By Lee Morgan
In recent years, few issues have been as polarizing as that concerning racism. And understandably so. The world has a dark past and our fathers’ trauma has long drawn its traces in eternity. Of course, I have no means of resolving the discussion, nor do I offer much in the way of consolation. What follows is but my attempt to clarify ideas, and should in no way be understood as a repudiation of the feelings associated with them.
Part One: Institutional Racism
Is institutional racism separable from the liberal conception of government? Assuming first that the two concepts, viz. those of institutions and of racism, are indeed separable, for their distinguishability is self-evident, a follow-up question arises, which is, which accidental, or contingent elements of these institutions must we alter so as to eliminate their racist strain? For if institutional racism exists, such that we can eliminate it through political reform, lest all these protests be the fiery musings of anarchists, there must be certain, specific laws or statutes that explicitly target ethnic minorities. But alas where are these laws? To offer up laws that affect all peoples equally, but which members of a particular ethnic group tend to, statistically-speaking, transgress in disproportionate numbers is to deny the distinction between institution and prejudice. For granting the liberal assumption that all peoples deserve equality of opportunity, which is not to be confused with equality of outcome, and are therefore entitled to equal protection under the law, such laws are not only egalitarian, but inseparable from liberalism’s larger political project. But these are precisely the laws that our radical friends offer up as evidence of their hypothesis.
So it seems the phraseology here is redundant. For to call an institution racist is to implicitly state that, while it happens to be racist, it need not be. Otherwise, one would drop the qualifier and simply say “institution.” For inasmuch as no one has ever seriously discussed racist racism, so as to specify that type of racism which is properly racist, so the same qualification is senseless when the possibility of an unprejudiced institution disappears. Thus, until such a law be offered which makes explicit its prejudice, let us proceed under the assumption that we need not discuss institutional racism, as though we could excise its prejudice without first revolutionizing the existent political edifice, but instead direct our investigations toward institutions in general.
Such a turn calls to mind the brilliant argument of that great abolitionist, Lysander Spooner, who argued that a nation whose constitution championed liberalism could not be trusted to represent its principles, if at the same time that nation’s constitution did not condemn slavery, which not only abhors the specific liberal principle of self-ownership, but in general opposes the very foundations of the liberal democratic project. But considered more carefully, it becomes apparent that Spooner’s criticism is more an example of the distinction between racist and liberal institutions than it is an argument for their essential connection. For while he indeed condemned the American constitution as a document, Spooner’s emphasis on liberal principles proves that his qualms lay not with the liberal conception of government, so much as with American hypocrisy. And should one desire to simultaneously vindicate and invalidate his argument, one need only remind oneself that that same constitution was amended on the basis of its own principles to end the American slave trade, and in doing so better realize America’s founding principles. In a similar way, one might answer that oft repeated jeer that America was established on the backs of two genocides by reminding one’s accuser that, even should one draw an essential connection between historical circumstances and American political values, it was on the basis of those same values that America overcame said circumstances.
This all leads us to the inevitable conclusion that if institutional racism exists, and all institutions are racist a priori, it is not so much the contingent doings of specific members any given institution, officers of the LAPD for example, that are racist, but rather the liberal ideals underpinning them which are really and truly to blame.
Of course, this conclusion raises a number of straight-forward and common sense objections, first among them being how explicitly egalitarian principles are essentially prejudiced? Now, admittedly, I have spent time enough in such circles to hear the full gambit of sophisms, but for our purposes I need only highlight two.
The first furthers the above mentioned historiographical considerations, and argues that since liberalism arose in the west, its scope is limited to its circumstances. Were the premise true, the conclusion might not be so unpalatable, if perhaps a tad relativistic for my tastes. But unfortunately, cultures do not, nor have ever, developed in vacuums. As far back as the Pythagoreans, never mind Plato’s famous oriental inclinations, western thinkers have drawn on foreign cultures to develop their own ideas, including those foundational to liberalism, and I think it no illiberal stretch to cry cultural appropriation in cases of genuine admiration, never mind those of reciprocity.
But they stole their ideas! the radical cries. But who can honestly claim ownership of the truth? Does an idea, if it be conceivable at all, not belong to the world?
The second argument is that the roots of prejudice are pre-linguistic. The reasoning goes something like this: language depends on priority, which is nothing but a euphemism for privilege, which of course depends on prejudice. Therefore prejudice is pre-linguistic. To which I reply that if language itself is tool in the hands of the oppressor, then the bleeding heart radical’s only means of protest is silence, which of course pertains not only to the written and spoken words, but to all forms of communication, including dance, painting, and any other means of self-expression.
