Friday, October 02, 2009

Discriminating Tastes: What People Who Are Not Normal Might Know That You Don't Know

One of the things that prompting my last post about the restructuring of institutional benefits during a period of budget cutting was not, as some people assumed, that I think cutting faculty compensation is a viable way to save higher education. I don't. Rather, my concern was that the failure to address compensation inequities already in place means that in a period where we might potentially rethink and repair such inequities, many people, in the name of radical opposition to The Man, can only draw the wagons closer around what already exists. More progressive change, they argue, is unrealistic in a crisis, and must be put off to a distant future, when utopia will be possible. This is the pattern of debates over national health care, and it is a belief currently prevalent at private institutions that have done for the select few what the state refuses to do for everyone (hence supporting the following equation: salaried labor = health care = virtue.) Worse, in my view, is that periods of "reform" enshrine prejudices that, in turn, become the standard for what is "normal." This, as I discuss in that post, is one of the lessons of the New Deal.

That the current crisis might be related to structural inequities, and the skewed ethics that support such inequities, is hard for people to focus on (unless they are thinking about Wall Street) because they know best the world they already live in and take for granted. So imagine my delight when I discovered Richard Thompson Ford's excellent piece in Slate las Wednesday, A Primer on Racism: The Many Uses Of The Word And How Legit They Are. It is a must-read for anyone who enters the thorny waters of trying to talk openly about the question of bias, a conversation few people wish to have. (This is the vast majority of people, in my experience, progressive and conservative.) Ford usefully points out that the form of racism where someone will simply state, categorically, that white people are smarter, better, cleaner, more capable, or more law-abiding than people of color is rarely apparent nowadays, even though that is the stereotype invoked when the term "racist" is used. Being stereotyped, and stigmatized, is why people so resent and fear being labeled as racist, sexist or homophobic, and why, in turn they don't like to risk discussing discrimination at all.

So what, according to Ford, are we not talking about when we are not talking about racism? Most dominant, he argues, is institutional racism "when often the racial inequity is unintended" but the injustice is contained in "practices that contain built-in headwinds for minority candidates." Or we might be talking about environmental racism, in which the "headwinds" are toxic living conditions that are descended from segregationist practices and are perpetuated by the lack of political power that poor and working class people have. Ford also notes the importance of cultural bias and misunderstanding that is largely class-based and can function as an intra-group dynamic. He debunks the notion, loudly touted on the right, that “reverse racism" -- prejudice against white people - is an equally serious problem. Rather, he argues, bias against white people, as a group, is the property of the isolated cultural nationalist, and has only become imagined as a pervasive issue because of the political machinations of right-wingers seeking to mobilize white voters through fear.

While I would argue with or elaborate on some of these points, I thought this essay deserved attention for its clarity and thoughtfulness. It also caused me to think about encounters I have had in which people that I do and do not know well have felt the need to assert (for no apparent reason) that they are without prejudice and regard everyone as similar. However, the fact that I see race, gender and sexuality as live dynamics in our contemporary world demonstrates that I, myself, am bigoted or that any mention of these dynamics contains an implicit accusation of bigotry.

One underlying difficulty, from my point of view, is that people rarely speak honestly about the differences among us, actual and perceived. They like to discuss even less the power relations structured by differences, so they become hysterical very quickly, often lobbing defenses prematurely when no accusation of any kind has been made. For example, very few of the people I know are "homophobic" in the strictest sense of the term, even though they fear that I think they are. They do not fear what I am, they don't think that I am a sicko, they aren't worried about leaving the kiddies or wife alone with me, and many are actively educating their children to understand that queer people populate their world and need to be valued. I very rarely accuse someone of being homophobic, in part because people find it deeply shaming and it is a real conversation stopper, but mostly because what is going on is usually a great deal more complex in the way Ford points out.

And yet, when I come to a real difference of opinion with a person, s/he often finds it necessary to assert not only that s/he is not homophobic, but that s/he believes that I am just the "same" as s/he is.

This is where things start to break down. To my mind, one pernicious legacy of the social justice movements of the 1960s and 1970s is the notion that the opposite of invidious hierarchy is the equality of similarity. Corollaries to this are the assumption of those in the dominant group that:

a) People in subordinate groups want to be similar to “normal” people in the dominant group;
b) That having technical access to certain privileges means that those privileges (and the institutions that grant those privileges) are consonant with broader notions of social, economic and cultural justice;
c) That equality exists when "we" all accept the notion, theoretically, that we are all the same and want the same things;
d) That a continuing suspicion of the dominant group by historically subordinate groups is unreasoning and without foundation.

