Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Atavism and xenophobia get a bad rap

OK, that's a joke at Andrew Sullivan's expense:
It can be hard to see developments like the civil rights movement for African-Americans, or the fight for women's or gay equality, as engines of economic growth. But they are; and they remain one of the West's core advantages, unless we too succumb to atavism and xenophobia.
Sully's moralistic posturing was prompted by Reihan Salam's article fretting over "the new racism that is taking shape in Asia."

Actually, I don't think it's new racism. It's just that Korea and China (the nations Salam cites) have until recently been sufficiently homogenous that ethnic discrimination wasn't a pronounced societal pattern.

You can't discriminate against minorities you don't have. I'm reminded of the story about the Japanese diplomat who visited Germany in the 1930s and expressed his admiration for the Nazi system, then lamented how unfortunate it was that Japan didn't have any Jews to scapegoat.

People tend to discriminate against whatever groups are available. I'm sure Alaskans have epithets for Eskimos that no one in the lower 48 ever heard of. Black inner-city residents do not hesitate to employ racial language against Asian merchants in their communities. And people who live in relatively homogenous communities often think of themselves as free from etnocentrism -- until the homogeneity is threatened by some sudden influx of outsiders (e.g., the Hmong in Wisconsin and Minnesota, Arabs in Michigan, Somalis in Maine).

Ace of Spades once did a brilliant parody about hating Scandinavians as "filthy Scandis" -- icebacks, snow-wops, toboggan monkeys, lutefish-gobblers, etc. Nobody (at least in America, that we know of) actually hates Scandinavians as a group, simply because historical circumstances haven't situated them as a distinct ethnic minority. Therefore, it's funny to laugh at the idea of anti-Scandi bigotry, whereas anti-Muslim bigotry . . . eh, not so much.

Fact: Prior to World War I, New York City had a thriving German-American community -- German restaurants, German social clubs, German-language newspapers, etc. But such was the intensity of sentiment aroused during the war that, over the course of just a couple of decades, this distinctive ethnic culture disappeared. The force of public odium prompted these German-Americans to assimilate very rapidly so that, by the time WWII broke out, there was no "German community" to speak of in New York.

Which brings us back to Sully's snooty remarks about "atavism and xenophobia." The biggest reason that America nowadays has as much ethnic friction as it does is that there are so many incentives against assimilation.

Forty or 50 years ago, the newly-landed immigrant encountered a mainstream American culture that was almost triumphantly self-assured, so that to become an American was certainly a step upward. Now, we're so busy celebrating "diversity" that it's more rewarding to stay outside the mainstream, to form your own particular identity-group, to play the victimhood card and demand recognition in terms of "civil rights."

And Sully is himself a classic example of this, as his pet cause is gay rights -- a self-imposed minority identity. Note how the gay-rights movement has popularized the pejorative "closet" to apply to gay people who don't advertise their sexual orientation to the world. This is very much akin to the claims of some black activists that middle-class black people are guilty of "acting white" or "abandoning the community."

Except for straight, white, Protestant males, the only path to authentic identity under the multicultural regime is to separate yourself from the mainstream and strike a pose of alienated grievance. You're only an authentic woman if you're a militant feminist, and you're only an authentic Latino if you're marching with MALDEF.

Because such a posture only makes sense in the context of oppression and victimhood, everybody walks around with their insensitivity-detectors set to "stun," prepared to blast anyone suspected of less-than-perfect tolerance. If it weren't for racism, sexism and homophobia, the identity-politics lobbies wouldn't have a fundraising raison d'etre, so they have a vested interest in magnifying every grievance.

This mau-mau attitude actually causes more problems than it solves. The activist types who acquire money and influence by exaggerating evidence of "oppression" don't really give a damn about the people they claim to represent. CAIR isn't about the average Muslim any more than the National Council of Churches is about the average Methodist or the AFL-CIO is about the average blue-collar worker. The identity-politics professionals are merely exploiting the collective groups they claim to represent.

So I say, give atavistic xenophobia a chance!


  1. The anti-German thing was quite real. In NYS, many school districts stoppeed offering German language in high school.

    But the funniest one I hear of was in...Binghampton, NY. There are a series of streets named for composers, and there is a Beethoven Street.

    Except it's pronounced "Be-thov-en" street to this day.

