Friday, April 30, 2010

Is racism racist?

Hitesh directs my attention to the brouhaha in the wake of an email sent by a Harvard Law student clarifying her position on the intelligence of African Americans:

… I just hate leaving things where I feel I misstated my position.

I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair. (Now on to the more controversial:) Women tend to perform less well in math due at least in part to prenatal levels of testosterone, which also account for variations in mathematics performance within genders. This suggests to me that some part of intelligence is genetic, just like identical twins raised apart tend to have very similar IQs and just like I think my babies will be geniuses and beautiful individuals whether I raise them or give them to an orphanage in Nigeria. I don’t think it is that controversial of an opinion to say I think it is at least possible that African Americans are less intelligent on a genetic level, and I didn’t mean to shy away from that opinion at dinner.

I also don’t think that there are no cultural differences or that cultural differences are not likely the most important sources of disparate test scores (statistically, the measurable ones like income do account for some raw differences). I would just like some scientific data to disprove the genetic position, and it is often hard given difficult to quantify cultural aspects. One example (courtesy of Randall Kennedy) is that some people, based on crime statistics, might think African Americans are genetically more likely to be violent, since income and other statistics cannot close the racial gap. In the slavery era, however, the stereotype was of a docile, childlike, African American, and they were, in fact, responsible for very little violence (which was why the handful of rebellions seriously shook white people up). Obviously group wide rates of violence could not fluctuate so dramatically in ten generations if the cause was genetic, and so although there are no quantifiable data currently available to “explain” away the racial discrepancy in violent crimes, it must be some nongenetic cultural shift. Of course, there are pro-genetic counterarguments, but if we assume we can control for all variables in the given time periods, the form of the argument is compelling.

In conclusion, I think it is bad science to disagree with a conclusion in your heart, and then try (unsuccessfully, so far at least) to find data that will confirm what you want to be true. Everyone wants someone to take 100 white infants and 100 African American ones and raise them in Disney utopia and prove once and for all that we are all equal on every dimension, or at least the really important ones like intelligence. I am merely not 100% convinced that this is the case.

Please don’t pull a Larry Summers on me,

Stephanie Grace

As Jill at Feministe points out, "You know you're an extra-special racist when you send out an email clarifying that your views are actually more racist than those that pissed people off at dinner."  Read Jill's whole piece for the full story, and why this is a larger problem than Ms. Grace alone.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Does Jesus love racist puppets?

Really worth watching all the way through—trust me.  Submitted by William.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Is this tagliatelle racist?

So here's how the BBC tells it:

An Australian publisher has had to pulp and reprint a cookbook after one recipe listed "salt and freshly ground black people" instead of black pepper.

Penguin Group Australia had to reprint 7,000 copies of Pasta Bible last week, the Sydney Morning Herald has reported.

The reprint cost A$20,000 ($18,000; £12,000), but stock in bookshops will not be recalled as it is "extremely hard" to do so, Penguin said.

The recipe was for tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto.

"We're mortified that this has become an issue of any kind, and why anyone would be offended, we don't know," head of publishing Bob Sessions is quoted as saying by the Sydney newspaper.

Penguin said almost every one of the more than 150 recipes in the book listed salt and freshly ground black pepper, but a misprint occurred on just one page.

"When it comes to the proof-reader, of course they should have picked it up, but proof-reading a cookbook is an extremely difficult task. I find that quite forgivable," Mr Sessions said.

If anyone complains about the "silly mistake", they will be given the new version, Penguin said.

"Silly mistake"?  Yeah, tell that to all the black people sacrificed to this admittedly delicious-sounding dish.  Submitted by Emma, Eve, a bunch of other people, but first of all, Brian.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Is a tap-dancing octopus racist?

Ramon submits the following for our consideration:

So I'm watching cartoons with my daughter, we were watching Pinky Dinky Doo and they were under water in a submarine. So they are going through the water watching fish and things like that. Here comes this tap dancing octopus and his name was Jo Bangles... yeah yeah like Bo Jangles. Was this racist?

Not being familiar with the show myself, I had to do a bit of research on this particular question. It turns out Pinky Dinky Doo is produced by Sesame Workshop, of which I am a great fan, having been raised on the excellent (and commendably antiracist) Sesame Street. But, like so many children's shows today, Pinky Dinky Doo has one of THE MOST ANNOYING WEBSITES I have ever visited. She seems to be one of those characters who talks like adults think kids talk, and she WILL NOT SHUT UP. I have had to mute my computer for the duration of this post, until I'm through with all the Pinky Dinky Doo links.

So between my devotion to Sesame Street and my irritation with Pinky, I think I am entering into this Jo Bangles business from a "fair and balanced" perspective, as they say.

Exhibit A: Jo Bangles, the tap-dancing octopus:

Exhibit B: Naim Omari, the young man who provided the voice of Jo Bangles, the tap-dancing octopus:

And with that, I leave this matter to the jury. If you want to see a clip of the episode, go here and click on the #10 flower in the top right-hand corner ... but if you leave the page up and lose your mind because Pinky Dinky Doo will NOT STOP BOSSING YOU AROUND, I take no responsibility.

Thursday, April 8, 2010