by Aris Roussinos
Wednesday, 24
June 2020
Reaction
11:22

US journalists are fanning racial tensions

In trying to solve one social evil, something more dangerous could emerge
by Aris Roussinos
BLM protesters clash with police. Credit: Getty

Perhaps we should start looking at America the way an anthropologist would a strange, conflict-ridden society, superficially similar to our own, and yet operating under its own cultural logic, with obscure moral codes and taboos that seem perfectly reasonable to them, but utterly alien to us.  What, for example, would an anthropologist make of the recent drive to capitalise the word “black,” as in this recent claim by the influential Columbia Journalism Review that:

At CJR, we capitalize Black, and not white, when referring to racial groups. Black is an ethnic designation; white merely describes the skin color of people who can trace their ethnic origins back to a handful of European countries?
- Columbia Journalism Review

The tabloid USA Today and AP have followed in much the same vein, claiming that “Black is an ethnoracial identifier that is inclusive of the collective experiences of the Black U.S. population, including recent immigrants” and conveys “an essential and shared sense of history, identity and community among people who identify as Black, including those in the African diaspora and within Africa.”

Already, we see that Americans have moved beyond the language of racial discrimination into one of ethnic difference. According to this model, black and white Americans are no longer members of the same society, divided by the meaningless attribute of skin colour, but members of different ethnic groups entirely, sharing deeper essential bonds with people on continents thousands of miles away than with each other.

We can leave aside the question of why, say, African-Americans, Somalis, and Yoruba Nigerians are to be considered the same ethnic group — it’s long been noted by academics working on ethnic difference that Americans have a poor folk understanding of the term as a category distinct from race, compared to the rest of the world where ethnic divisions — those between French and Germans, say, or English and Welsh — have historically been far more salient than racial ones. The real question here is whether suddenly dividing Americans into ethnic groups based on supposed essential and immutable characteristics is a wise course of action.

Doing so immediately changes America’s political crisis from one based on racial discrimination (which can, through hard work, be ameliorated) into one based on ethnic conflict (which is a far more intractable problem, as the rest of the world knows all too well). After all, if black Americans are now a Black ethnic group, are white Americans then members of an inherently distinct White ethnic group?

The CJR decided not to capitalise white, arguing that “White carries a different set of meanings; capitalizing the word in this context risks following the lead of white supremacists.”

The CSSP thinktank takes the opposite tack, claiming:

 We will do this when referring to people who are racialized as White in the United States, including those who identify with ethnicities and nationalities that can be traced back to Europe. To not name “White” as a race is, in fact, an anti-Black act which frames Whiteness as both neutral and the standard…While we condemn those who capitalize “W” for the sake of evoking violence, we intentionally capitalize “White” in part to invite people, and ourselves, to think deeply about the ways Whiteness survives—and is supported both explicitly and implicitly.
- Center for the Study of Social Policy

It’s very rare for anthropologists to witness the process of ethnogenesis — the creation of an ethnic group as a corporate, political identity — in action, and it’s alarming that in America it’s being pushed by journalists as the result of a moral panic. In turning black Americans into a new Black ethnic group, defined by their oppression by “Whiteness,” and therefore political opposition to a “White” ethnic group suddenly brought into being, American journalists are re-enacting, in a strange and garbled form, the birth of nationalism in Europe.

After all, the rise of nationalism in Europe was itself largely driven by crusading intellectuals seeking to overturn what they saw as systemic oppression by a cruel and domineering Other, where suddenly-perceived ethnic difference came loaded with moral hierarchies. The outcome, it is fair to say, was very much mixed for all involved. There is a very real risk that in trying to solve one social evil, campaigning American journalists are blithely summoning up a far more dangerous one.

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
2 years ago

A very pertinent article. I am following all the podcasts etc from the US and it has become obvious that their media class is nothing less than a bunch of unhinged, lying and immoral lunatics, at least on the woke left side of things. They are, as you say, deliberately fanning division and hate. In their own way they are no better than ISIS, not least because the consequences may well be similar.

There was a time when I looked up to and respected journalists and the media. But in the US – and to a large extent here – they have become the opposite of everything they are supposed to be.

Liscarkat
Liscarkat
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

“The woke left side of things” comprises almost all of the print and television news media that are the sole sources of information for almost all Americans. The more rational, more informed population that reads sources like Unherd is, unfortunately, a small minority.

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

While I agree about the US mass media, the description of unhinged, lying and immoral lunatics applies equally well to much of the right as it does to the left. Have you ever seen Fox?

Clive Mitchell
Clive Mitchell
2 years ago

Deleted

Morry Rotenberg
Morry Rotenberg
2 years ago

The media in the USA has been for at least a generation the mouthpiece of the Left and are wholly dedicated to the promotion of the Democrat Party. The entire race war that is going on now is an attempt by the democrats and their agitprop promoting press to continue to garner at least 95% of the black vote. If they don’t get 90% of the black vote, the evil Orange Man cannot be defeated.
It should be emphasized that not a singe democrat leader has denounced the rioting, looting, and arson perpetrated by the BLM and Antifa Marxists.

