Is CGP Grey not a Bush racist?

Everyone knows the Trump racist. The loud mouthed one who clearly hates on certain groups of people. Do you know the Bush racist? Very nice, smiling folk, who treats everyone equally. Obviously not a racist. Until it comes to policy. Affirmative Action? Reparations? Programs to empower people of color? Nah man, everyone is equal so why give people of color special treatment? Color blind racism – that’s Bush racism.

While I enjoyed CGP Grey’s video and the Hello Internet podcast and found it amazing that someone from the U.S. was a proponent of a proportional representation electoral system, I found the occasional encounters with race uncomfortable. The first was when Grey and Brady mentioned Serial. Grey said, “it’s a show about a high school student who was murdered”. Now I understand you may not try to promote competing products too much, but Serial’s most prominent feature is not that a high school student was killed. That’s pretty dull by U.S. standards. Serial is a relevant social commentary because it happens in black majority city in uneasy arrangement with incoming immigrants, including Arab Americans and a minority Asian population. The school was almost entirely black, and the Pakistani student and the Korean student were dating. The Korean student was killed, and the jury blamed the ex-boyfriend. Some even cited muslim traditions, even though the student’s religious practice was near nil.

All that was summed up as “a student murder”.

Anyway. Then came Guns, Germs and Steel. I majored in Anthropology in college, and never came across GGS in the curriculum but knew it was a famous book. I actually have it, and I was still in the process of reading it when the episode came up.

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As Grey argues, there’s a lot of people arguing over details. But the fundamental problem is that there’s tons of people in the world who think Europeans amassed their wealth because they lived in a cold region and had to rely on hard work, and people of color did not have this because they lived in warm environments were food was plentiful. It’s a pretty stupid argument, but for most people who don’t care about the issue this is good enough and that’s why they are sticking with it. The world is like 40% people who don’t care, 15% people who believe in shit like this and think people of color are inferior, 40% people who don’t really care but have heard of these theories and generally think them to be true, and 5% people who are beyond this environmental determinism. Just because you are surrounded by people who are beyond environmental determinism, it does not mean that the majority of the world is still dominated by this incorrect theory.

The problem with GGS is that it gave fresh, relatively easy to read ammunition to environmental determinism. People who talked about the weather to justify the inferiority of blacks and asians now can sharpen the theory and cite way more variables. It doesn’t matter what the author’s intentions was. This is why it is an otherwise boring anthro book became a bestseller.

Why do people not focus on this argument and instead go for pointing out the details? Because a lot of people in the U.S. learn to systematically criticize racism in academia. In college, pointing out racism outright is an ideological argument – it’s considered a low effort argument. To make a proper argument, explain the details – because those can be debated in a meaningful way that builds up knowledge. Just arguing over racism without the facts is generally not welcome in academia.

So the people did this proxy battle over racism through facts, and Grey is overwhelmed. But the racism argument was clear enough, that Brady and Grey for the first time in over 50 episodes finally uttered the word “race” in their podcast. For the first time!

Then Brady quickly diluted this explosive word by poking fun at Australian nationalistic pride. Seriously? You spend 2 podcast hours to finally bring up race, then laugh it over a cricket game?

I do enjoy Grey’s functionalist approach to processes and the dynamic duo that Brady and Grey make up, but his encounter with GGS are bringing up aspects of their world view that I wish I hadn’t known about. Now that I do, every time they get close to the subject I just wish I was able to feed into the discussion, but I am frustrated that 99.9% of the podcast’s fan base completely agree with them on this.

So there.

10 replies on “Is CGP Grey not a Bush racist?”


I found myself becoming more and more uncomfortable with what I perceived as an undercurrent of mild racism in CGPGrey’s podcasts and videos and this really brings the issue to the fore. Particularly how he often refers to Europe and North America as “the civilized world”.

In a fit of rage I’ve blocked Reddit from my browser, so I couldn’t see what the response was to you raising this issue to his fanbase but I assume you probably didn’t get anyone to consider your point of view at all.