  2. Ace's jihad on Scandis is a parody? What is next, are you going to tell me he really doesn't go on hobo hunts?

  3. What is next, are you going to tell me he really doesn't go on hobo hunts?

    Not only that, but I've hung out with Ace at parties and I have never once seen him drink Valu-Rite vodka.

  4. Welcome to life in the United States of the Offended, where it pays to be oppressed -- or at least, to be seen as oppressed.

  5. You are crushing me Stacy with these disclosures about Ace. As a journalist, aren't you supposed to give me the "Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus" speech.

    But of course when you are at a party the drinks are free, so you do not have to drink Valu-Rite. Hell, when I am at a party or open bar, I am going for the Grey Goose too. And journalists have a knack for finding free drinks. Bloggers too. They are like bloodhounds for that.

    Meanwhile, in the drinking holes of upper Manhattan near Columbia...when liberal professors collide? In this case a male black professor's fist in some white female professor's face. Race trumps gender.

    Maybe Obama and Biden can stage another White House beer sitdown. It appears these folks like to drink.

  6. Well you know this the headline alone will give them enough fuel to continue the white supremacist BS.

    I read the Salam piece and I'm struck at how he views racism as an uniquely Western/American invention. And in a way it is, in that it is only a word concocted to describe a phenomenon that has happened throughout history- ethnocentrism. (Which he admits, but doesn't recognize.)

    I remember stories about how some early blacks worked in a sort of indentured servitude, along side poor Brits, before working off their freedom and owning their own land. However, free slave labor means a cheap product, but that didn't jive with Christian thought. Slavery was nothing more than an economic system that had to be justified in some way hence the dark skin people are subhuman anthropology. And that all came from an ethnocentric way of thinking- our scientific, civilized, agrarian, monotheistic culture is better than their hunter/gatherer, pagen, neanderthalistic culture. Then along came Darwin who lent further support to the idea. And Darwin was better, because these differences could be measured; they were no longer abstract concepts.

    Look at western Nazi Germany and how they treated the Jews. The persecution they went through is akin to slavery. Is it racism? I suppose so, in that Jews were viewed as a difference race of people. But why were they viewed differently? Ethnocentrism. The same ethnocentrism used to de-value the lives of african slaves in America, were used on Jews in Europe, it was used in Protestant/Catholic fighting in Ireland and on a whole host of other groups throughout history.

    However, ethnocentrism can be good. As you stated its good for people to be proud to be American, or German, or Japanese, Honduran etc. It lends to stability.

    Although this has to be my favorite and the funniest quote:

    "Maoist China... saw itself as a leader of the global proletariat of Africans and Asians."

    Maybe in their propaganda. But Mao, and the other soviets, only cared about power. If it meant using two bit dictators like Mao, et al to slaughter masses of their own people in order to bring the country to heel, so be it. African and Asians were to be used as a means to an end. To be used and discarded so that they could expand their sphere of influence.

    It's funny to me. I hear these guys talking about the imperialism/colonialism of the US vis a vie Iraq, while another imperialism is taking place right under their noses. And they are helping it along.

  7. Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.

    —General George Casey, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

    "If our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that's worse."

    God help us.

  8. I'd be interested to hear Andrew explain how the "gay rights" movement constitutes an "engine of economic growth?"

    I mean, there may be a new market for men's size 11 slingbacks and gerbil farming has obviously become more lucrative, but "engine?" I'd like him to 'splain that, if he could.

  9. Stace, the German neighborhoods in New York kept going for a long time. The two main ones were Yorkville (Manhattan, east 80's) and Ridgewood in Queens.

    Back when I was a kid in the 60's, I remember the Jagerhaus Restaurant, Berlin Bar, Kleine Konditorei cafe, and Bremen Haus all up on 86th Street in Manhattan. My mother used to read the Staats-Herald Zeitung. Schaller & Weber butchers are still there to this day.

    Those neighborhoods started lose their German character more as a result of the general exodus from the People's Republic of New York in the 60's and 70's more than from anything else.

  10. Awarded the THE SPOT-ON QUOTE OF THE DAY at:

    Immigration reform that gets tough on illegal immigrants by deporting them is a good start, but only a start. Attitude adjustment in the United States in needed as well.

    Well done, Stacy, well done.