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Preferences and Racism

BS”D

Nadiha, over at “the fatal feminist,” presents us for a quote from “The Question of Fetishization” by Natalie Reed, which reacts on people feeling “attracted” on what I think would be termed “a concept of race,” more than on the person him- or herself. While I do agree with certain points in the article, for example the focus on the race rather than the person, I don’t agree in the use of “Racism,” though this understanding of the term seems to be rather predominant in our days.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m trying to excuse various forms of discrimination or the like, but rather that I prefer a more correct and direct usage of terms, and when it comes to the term “Racism” as well as the term “Antisemitism,”[1] then I’m a follower of the late historian Gavin I. Langmuir, whom I have mentioned in other connections earlier.

In his book “Towards a Definition of Antisemitism,” Langmuir presents us for a theory on what he calls “enmity” between two groups (the ingroup towards the outgroup – the “us and the other”), which can be found in three different forms, the “realistic assertion,” the “the xenophobic assertion,” and the “chimerical assertion.” These three forms are described as follows:

Realistic assertions about outgroups are propositions that utilize the information available about an outgroup and are based on the same assumptions about the nature of groups and the effect of membership on individuals as those used to understand the ingroup and its reference groups and their members.

Xenophobic assertions are propositions that grammatically attribute a socially menacing conduct to an outgroup and all its members but are empirically based only on the conduct of a historical minority of the members; they neglect other, unthreatening, characteristics of the outgroup; and they do not acknowledge that there are great differences between the individuals who compose the outgroup as there are between the individuals who compose the ingroup.

Chimerical assertions are propositions that grammatically attribute with certitude to an outgroup and all its members characteristics that have never been empirically observed.

(Towards a Defintion of Antisemitism, chapter 14, pp. 328)

These three groups of assertion are presented in the context of enmity or hatred from the ingroup towards the outgroup, but I expect that it also can be used in the positive approach.

What he presents here are three different forms of attitude. The first, the realistic, is not dealing differently with one’s own group as with the other group, knowing that just as there are differences among individuals in one’s own group, so there are in the “other” group. To use an example, in my study of Judaism and Islam, I’m not dealing any different with Islam as I am dealing with Judaism, or – more correctly – I’m not dealing (at least I shouldn’t) any different with Muslims from Jews. Just as there are differences among the individuals of the groups called “Jews,” so there are among the individuals of the group called “Muslims.”

The second assertion, the xenophobic assertion, takes the actions or characteristics of few individuals or a/more minority group/s and let that be assertive for the whole outgroup. Let’s use the Israeli settlers as an example here. We have the “price tag group,” extremist (and mostly young) religious settlers burning mosques, attacking innocent, and other stupid acts, in order to “revenge” what they feel have been “unjust” attacks on them or “theirs.” Their motive is not the subject though, but the way some people are taking their actions or characteristics, and let that be defining for the whole group called “settlers,” is. A Palestinian, knowing full well that there are extremist among his own “group,” who act in the same way, but would react strongly against people letting these individuals or minority group being the definition for the whole group called “Palestinians,” but yet do the exact same when it comes to the group called “settlers” or the group called “Israelis,” is an example on the xenophobic assertion. To be sure, we could have used a member from the “settlers,” the “Israelis,” or even the “Jews” as well.

The Xenophobic assertion is when a person or a group takes “examples” on actions or characteristics never been empirically proved to be true, and let them be defining for the whole outgroup. Langmuir uses the example of Jews drinking the blood of Christian children himself, which I also think is a very precise example. It can also be used in the “positive”[2] form about Jews, as Jews being overly good with money, though it never have been proved that Jews should be better with money than others. Jews have not had that much of a choice when it came to business careers, and thus mostly had to work with money. There is no genetic or culturally inherent in the “Jewish culture,” which would prove that Jews are better than money with others (I can say for one that I’m terrible with money).

Langmuir reacts to the term “Racism,” arguing that it doesn’t really give meaning to use that term anymore, since it connotes the understanding that humankind is found in various races (such as with dogs), which is pretty normal knowledge not to be true. Of course, as he explains, it is always possible to find individuals who deny this knowledge and insists on believing what cannot be proven empirically, but it still doesn’t change the fact that it has been proved and accepted today that whether we are talking about “Caucasian,” “African,” “Asian,” “Arabic,” or something else, then it’s all the same race. Should we point to another human race, then the Neanderthals would be a good example.

When it comes to “Antisemitism,” or here “Anti-Semitism,” then the same goes, since the idea of a “Semitic race” should be dead by now (it’s not as dead as one would wish it was, but nevertheless). You cannot be more “anti Semite,” than you can be “anti Smurf” or “anti unicorn.” That is, you certainly can be anti all three examples, but just as the Smurfs and unicorns haven’t been proven to exist empirically, so hasn’t the Semitic race been. Of course, one could argue that the idea about the three examples certainly exists, but then – so far as one would be anti any of the three ideas of these examples – being anti this, would be anti-ideaaboutsmurfs, and what does that really mean? That one is against how Smurfs are portrayed and believed to be? About the idea that there are Smurfs? Or something else?

Nevertheless, Langmuir does accept that there are examples when it would give meaning to use the terms “Racism” and “Antisemitism,” but then it would only be in the case of the xenophobic assertion, when we are prescribing something not realistic, not real, to a whole group. As such the idea that “Jews are drinking the blood of small Christian children” would certainly be racist or antisemitic.

I hope that you can forgive me going to length about this, but I felt it necessary in order to explain my thoughts on Racism (and Antisemitism), before I could give my reaction to Nahida’s quote.

I certainly agree with her agreement that it seems wrong to attribute a certain positive (or negative) attribute to a certain group, for example in the example when we go from “I think long, dark, straight hair and smaller than average breasts are sexy”  to “I’m into Asian girls”, but I wouldn’t call it Racism. These characteristics seem to be more predominant among Asians than other groups, but it is not something imagined, therefore this would more be put under the xenophobic assertion than the chimerical, and thus – according to Langmuir – not being Racism or based on this. This would probably not be more different than saying that you’re into Scandinavians, because you like blond hair and blue eyes, though you might as well find many Baltic people with the same characteristics. Or to use another example in the same line, is it racist when people believe, even insist, that I have to be Russian, just because I – according to them – look Russian? In Denmark I can walk around and be viewed as perfectly Danish, while here in Israel I’m most certain Russian.

Hence my reaction is not that I believe that it’s perfectly okay to deny any non-Asian the chance of partnership, if one is into long, dark, straight hair and smaller than average breasts. I don’t. I do find it somehow ignorant, but not racist. I’m reacting against the very prevalent usage of the term “Racism,” which more removes any clear understanding of the term, than it helps battling discrimination.


[1] The reader might notice that I use the form “Antisemitism” instead of “Anti-Semitism.”

[2] Positive in quotation since this form also has been used as an attack on Jews historically.


2 Comments

  1. NatalieB says:

    But I didn’t use the word racism.

    • qolyehudi says:

      Hi Natalie:o)

      No, you’re right. Nadiha was the one using the term “Racism.” I’m sorry if I made it look like you were the one, that wasn’t my attention.

      All the best

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