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor's much-discussed pronouncement about the insights of "a wise Latina woman" coming from the "richness of her experiences" were not misguided. A racial perspective does matter, not because it is information other people don;t have, but because it is a way of knowing the world that other people can acquire if they try. Instead of being derided and suppressed, Sotomayor’s insight needed to be amplified to take into account a peculiar modern condition where inequalities in the law have been, in many cases, overturned and exposed, but the society and belief systems that these old laws created has not.

Hence, people fear being called racist or homophobic both because it stigmatizes and mischaracterizes them as someone who is actively bigoted (as opposed to still learning), and because it makes them feel misunderstood: they sincerely believe in justice and equality. But what they often fail to understand is how the institutions they hold dear are, in their own minds, synonymous with what also constitutes a natural and normal world. And this causes them to miss what some of us believe are structural inequalities.

Take marriage. One of the things that worries me about gay marriage is not that a lot of gay people long to be more similar to, or even appear to be exactly the same as, straight people. That has always been true in one way or another. It's that gay marriage reinforces the falsehood that everyone has access to the same privileges if they are willing to make the "same" commitments. That marriage delivers only a simulacrum of similarity, even to straight people, and that there is no logical reason to make it a gateway to privilege, is a conversation that gay marriage has made it more difficult to have. Consequently, that marriage represents the pinnacle of ethical commitment to another person is an assumption by which the unmarried are stigmatized.

One might also point to loving commitments between children and adults, in which legal custody of a child is firmly viewed by most Americans as the greatest ethical commitment possible. Commitments outside that legal and/or biological relation, however deeply felt, are viewed as a degraded version of this bond. Again, let us look to gay and lesbian people who now parent. In this case, technical inclusion of non-traditional parents has allowed the institution itself to remain a socially, legally and economically privileged site. It used to be that gay people were all perceived as potential child molesters (that was homophobia); now we seem to all be, in the eyes of our friends, potential parents. This is not homophobia, but it's not progressive either: it means that queer people who do not own children are now subject to similar stigma that child free heterosexuals are, and their relations to children they love are not taken seriously as an ethical commitment.

What is really peculiar is that neither institution -- marriage or parenting -- is as accessible or as stable as straight people seem to think, much as economic mobility for people of color is not as simple as white people think. The great publicity attendant to lesbian parenting, and the great visibility of gay men and lesbians parenting in a few places, has somehow delivered the misimpression that the only reason many older queers didn't have children was that we were barred from doing so. Now that we are not, the reasoning goes, we can freely exercise what is a natural and normal desire for all (wo)men. Now this is a problem, in part because it leaves intact the notion that all normal people like children, and that wanting to parent is the natural way that all human beings will want to establish an intimate bond with a child. But it also occludes two facts of life for queer people who do wish to parent. One is that that there are huge hurdles -- medical, fiscal and legal --that face lesbians and gays when it comes to obtaining children, either by gestation or by adoption. These hurdles are faced by some heterosexual couples, but not by the vast majority of them. Second, many parents still lose custody of and access to their children because they are gay, lesbian and/or transsexual; and legally, a child can only have two parents, so that if all parties to the conception are known to each other, at least one person in the deal must agree to terminate and/or not seek custody. Furthermore, as my attorney recently explained, no adoption agency will knowingly and officially deliver a child into the hands of a queer person, although many agencies, domestic and foreign, operate on a "don’t ask, don't tell" basis, and individual judges will perform these and second party adoptions in jurisdictions that permit them.

The privileging of parenting has another effect that few people are aware of: discrimination in health benefits. In health plans such as mine, operated by Cigna, there are substantial allowances made for the conception and bearing of children. One of these is for fertility treatments, which are time-consuming, painful and expensive, and I am sure entirely worth it for people who wish to have children and have had trouble conceiving on their own. But what is explicitly excluded from our health plan is gender reassignment. Nominally, this is because there is some dispute as to whether wanting to change your gender is a "medical" condition. But I would also ask, if being infertile is the normal condition of your body, and you are otherwise perfectly healthy, what makes that a medical condition?

