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.
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.