What is a gene?

I remember one of the first biology-based debates I found myself in was in some random message board devoted to music. I can’t for the life of me remember what the board was, and I doubt it still exists today anyway, but I recall music being central to what brought me there. Of course, there were plenty of other subjects up for discussion at this place and in its various forums, and that led me into some useless debate with a racist metal head. (I’m sure his racism and affinity for metal were quite independent of each other.) He was making some claim about black people and intelligence, and he kept referencing some gene he seemed convinced proved his point. This was probably well over 15 years ago, so I don’t recall many of the specifics, but I do recall not really knowing what a gene was, so it was difficult to counter him effectively. I tried looking it up, but there really weren’t any easy-to-digest answers for someone who didn’t know what to look for in the first place. And, of course, this was a bit before the days of YouTube (and Wikipedia was in its infancy). Fortunately, for better or worse, the Internet is a far different place today. As such, I wanted to post a YouTube video I found in the hope that any person who finds himself in a similar situation to mine from years past would be able to gain a quick understanding of what a gene is. There’s a certain type of person who loves to use science to justify a belief he would hold no matter what, and relatively-educated racists are among them. Here’s the short video:

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Definitions

The feminist definition of sexism is ‘discrimination based upon sex + power’. In other words, the more powerful of the sexes is the only one which can be ever be sexist. Just the same, this definition is appropriated for racism: a power asymmetry is key in determining what is and is not racist. This means that in looking at the US as a whole, only white people can be racist. But this opens up some questions about more specific interactions.

Let’s say we’re in the US southwest. Most of the residents are Hispanic. The city council is Hispanic. The mayor is Hispanic. Most businesses are Hispanic-owned. In this area, the local power is undeniably in favor of Hispanic people. Does that mean a white/black/Asian person cannot be racist here? If not, and if they can be racist a few miles away, what happens in the gray areas? That is, if they can’t be racist in neighborhood A because they aren’t part of the powerful group, but they can be racist in neighborhood C where they are part of the powerful group, what happens in the middle in neighborhood B? Do we defer to national socioeconomics?

And what of minority interactions? If, say, Asian people have greater power as a group than, say, black people, can black people not be racist towards Asian people?

This all seems like a major problem to me. An anonymous statement simply written on a piece of paper apparently may or may not be racist. We can’t know until we’ve found out the skin color and power dynamics of where we are. And then that same statement said by someone of a different skin color suddenly becomes non-racist. I guess I don’t entirely get it. There’s certainly context in statements, but saying “This racial group is less intelligent than that racial group” strikes me as racist no matter who says it.

It seems as though it would be easier to just say sexism is discrimination on the basis of sex, racism is discrimination on the basis of race, and mindsets which force us to view people not as people but as segregated groups defined by their outward characteristics are fundamentally toxic and simply a reverse of the problem, not a fix.

Fun fact of the day

Racism and sexism derive from racist and sexist acts, thoughts, behaviors, and statements made on the basis of race and/or sex. They do not derive from social structures and institutions, though they may be prevalent in those areas.

Alabama is generally a racist state

In 2000, 41% of Alabama voters said they wanted to keep federally nullified language in their constitution saying blacks and whites could not marry. In 2004, a narrow majority defeated an amendment that would have 1) eliminated references to Jim Crow laws and poll taxes, and 2) declared that there is a constitutional right to education. Now the Alabama legislature is attempting to once again remove that racist language:

The proposed amendment would eliminate language that calls for separate schools for black and white students and poll taxes, the latter generally viewed as instituted to keep black residents from voting.

“Even though federal laws nullify these old wordings, it remains a black eye on the state,” said Cam Ward, another Republican senator.

Some lawmakers have tried for years to rewrite the entire state constitution, which they criticize as outdated and cumbersome.

This is will be an interesting test. In 2000 there was the excuse of taxation issues that came along with declaring public education a right. It isn’t surprising that the deep south has questionable commitments to education, but that won’t be a factor when this issue likely appears on ballots in 2012. Alabama voters are going to have to give a plain up or down vote without making excuses for their deeply embedded racism.

While I suspect a number of voters there did legitimately glom onto the public education issue in 2000, I more strongly suspect that a majority of those voters really just don’t like black people. My guess is that we see another round of absurdly, blatantly, baldly racist people filling up the ballot boxes just like in 2000 – especially if the Tea Party manages to churn up a big turn-out.

Oh, woe is me! I’m only white!

This is fucking ridiculous:

  • A recent Public Religion Research Institute poll found 44% of Americans surveyed identify discrimination against whites as being just as big as bigotry aimed at blacks and other minorities. The poll found 61% of those identifying with the Tea Party held that view, as did 56% of Republicans and 57% of white evangelicals.
  • U.S. Census Bureau projections that whites will become a minority by 2050 are fueling fears that whiteness no longer represents the norm. This fear has been compounded by the recent recession, which hit whites hard.

Uh-huh. All that bigotry I face, day in, day out. I just wish brown folk could recognize how bad I’ve really got it. People see me walking down the street and I just know they’re staring! I must stick out like a sore thumb. Especially in Maine. And when I go for a job? Oh, man. Talk about bigotry. I can’t begin to describe how many times I haven’t even been offered a cup of coffee at an interview. And when I go down to the coast in the summer? I swear I got an undersized lobster one time. Bigots.

Augment your reading with Shambling After.

The conservative refrain

The most recent refrain being utilized by conservative pundits is to preface something awful they want to say with something like this:

And I know, I know. Liberals out there are going to be all over me for this because it must be racist, but…

And then the pundit proceeds to say something racist. Just today I heard some conservative host going on and on about Kwanzaa being a fake, awful, evil holiday that shouldn’t be celebrated. Why, heck, if blacks want to celebrate something, they have the WHOLE month of February! The guy even managed to have a real point here and there, but he covered everything he had to say with racism.

I guess I just don’t understand how saying “I’m not racist” makes it okay to then say something racist.

Still want more institutional racism?

I could just cite the statistics of every federal prison. Or I could point to the massive disparity between white and black unemployment. Or the just as dismaying disparity between black and white income. Or I could find all the studies that show employers are significantly less likely to call back applicants with names like “Tyrone” and “Latisha” than they are to call back applications with names like “Adam” or “Steve”, despite the applications being virtually the same. Or I could point to the minimum sentencing periods for drug convictions that, until Obama recently rectified the Reagan-inspired problem, hurt black communities far more than white communities. But instead I’ll use the more convenient example of Tulia, Texas, a place about which everyone needs to know.