Also, if language is essentially oppressive, how ever did the radicals behind this theory ‘break the spell,’ i.e. how did they read the text outside the text?
If all this seems absurd, it is not through an error in our reasoning, as we have accurately presented their premises, and have only been too kind in following them to their natural conclusions. Which is to say that if our conclusions seem absurd, it is more an error of our premises, then it is of our method. It seems to me that we have sufficient grounds for rejecting a premise if we can identify an inconsistency in its framing. This I believe we can do if we return to the very notion of institutional racism.
We have already seen that the term, when taken literally, is redundant, but is the concept of a racist institution not self-evidently absurd? Take for example the claim that the police force is racist and that this racism is responsible for all the terrible brutalities that we have all heard so much about. Is this not a case of a category mistake, never mind of blaming the bunch for one bad apple? If I may be permitted to carry on with the analogy, to blame institutional racism for specific acts of police brutality, is to blame the very concept of an apple for the handful of times we have had the misfortune of an unsavory bite. Not only does this line of reasoning perform an illegitimate distinction of reason between police officers and the police, but in doing so, the radical shifts the blame from the actual brutalizers, i.e. specific bad officers, to the police in general, which again refers to nothing but an abstract idea. According to this reasoning, all officers are guilty only of the original sin of having chosen to serve and protect, the consequence of said choice being that whatever abuse they commit while on duty is not so much an abuse committed as it is the natural consequence of having enlisted in the first place.
We might understand this line of reasoning as a bastardization of the liberal notion of personal responsibility. But unlike Aquinas’ drunken rapist, who cannot be charged with the crimes he committed while black-out drunk, but who is nevertheless responsible for having chosen to drink in the first place, advocates of the institutional racism hypothesis more or less preserve the aggressor’s acquittal, but nevertheless impute criminal responsibility to alcohol for the crimes committed under its influence.
And herein lies the central problem.
While we might blame alcohol in the same sense that we blame firearms and inclement weather for the national tragedies that involve them, we can never blame it in the philosophical sense, for no other reason than that blame presupposes personality, and alcohol has no such person. In a similar way, “the police academy” cannot commit crimes because “the police academy” is nothing more than an abstract idea, or sum of all its particular members. Once more, there are only officers good and bad, and to fail to recognize this is not only to blame the bunch, but to impute philosophical blame to the very concept of an apple.
Why stop at the apple when one can blame the world? or being itself? At least when religions curse the evils original sin, or when pessimists bemoan the Will, their lamentations are universal, and if tautological, still have something to say about the human condition. But what does institutional racism add to humanity? It would be one thing perhaps if the belief carried with it something in the way of utility, but it cannot even offer this. If anything it has proven itself a poison, rather than the elixir so desperately needed.
Thus concludes the first part of our enquiry into the nature of racism. In the following parts we will attempt to construct a positive understanding of racism and how it differs from what overly zealous academics refer to when they use the term.
Part Two: Of Unconscious Bias and the Association Between Ideas
Being related to what we have discussed above, viz. of institutional racism, one might shun our conclusions were we not to discuss the notion unconscious bias. For unlike the postulators of institutional racism, who, in their zeal for social justice, not only infer global statements from isolated, local incidents, and therefrom concoct a system of oppression as deep and penetrating as it is unintelligible, postulators of unconscious bias also allege to have the support of the social sciences, and thus need only cite their findings to settle the dispute.
Now without needlessly extending this discourse so as to explain the methodological limits of the social sciences, i.e. why their foundation is even on a generally conceded point infinitely weaker than those of the proper sciences, I think it sufficient to give an account of the relevant studies, and thereby show how they suggest none of the inferences that our overly-eager friends have made to confirm their own biases. That the conclusion that these studies in anyway assert the real presence of unconscious prejudice is absurd becomes immediately apparent when one recognizes that these studies measure association and association alone. Every criticism of word-association therefore applies.
So far from demonstrating our unconscious prejudices, these studies no more suggest that these associations are racist, than they do that they are justified. In fact, we can easily imagine an actual racist, confirming his beliefs with the very same data. After all, he argues, does not reasoning from probability suggest that if the majority of people concede a point, one might reasonably assert that that same point ought not be questioned? This, of course, is as fallacious a leap in reason as that which explains away these associations as the products of cultural hegemony. The origin, truth-value, and moral significance of these associations can no more be derived from their detection than the moral condemnation of murder can be inferred from the fact that people do indeed murder each other from time to time.