This kind of dispute is not about money, and it is not about personal prejudice, although such claims are easily made and believed. But the reason that is so is because of how institutions recognize the grounds for legitimate personal happiness, reward what they perceive as good decisions and by doing so, enshrine them as normal. And yet, just as one might argue that no one needs gender reassignment, it could be argued that no one needs a child. Now that we no longer farm the soil to sustain ourselves, saying that one "needs" a child expresses a complex set of desires that are social and emotional. In fact, much as a person born a man might wish to fulfill her felt destiny by becoming a woman, people born as children seek to live out a particular narrative of fulfillment and happiness by transforming themselves into parents.

How much more progressive and rational it might be to frame all of these things as desires that offer happiness and fulfillment, not to mention the possibility that one might be truly loved. For some people, it might be produced by having a child; for others, it might be surgical gender reassignment, the first stages of which are actually less expensive than a round of in vitro treatments. And for others, it might be getting their teeth straightened in middle age, anti-psychotic medication, or having a poorly repaired cleft palate remodeled by a skilled plastic surgeon.

I compare these things not to be absurd, but to provide graphic examples of how institutions structure inequities by judging some desires legitimate, figuring them as "normal," and persuading all of us that if we adhere to these values, and not ask for anything else, we can all be normal and happy. As Ford argues in his piece, old inequities have not disappeared, but we are in an era in which discrimination often presents as the absence of inclusion rather than the active determination to exclude. Hence, racism and homophobia, as concepts, no longer do the work we want them to do, particularly in progressive communities that have gotten the message -- but not quite.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this fabulous post. I found your blog recently (via Bitch PhD) and I'm so glad I did--I love the way you think and write.

--Margi

Liz in Ypsilanti said...

Thank you a million times for this thoughtful piece. I grew up in a very unhappy home full of physical and emotional abuse. Because it was obvious that dating led to marriage and marriage led to family, I simply did not pursue romantic entanglements. I spent my 20s trying to get my head and my finances straight. When I hit 30, I realized that I would like to be married, but only to someone who had also done a lot of internal work and gotten his head straight. I was told repeatedly that I was setting the bar too high. Because I wasn't "normal," I had to be brought into line. My family could not understand what I had been doing with myself instead of dating - um, reading books, moving up in a career, doing volunteer work?

When, at age 35, a friendship at church turned into something more, I learned that his finances were such that children were simply not a realistic possibility. There have been a lot of tears over the years over that, but I truly believe that if we had brought children into an impecunious household I would have done to them what was done to me.

These are not concerns that "normal" people consider valid. You start dating in your teens, marry in your twenties, and have kids regularly. I see people following this "plan," and I see all of the foster kids and abused kids and kids growing up poor - and I don't get why the human race keeps doing this dysfunctional behavior generation after generation. Wouldn't it be nice if people waited until they were grownups and had their lives figured out before they started procreating?

Thank you for asking the really hard questions.

Bardiac said...

I wish all my colleagues would read this and the previous post. Well, and read it with an open mind.

Thanks.

infanttyrone said...

Liz,

Thanks for being statistically deviant from the norm. Thanks for using the extra brainpower that you were blessed with (in a non-denominational, even non-religious sense) to make a rational decision in the face of internal and invisible pressure. I hope you two have had enough money, time, and space to enjoy a long life together.

Why the human race keeps doing this dysfunctional routine has to do mostly with a combination of social conditioning and biological hard-wiring in our endocrine systems.

Your "tears over the years" were probably due to one or the other of these or to a mix of them.

What else could break through the logic of your assessment that you didn't have enough money to "raise them properly or safely" and demand your emotional attention until your logic could refocus you back to a "grownup" frame of mind?

Yes, it would be more than nice if people waited until they were grownups before procreating.
In the U.S., if a larger fraction of the populace truly grew up, it would give us a solid start toward population shrinkage, which would be a positive step in the direction of balancing our population with our resource consumption.

I wish I thought that there was a better chance of it happening in a significant way. I hope many people read (or personally hear) your analysis and take it to heart. Most won't arrive at your conclusions without some catalytic agent.

Anastasia said...

Thanks for sharing the Ford piece and your always-insightful comments. This childless-by-choice African-American lesbian is very grateful for your clear thinking!

JackDanielsBlack said...

It strikes me that those couples who choose to have nine children are just as deviant (nay, more so) as those who choose to have none, and are subject to a great deal of discrimination by folks who claim to be "progressive". I come from a large family myself and way back my folks were subjected to remarks about how they couldn't control themselves, were being irresponsible, etc. Let's extend the cloak of tolerance to large families!

