Re: Definition of Racism (without rent-a-riot)

From: Mike Lorrey (
Date: Fri Aug 10 2001 - 07:08:21 MDT

Harvey Newstrom wrote:
> Is he discriminating based on race? In this example, yes he is. Is it a
> fair or accurate discrimination? No, it is not. Statistically speaking,
> blacks may commit more crimes than whites. Does that mean he should assume
> the white guy is not going to assault him? Does that mean he should assume
> the black guy is going to assault him? Neither assumption is valid. Even
> if one is statistically more likely to occur, it is not a scientific basis
> for predicition. The methodology that observing a person's race will help
> predict their criminal behavior is wrong.

Why? If the statistics support it, then it is an entirely valid
prediction to make, as much as a weather man predicts rain wherever
there are clouds....

> More to the point, the race of the person is not indicative of future
> behavior. It is not statistically predictive. It may be true that blacks
> commit more crimes than whites. However, most black people are law-abiding
> citizens, as are most white people. Poverty would be a more scientific
> indicator.

It would be a more accurate indicator, not necessarily more scientific.
The stats show that give blacks and whites of the same level of poverty,
blacks are still more likely to commit crime, to a lesser degree than
comparing blacks to whites as a whole, but the probability is still

> A white street bum would probably be more dangerous than a rich
> black businessman or a black preacher. When we adjust for these better
> factors, we would find that rich black business men are probably no more
> likely to commit crime than rich white business men. Likewise, a black
> preacher is probably no more likely to commit a crime than a white preacher.
> Therefore, the race is not a good indicator at all. The relative wealth of
> the person or religious value is a better indicator.

You are leaving out black and white poor people. You are right that
blacks and whites of relatively comfortable means have very similar
rates of committing crime, but among black and white poor people, blacks
are still more likely to commit crime.

> Therefore, I don't really care if we call these attitudes racist, prejudice
> or discrimination. To link unrelated traits to race is racist. To make
> decisions based on race rather than people's individual merits is racist. I
> don't see much value in arguing whether something is racist, racially
> prejudiced or racially discriminatory. Let's just say that it is just plain
> scientifically invalid, and leave it at that.
> Is there any good reason to split hairs with these terms, except to be able
> to practice prejudice and discrimination while claiming not to be racist?

Yes, there is. If you were following my essays on trust and political
enfranchisement here in the US, you'd recognise why. I most emphatically
do NOT say that the probability of committing crime is genetic. To the
contrary, it is part and parcel of the trust dynamic in society. Those
we trust least are more likely to breach trust. Part of it is a self
fulfilling prophesy of expectations about the behavior of those we trust
least, the rest is generally a self perpetuating attitude of resentment
in those who are poorly trusted.

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