How Racist Are You?

So in light of my last blog and the discussions on Twitter on the topic of racism, there were several posters who discussed what the modern definition of racism is. Paraphrasing, the collective theory is that, “Any time you base a decision about a person based solely on their race, that is racist regardless of the statement being positive or negative.” So saying something like, “Black people are better at basketball” would be considered a racist statement since by saying blacks are better at it, the underlying statement is that whites and others are not as good at it. So while complimentary to blacks, it could be seen as insulting to whites and others.

Someone posed the following hypothetical questions to me and I thought I would share them with you all. Suppose you have a gun to your head and are forced to make a choice on the following scenarios. If you don’t choose, you will be killed:

1. You are given the following information, there is an 18 year old black kid and an 18 year old white kid that will be playing one-on-one basketball. You don’t get any other information and you don’t get to see them. You must choose who you think will win. Who would you choose and why?

2. A black man from Kenya versus a white man from Philadelphia will be running a marathon, choose who you think will run it faster. Who would you choose and why?

3. A white man from Bulgaria versus a black man from Kenya, which man would be able to clean and jerk more weight. Who would you choose and why?

4. 16 year old Asian from New York versus a 16 year old black kid from New York are going to take a math test. Who would you choose to score higher and why?

5. A 24 year old man and a 24 year old woman will be playing heads up poker, who would you choose and why?

If you chose the black kid to beat the white kid at basketball, I am assuming you would, what are you basing it on? The only information you were given was the color of his skin. Nothing else. Yet, I would be surprised if anyone answered with the white kid. In fact, if you answered the white kid, I don’t even believe you.

Based on this modern definition of racism we would all be guilty of these stereotypes. Language matters, of course, and how you phrase a statement makes a difference. If you said, “Black people are better at basketball” it would be viewed as a racist and inaccurate statement. If instead you said, “Black people tend to do better at basketball” now you are simply making an observation based on evidence. Some of you may see that as semantics, but I do think it’s worthwhile to be careful when choosing how you phrase such statements. What I would take issue with, is the idea that as a culture we should refrain from making such statements.

Saying, “All black men from Kenya can run faster than all white men from Philly” would be totally inaccurate. However, saying, “On average, Kenyan men are faster than white men from Philly at running a marathon” you would be making an observation based on results.

The idea that you can’t use race to make observations without it being racist seems silly to me. Or maybe, such observations can be both racist and harmless? Are all racist statements derogatory? Assuming we define a racist statement as one in which your statement is based solely on race. Saying, “Blacks tend to dominate at the cornerback position in the NFL” would be factual, and also racist based on this modern definition. Does it matter if it’s backed up by facts and data to support the statement?

If you choose to label someone a racist based on this modern definition, then you should be made aware that you are guilty as well. We would all be.

When I sit at a poker table with a player I’ve never seen before, immediately I’m profiling them based on any and all information I can gather about the person. Ideas that I had about what something meant were never absolute, but the process tended to be correct more often than not. My profile of the player would evolve as I learned more about them and how they played, but as a base, my first impression of that person was going to dictate how I viewed their playing style or skill level.

Extreme examples would look like:

Young kid in a hoodie, sunglasses, and wearing headphones- my initial guess is that he is an aspiring pro who likely came from the online world. He is there because he thinks he is a favorite in the game and has studied it. He probably thinks I’m overrated and suck at poker.

Middle aged white guy wearing a suit and tie- probably not a professional poker player. Likely is a businessman who is going to be a losing player.

Elderly woman- she is there to enjoy herself and is probably a weak player.

Vietnamese guy playing 80-160 limit hold’em at Commerce- don’t underestimate him. He is probably really good and really tricky. A true hustler who tries hard and will fight for every pot.

Korean guy playing 80-160 limit hold’em- might be a steamer. Koreans tend to be really passionate people and if he gets stuck he might go on monster tilt and try to bluff at every pot.

Young Indian kid in a tournament- probably has a background in math, might even be a spelling bee champ or something.

Would it be fair to say that based on the modern definition of racism these statements would be sexist, racist, and ageist? Based on my 20+ years playing poker, they would also tend to be a lot more accurate and advantageous to me than receiving all new players as blank slates.

Systematic racism is a separate and real issue. Repressing someone based on race or limiting opportunities based on race is the worst kind of racism. if a white guy was good enough to play cornerback but wasn’t given the opportunity because the assumption was that it was a black players position, that would be absolutely wrong. Not allowing black players to play QB based on the theory that they aren’t smart enough to handle it, is highly offensive and blatantly racist. Not hiring a woman to be CEO of a company because it’s traditionally a mans role is just plain sexist and wrong.

Our brains are designed to stereotype and categorize events and people. That isn’t going to change. The focus should be on how racism has effected opportunity for minorities. We should avoid absolutes where absolutes don’t apply. Noticing tendencies and trends is one thing, but limiting opportunity based on race, gender, or age, is unjust and I think we should all be focusing on these impacting issues a lot more than we do on semantics and choices in grammar. Saying, “I don’t like Mexican food” is not the time or place to turn it into an issue of racism!