Once more, these studies measure associations, which is to say that they can in no way be bent to support any given interpretation of their normative value. To reiterate, the scientist, regardless of discipline, ceases to participate in the scientific method, and thereby ceases to be a scientist at all, wherever he moves beyond statements of facts and ventures into the world of values. Again, the scientist does not ask what it means that a certain event transpired, but rather rests contented knowing if and how it happened. For anything else lies beyond his scope, if it lie there are at all. And is this not consistent with regards those interpreting the data to support this thesis? Do we not find, and this, no matter how conservative I be in my estimates, is and shall always be conjecture, that for every one statistician, or social scientist we find bemoaning unconscious bias, we find enough art students to shut down a campus free speech event?
From all this it should be perfectly obvious that the empirical sturdiness of the theory of unconscious bias is but a mirage in the desert that is academia, and that if we desire as we do to quench our thirst for truth, we must venture further into the deep unknown, guided only by our hope of finding a true and proper oasis.
Part Three: Of Hume’s Conception of Causality
Perhaps our thirst may find, if not total satisfaction, then at least something in the way of consolation in the further consideration of these associations. And it seems evident to me that we would be right to follow that eminent Scott in declaring resemblance, contiguity in space and time, and causality as the three natural principles of association between ideas.
And for reasons which shall, presuming the success of our enquiry, be obvious, and therefore need not be stated here, it is the relations of resemblance and of causality that inform the associations alleged to betray a certain unconscious prejudice. But before making explicit the sequencing of these relations such as we experience them while the statisticians are experimenting upon us, I think it not an unnecessary departure to review Hume’s conception of causality, as such an understanding is essential to the investigation ahead of us.
First, Hume challenges us to form an idea which is not either the product of experience, or a combination of any number of ideas derived from the first species. And excepting perhaps the inference of a certain shade of blue, or other such postulations of the median between two discreet intensities, it seems not unreasonable to assert that all our ideas must either correspond to an impression directly, or be separable into ideas that do.
But how then does our idea of causality arise, after all, it is clear that it is not an object our any of our sense-perceptions or reflections. It must then arise from the combination of simple ideas. Which simple ideas, and how custom induces us to generalize therefrom, Hume explores at great lengths. I will therefore avoid the redundancy, never mind the difficulty of here trying to reproduce his reasoning, but shall instead present but a simple edifying example.
Imagine a woman walking alone through a deserted part of town after dark. Upon seeing a strange man approaching in the distance, she crosses the street. Why? For no other reason than she fears him. How do we know that fear motivated this change? Well, perhaps it would be inappropriate to reference knowledge in this case, as probability is here the working principle, though all knowledge be at best probably, we arrive at this conclusion from custom, which is to say that we commit an induction from probability, our reasoning being that because fear and no other passion, and indeed in matters of volition it seems we are always influenced by passion and by passion alone, has always preceded such a transition, and because we have hardly ever observed any other outcome given said fear, we tally up our past experiences, and assume that the present will resemble the past. This of course is not to say that this must, in the sense that Leibnitz might use that term, be the case, though Hume would certainly argue that this overwhelming sense of probability is the only meaningful sense of the term necessity. Thus causality be that relation between successive objects wherein the second has only ever followed the first and the first only ever found succession in the second.
It should be clear from this definition that in the above, we referenced another such example of causality, in the relationship between the passions and volition, which we might perfect through the interjection of will between the two such that the passions determine our will, which in turn is the cause of our volitional actions, or deeds. Likewise, we might not unreasonably add that our imaginary woman’s beliefs about the encountering of strange men after dark in isolated locals, were the cause of her fear, and this point I consider essential for the general discussion at hand, viz. that concerning the association of ideas as concerns race, and the theory of unconscious bias.
What then is the nature of belief and how does it relate to our present discourse? This shall be the subject our enquiry’s next part.
Part Four: Of Belief and Prejudice
A belief, Hume writes in his Treatise, is a particularly lively, or vivacious idea associated with a present impression, which by virtue of said association participates in part in the liveliness of said impression. This association between an impression and a belief is of a causal nature inasmuch as custom has forged a necessary connection between them. Thus, when for example, I see one billiard ball rolling toward another, I am struck by the idea that the first shall transfer its motion to the second, and this belief is much stronger on account of my past experience with resembling billiard balls than the idle imagining of alternative outcomes could ever be. Thus again, we see the utility of Hume’s inductive conception of cause and effect. Of course, there are no conceivable means of assuring ourselves of our beliefs a priori, but so long as we ground them on past experience, and not upon indoctrinations, we leave ourselves a sort of a posteriori proof, which is about as certain as we ever can feel.
