Saturday, November 22, 2008

Post No. 67b: TV Show of Interest: History of Race & Prejudice Back to Ancient Times

On C-Span2 Book TV at this moment, is a presentation at the Brooklyn Public Library, by Author Marc Aronson, about the history of race and racial prejudice going back to ancient times.

http://www.booktv.org/program.aspx?ProgramId=9067&SectionName=&PlayMedia=No

20 comments:

  1. I will have to read that book. However, I believe he is wrong about some things. In fact, about a fundamental thing. He thinks that prejudice is a construct of society. I disagree. I have written out what I think and would like to post it somewhere. I considered posting it on my own blog but perhaps it would be better here. You once offered me a "guest author" opportunity. Perhaps this would be a good time. Please email me through my Profile and I will submit my opinion piece to you for your approval.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Douglas: You are aware of his teachings in other publications or settings?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I happen to believe that racism, like most other "isms", is founded in our need to feel good about ourselves. We look for something to differentiate ourselves from others, and then build a complex (and usually very illogical) explanation of why this perceived difference makes us "superior".

    For racists the difference is an obvious physical characteristic. For "isms" based upon ideology it is a bit more subtle, based upon the usually mistaken notion that our personal beliefs are perfectly correct and that someone whose beliefs differ mus be incorrect and/or inferior.

    Unfortunately, if my suspicion about this is accurate, it reflects a fundamental flaw in our entire species that will be dificult (or possibly even impossible) to completely correct. While we may be able to use education to correct one form of this problem (such as racism), other forms will arise to take it;s place and fulfill the same role of providing an easy (if false) feeling of self-esteem.

    I'd like to be wrong about this, but it often feels as though racism is gradually beind supplanted by intellectual idealisms these days. It's far more fashionable to look down upon your neighbor for being "unenlightened" or a "Bush Supporter" or an "Obama Supporter" than it is to use the old standbys of racist slang, yet the denigration that some attach to these labels can be just as powerful and even uglier in many subtle ways. During the election I saw pro and anti-Obama people in my office who all but got into shouting matches and whom I now see deliberately avoiding each other, despite the election being over.

    None of this is meant to justify or excuse racism or other such beliefs, but more to try to explain the fundamental problem that must be tackled if we are to truly eliminate this problem rather than shift the excuse for why person A is "better" than or "superior" to person B.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Sebekiz: Thanks for commenting once again. We also believe that a significant component of "race" is the need or desire to feel favorably about ourselves. We've always argued that everyone needs to feel that someone or group is above or better than them, to which they aspire, or perhaps despise, and another person or group needs to be below them, so that they feel that they have a superior status, or have achieved something.

    Previously wrote a piece on this blog entitled "Why Racism, Although Problematic, Serves a Pragmatic and Utilitarian Function." Amazingly, while listening to Aronson discussion about his book, "Race," the cultural and scientific justifications for racism and prejudice were not what we today would think. It was very complex stuff, and not exactly intuitive for those of us living in today's societies. That has led us to conclude that the nature and reasons for racism may change over time, and take on many different forms. The most interesting discussion involved conquered lands with people of the same ethnic origin, but different status (conqueror vs. conquered).

    ReplyDelete
  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  6. (revised)
    Log, I was not familiar with his (rather impressive) body of work. I have Googled him (I love the internet!) and found his web page (among other references) and find him interesting and informative. I will have to watch for his books when I am out so that I can learn more about him and his views. I still feel there is a level which needs to be explored which reaches deeper (farther back) than his.

    ReplyDelete
  7. We pretty much agree with you, as you are aware from our previous article on race, "Why Racism, Although Problematic, Serves a Pragmatic and Utilitarian Function," about the survival basis. However, in listening to Aronson, and not having read his works, he only discusses race pretty much from the perspective of history, not pre-history. Furthermore, his analysis is based on the writings and customs of cultures since the dawn of "civilization." He explains the "reasons" that people came up with regarding their treatment of others, whether logical (scientific), religious, or otherwise. Interestingly, he made his presentation before some VERY bright grade school children who asked some very tough questions. He admitted that he is a tad more hard-core and radical, and less understanding than many, about whether racists are good people or bad people. However, he welcomed dissent.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sebekiz: In thinking about your comment further, we realized that we did not delve deeply enough into your suggestion that racism is gradually being supplanted by intellectual idealism. We suspect that you are correct that it is more subtle.

