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October 1, 2014 / 7 Tishri, 5775
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Modern Racism

Categorizing all black people as one large group where the acts of one black person in Florida somehow tell us something about a different black person in Seattle is racist.
Trayvon Martin

In the old days, when it was still cool to be a racist, people felt superior to other people because of the color of their skin. A white person was automatically better, smarter, more worthy than a non-white person and the average white person thought this was acceptable. This resulted in slavery, segregation, vigilante justice, and the dehumanization of black people.

Luckily, we have progressed as a society to the point where that kind of thinking is abhorrent and is considered wrong. That’s the good news.

However, we have also spawned a new form of racism. This is a much more subtle racism but equally nefarious.

In the wake of the George Zimmerman trial we have seen strong reactions from some members of the black community decrying the lack of justice for Trayvon Martin. There is an equally strong counter-reaction explaining that it’s okay to suspect black people of crimes because the statistics support suspicion. This latter group are the modern racists.

The statistics show that black people commit a higher proportion of crimes than white people. Leaving aside the difficulties presented by the bias of selective enforcement and selective prosecution, I argue that using these statistics at all is an example of modern racism.A statistic is only meaningful if the data being used is a factor in the conclusion. For example, (and this is completely fictional) if I were to show that the majority of red haired women possessed below average intelligence, that statistic would not be meaningful unless I showed a causation between hair color and inferior intelligence. If I can’t show that, the statistic is meaningless. Even if the statistic is “true” it still doesn’t tell me anything about other red haired women. It just means that red haired people are not a significant group with enough specific traits to be classified as a group with particular characteristics and predictable tendencies.

Categorizing all black people as one large group where the acts of one black person in Florida somehow tell us something about a different black person in Seattle is racist. Even within the same community it can be offensive to group people together because they share a skin tone. If the only thing two people share is skin tone then we cannot make any meaningful inferences from one person’s behavior to the other person’s behavior.

If we make judgments for the entire arbitrarily created group, we are being racists. There is no reason that the act of a black man in Texas should mean more about the potential acts of a black man in Michigan than his acts should inform us about a a white Norwegian woman or an indigenous Korean man. The only reason to connect the imaginary dots between all people of color is because there is a fallacious assumption that all people of color share some attribute that makes what one black person does meaningful in the analysis of what another will do. This is racist.

It’s not racist in the old fashioned lynch mob way. But it is still racist to presume one knows things about one black person simply because another black person or group of black people act a certain way.

I find that this is a very difficult concept for some people. These people clearly think that there actually is a black predisposition toward illegal or dangerous activity.

We must not tolerate that kind of thinking in 2013.

I’m looking at you Pat Buchanan.

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About the Author: Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D. is the rabbi at the famous Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice CA. He blogs at finkorswim.com. Connect with Rabbi Fink on Facebook and Twitter.


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9 Responses to “Modern Racism”

  1. Anthony Kent says:

    Well said, Rabbi.

  2. That's all well and fine, but what out the fact that people are being excused from their crimes because of their skin color? Is that not too a form a racism?

    The statistics also show that a vast majority of the "white" population that are murdered are murdered by other "white" people. And the same can be said of the "black" community – over 90% of all the murders of "blacks" has been done by other "blacks". Those are statistics that you won't use. I have to wonder why?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hey you idiot. Are you so stupid as to think only black people have been slaves? White colored people may have thought they were superior but that is not what led to slavery. Black people in Africa selling black people from Africa is what led to slavery.

  4. The Guardian says:

    Funny, I thought you were going to point out the fact that the new modern racists are the people who are trying to turn the Trayvon Martin case into a case of white racist violence. Hmmmm. I guess you’re part of the problem.

  5. Cody Flecker says:

    Leave it to a liberal Rabbi to talk about Racism. The issue is not about race, but achievement. This is what America has on its mind. Regardless of how people immigrated to the USA, be they slave or freeman at some point they all became equal under God and the law.

    Once the War between the States was over, and some years after Reconstruction, what did the Black man do? Black colleges were set up all over the USA exclusively to teach the Black man a trade. Did he/she take advantage of this opportunity? some did…most didn't. The Blacks were content with exchanging social slavery for civil slavery. They became wards of the State. They are still wards of the State. Thus confirming their second class citizenship.

    Today we see more Blacks being incarcerated, and punished for their idleness. Certainly, people are racists, why shouldn't they be? They look at the promise of redeeming Black People, and what do they find? the Black Leadership filled with hate towards anything that is going to uplift their own people out of the economic morass they find themselves in.

  6. Tabitha Elkins says:

    Good point. Statistics can be used or misused to justify just about anything. For example, I could claim that most crimes are committed by people who are right-handed, have brown eyes, are male, or are over 5'7". Does this mean that every right-handed, brown-eyed man over 5'7" OUGHT to be treated as a criminal?

  7. When you make assumptions about people based on race, etc, then you are a racist. When you, as ML King said, treat people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, you do the right thing. George Zimmerman may have made an assumption, but given Trayvon Martin's action, a reflection of his character, he had no choice other than to defend himself. What you now see in most of black reaction to the verdict is, indeed, racism!!!!

  8. You are right Rabbi, we must not tolerate this kind of thing. That is why I think you should be commenting on the protestors attacking Jews because Zimmermans name sounds Jewish.

    http://brettchester.com/news/iceberg-goldberg-whats-the-difference

  9. Pat Kittle says:

    Rabbi,

    Have you publicly opposed Germans in 2013 still having to pay "reparations" to Israel for events they are absolutely not responsible for?

    No?

    Didn't think so.

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