Diagnosing and Correcting Racism: In Two Steps

To Cure Racism You Must Be Negative: Racism is a kind of Low-Resolution Ascription error

What if I told you that we can correct racism in two steps? 

First, understanding the root cause.  Second, educating ourselves and children, without failing to mark the real root of racism, as distinguished from the insidious errors that create new forms of prejudice and injustice. This article will primarily address the first. 

What if racism was– at root– a kind of intellectual mistake, which is only cured rationally and intellectually? If this was the case, then only educational programs, and rational argument, would be able to correct it. In this article, three diagnoses of racism will be considered, favoring the theory that racism is at its basic root, a form of crude fallacy about human characteristics. Specifically, it will be maintained that racism is generated from a Hasty Ascription of moral and intellectual value from a superficial characteristic. Additionally, it will address racism at the level of belief, which has the benefit of clarifying racism in subsequent manifestations of human activity. That is, if racism is based on the belief-level, then the subsequent human activities that are based on these beliefs will make sense, assuming that our diagnosis is right. 

Given any ill in society, if the diagnosis is wrong, you should worry that the prescription may be wrong too (or worse, detrimental). Most people are not racists. However, some people may try to fight what they think is racism, yet actually fortify the core cause of racism. In order for us to truly fight racism, we must understand what the core of racism is. The chart below features three diagnoses and three prescriptions. The one on the left is the one favored by this author. Only the Hasty Ascription Race Diagnosis is obviously demonstrable, while the others might vaguely seem to be true, but on careful analysis are not. 

  • The Hasty Ascription Account identifies the problem of racism as a positive problem, wrongly weighting superficial characteristics as substantial. This account provides a negative solution.
  • The Positive Inequality Accounts identifies the problem of racism as an inequality problem, providing a positive solution that equalizes in the inequality of characteristic, or membership.

The Hasty  Ascription Race diagnosis holds that racism is basically a low-resolution assumption that superficial characteristics are substantial characteristics. The Superficialist and Tribalist diagnoses are not subject to falsification though, since they are prejudices without evidence. 

The Superficialist, which is the first kind of Positive Inequality account, holds that the root of racism relates to an inequality between a person with a characteristic, in contrast to another person with a variation of the same characteristic. For instance, the Superficialist holds that there is a problem with thinking that a brown person is better than a black person. However, the prescribed ‘solution’ commits the very error diagnosed by the Hasty  Ascription Race diagnosis. 

The Tribalist account is similar to the Superficialist account, but instead of directly connecting a superficial characteristic like skin color to something morally/intellectually relevant, in a particular person, it does so through an emphasis on membership of a tribe or group (which is based on a superficial characteristic). This is the second kind of Positive Inequality account. The mistake is the same in form as the previous: It regards the problem of racism as unequal results, assuming that each Tribe has a given moral and intellectual value. This view ascribes substantial worth to Tribal membership, just as the Superficialist ascribes substantial worth to some superficial characteristic.

Notice, that if the Hasty Ascription Race diagnosis is right, then the Superficialist and Tribalist diagnosis and prescription are wrong. Worse than this, if the Hasty Ascription Race diagnosis is right, those trying to cure racism through the positive ascription of value to skin color are in fact guilty of the root of racism itself (determining moral and intellectual from superficial characteristics).  

Consider that only one of the diagnoses is demonstrably true: the Hasty Ascription Diagnosis. This diagnosis is clearly seen by simply noticing that 

  1. Skin Color ≠ Moral/Intellectual Value 
  2. Genetic Descent ≠ Moral/Intellectual Value

All that is necessary to show this, is that there are high and low outliers in whatever group one chooses. Some groups known for being good at math aren’t. Some groups know for being ignorant aren’t. Some groups know for being deceitful aren’t. Obvious, right? The Hasty Ascription diagnosis explains why. Being hasty, and over-weighting a superficial characteristic, as if it was morally or intellectually relevant, this is precisely the root problem.  

It is negative, in the logical sense, since it says that something ‘does not’ equal something else. Instead of positively ascribing some property, quality, or value to something, it says that we are NOT warranted to go from superficial aspect to substantial property, quality, or value. It doesn’t positively give any meaningful data about a given person. If one observed to see a particular superficial quality, like their color, tribe, etc, the Hasty Ascription Diagnosis says what racism is and what it is not.  If a person concludes something moral/intellectual from a superficial characteristic, then they are guilty of the very prejudice that spawns racism. As such, a person fighting racism by means of applying this prejudice, are themselves fueling the fire that they pretend to be fighting.  Superficialist or Tribabalist ‘solution,’ is guilty of the core problem diagnosed by the Hasty Ascription diagnosis. 

If we want to correct racism, we must understand the core issue, which is ascribing substantial relevance to superficial qualities like skin color, geographic origin, historical background, etc. Since none of these aspects guarantees any information about a person’s moral or intellectual worth, it is a mistake to weigh those characteristics beyond reason. 

Furthermore, the solution to racism must be negative, in the sense that no positive ascription is made from any superficial characteristic. See the chart to see differences in how the problems are diagnoses, solved, and how they manifest in terms of beliefs, judgement, actions, and their ideal manifestation. 

So, in order to correct racism, we must seek to accomplish two things: First, understanding the root cause. Second, educating ourselves and children, without failing to mark the real root of racism, as the Superficialists and the Tribalists do.

Our account fits with MLK’s quote here:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

The Superficialist and Tribalist accounts do not fit with MLK’s vision, nor with common sense.

A more elaborated article will be forthcoming.


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Author: TheCommoner

I am a philosopher that is interested in what makes life worth living, what is worth pursuing, and how we can learn from the past. I believe that good philosophy benefits everyone and that there should be philosophers that present philosophy to those outside of the academy.

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