    We found it rather interesting that someone with Sen. Obama's credentials and background was attacked on so many fronts. We also found it interesting that so many of the attackers suggested that blacks were blindly following him just because he was black. Additionally, we found it ironic that a black man from a working class background was labeled frequently as "elitist."

    At any rate, our sense of why the Republicans lost the election: Most Americans sensed the need for collaboration at this crucial time in our history. This was not the time to employ the politics of division. Plain and simple.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I believe that the use of "race" as a form of prejudice is a social construct, but -- and this is the very point of my book on race, I also believe that prejudice serves a very deep human need, and I trace that back to prehistory. Racism is just the current form into which we place ancient fears and needs. So I suspect I am in agreement with Sebekiz and the logistician.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Marc, thank you for the clarification. I suspect we may well see prejudice in much the same way; an inherent part of our biological makeup. That does not mean it cannot be overcome, just that it may require an entirely different approach than the ones we have taken so far.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I missed the presentation but looked up his book on amazon. It is listed as a YA book and as such is doing very well. It looks like he challenges the notions people have about "race". I was raised by parents who had what at the time was considered by many of their contemporaries very eccentric notions about "race". My father told me that when asked what race I am that I should answer HUMAN. My mother said if they asked me what color I was to say pink. She pointed out that all people are "colored" some pinkish, some beige, some shades of brown others olive or copperish etc. She was right you know. I've met a few Africans directly off the plane from Africa who might be called black but 98 percent of Americans of African descent are not black. (just an observation). Imagine a pink skinned blond haired girl with a home perm by Tonie giving her an Afro look growing up in the South Bronx, that would be me. As I grew older I learned of things like the Holocaust from camp survivors who also lived in the South Bronx and things like prejudice in our own dear country from my parents and then from reading things like To Kill A Mockingbird, Black Like Me and The Big Sea. Life is tough enough without weighing people down with the expectations of "race". I'll see about getting Mr Aronson's book although my to be read pile keeps growing by the day.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Mr. Aronson: We feel honored that the author of a work to which we referred took the time to comment on our blog. I personally was absolutely captivated by your presentation, not only because it provided explanations which I felt had not been previously discussed, at least not on a wide spread basis, but because your discussion involved grade school children, still at an impressionable age. They were very sharp, and I thought that you handled their questions well.

    During a recent lecture at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, I inquired of Stanford Professor Robert M. Sapolsky, author of "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers," whether he thought that there was some biological basis for racism. I still have my notes, and plan to present the theory in an upcoming post. We would welcome your comments once it is posted.

    Thank you for taking the time to examine our rather low profile blog.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Douglas: One thing that I failed to mention about Mr. Aronson's presentation, which he mentioned toward the end. There were many during the 50s and 60s, who yelled racial slurs and malicious language at black like many of their peers and contemporaries. Mr. Aronson mentioned that it would be interesting to interview those same individuals today to determine whether their views on race had changed.

    ReplyDelete
  14. June: Virtually everything that I know about you, and from observing you and reading your writings, suggests that you grew up in a highly intellectual and stimulating environment. You were fortunate, like us, and most of the people who take the time to read and comment on this blog. While Red Chair/Vikki correctly states that racial prejudice is not the province alone of the uneducated and the poor, most evidence suggests that the incidence of racist attitudes decreases with an improvement in socio-economic status and education. That being said, the real way to attack this cancer is through education, and through economic policy, to ensure that the poor and marginalized are not always competing against one another for scraps.