Tenured Radical said...

Dear Jack:

I'm so glad you brought that up. Certainly national news reports about large families figure them as excessive and somehow obscene, whereas a family of two or three children is perceived as restrained and appropriate.

I also think it has to do with the residue of anti-Catholicism, anti-Mormonism and class bias.

Digger said...

Thanks for this post, I will certainly be passing out the link!

infanttyrone said...

Jack,

TR's idea of anti-RC and anti-LDS feelings may be at work in the gen. pop., but my guess is that "progressives" in the last few decades are more likely to look askance at families with more than about 4 or 5 kids based on something along the lines of "using up our precious resources faster than my (0,1,or 2) kids can recycle" or "accelerating global warming more than my household".

I'm reluctant to posit a specific integer as being the border between "a reasonable number" and "too many", but I'm curious to know if you, or TR, or anyone else out there ("in here"?) thinks that the family below is not over some sort of line. Do they have the right ? Sure. Are they right to exercise it ? I say, "No". Opposed?

http://dark-wraith.com/index.php?itemid=305#c

JackDanielsBlack said...

infanttyrone, the snarkiness of the article you mention is a good example of the contempt of "progressives" for those who are different. I personally don't think that the world is threatened by folks who have nineteen or twenty children, nor has it ever been. So why ridicule them?

infanttyrone said...

Jack,

I read the article about 3 weeks ago + didn't re-read it before putting up the link. I had remembered it just for the fact that 19 is Sooo far past the bulge of the bell curve.

Threatened by 19? You're right, not unless it was to become a lot more popular family size than it is now.

Fascinated by 19? Definitely. What strikes me (again) on re-reading the article is the sense that this family is very much a business. It has similarities to the Octo-Mom story, although the Duggars are much more together, business-wise, as they already have the reality TV show in place.

Part of my education was in Catholic schools where nuns controlled and taught classes of up to 40 kids, so I know those 19 kids CAN learn and be loved in what I assume is a home-school environment. But that many kids, even in 7000 sq. ft., reminds me of Lou Reed's lyric about Andy Warhol's driven nature, "It's work, all that matters is work."

Also, with some part of their life as material for a TV show, the potential is sure there for these kids to encounter the kinds of young-fame problems that Mickey Rooney or Judy Garland dealt with.

Why ridicule them? Good question. You may be right that many progressives would view them with contempt. If so, it's probably based on the religious aspect or the over-utilization of resources idea or some mix of the two.

But some people probably find the idea of having 19 kids as disturbing as they would find slipping on a real banana peel and getting a real concussion after falling to the ground. For those non-contemptuous people, the humor is probably textbook-simple, based on thoughts like "Those poor parents!" or "Thank God I don't have 19 kids!"

profacero said...

Well, our insurance doesn't cover maternity, either. Everyone is squeezed equally. Single payer now!!!
No restrictions!!!

infanttyrone said...

Q: If it isn't supposed to play here

"This kind of dispute is not about money, and it is not about personal prejudice, although such claims are easily made and believed."

Then why suit it up for the game?

"...surgical gender reassignment, the first stages of which are actually less expensive than a round of in vitro treatments."

A: Because when a heavily populated health care system MAY cover major surgery, the answer to which surgeries for which patients under which conditions often does come down to a question of money ("resource allocation" isn't usually code for rationing band-aids).

To read about how much it can be about money, the first link takes you to a booklet that deals with how the UK's NHS addresses the umbrella of procedures that gender reassignment surgery falls under. The second link is the NHS intro page for how they deal with IVF.

http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_082956

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/IVF/Pages/Introduction.aspx

The booklet describes a complex bureaucratic landscape further complicated by a patient's locale within the UK. The IVF coverage is less complex, but not without constraints, and clearly allows no more than three publicly funded spins of the Big Wheel.

If we ever get a single-payer system, count on it acting a lot like NHS on these two issues, and count on staying actively in the bureaucracy's face if you don't want to see coverage for gender procedures evaporate under the next GOP administration.

My hypothesis is that IVF is covered by "good" health insurance here because of simple market pressure.
My scenario is basically:
IVF came here in the early 1980's. At some point one carrier gambled that enough customers (either enough to make them more profitable or make one or more of their competitors less so) would switch to their policies if they provided coverage for IVF. After that gamble paid off, more companies had to offer IVF to regain market share. Could be wrong.

