Justice and tolerance

Here's another text that I wrote for Orkut. I wrote it as the moderator of the community (discussion group) International Relations. The discussions there are very suitable for case studies / analyses of processes of intercultural contact. In reply to my text, when I posted it there, somebody said: "Esther: I believe emapthy is a great attribute to have and you have it." That's a great compliment :-). And I think that empathy is very important for intercultural contact.

So here's the text (I changed the names of Orkuters to make it more anonymously).


What does it mean, to be biased?

Definition of Cambridge Dictionaries Online:
“A tendency to support or oppose a particular person or thing in an unfair way by allowing personal opinions to influence your judgment.”

Am I biased as a moderator? I do have a tendency to support or oppose particular things / views, but is it in an unfair way and do I allow personal opinions to influence my judgment?
Some people support certain views and others support other views. People whose personal views are completely neutral don’t exist, (political) positions are never completely in the middle but always in a more or less radical way left-wing or right-wing or something that cannot be located on that scale but then on some other scale. If a person has an opinion about a political issue it means the person is not neutral.

And there is nothing wrong with that of course, we are all entitled to have our own opinions. But let me make clear that I try to behave totally neutral and unbiased as a moderator. If I am “pro-Islam” or something it doesn’t mean that I will favour Muslims in IR and treat them different from non-Muslims. I try my best to be completely neutral and treat everybody the same way, independent of their background. (I can make mistakes in that sometimes because I am only human but the intention is unbiasedness.)

It is very important to make a distinction between my personal views and my moderation policies, which I try to apply while putting aside my personal views.

Blind justice...
And now let’s talk about my personal views (forget for a while about moderation policies):

My position is that I find it important to strive for what I consider to be justice. Eveline formulated it as that I would “support those who are weak and downtrodden and need help.” That’s not the way I would formulate it. I want to change situations which I regard as unjust, situations in which people are treated unequally, treated with no respect, socially excluded, based on their background (based on irrelevant factors for that treatment), situations in which people are being oppressed or discriminated. This doesn’t mean that people who are treated like that are weak, they can be very strong and resist hard. As I said before there’s a South-African saying that you have to ask the sheep who is the wolf. That some people have the positions of sheep in the world and others the positions of wolves, that doesn’t mean that the sheep are weak and the wolves are strong. It means that the wolves have ended up in the position of oppressors and the sheep in the position of being oppressed. This is not due to their weakness but due to something like bad luck. If black people are statistically more often poor in the world than white people, this doesn’t mean that black people are weaker than white people, it means that if you are born with a black skin you have a bigger chance of being poor, so you had bad luck in that respect. And I will try my best to help poor people, not because they are weak but because I find it unfair that they have to live in such difficult circumstances while others have more money than they can spend.

When I look at the confrontations which are taking place in International Relations, the division between West vs East, North vs South, secularism vs Islam, white vs black, in my struggle for justice I locate the sheep position usually at the other side of where I am located myself, geographically. Maybe secularism vs Islam is a strange distinction in this. But I think that West vs East in practice often refers to that. It would be nice if it would be normal people (Muslims and non-Muslims in East and West) vs terrorists, but in practice it is often not like that. Of course there are also divisions internally in the East and in the West, but what I mentioned are in my view the big lines in this globalised world.

What I personally find one of the most difficult things, and which is something of which I can see that others are having difficulties with it as well, is to be tolerant towards people who have ideas which are in my view very harmful towards what I consider as justice. Simon and Brian are two persons in the International Relations community towards whom that counts most strongly for me. And the funny thing is that they think exactly the same about me but the other way around. As persons I find them friendly / sympathetic and I have had enough discussions with them to understand more or less their way of reasoning / to see the logic in it. But still I think that their way of thinking is very harmful for the people who have the position of sheep in the world.

I would like to describe an example. In Discourse Analysis and Racism, Simon wrote:

“Here's another personal story from Thomas Sowell who recently wrote about his student days. He said the only thing that saved him from failure was a white (!) student who told him "You're really an abysmal slacker! Why do you constantly screw around instead of studying? If you keep going like a loser, you'll never make it". According to Sowell, up to that point, he thought he was working really hard. But then he started observing the white students and found that his room mate was correct and he started working for real. He passed with honours.”

For your information: Sowell is black. There are many students in the world. Some are white and some are black. Some students study seriously, some don’t. It is not the case that all white students study seriously and all black students don’t. Statistically there are relatively more white people with university degrees than black people. This is due to the economical inequality in the world. Black people are more often born in a position where they have less chances to obtain a university degree.

The white student called the black student an abysmal slacker and looser because he was black, the white student would not have said it like that if the other student was white as well. This is something I find very harmful for that black student. When people say often enough to him that he is a black looser, he will start to believe that himself and there’s a big chance that he will start to act like a looser / criminal. I see this happening around me very often. So I claim that the effect of the “recommendation” from the white student is usually opposite to what Simon (and Sowell!) claimed. If the white student would have said it in a neutral way, in the same way as he would say it to a white person, then it would be fine, something like: “What are you doing Thomas, if you go on like this you won’t get your degree and then it will be much more difficult to find a good job afterwards, is that what you really want?”

Sometimes I think to myself, do I want to be friends with someone who has that kind of ideas towards people with a different colour of skin? How would I feel if I would be black myself? That is the most difficult form of tolerance I think, that I decide: “I accept that Simon has this kind of views which are totally opposite to what I consider as justice. I accept that he is like that and we remain friends.” I can see that many fights start in IR because people are not willing to accept that, and that is very understandable. That’s the reason why this kind of intercultural discussion groups have a big chance of exploding.

