Monday, June 13, 2016

The least racist person

How is it that when somebody says, "I am the least racist person that you've ever encountered," you know that person is a racist?

There's a fairly straightforward but interesting psychological answer, which I'll get to eventually, but first I want to get together a clear picture of the whole thing about the boxing promoter Don King, and the political endorsement, since Trump issued that Tweet on Friday morning:

The 84-year-old King promptly denied it, in an interview in Louisville with the Daily News Friday afternoon:
“No,” King told the Daily News at the funeral for Muhammad Ali. “I’m endorsing the people. I’m not a Republican or a Democrat, I’m a Republicrat, and I go with the will of the people. The only reason Trump exists is because of the will of the people.”
But on Saturday afternoon he explained to USA Today that the News had misinterpreted him, and that he had in fact endorsed Trump, leading Sam Levine at the Huffington Post to suspect some skullduggery on the order of
Donald Trump Claimed Don King Endorsement Way Before It Happened
Levine is actually completely wrong about that, though not wrong to smell something very funky, as we'll see.

Around the same time as Trump sent the Tweet on Friday morning he was in Trump Tower being interviewed by Marc Fisher of the Washington Post, and he showed Fisher the back page of a print copy (it's really true, as Jordan was telling us in comments the other day, that he doesn't know how to use a computer, and if he needs to read something it has to be messengered to him in hard copy) of the June 10 issue of King's Cleveland weekly, Call & Post, in which King announced his endorsement not only of the Trump for the presidency but of Senator Bernie Sanders for vice president:

So King had indeed endorsed Trump when Trump said he had. Both men were telling the truth about the particular point, though King had been telling it in a particularly weaselly way on Friday afternoon (with the disingenuous explanation that he wasn't endorsing Trump qua Trump but as "the people's choice", over which he had no control). He clearly wanted to give listeners the option of thinking he hadn't endorsed Trump at the same time as he was doing it.

The moral of the story being, as I.F. Stone could have told Sam Levine, if you want to know the truth about something, you're better off staying home and reading the story in several different versions than telephoning the participants.

Trump also told Fisher,
I am not a racist, in fact, I am the least racist person that you’ve ever encountered. I’ll give you an example. It’s funny, I just got this, it was just sent to me by Don King. Now, Don knows more about race than anybody. He owns this newspaper, you know — Don’s made a lot of money. He just sent this to me, look at this.... He just delivered it to my office. But isn’t that funny? This is Don King. Now, Don King knows racism probably better than anybody. He’s not endorsing a racist, okay? Do you want to use it? You can have the story, it just came out. I just got it 10 minutes ago, I don’t know. Whatever.
As evidence that he is, as he frequently asserts, "the least racist person there is" (in May 2011, proved by the fact that an African American won on The Apprentice once, in 2005), or "probably the least racist person on earth" (November 2015 on the O'Reilly show, after tweeting some astonishingly bogus statistics suggesting that 87% of white murder victims are murdered by black people), or "the least racist person you [Don Lemon] have ever met" (December 2015), or "the least racist person you've ever looked at" (at the sadly underattended rally Friday night in Richmond, VA).

King's endorsements of Trump and Sanders (who is not at the moment a candidate for vice president, but let that pass) do not in fact prove that Trump is not a racist, needless to say. They prove only that King's endorsements are even more eccentric than you might have expected (he has previously endorsed both George W. Bush and the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez in 2004, Republican Michael Steele as lieutenant governor of Maryland in 2006, Barack Obama in 2008, and Missouri Democratic senator Claire McCaskill in 2012).

King is also a horrible person, as BooMan reminds us, with some very Trumpian personality attributes well summarized by one of his victims in the boxing profession, Mike Tyson:
"He's a wretched, slimy, reptilian motherfucker. This is supposed to be my 'black brother', right? He's just a bad man, a real bad man. He would kill his own mother for a dollar. He's ruthless, he's deplorable, he's greedy ... and he doesn't know how to love anybody."
So that we're left wondering why exactly we should be listening to any of Don King's opinions on any subject. Why is that, Mr. Trump?

Duh. Trump thinks King is an expert on the question of whether Trump is a racist or not for exactly the same reason he thinks Judge Curiel is unqualified to hear the Trump University class action suit; because of race.

Curiel's personal qualifications are of no importance to Trump in this matter. What counts is the fact that he's a "Mexican" (i.e., child of two first-generation Americans originally from Mexico)—"which is fine," as he always hastens to add, and
"He's a member of a society, where you know, very pro-Mexico and that's fine, it's all fine,"
by which he seems to mean the staid and respectable San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association, to which Judge Curiel belongs, or the great and dynamic civil rights organization National Council of La Raza, to which he doesn't, or to assume that they are both the same thing, which they aren't. In any event, it's the judge's racial-social identity that makes him incapable of hearing the would-be wall-builder's case fairly, in the Trumpian view. It's "fine" except insofar as it relates to Trump, where it's beyond the pale.

In the same way, King's particular expertise on racism isn't explained in any way—has he studied it? has he experienced it in some unusually painful way? why should he understand it "better than anybody"? (We know he's used racist invective himself, against Mexican-American boxer Chris Arreola, and used allegations of racism against others as a way of deflecting attention from his mob connections.)

What King has that makes him an authority for Trump is just his blackness, like "my African American" in the Redding Airport rally. And none of the millions of black folks that think Trump is a racist are in attendance, so that's all he feels he needs. To Trump, King's understanding racism "better than anybody" is a racial characteristic. "Anybody" meaning "us white people".

