comment by EricHerboso ·
2020-09-05T10:43:43.959Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
I would say this is the first time I've come across the idea that someone who (hypothetically) correctly says that systemic racism doesn't exist would then correctly be labelled as a racist.
Perhaps we travel in different circles, but this has been how many (but not all) activists and academics have been talking for a few years now. Though this redefinition started in critical race theory (which I am not personally a fan of, as it isn’t really compatible with classical liberalism), it quickly spread to other, more mainstream thinkers. James Baldwin uses the term “white supremacy” this way in his 1980 essay Dark Days and Martin Luther King, Jr., used the term this way in his 1967 book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?. Both Baldwin and King didn’t use the newer definitions of these terms earlier in their writings; King, for example, famously refused to call Barry Goldwater ‘racist’ as late as 1964. Today, I would guess that a majority (but maybe not a clear majority) of people working on race stuff in academia accept the newer definitions.
However, I think you’re correct that here on the EA forum, using the terms in this way puts me clearly in the minority.
I can't help but see this new definition of racism as scope creep, and very harmful scope creep at that.
It is indeed scope creep, but I don’t think it’s as harmful as you say.
Consider global climate change, for example. There was a time (in the US, at least) when news organizations would present “both sides of the issue”, giving similar respect and airtime to climate change deniers. Over time, it became clear that acting as though both sides had equal evidence was disingenuous at best and likely constituted harm done by news organizations. This was and is true even if global climate change isn’t real. It is entirely appropriate for climate scientists to debate the issue; it is not appropriate for news organizations to give equal time to each side, regardless of what is actually true in reality.
The appropriateness of what was considered to be “both sides” by journalists has had scope creep in the past few decades, and I think this is to all of our benefit. I believe the same is true with the scope creep of this new definition of “racism”.
Ultimately, what matters is what we should presume to be true when we are in a space like the Facebook thread that was linked. When the preponderance of the evidence is clear that systemic racism exists, when the presentation of arguments denying its existence results in actual harm, and when that presentation is happening in a space where debating it doesn’t progress society in any way, then I think that the scope creep of being able to call the thread racist is entirely appropriate.
This remains true even if systemic racism actually doesn’t exist in just the same way that it is inappropriate for journalists to give equal time to climate deniers even if global climate change isn’t actually real. What matters here is what we should judge as the default expectation of truth, not what actual truth is, because we are not talking about a forum of experts talking in their field; we’re talking about a public forum where some commenters are saying things that actively harm other commenters. It’s important for climate scientists and race theorists to be able to discuss these issues without being silenced, but it’s not important to give equal time to climate deniers on a news program, nor to allow systemic-racism-deniers to say things that actively harm others in a Facebook thread.
I am open to the possibility that systemic racism isn’t real. I am open to reasoned debate about this among academics and in lay spaces that are set out to openly discuss these types of contentious issues, like on this EA forum. But I think it is entirely reasonable to ban nonconstructive discussion about this in an introductory space like the Effective Animal Advocacy Facebook group, on a thread where the original poster was literally trying to organize activists who wanted to discuss systemic racism in the context of animal advocacy. It is, as I said before, like wearing a white dress at your friend’s wedding.
Can you provide references that back up your claim that your definition of racism is widely accepted?
Wei Dai's links may not be positive toward the redefinition, but hopefully they do show that the new definition has gained a lot of traction recently since its inception in the late 1960s. Anecdotally, most of the activist groups I'm aware of use these new definitions nearly exclusively.