By the way, is it just me or was it a little bit wierd that my innocuous example in the "Defining Racism" post--that it is wrong to use the color of someone's skin to draw conclusions about their innate intelligence--should have drawn so many angry comments? As I thought should have been obvious, I don't think that the observation, or analysis, or discussion of racial differences is racist. The black-white achievement gap is real. The issue is what inferences are drawn from those observations of difference. There is enough uncertainty over what is meant by race, and enough uncertainty over what is meant by intelligence, and enough uncertainty over our ability to measure what we think is intelligence, and enough uncertainty over the science of measurement itself that--I think--it's perfectly fair to question the motives of those who want to jump to the conclusion that the key variable in explaining this enormously complicated question is the shade of someone's skin. Honestly. I thought we settled this issue in the 19th century.
But have you checked out the comments? In response to that single phrase, super-blogger Steve Sailer has written in no less than fourteen times. Good grief. I feel like I'm being stalked.
Just to make Steve Sailer and his ilk happy, though, let me come up with a more acceptable example of what, according to my criteria, I think qualifies as a open and shut example of racism.
In Blink, I tell the story of a study done by the law professor Ian Ayres. Ayres put togother of group of young men and women--half white and half black--and sent them to 242 car dealerships all around Chicago. All were attractive, well dressed, and well-educated. All had the same cover story: that they were professionals from a wealthy part of Chicago. All pointed to the lowest-priced car on the floor and said--"I'm interested in buying this car." Ayres's question was--all other things being equal, how does skin color and gender affect the initial price quoted by a car salesman? His results: white men, on average, got quoted a price $725 above invoice, white women got quoted a price $935 above invoice, black women $1195 above invoice, and black men $1687 above invoice.
This was, I concluded, a powerful example of discrimination--of how unconscious feelings and prejudices have the effect of dramatically influencing the fairness with which we treat different groups. Hardly a controverial statement, right? Well, in criticizing my book, one reviewer defended the car salesman, and called their discrimination entirely rational. He wrote:
"Black men for whatever complicated reasons, enjoy being seen as big spenders. And car salesmen are all too willing to help them spend big.
Let's analyze this statement according to the criteria from my racism post. First, content. Does the statement propagate false belief about a targetted group? I think it does. Since when do black men--collectively--desire to overpay for cars? The restaurant Per Se in Manhattan, where the prix fix is $250, is an example of a place where diners enjoy being seen as big spenders, and waiters are all too willing to help them spend big. Does that mean that Per Se is full of black men? Actually, it's full of white people. Although it could as easily be full of purple people, since the willingness to pay three times more for a meal than it would cost down the street has nothing to do with the color of your skin.
Second: intention. Is the comment malicious or intended to wound? Again, yes. The reviewer's remark about black men was a justification for a practise that targets and victimizes a specific racial group. How on earth can anyone defend a situation where well-dressed, educated, professional black men are getting quoted prices almost a thousand dollars higher than well-dressed, educated, professinal white men, simply because the former happen to have darker skin and curly hair--except if they have a desire to wound?
Third: conviction. Does the comment represent the considered opinion of the person who said it? Absolutely. This wasn't a statement made in anger or in jest or while drunk. The reviewer thought about it, and wrote it, and never took it back.
(The same reviewer, incidentally, in response to Katrina, said that: "The plain fact is that [blacks] tend to possess poorer native judgement than members of better-educated groups. Thus they need stricter moral guidance from society." Key word: native judgement. I don't think I need to run that statement through the racism analyzer.)
I think we can all agree that comments like "black men enjoy being seen as big spenders" or black people "possess poorer native judgement" can be accurately described as examples of racism, and the kinds of people who say things like that can be accurately described as racists. Do those examples work better for you, Steve Sailer? Oh--wait. I forgot to say the name of the reviewer who wrote those two racist statements: Steve Sailer.
Is there anyone who would object, at this point, if I made this blog a Steve-Sailer-free zone? I suggest that we vote on it. A simple "in" or "out" will suffice, although any accompanying commentary would, of course, be welcome. I promise to abide by the result.