Hence, the relative absurdity of doubting that the sun shall rise tomorrow. But while this is all well and good with regard billiard balls rolling along frictionless planes, matters become proportionately more complex as we add variables to our experiments. But to this we shall, if ever, return later, for the present we shall instead highlight one of overlooked consequence of such a conception of belief. Consider again the example of the two billiard balls. Few would deny believing that such a transfer of energy would occur. But when does this belief take place?
That belief can only ever take place in the present is the natural consequence of its necessary connection to present perceptions, which is to say that we do not so much have beliefs as we do moments of belief. Again, consider the example of billiard balls. Is it not fair to state that save for when one is presently conceiving of such a scenario, one never entertains any such beliefs about a transfer of motion from the one to the other. And what about the rising sun? Is I not more proper to say that no one has any such beliefs about the dawn until it be mentioned?
As a general rule then, I think it no unjust ruling to state that all beliefs are necessarily local in time, and that if one should permit the tautology, a belief is only a belief insofar as someone is presently believing it. Thus what we are accustomed to think of as global beliefs, the belief in God, for example, or any other such religious belief, are more properly considered habits, or tendencies, of belief, so long as they be taken to describe anything more than the set of particular moments of belief. By these definitions then we can state without raising any objections that a Calvinist can indeed be a Calvinist without needing to believe in God at any particular moment. That he shall believe when struck with an associated impression, should not only suffice for our purposes, but also for his.
But why all this talk of beliefs and habits of belief? Well, recall the question of unconscious bias and those who suggest that recent studies have proven its existence. From all that we have above considered, is it not perfectly apparent not only that we were correct in concluding that such tests could only ever measure associations, or beliefs, but that the very notion of unconscious prejudice is itself incoherent? Does not such a hypothesis suggest that we believe prejudicial things about minorities without actually believing them, at least not consciously?
Here I anticipate two objections. The first that we have constructed something in the way of a straw-man and the second that regardless of whether these prejudices only exist when prompted, their clear detection if proof enough that the majority of people are in the habit of racism. To answer the first, I shall only say that the system we have so constructed is so opposed to the substantialist assumptions of race-baiters that no such accusation can be made in good conscience, unless one accuse Hume of making a straw man of Aristotle and the scholastics. Rather, I think it more fair to say that if such an accuser exist, they ought rather be like Socrates and follow the argument wherever it leads. If that means that one’s straw fortress tumbles with the coming and going of zephyrs, it is not our concern but his. On this front I shall only add that we shall indeed see the similarities between those who reify consciousness and actual racists. But not before first answering the second objections. As regards the claim that if these tests do not prove the existence of a secret racist hiding in the breast of man, they nevertheless show us all to be in the habit of racism, we need only revisit our midnight wanderer, for if it be granted that the mere presence of racial associations are proof enough that a person is racist then a woman who crosses the street at night so as to avoid a strange man must also be a sexist.
This is an inevitable equivalence that cannot be avoided. I can only ask those eager to answer in the positive, be them racists themselves or alleged advocates of equality, that such a response establishes something in the way of an equality between such a woman and one who acts the same but with the added belief that that man is by virtue of being a man so inclined to assault a stranger. Is there not a clear difference here? Does the first not act according to the probability of the conjunction of circumstances, while the second makes something of a deduction from essence? Even granting the first woman to be a tad hysterical in her induction, is sexism really the force at work here? Is it not truer in such a case to call her instead unimaginative, as acting according to probability she ought really consider all the times she or her friends have passes such a man without suffering an assault?
These questions are of course rhetorical, but they are questions worth asking, as I believe they provide the foundation for any constructive understanding of racism. So let us thus consider their fruits, keeping a constant eye on our established analogy.
We have already discussed fear as a passion, as regard the heroine of our analogy, and I myself fear than an objection might be raised that fear and hate make such good bedfellows that any attempt to distinguish between the two is superfluous, when the one invariably follows the other and thus according to this reasoning if our friend fears the stranger as one might also fear minorities, she must also be a sexist and us racists.
