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Reversal of stereotypes

My heartwarming tale of “Dinesh and me” has generated lots of interest over the past two days, and I continue to be amazed that blogs are read by approximately 1000 times more people than the number who read my discussions of D’Souza in Public Access and Transition magazine in the 1990s.  But one friend has written to me privately to say hold the phone-- how can you discuss The End of Racism on your blog without mentioning D’Souza’s theory of “rational discrimination,” which underlies the whole thing? Fair question.  Here’s how the theory works, in D’Souza’s own words:

Only because group traits have an empirical basis in shared experience can we invoke them without fear of contradiction.  Think of how people would react if someone said that “Koreans
are lazy” or that “Hispanics are constantly trying to find ways to make money.” Despite the prevalence of anti-Semitism, Jews are rarely accused of stupidity.  Blacks are never accused of being tight with a dollar, or of conspiring to take over the world.  By reversing stereotypes we can see how their persistence relies, not simply on the assumptions of the viewer, but also on the characteristics of the group being described.

Here’s what I said about this in Transition:  “This, perhaps, is right-wing sociology’s finest moment:  reversal of stereotypes! why didn’t we think of that?  OK, now let’s get this straight.  Koreans are not lazy, Hispanics do not try to make money, Blacks are spendthrifts, and . . . hey!  wait a minute!  those tightfisted clever Jews really are trying to take over the world!”

A creative misreading, yes, but you get the point.  All right, that’s enough of that.  I have to shower too, you know.

Posted by on 06/12 at 05:09 AM
  1. A good friend of mine who was raised in a fairly racist household came to visit me over the holiday weekend. A couple of times, he made statements of the form XXX group has YYY unusual characteristics - most of which were more weird than malicious. (For example, the assertion that Greeks aren’t afraid of heights. Seriously.)

    Rather than confronting him about the general pattern, I found myself addressing the particulars of his comments. My friend got very annoyed at me because he thought I was being a know-it-all.

    I pointed out to him that the only statements I was attacking were of the above-mentioned form, and that I found such generalizations offensive. I also told him that saying things like that made him sound like a racist. He was genuinely surprised. I think that he’s pretty representative of the general population in this regard.

    Yes, there are cultural differences between different populations, and we do ourselves a disservice by trying to deny them. But anyone who asserts that such differences are inherent, rather than learned, or tries to use such assertions to drive public opinion deserves to be taken out behind the barn and horsewhipped. In a culturally sensitive kind of way.

    Perhaps we can find someone to show Mr D’Souza the error of his ways…

    Posted by  on  06/12  at  12:00 PM
  2. Greeks aren’t afraid of heights!  Good one.  I haven’t heard that one.

    Seriously, things like this remind me why I have no patience with criticisms of D’Souza that rely on claims about his nation of origin, his immigrant status, his skin color, whatever.  I couldn’t care if the man was Antarctican-American and was covered in pink and green stripes.  It’s his arguments I can’t stand.

    Posted by  on  06/12  at  12:31 PM
  3. Ah yes, in a discussion with a Chinese acquaintence she mentioned that the only smart people in the world were Chinese and Jews, to which I replied that she had not met my relatives.....

    Posted by  on  06/12  at  06:17 PM
  4. From the Onion’s “New Stereotypes for 2001:”

    -- Blacks love taffy

    -- Gays tend to shift their weight to their right leg while standing

    -- Germans make really good mix tapes

    Posted by  on  06/13  at  07:05 PM
  5. Something Awful did a similar thing with Smudge the Hate.

    The interesting thing about D’Souza’s comment is that it refers to “shared experience,” which is plainly false. People who have never, to their knowledge, met a gay person in their lives will confidently assert that gay men are limp-wristed sissies, people who have never spoken to a Jew will be sure that Jews are stingy. Shared culture, sure, and stereotypes transmitted by that culture. But it’s nonsense to say that, for example, white people believe black men are violent because we’ve all witnessed black men behaving violently.

    Posted by  on  06/13  at  07:20 PM
  6. Love the fast and loose invocation of “empirical” in the D’Souza quote! It’s as if inductive reasoning were in fact behind various pernicious stereotypes.

    Posted by Chris in Boston  on  06/14  at  04:00 AM
  7. I’m Greek, and I’m not afraid of heights. See?

    Posted by Thrasyboulos  on  06/14  at  11:42 AM
  8. *cough* Icarus *cough*

    Posted by  on  06/14  at  07:29 PM
  9. Icarus.  Yeah, see, he *should* have been afraid of heights.  That way he’d ‘a stayed out of trouble.

    Posted by  on  06/14  at  08:23 PM

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