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
2 years ago

Given blacks comprise c14% of the US population, aiming to get all of them to vote Democrat, but doing so in a way that antagonises the rest, including the 60% of whites, seems a remarkably short-sighted approach, and not likely to succeed.

Karen Newman
Karen Newman
2 years ago

The Democrat Party/media are also hoping that the chaos will turn not just blacks, but previous Trump voters against him in the upcoming election. That is what all of the last four years’ insanity has been about.

Dave Smith
Dave Smith
2 years ago

If I care to think about it I suppose i have two mixed race grandchildren but I never do think about it. Why should I ? . The current push by the media to fan racial division in England is something that media will deny . But to me it looks as if we are putting back race relations a generation at least if not more. This country is nothing like the USA. I spent much time in the South years ago and soon understood just what place race played there. To an Englishman it seemed bizarre and pointless.
One thing I soon understood was that black and white were very much Americans and that they were different in attitudes both black and white to Europeans but alike to each other. .
What is going on here is deplorable and the media carries much of the responsibility. Pulling down statues! Give me a break. Nobody much cared about them when they were there . What is being risked is the inevitable reaction. That would be a disaster .

Chris Mochan
Chris Mochan
2 years ago

I find it laughably naive to think, as much of the commentariat seem to, that this desire to focus relentlessly on race and racial conflict will result in less racism. They’re attempting to fight racism by creating a notion of race guilt and history tells us this never ever ends well.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
2 years ago

It’s all driven by middle class white guilt. If it doesn’t stop soon it will end very badly.

Derek M
Derek M
2 years ago

Basically what these people seem to be saying is “black good, white bad”. A bit like a Cambridge academic gets promoted after saying white lives don’t matter and a Burnley factory worker gets the sack after saying white lives matter. It’s a funny old world

David George
David George
2 years ago

“today’s left-modernist offense archaeologists outdo each other in trying to reframe the world as racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, and so on. Turning the principle of charity on its head, they insist on the most suspicious interpretation of a person’s motives when the subject matter is associated with their canonical totems of race, gender, sexuality…….The result is an atmosphere where inter-personal trust is as low as humanly possible while discursive power flows to the accuser. The new cultural revolutionaries have constructed our emotional and conceptual reality”
Excerpt from a brilliant and timely essay. https://quillette.com/2020/

David Jones
David Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  David George

“Turning the principle of charity on its head, they insist on the most suspicious interpretation of a person’s motives”
Both sides do this. Indeed this quote does too. I think it’s driven by social media: so easy to find the worst possible examples of your opponents and claim they are typical.

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
2 years ago

Some people are too clever for their own good. They are making up distinctions that make no sense to ordinary people and are blatantly one-sided. To use another cliche, it’s almost beyond parody.

Pete Kreff
Pete Kreff
2 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

Some people are too clever for their own good.

A very charitable take on the matter. I would be tempted to call them deluded, or maybe just thick.

Esmon Dinucci
Esmon Dinucci
2 years ago
Reply to  Pete Kreff

Or maybe they are just have malign intentions – and understand exactly what they are doing.

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
2 years ago

Who is pulling the strings of these puppets? Is it China? Apparently China has been running cyber-warfare through hundreds of thousands of accounts on Twitter along with Russia and Turkey. The world is stuffed with the barely educated – even if they have university degrees – and many are very easy prey for those intent on manipulating with fake news and fake historical accounts in order to bring about the chaos that would serve there own nefarious ends.

Eugene Norman
Eugene Norman
2 years ago
Reply to  Glyn Reed

Can we stop blaming Russia and China for the effluent flowing from the fever swamps of the American university system.

Peter KE
Peter KE
2 years ago

Another load of drivel, the issue is driven by marxist anarchist of blm etc and idiotic journalism trying to make money by selling copy.

Liscarkat
Liscarkat
2 years ago

In the U.S. where statements about, for example, Italians or Poles are sometimes condemned as “racist”, it’s no wonder there’s confusion about race and ethnicity.

angersbeagle
angersbeagle
2 years ago

In the USA the language of divisiveness has been around for a while now, when describing a person the media regularly use terms such as African American, Italian American etc …..
Any surprise that this profiling has a sting in its tail ?

David Jones
David Jones
2 years ago

“In turning black Americans into a new Black ethnic group”
Surely, Black people were already defined as a distinct ethnic group in pre-Civil Rights US? The argument is over to what extent this has disappeared, no?

Irv Friesen
Irv Friesen
2 years ago

Feeling threatened are we? Can anybody commenting here think of any reasons why Blacks might be reluctant to trust whites?? No?