This of course is an unreasonable objection. First, while passions indeed follow one another, there can never be such an essential connection between any two, lest they be one. And our example is proof enough of this. Can we not for instance, imagine our friend upon having crossed the street and noticed upon closer inspection that the strange man’s knapsack has a Metallica patch on it, and, as Metallica is her favorite band, thus develop a certain love or kinship for the very person whose appearance, just moments ago she had feared? The phraseology here is important. Such a woman does not so much fear the man as she does the conjunction of circumstances, viz. his appearance, after dark, in a lonely neighborhood, and she would not react with fear, at least not in the same degree, if these circumstances were changed. For example, if the same man approached her while there was still daylight, even if all other things were preserved, her fear would surely be diminished if even felt at all. What more we can even imagine her reacting fearfully, all other circumstances unchanged, if it had been a woman rather than a man, or even no one at all, that she had encountered upon turning down a dark and deserted road. Once more, the intensity of her fear depends upon her sense of the probability of her being assaulted. We can even change the sex of our protagonist and expect a proportionate change in the degree of fear experienced. My point being that when fear is a function of probabilities whatever follows is contingent upon the degree of probability and that alone.
But can we say this of a man-hater? Again, the answer follows from the phrasing of the question. Given the severability of fear and hate, we can state not unreasonably that everything we have said concerning fear applies equally to both women, regardless of whether they each hate the man. Thus we can as in the former case imagine the man-hater passing that same stranger in the day time without fearing him as she would at night, that fear still being based on the conjunction of circumstances, lest she be exceptionally inexperienced and see such a man’s appearance as a sufficient cause for fear in all cases, while her hate contingent as it is on his being a man, persists regardless of where and when he is seen.
Here again one might raise an objection. Do not men posses the power to assault women? Is it not possible for a woman to fear a man on account of this power and this power alone? We might first answer this objection by asking another question, viz. what is meant by the word power? If it is meant in any sense other than that of being the particular cause of a particular effect, I beg the objector to provide such a definition, provided that it comply to Hume’s maxim concerning the origins of ideas. In the absence of such a definition, and I am, indeed at a loss to provide one, let us proceed under the assumption that power is nothing but a particular cause. But recall Hume’s sense of causality, viz. that we arrive at it from customary experience. Thus to say that men have the power to assault women is to say that they can be the cause of such an assault. An ambiguity, and indeed we shall have to examine several, here arises with regards the word can. Something either is or is not a cause, which is to say that we can form no idea of potential causes. Again, this is consistent with Hume’s conception of causality. Since we can form no idea of potentiality, for indeed to experience a potential would render it actual, if we are to maintain that men can assault women, we must concluded that they must assault women, as causality is itself grounded in the necessary connection between ideas, and not only this but such a fear would require men to have the sole purpose of assaulting of women, as any given cause can ipso facto have but one effect insofar as the requisite necessary connection be granted. This all gives the appearance of a sophism, as what could be more obvious then the fact that men do not have to assault women if they are to be considered men. But again the semantics here matter. To resolve the matter, we shall need to make reference to Hume’s notion of abstract ideas.
As implied in the preceding part, viz. that concerning institutional racism, Hume maintained that all things are particular and thus to talk of men is only to talk of the set of all men. Thus when we said that men must necessarily assault women, we rather meant really to say that all particular men must necessarily assault particular women. This too is farcical. To avoid redundancy, we need only gloss over the causal chain to find that far from being pure of heart, the will of a particular man shall only effect the assault of a woman and shall indeed necessarily assault a woman after his first feeling the effect of a particular passion, itself the particular effect of a particular set of circumstances. Hence, the common saying that so and so could never hurt a fly. In the absence of the particular circumstances which induce a man to strike a fly, or assault a woman for that matter, a man is incapable of action. But induce the appropriate passion, and your pacifist cousin shall murder the world. And therein lies the depths of human depravity.
From all this talk of particularity, one might be tempted to call the first woman irrational for having crossed the street at all. Whether she be irrational or not, the likelihood of her being assaulted does increase in her aforementioned circumstances, thus the divide between her and someone hysterically afraid of men, who if such a woman exists would not only need to live alone, but would also forbid herself to ever leave her home, and lest the person delivering her groceries be a woman, who of course in the hysterical sense of her reasoning could also cause her harm, would surely starve to death. And that much we can infer from probability alone. Perhaps that is why I never have heard talk of such a woman.
But returning from that rather liberal digression on the possibilities of fear, let us turn instead to that other passion associated with our man-hating friend.
To hate is to hate someone, and in particular to hate something related to that person. Lest we digress even further from our course, let us take this much for granted, though of course we could explain it if needed using the same reasoning as our last digression did.
