Monday, June 30, 2014

"You Know What I Can't Open? Cupboards!"

If your as massochistic as I am, it means you read comments on the internet with some regularity (not on all sites, I mean come on. But even on generally good sites it's still often a soul-crushing experience). One of the more interesting trends I see in these comments is in the wake of some public figure making especially racist/sexist/homophobic/etc. comments and receiving some sort of minor punishment for it (like not being on t.v. for a week or two). There are always the inevitable "it's the PC fascists gone too far!!1!!1!" but an interesting albeit common sub-genre of those comments is the "they're only saying what we're all thinking!" idea. In these types of comments the theory goes that not only is disparaging someone for being racist/sexist/etc. not only something one does because they're all "PC" but they don't even believe these "PC" thoughts to begin with. No, they're actually super racist/sexist/etc. as well, they just feel the PC pressure to not say that aloud. But secretly they really agree with whatever offensive thing was said.

This line of logic has always fascinated me. To begin with, the narcissistic solipsism of it is hilarious/disturbing (depending on how serious the topic is) to an insane degree -- for the people making this argument, there is apparently no one alive who genuinely disagrees with them, only people who are and are not able to voice that agreement depending on how much they value this mysterious notion of "political correctness." Though it does at least help explain why these folks are always so insistent on claiming everything is due to this weird, amorphous construct of political correctness -- after all, if everyone actually agrees with you, there must be some reason why they insist on pretending they don't agree with. Because there isn't actually anyone alive who thinks race doesn't explain everything about a person (and especially whatever worth they may have) or that sexism is stupid, or that gay people are human beings, etc.

But a recent psychology study finds a major root of this odd line of logic -- conservatives score significantly higher on measures of "truly false consensus,"meaning they are significantly more likely than others to express a desire to be like everyone else, and more importantly, assume everyone else thinks just like they do (on the flip side, more liberal people score significantly higher on thinking they're different from everyone else and experience "truly false uniqueness,"meaning they assume others disagree with them more than is actually the case).

This has really helped me to understand a line of logic I always thought to be disingenuous -- that is, when people claim "they're just saying what everyone's thinking" I've long figured they were simply trying to claim the mantle of the more popular opinion to shut down debate or make dissenters feel out of place. But it turns out that for many of these folks, they're not being disingenuous; they legitimately believe that everyone agrees with them, no matter how much evidence they have to the contrary.

This is one of those studies that raises so many more interesting questions (do people have these false feelings of consensus or uniqueness, which then leads them to certain political beliefs, or does the deeper one go into certain political beliefs make them more likely to feel those things? Or is it a mutually reinforcing movement in one direction?), but it does help explain a lot of comments on the internet. And pretty much the entire Bush administration. So that's something...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The More Things Change...

There's a great collection of 60s protest photos over at Slate, and they're definitely worth taking a few minutes to peruse. My particular favorite is a picture of some guys burning their draft cards who look more like they got lost on their way to the math club than they do crazy radicals. And that's one of the more powerful things that one is reminded of looking at the pictures -- as much as that decade and its political movements have been caricatured since then, it's important to remember these were real people, often  suffering real consequences for putting their reputations, bodies, and sometimes even lives on the line to fight for political change they believed in. And as much as they've been stereotyped as long-haired white burnouts and afro'd Black revolutionaries, most of the people in these various movements were just regular ol' people, indistinguishable from you, me and all the rest of upstanding society.

But what really strikes me about these photos is how very, very little has changed amongst those who oppose political progress. Check out the sweet sign the stoic citizen in the photo on the left has there -- virtually indistinguishable from the things I've had shouted at me at various demonstrations against my generation's pointless war of imperialism. I guess the weapons, tactics, and locations of our wars of folly can change, but our catastrophic failures will always be the fault of pinkos, queers, and cowards...

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Coded Language and Sports

To regular readers of this blog, it may appear as if I'm obsessed with racially-coded language. And to a certain extent I am. I think it's because dog whistle racism is one of those things that is so painfully obvious to anyone with a slight amount of awareness, and yet so many people continue to deny it exists. So I'm always interested when something like this comes along: deadspin recently posted a measure derived from hundreds of thousands of words in pre-draft scouting reports of potential NFL prospects and sorted them by race.

The results are not the least bit surprising to anyone who follows sports. In fact, I often assign watching an afternoon of football to my classes when I'm teaching about race: spend just a half hour watching football (or any sport with a decent amount of racial diversity) and catalogue the kinds of words announcers and commentators use to describe athletes of various races. Undoubtedly white athletes will get labels implying they work hard -- they're gritty, tough, blue-collar -- or that they are highly intelligent -- they've got game smarts, they're students of the game, etc. On the flip side, athletes of color are spoken of often as inhuman workhorses -- they're strong, powerful, natural, gifted athletes. The difference is that white athletes are spoken of as having worked hard and studied to get to their skill level, while athletes of color are spoken of as being naturally athletic (the implication being they're neither smart nor hard-working).

But lest I be open to claims of reading too much into this, let's see how scouts talked about white athletes:

And how did they speak about Black athletes? Well...

I could go on posting these all day, but I think you get the point. Seriously, though, you should just go try it out yourself. It's both an enlightening and depressing experience, as are most times one learns about the world...