I can’t deal with this subtle racism shit from Grey and his ilk anymore. Unsubbed to his podcasts and his YT channel. Like anyone will notice or care.

Well, the impression I’ve always gotten is that whenever something was said that was clearly inappropriate, such as calling the west the civilized world, Grey was putting double quotes on it, tongue-in-cheek. Ofc not everyone in the fan base gets it, and the guy doesn’t want to jeopardize his internet success any further.

Thanks for commenting. For those of us too lazy to read, I found another YouTuber that really touches on the areas of politics that I come across every day, in Shaun – highly recommended.

I just don’t see the link between environmental determinism and racism. To me this is stupidest part of the whole debate. I can accept that historians don’t like the theory due to a lack of evidence, and other reasons I don’t understand. If everything a group of people achieves is based on their environment, surely that means that race is irrelevant?

This, if anything, environmental determinism is clearly an anti-racist statement: “no, black people aren’t inferior, it’s just that humans evolved adapted to the african environment, meaning the people who stayed there had very little need to change their way of doing things. Not becoming industrialized in the XIX centure isn’t their fault”.

And why is it so bad that they don’t talk about race in their podcast? OP already explains why academics don’t mention racism in debate. And it’s very clear that Grey and Brady most of the time try not to cause flame wars in the reddit; they want the people to talk about the actual themes of the podcast, not to get derailed into empty internet arguments that last weeks and get nowhere and only serve to get people on every side angry. Remember, Grey is also the author of “this video will make you angry”, he probably understands very well that when talking about issues like brexit, for example, racism is a very small detail that doesn’t really explain the position of most people who voted for it, and even many people that may support brexit for racist reasons don’t actually realize it and will only get offended and reject anything else you say if you tell them they are. Like when he talked about Humans Need Not Apply and how people often call him communist for suggesting that unemployable people still deserve basic services and government welfare.

Racism is a whole topic that Grey obviously doesn’t want to get into, it’s too complicated and both Grey and Brady avoid mentioning that as there is no need for it. They wanted to discuss Serial as a crime podcasts and not as a racial issue and that’s fine.

As for Guns Germs and Steel, I think his discussion revealed that he is not a racist since he relies on geography to make his arguments and repeatedly makes the point that Europe made it because of it location and not because of the people. Guns germs and steel didn’t make the argument Europeans had to work hard, it made the argument that Eurasia had the best conditions to take over the world.

Just wanted to say that Grey is not racist.

It might be worth it for to read GGS, because the book never propagates the argument “Europeans lived in colder regions so they had to work harder”. Environmental Determinism in GGS hinges on the type of livestock, horticulture, and textiles each society had access to. Geography also shapes human migration, spreading of disease, and the shape of large biomes, all important factors affecting large societies. This is largely why Eurasian civilizations had larger global influence in the last 2000 years. This book is a thoroughly anti-racist book because it debunks notions that technological advancements came from “superior intellect” or genetic superiority, but rather from environmental differences.

How is environmental determinism possibly racist? When the argument “Why did Europeans take over the world?” Comes up, the better answer opposed to “They were smarter/stronger/superior.” is “Their geographic location caused them to have an easier time developing food, and therefore society, and therefore civilization”. Side note – of course they wouldn’t have brought up race in the serial podcast review. They point of that section was to critique the justice system and how it operates, not how minorities are treated under it. Little known fact, racism is a spicy topic on the internet, and they absolutely did not want to open that can of worms on a podcast that is listened to by hundreds of thousands.

“easier time developing… Society…. civilization….” If this isn’t a racist viewpoint I don’t know what is. It’s exactly what this article is talking about: unthinking Reddit racism that takes things like “the West has a far more developed society and civilization” to simply be true. Furthermore, when touching on topics that are directly related to systemic racism to make and effort to not speak about racism is itself a racist dialogue. Or at least one which makes life a hell of a lot easier for racists.

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