criterion means in the absence of scientific racial category; I’m not going to go over that all over again, so please don’t tell me it’s a mere “social category.”)

            Lots of people have suffered discrimination, not all of them due to being assigned to a “race.” If the intent were to combat discrimination, the CoB people could instead have set up a fan fund for people who have suffered unjust discrimination within fandom. Requiring documentation wouldn’t be necessary; just ask applicants to provide a brief description.

            Instead, CoB requires people to state that they have racial qualifications for the subsidy. This is a humiliating thing for anyone. It’s an act of condescension to those with dark skin (please stop pretending that’s not what it’s about), treating them as needing help because of their skin.

            Since physical appearance is a continuum, some people presumably would be motivated to call themselves PoC who otherwise wouldn’t, and others who’d reasonable qualify would refuse to apply for something conditional on their racial category. But that’s not the real damage that CoB does.

            Getting back to my original point, the evil in Con or Bust is that it promotes the myth of race. It’s literally paying people to racially self-identify. It’s putting the value of people not in what they are as individuals, but what arbitrary group they belong to. They bring people to the con not for their personal qualities, but for the skin color they represent. No amount of word quibbling makes this excusable.

  3. Gary McGath Says:

    At this point, I don’t think there’s anything to gain from my continuing to comment on this post, so I’ll make this my last one unless some radically new issue turns up.

    If this were a panel I was moderating and it was the end of the hour (and we’ve certainly all spent at least an hour reading and writing these comments), I’d call for closing remarks. My own: Race is a biological myth. Keeping it alive only serves to continue artificial divisions among people. Racial discrimination does exist, in the sense of treating people differently on the basis of conventionally defined races. Organizational racial discrimination is harmful, even when done to counterbalance past discrimination, because it keeps the artificial division of people into fictitious categories alive and treats people as specimens instead of individuals. Dressing it up in pretty words doesn’t make it any better.

    Thank you both for the discussion.

    P.S. I’m not stopping comments from continuing, just pulling myself out to keep from getting too obsessed.

    • thnidu Says:

      Like you, after reading your reply just above, I was ready to close discussion on this issue. I don’t feel ready to add a final statement and I don’t think I need to. I think I will just agree to disagree.

      Besides, I’m trying to keep my eyes open while waiting for the locksmith. (No, not to come with a crowbar for my eyelids. Though it might be a good idea.)


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