Tyson (who is also black and has a very remarkably unsavory history himself of course, from which he has made many no doubt sincere though not clearly successful attempts to rehabilitate himself since around 2005has endorsed Trump too, alas, way back in October, albeit with reservations on the subject of the candidate's language on Mexicans:
"It was really crude, and he needs somebody to work with him on how to deliver his messages and stuff ... but as far as what he did, he's an average guy like everybody else. He needs time to grow too. I don't think he thinks of Latinos in that way."
But Trump didn't mention race in bragging about this:

"Mike Tyson endorsed me," Trump told the crowd. "I love it. He sent out a tweet. Mike. Iron Mike. You know, all the tough guys endorse me. I like that, OK?
"But Mike said, 'I love Trump. I endorse Trump.' And that's the end. I'm sure he doesn't know about your economic situation in Indiana. But when I get endorsed by the tough ones, I like it, because you know what? We need toughness now. We need toughness."
Trump was a supporter of Tyson's after [the latter's rape] conviction, saying that "to a large extent" he was "railroaded." Trump had a financial interest in the case because Tyson's fights made money for his hotels.
I'm going to guess that after the storm over Judge Curiel blew up on the weekend of June 4, Trump began to worry that he'd upset some people he didn't want to upset, as a parade of prominent Republicans came out to denounce him; and between his Monday interview on Fox with Bill O'Reilly to display a more "measured" tone on the judge and the Friday interview with Fisher for Wapo explicitly intended "to dispel the perception that his comments about a Mexican American federal judge, about Mexicans generally, and about Muslims indicated racist attitudes", he gave King an urgent call.

He would have preferred a testimonial from a Mexican or a Muslim, no doubt, but he hasn't got "my Mexican", and Tyson's his only Muslim, so he was stuck with somebody like King, who presumably owes him plenty of favors, and had already offered his "humanistic endorsement" back in December:
“Hey, that’s my man. That’s who he is,” said Don King, the boxing promoter, discussing what he called Mr. Trump’s “outlandish” remarks. “To me, Donald is Donald. That’s not a presidential endorsement, but it is a humanistic endorsement.”
King really didn't want to do it, but he really didn't want to say no. So he put his staff at the Call & Post to work designing that peculiar Uncle Sam poster, with Liberty standing for Donald and Justice for Bernie, hedged around so that you can't actually tell whether it's an endorsement or not, let alone from King personally—it obviously looks more like an ad than an editorial—and couriered it to Trump Tower in New York just in time for Marc Fisher's Wapo visit on Friday morning.

Orchestrated so that Trump could supply the reporter with unarguable proof of his non-racism, right on the spot, to take out to the public. "You wanna take that back with you?" Trump invited Fisher, coaxing. "He just delivered it to my office. You know, this could be a story, it just came out. But isn’t that funny?... You can have the story, it just came out!"

Yes, Donald, isn't that funny. I think so too. In fact, I think it's hilarious. A-and so does Marc Fisher, if I'm not mistaken, who must have had some reason for providing such a thorough transcript of your remarks. It's too bad so few of them want to laugh at you in public the way they laugh at you around the office.

On the serious question I wanted to address in the first place, briefly, it starts with that radio show I listen to (as long as I can stay awake, which is not the show's fault) on Sunday mornings, which featured the social psychologist Mahzarin Banaji yesterday, and was extremely worth hearing. (I mean you should listen to it, really.) Banaji's research concerns what we used to call "unconscious bias", for which the term of art is now "implicit bias", the tendency that seems to be baked into the developing human brain to discriminate, in assessing other people, on the basis of identity factors like gender or skin color, at a level below our threshold of awareness; first on the basis of preferring what's more like ourselves, and then on the basis of what's culturally presented as the norm—like the people we see in TV advertisements.

We all have heard a little bit about this work, I imagine, but I'd never heard it presented with so much depth and warmth as Banaji gave it, and it was very stimulating. And since everything is about Trump these days, it made me think about that "I am not a racist" line.

Everybody is, in a very precise sense, a racist and a sexist. It's not how we think, it's how we process when we're not particularly thinking, or beneath the thinking, invisible. It's not a bad thing, in that precise sense, it's just who we are and how we evolved as a species, but it's very inappropriate for the communities into which we've evolved over the past hundred thousand years, and it's a problem to be overcome.

People need to work to overcome their implicit bias. Kids need to spend time in proximity with kids who are different so that they can learn how superficial the differences are, adults need to ask themselves all the time, "Am I doing this? Am I favoring person A over person B for reasons I'd be ashamed of if I were aware of them?" Trying to teach ourselves to use inclusive language, what the wingers call "political correctness", is important too.

Somebody who's doing the necessary work of not being a racist never says, "I am not a racist," because they know how much work it is. This has always been true since people started talking about it (I think the conversation goes back to the 1970s, when Eta Schneiderman was studying biases of children in Welland, Ontario toward French-speaking vs. English-speaking puppets), and it's truer than ever now that so much of the research is in. It's not our fault! But just as it's not natural to delay eating that marshmallow, or to say "please" and "thank you", it's not natural to control our implicit biases. Rodgers and Hammerstein ("It's got to be carefully taught") were wrong, unfortunately. It's un-teaching it that has to be done with special care.

The corollary is that somebody who does say "I am not a racist" is somebody who hasn't tried at all; obviously not an open KKK racist, but somebody who hasn't started doing the work and doesn't know that work is required. And somebody like the Trump, who compares himself favorably on this score to everybody in the world, is in deep denial. As well as being the fatuous idiot you always thought he was.

That's what I wanted to say.

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