    Additionally, although racism clearly exists in some parts of NYC, growing up in a multi-cultural environment further contributed to your world view. For that reason, I am a big fan of big cities. A significant segment of our nation's population lives in remote, sparsely populated areas, and consequently, do not have the opportunity to have that interaction which significantly contributes to breaking down the barriers. Thanks again for commenting.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Log, I think that would be interesting to interview people on how they have evolved (or not) over the decades. From my observations, having lived in various places in the country, I find that racism exists in all parts and all environments, it just takes on a different outer form. Remember the de facto vs de jure segregation rulings, for example? Were people grouping themselves because of prejudice (malignant) or because of a natural desire for a familiar culture (benign)? And was the resultant segregation seen differently by those inside and outside depending upon its motive.

    It is a fascinating subject and one I could discuss in great depth and for many hours.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Douglas, a study of past, purported "racists" would be a study worth conducting. I'm not sure how we would really identify those folks, and if we did, whether they would really provide honest responses in light of the unpopularity of being racist today. I've always found the changing attitudes of George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, and Jesse Helms interesting. If one were to really delve into their respective lives, one would find a history of "compassion" for blacks under certain circumstances and conditions, although it might not be viewed that way by most. I've always said that there is more to a man that what meets the eye. In fact, there is a book written by a black Senate aide, who appears on C-Span2 Bk TV occasionally, and who had relationships with Helms, Thurmond, and some other Senators regarded as segregationists, which tells some stories which would surprise most.

    Finally, I personally believe that much of prejudice and racism is about efficiency. There is only so much time in the day. Many folks have difficulty dealing with their personal and family issues, and much less time to devote to discovering the value and worth of others outside of their regular contact and social group. They might justifiably feel, "Why spend the time?"

    Additionally, governance is management, and segregation was a management tool or mechanism, although perhaps cruel, unfair, and inhumane. I'm sure that you know from the military, that the value and worth of individuals is not always appreciated. Much of life is about coming up with constructs that work efficiently, if not perhaps fairly.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Log, I think that would be interesting to interview people on how they have evolved (or not) over the decades. From my observations, having lived in various places in the country, I find that racism exists in all parts and all environments, it just takes on a different outer form. Remember the de facto vs de jure segregation rulings, for example? Were people grouping themselves because of prejudice (malignant) or because of a natural desire for a familiar culture (benign)? And was the resultant segregation seen differently by those inside and outside depending upon its motive.

    It is a fascinating subject and one I could discuss in great depth and for many hours.

    ReplyDelete
  18. (revised)
    Log, I was not familiar with his (rather impressive) body of work. I have Googled him (I love the internet!) and found his web page (among other references) and find him interesting and informative. I will have to watch for his books when I am out so that I can learn more about him and his views. I still feel there is a level which needs to be explored which reaches deeper (farther back) than his.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Sebekiz: Thanks for commenting once again. We also believe that a significant component of "race" is the need or desire to feel favorably about ourselves. We've always argued that everyone needs to feel that someone or group is above or better than them, to which they aspire, or perhaps despise, and another person or group needs to be below them, so that they feel that they have a superior status, or have achieved something.

    Previously wrote a piece on this blog entitled "Why Racism, Although Problematic, Serves a Pragmatic and Utilitarian Function." Amazingly, while listening to Aronson discussion about his book, "Race," the cultural and scientific justifications for racism and prejudice were not what we today would think. It was very complex stuff, and not exactly intuitive for those of us living in today's societies. That has led us to conclude that the nature and reasons for racism may change over time, and take on many different forms. The most interesting discussion involved conquered lands with people of the same ethnic origin, but different status (conqueror vs. conquered).

    ReplyDelete

"There Are More Than 2 Or 3 Ways To View Any Issue; There Are At Least 27"™

"Experience Isn't Expensive; It's Priceless"™

"Common Sense should be a Way of Life"™

Opportunity to Serve as "Guest Author"

This forum was designed to be YOUR forum for the civil exchange of ideas by people with all points of views. We welcome the submission of articles by all of our readers, as long as they are in compliance with our Guidelines contained in Post No. 34. We look forward to receiving your submissions.