Obsessing over Racism

It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and this certainly seems to apply to America’s current race relations. Ill-advised accusations of White racism are ubiquitous, as if expunging this alleged toxicity will bring a racial Utopia. In fact, such allegation will only make bad situations worse. To invoke another cliché, with friends like this, who needs enemies?

Consider, for example, how Williams College recently ended its policy of requiring all graduates to pass a swim test, or if they failed the test, take a swimming course. The reason for the cancellation: being able to swim was deemed racist and thus ill-suited to the college’s commitment to racial diversity. Specifically, D. Clinton Williams, director of the college’s Pathways for Inclusive Excellence condemned such tests as a vestige of American’s horrific racism since those unable to swim. and thereby required to take swimming instruction, were disproportionately Black. 

This equity may turn deadly. According to CDC data, Blacks are 1.5 times more likely to drown than Whites. This is particularly true for youngsters. For children aged 5 to 9, the drowning ratio is 2.6; for children aged 10-14, it is 3.6 times higher. Most shockingly, among those aged 10-14, the ratio in public swimming pools is 7.6 times higher for Blacks. Hardly surprisingly, the CDC advises that swimming lessons can help prevent death by drowning.

A second example comes from the prestigious Scientific American and addresses the high levels of obesity among Black women. The facts are simple: four out of five Black women are either overweight or obese and this condition is associated with  cardiovascular, inflammatory, and metabolic risk factors and true regardless of diets , whether they smoke or exercise.

What causes life-threatening obesity? According to the two authors (one White, one Black), “...the main problem dogging Black women builds on these historically racist ideas and ignores how interrelated social factors impact Black women’s health. It also perpetuates a misinformed and damaging message about weight and health. Indeed, social determinants have been shown to be more consequential to health than BMI or health behaviors.”  If true, what’s the cure? Tellingly, it’s all about how Black women are viewed and perceive themselves, not actual behavior -- "But many studies show that the stigma associated with body weight, rather than the body weight itself, is responsible for some adverse health consequences blamed on obesity, including increased mortality risk.” In other words, if fat Black women are treated as normal and therefor enjoyed higher self-esteem, they will not suffer serious illness -- pure mind over matter.

Meanwhile Marta Schaffer is a California English teacher who tells her students that proper grammar is part of White supremacy (she also uses Tik Tok to spread the message). According to Ms. Schaffer, children should be taught that what they speak is correct English, no matter how grammatically wrong or garbled. To learn “proper English,” according to Ms. Schaffer means obeying the powerful Whites who are imposing White supremacy.

Her particular focus is instructing Black students in  African American Vernacular English. Her advice is just to speak in the language of friends and family and ignore the rules of standard usage. Nor does it matter that such speech may be unintelligible to outsiders, uncertain in its meaning, and laced with profanity and slang. Indeed, according to this English teacher, transition words like “however” and “therefore” just reflect misogyny, White supremacy, and colonialization. Also forget about proper citations in writing essays.

Tellingly, she is unconcerned that not learning standard English guarantees a life of poverty if not confused thinking and being unable to communicate even simple ideas. What college would admit these babblers? Could such a person decipher a newspaper or write a straightforward letter? America would return to a past era when local dialects made it difficult for residents of one village to communicate with those just over the mountain. Yet one more hair-brained scheme to harm those she intends to help.  

These examples are hardly unique. There are those who insist that exercise just reflects White supremacy as does math. Should Blacks avoid gyms and refuse to study math? What about the alleged racism of science and classical music? Ditto for racism as the culprit for the design of our highways or the higher COVID mortality rate among Blacks. Did you know that even ignoring skin color is a form of racism? Did you also know that football has just been declared racist despite Blacks dominating the NFL while earning millions?  Even the current often ill-advised mania for cryptocurrency has racist overtones. No doubt, this racism everywhere catalogue will only expand.

Particularly notable is the lack any evidence, let alone scientific proof, for these accusations. No FDA-like agency exists to certify that, for example, eliminating words with racist overtones from the English language would help anyone. Are obese Black women disease free if they live where they are accepted as normal? In fact, nobody dare broaches the idea that allegations of racism must be proven. Mere assertion constitutes proof and, as we saw, this holds even in journals like Scientific American that proport to promote science. This is quackery whose purpose seems to excuse Blacks of bad behavior while avoiding learning how to swim, lose weight, or master English grammar.

What can possibly explain this torrent of terrible advice? Clearly the answer is not the desire to help Blacks, given the obvious crackpot nature of guidance. The most likely explanation is that a high demand exists for exposing ubiquitous White racism to explain Black tribulations versus holding Blacks accountable to their behavior. Now, an underemployed Dean of Diversity dealing with struggling Black students will “discover” once overlooked, nearly invisible forms of toxic racism and thus justify his salary.  Ambitious professors seeking publication in a prestige journal will “discover” new incarnations of White racism just as physicists search for new subatomic particles.  

As pressure mounts for novelty, so ever more bizarre forms of this toxic element must be found -- yesterday it was all-White school textbook pictures so today it must be having to listen to Mozart. Raving and ranting against White racism serves as a cheap ticket to notoriety. America suffers an obsession with racism, not racism.

This rush towards nonsense has huge costs. The parade of wild, unfounded accusations makes serious discussions of complex issues impossible. The very idea of cost/benefit calculations is taboo. Imagine trying to address high rates of drowning among Black children. Suggestions about mandatory swimming lessons will likely be met with shrill cries of racism, and yet more racism. Some “genius” will explain that swimming lessons are a plot to drown Black children. Racial quackery crowds out serious effort to solve difficult problems needing solutions.

Sadly, little can be done to stop the flood of nonsense. The mass media apparently craves these wild-eyed rants and ignores the consequences of poisoning public debate. Nor are there any barriers to participating in this “racism is responsible” dog and pony show. The Scientific American article was not written by medical experts, and one could argue that tolerating this hogwash suggests that anything written about Blacks that blames Whites will be judged by the lowest possible standard.  With barriers to entry so low, and the lure of easy notoriety so tempting, it is no wonder that America seems totally awash in White racism.

Image: Ivan Radic

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