The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, February 03, 2005

and More: Farnham's Freehold

" But if you think that everybody who ignored Heinlein's book was anti-black, don't be too sure..."
You're missing my point.  My point is that
1) the average member of group "X" does not fully extend humanity to group "Y". There is just a slight disconnect.  Human beings tend to cluster what they see as "good" characteristics in their own group.
2) Further, about half of them tend to believe in Nature over Nurture, which means that about 50% of people tend to believe that whatever the current status of a person is reflects that person's basic nature.  They also generalize this to groups.
3) they tend to be slow to believe that those they love or respect could have negative characteristics.  Note Michael Jackson--how long did it take the world to accept that he might be more than just "strange"?  Because he could sing and dance and made millions happy?  Why is it so hard to beleive that Walk Disney might have had some attitudes common to his class at the time of his youth?  Why so hard to believe that Heinlein, a southern gentleman, might have had a "patriarchal" attitude toward blacks, and share John Campbell's basic belief system?
4) We tend to internalize the attitudes of our culture, especially to the degree that those attitudes benifit us.  For goodness sakes, until "Guns, Germs, and Steel" I couldn't have told you logically why I thought African civilizations hadn't developed along the same technological track as European.  The Encyclopedia Brittanica used to claim blacks were less intelligent than whites!  This attitude was EVERYWHERE, and only began to break down in the '70's. 
5)We tend to think we are more enlightened than we really are. We all hold prejudices about race, gender, sexual orientation, the relationship of animals to humans,  the validity of our religion...I've never met a human being without such filters, have you?  It isn't about being "anti-white."  It is about being HUMAN, and the fact that that implies both postive and negative things. 
"One thing that I think may not be obvious from the amazing white-centrism of sci-fi and fantasy: at least sometimes, the quest for heroes is from a desire to overcome what one sees as one's own (white) tendency towards either mediocrity or outright evil. Every single time I've re-watched the Lord of the Rings movies, I do *not* think, "Wow! I'm white, so I'm the equal of Aragorn!" No, what I think is, "Wow! I wish to almighty God I was even partly as noble as the characters in this movie, but I'm not.""
Again, missing the point: YOU DON'T HAVE TO THINK IT.  This stuff goes on at the unconscious level.  Most of our deep programming does.  You simply absorb it with the morning oatmeal: you don't think "wow! this oatmeal is breaking down into simple carbohydrates that fuel my body!"  Whether you understand or not, the effect is there.  A few more principles:
1) In general, the more similar a role model is to you, the more swiftly skills and attitudes will transmit.  For this reason (at least partially), women learn science better from female science teachers.
2) People have more of a tendency to wonder if the deck is stacked if they are losing.
3) People "norm" their own circumstances.  For instance, I know a multi-millionare who considers himself "upper middle class". He's worth over twenty million dollars.  How could he think this?  Because most of the folks he grew up with were as wealthy, or wealthier.  I've never met a middle-class, heterosexual white Christian lean-bodied male who had any intuitive grasp at all of what I was saying.  But...if the person  was poor, or gay, or Jewish, or female, they grasped it better.  If they were more than one of these things, their grasp was better still. 
In my opinion, being black has about the same cultural disadvantage as being, say, fifty pounds overweight...if it was physically impossible to lose the weight.  It's not the same as being, say, Jewish or German IN THE SENSE that
1) those are both sub-sets of the group called "Caucasian" and are therefore subject to the rules of intra-tribal rather than inter-tribal warfare.
2) If the pressure gets too much, you can change your name, maybe get your nose bobbed, and disappear into the majority culture, as MILLIONS have.  Black people who could "pass" often did so.  If I could have, I would have, I promise you.
And Erich--it is NOT that "some whites are stupid about this issue."  it is that human beings do not have infinite consciousness, and we are controlled by our fear and loneliness. As such we make choices to brighten our own world, and some of those choices darken the worlds of our neighbors.   THIS is why we must be eternally vigilant--not because some sub-set of humanity is awful, or because human beings are awful, but because we are on a long, long journey toward the next step in our cultural evolution...and consciousness smooths the way.


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