Hi, I came here to CDA community to delete some undesirable msgs and came caros your blog. You have really been active in writing and I satute this commitment of yours. Last time we talked I asked you about suitable PHD in CDA. I guess you told me you were going to start one in cultural studies in msterdam. How is that going? ask for me I managed to take up a phD in Lancaster university and have been writing a blog on what i read and learn in CDA. I am also now a research assistant in a project on trends of racisit discourse against refugees and immigrants in british press. Have a look at my weblog if you have time. good luck and god bless you.

Hi Majid,

As an external promovenda (volunteer) I am doing my PhD at the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis. At this moment it is going a bit slowly because I just started my own business as a freelance fundraiser and project manager for international youth projects, so currently I am very busy with that. I would like to talk with you more, later. And your weblog looks very interesting.
Thanks. Ok drop me a line when you are less busy. Take care
The white student called the black student an abysmal slacker and looser because he was black, the white student would not have said it like that if the other student was white as well.

Esther, I think you wildly missed the point. The race of the student isn't the issue here. Nor is the race of Sowell, the issue was poor study habits. The student who warned him that he was on the path to failure was merely concerned.

I really, really think that you know very, very little about race or race relations in the USA.

Perhaps if you came here and lived in a place with a high concentration of blacks, like my home town was when I was growing up, you would understand that your assumptions about all whites being racists when addressing any problem with an individual who happens to be black...

well, Esther, I just wanted to say that I am once again unsurprisedly disappointed.
Sometimes I think to myself, do I want to be friends with someone who has that kind of ideas towards people with a different colour of skin?

Aaaargh! You missed Sowell's point so badly!

You are so blinded with your own racism!
Hi Brent,

If this is not racism, please tell me then:
- Why did the student call Sowell an abmysal slacker and loser? Do you really think he would use the same words for a white student?
- "According to Sowell, up to that point, he thought he was working really hard. But then he started observing the white students and found that his room mate was correct and he started working for real."

You say that race is not the issue here. But Sowell says he observed white students, he implies that he thinks skin colour is important for how hard the students work. Between the lines he is saying that as a black person he didn't work hard enough and he took the white students as an example to "improve" his own behaviour. That's clearly racism. It's possible that by coincidence the white students in his environment worked harder than him but that has nothing to do with race / skin colour.

And now you say that my views contain racism, how do you come to that conclusion? On the contrary I try to fight racism all the time.

It's possible that I know little about race or race relations in the US. But that's an ad hominem from your side. And I know a lot about racism in the Netherlands. Moreover I think that Sowells example is very clear.

I don't assume that all white people are racists, not at all.

I know places in the Western world with "a high concentration of blacks" (sounds weird like that). Just this month I replaced the manager of Omar Ka (www.omarka.com) during her vacation. His house is like "Little Senegal" (http://www.caratulasdecine.com/html/Little_senegal.htm) :-)

Brent, I didn't miss the point, I understand very well what Sowell said and what "Simon" (Stefan) said, but I fundamentally disagree, that's something else.

In msn I asked a black friend (from Orkut) what he thought about what I wrote. He said:

"I read the text. I like this moderate vision, without preconceptions that you have, Esther. But the economic difference between whites and blacks, I perceive in a deeper way, more complicated.
I have seen that the Brazilian blacks, since the end of the slavery, didn't get anything except freedom. The blacks did not only need freedom but also schools, land and a job. Good education is the base for development of any nation.
I think that the postion of blacks is similar in other parts of the world.

Europe gave independence to the African countries, but left these countries in a situation of neverending misery, with a lack of education and no means for development.
And still we have to fight against racism, which stops our social and economic development in the whole world.

I live day and night wanting to find a solution against racism, to stop my pain as a black who is being discriminated. I had much depression, and I still have, I fight against this during all my life. Racism / preconceptions form a terrible wound in humanity as a whole."
Your picture which was captioned "blind justice" was also equally uneducated.

I will help you to find what was wrong with that cartoon...

In the USA, there are over 3500 people on death row, about 42.5 percent are black, 8.4 percent are Hispanic, and 46.5 percent are white.

From this initial view, considering that Blacks are only 14% of the population while whites are 65%, it may look biased to the uneducated person who jumps to cunclusions (like the cartoon artist).

However, considering that blacks commit 54% of all murders committed in the United States, while making up only 46.5% of people awaiting a death penalty, one can conclude that blacks get the death penalty less frequently (1/3 less!) than whites get it for the same crime; taking a life.

By your logic (assuming that you agree with the ignorant cartoon you posted) one should say that the death penalty is sexist in nature, because fully 98.5% of all inmates awaiting a death sentence are male. Your 'logic' doesn't take into account the fact of who commits the crimes more frequently.

If you look on a crime by crime basis, you will see that Whites are 1/3 more likely to recieve the death penalty for the crime of murder than are blacks.
the anonymous above should have been me, Brent from Orkut
Hi Brent,

The cartoon is just a joke. But I think it could be true that justice in the US is not always completely colourblind...

It's good to have the discussion we are having in Orkut right now.

The whole thing of what I was trying to say in my original post, was the dilemma that I find you and Stefan sympathetic as persons but that I think that your views are complety contrary to the road towards justice which I am following. I am trying to accept - nonetheless - that you think like that.

I hope that you understand what I mean by that and that you understand that it's excatly the same the other way around: my views are totally opposed to the road that you are following towards justice.

I hope that that will be an understanding that we can come to: that the other person is not blind but just looks in a totally different way, which the first person considers to be very wrong and dangerous.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?