Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Sale of Racism

Has anyone read the book Jesse Singal* mentions here? Race Experts: How Racial Etiquette, Sensitivity Training, and New Age Therapy Hijacked the Civil Rights Revolution, by Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn.  It looks promising, and the natural extension of ideas we have discussed here over the years. 

Once you penetrate the idea that racism is being sold as something that is in your heart, not something that can be measured in actions, and that therefore all bad results in society must result from your heart being wrong, it is a quick step to the political program of "you have to learn to be a certain kind of person* in your heart or black people will continue to suffer forever."  I also notice that it is a carefully selected set of white and black people who get to decide who has succeeded and who has not. There is no way to discuss, there is only judgement.

In a weird reverse engineering of virtue ethics, if you do not support the programs, interpretations, and accusations, it can only be because you have not admitted to yourself how you participate in systemic racism. It took us a long time in psychology to learn that letting people talk about their problems is not only not good therapy, but may be actively bad for them, encouraging them to think in ways that keep them stuck. Not that we should only tell them things, as supposedly wise people giving advice.  That's not therapy either.  Yet there is a type of guided listening, question-and-answer which is good for us - or at least can be. This should probably be a more detailed and closely argued post of its own, but I'll just leave that point there, that "listening" is not in and of itself helpful or restorative, and can actually encourage people to get worse.It sure looks to me that this is what is being encouraged at present in the national discussion.  Some are privileged to speak, others not.

There is also in evangelical tradition the idea of offering testimony, most often as part of direct evangelism to encourage people to begin to follow Jesus, but often as a general part of preaching and teaching.  It is a powerful tool, and it is not only Christians who use it.  This is what happened to me.  This is my experience. Within the evangelical churches, we are encouraged to listen to the testimonies of others.  We have a notorious example in our family of how this can go wrong.  We visited one church on Testimony Sunday, and by the third hour, with weeping women heading for the microphone for the third time to tell their stories, a friend thought she could see steam rising from my head.  My eight-year-old liked it.  The stories of alcoholic fathers and abusive husbands were way more interesting than what he had been hearing at the Lutheran church, but I was not impressed.  It's not just that it was boring and irritating to me.  It wasn't good for them. 

So this general idea of Lasch-Quinn's that the current approach to healing race relations is bad therapy appeals to me.  

*Singal is quite liberal, writing for New York magazine, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Boston Globe.  However, he also writes for Reason, is hated by Jezebel and the trans community in general for actually looking at research, and has a nice sense of modesty and apology when he feels he got something wrong. WRT race he believes America has a race problem, but is solving it in destructive ways.  My reading says he blames liberals more than conservatives for this, but it may just be that he is offering correction to his own group more.  Either way, he's pretty good.

*Take a guess what kind of person


Sam L. said...

Yeah, I'm a baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad boy.
But I'm over that.

GraniteDad said...

Well, you also hated it because it was pretty much like sitting at work listening to case histories.