That granted, what about any particular man does the man-hater detest? The analogy with regards race shall here aid us in expositing the sense of sexism, which itself we only mentioned to exposited that concerning racism. As custom is the guide of life, we should expect that same custom to explain the causes of hatred. When I hate someone, I hate him because an idea associated with him is painful. Recall how our female friend’s pleasure at that Metallica patch affected the love of its owner. Can we not just as easily imagine her reacting with scorn and hatred had she all along been repulsed by that same band. Let us carry this example further.
There are plenty who find rap music repulsive on account of its liberal use of profanity. Such a person, on seeing someone dressed like a rapper would likely infer that that person too is vulgar in his use of language, or at least is permissive of such impropriety, and through this series of associations would come to feel a certain hatred. Now imagine that this person’s experience with black people is limited to rappers and that of rappers to black people. Given this premise, it should not be difficult to predict the effect of custom on such a person upon his encountering a black person. And this I take to be a proper example of racism, or at the very least of its roots, viz. a poverty of experience begetting a casual inference from race to some genuinely negative quality.
Whereas before we wondered whether our female friend was unimaginative, here we have a case of inexperience. Sure one might object that the racist is unimaginative, but I can only grant this insofar as I am unimaginative for not doubting tomorrow’s dawn, for in both cases probability determines our willingness to doubt. And seeing as we are now firmly in the territory of our original purpose, I think it well enough to depart with that analogy which hitherto has suited us so well, and instead focus on racism proper, understanding all the while the transferability of our principles.
And concluding our considerations of so-called unimaginative people, I think it sufficient for the time to call a person unimaginative only if they experience fear and fear alone given a modest probability of their suffering harm. An inexperienced person, on the other hand, also feels hatred, and this hatred, as regards racism, we connected to a relation of cause and effect where race is understood to be the cause of and therefore participates in the pain of the painful quality, viz. a person being vulgar on account of his being black is hated for the latter because of the former. And with an eye to history, are inexperienced inferences of this sort not the basis for the success of racial propaganda? It was not so much that Jewish people were hated for their race, for indeed how can race in itself cause harm, but because of the connection drawn between Jewish people and the pains of German hyperinflation, the loss of the first world war, and in the abstract all of Germany’s problems. And is this not in a way the basis of contemporary anti-Semitism, i.e. the idea that the Jews run the media, etc.?
On this point I would like to contrast the unimaginative with the inexperienced as regards Islamaphobia. The unimaginative person is afraid of being killed in a terrorist attack but does not feel hatred upon seeing a Muslim, a woman in a hijab for example, never mind the site of an Arab in general, and indeed he distinguishes between the two, all because, while perhaps he is over-exaggerating the probability of his incurring harm, his breadth of experience has not established the connections requisite for hate. An inexperienced person, however, makes no such distinctions and depending on his degree of inexperience, may well feel hatred at the site of anyone with brown skin These of course are not the only possible reactions. We can for example, imagine a feminist responding to a hijab with hatred without making any ethnic connections.
I will add only one exception to the general rule concerning inexperience, or ignorance as it is more often put, that being its opposite, or a particular type of experience. I once knew a man who went to war in Africa. He had grown up on an island that was predominately European, and by all accounts his first experience with black people was during the war. Well, during his service, he saw his friends butchered, he himself nearly succumbed to several well-timed shots, and perhaps above all else felt the constant need to justify everything he had seen and done. Now is it really so surprising that he returned home a full-fledged racist?
I mention this anecdote because it humanizes the racist. We are too quick to reify racists as unredeemable, or deplorable, to borrow a contemporary term. Put simply, there are no racists because there are no races. Everything is particular and all people are guided by their experience and their experience alone. So far from showing any exception to the rule, my anecdote confirms it. Custom is everything, including custom itself.
Indeed custom is customary and therefore open to change. But if we wish to change people we must first be able to recognize them as people, and this is precisely what theories like those of institutional racism and unconscious bias seek to make impossible. According to such theories there are no racists only cops and white people, and of course there was no stopping pharaoh once God had hardened his heart. There was no changing pharaoh even if he wanted to change. And our theory is also without racists, but for the opposite reasons. Rather than replacing one monolith with another, we leave ourselves nothing but ever-vanishing particulars and their habit of repetition. Those much discussed studies track associations and associations alone. The very best one could infer from them is that any given person may be unimaginative on some particular, but even this I consider too great a leap.
These tests say nothing of the passions, and as regards prejudice the heart is all. Like Spinoza, we must not judge, mock, or lament, but seek earnestly to understand.