Can we justify making marriage a gateway to privilege ? Bueller ?Anyone ?

musingsonspaceandplace said...

Thank you, TR!

One of my favorite parts in the Slate piece in the section under the heading institutional racism. Finding myself raised, educated and now teaching in predominantly white settings, this is something that I have struggled with for a long time. Despite my political inclinations and personal lifestyle, the unintended consequences of being surrounded by institutionally racist environments are both painfully embarrassing and one that I and others like me must begin to more actively take responsibility for.

Personal story: About a year ago I was having a conversation with an African American colleague of mine. As the conversation progressed I asked her a question that specifically related to her experience as Black woman. This would not have been much of a problem except that I prefaced the question with, “I am sorry.” While she answered my question honestly, this response was prefaced with another question, “are you a racist?!”

Anyway, a conversation ensued as to why my apology was racist whether or not I intended to be. While now I chuckle in a disgusted way – it is ridiculous to think that I would feel the need to apologize for being white … further more there was an implicit undertone of “I am sorry that you are black” in the statement that I made. While this may have been well intentioned on my part, it was also just plain ignorant and insulting.

Why do I tell this story? So much of what Ford is addressing in his piece continues because the tension of the dichotomies that characterize the tightly drawn nature of race relations and interracial dialogue. It has been my experience that fear, pride, etc. shut down potential conversations that while painful and embarrassing can be immensely productive. These conversations clearly not just being about race, but sexual orientation, sexual preference, etc. Perhaps Dr. Anthony Neil (public intellectual who teaches as Duke University) has put it best when he stated in a recent round-table discussion that getting white people to talk about race and racism has become so difficult in part because of a prevalent opinion that once white people start talking about race it means that we are thinking about race and that we must necessarily be racist.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post.

Anonymous said...

Do you take whatever tax deductions are available to you due to tax law or do you make an ethical decision to not benefit from the results of privelege-ie being a home owner or not paying taxes on fringe benefits received by yourself?

Tenured Radical said...

Anonymous 9:42 --
I don't understand the question, or its relationship to the post, which is about extending benefits to everyone, not people voluntarily giving up benefits. If you elaborate in a way that makes sense viz. the post, I might answer it. Or one of these other commenters might. If the comment was just bilious, no need to elaborate.

Liz in Ypsilanti said...

Thank you, Infanttyrone, for your 7:51 post. It's interesting that one of my best friends has seven kids she has homeschooled. She and her husband made a conscious decision to not worry about the finances and just do what they felt was the morally correct thing to do. She and I have talked about the effects of life choices like these very different ones we've made; and we each admire the other for making positive choices for the betterment of the world. The fact of the matter is that her home is filled with love and creativity and joy.

As for Anonymous 9:42, I think you raise a legitimate point: Are you willing to pay for the choices you make? Until I got married, I never claimed my (very generous) charitable contributions on my tax return - I thought virtue should be its own reward.

I think that the basic issue is this: Are you living in such a way that the world is better for your having passed through? Shouldn't our institutional policies reflect all of the different ways people get to "yes"?

Anonymous said...

I have a hard time understanding why that Slate essay would be classified as "excellent." It seems facile to me.

Sections with which I take issue:

"Politicians and pundits on both the left and right abuse the term racism to tar their political enemies."
(implies that the left and the right are making equally inane claims, thereby saying that the left's wrong here when I believe it's absolutely right)

"But decent people with good intentions also overuse the term as they struggle to draw attention to racial injustices that do not involve overt bigotry."
(implies that racial injustices that do not involve overt bigotry do not amount to racism, something with which I and every other anti-racist out there disagrees with strongly)

"... a reason that has nothing to do with race. Namely, money."
(that's not a reason that has nothing to do with race - that's why black people are underrepresented in every form of media. because it'll sell less, because whites won't like it.)

"But when Cliff Huxtable can be called a racist, it's probably time to rethink our terms."
(absolutely not. while I don't necessarily think it wise to use the term "racist" when referring to people of color, bill cosby's comments there were outrageous and I don't know an anti-racist on Earth who hasn't spoken out against what he said. his comments definitely qualify as racist, especially if anyone other than a black man had said them. the only difference is that they amount to internalized racism because he's in fact deriding his own race, same as when ann coulter claims women should lose the right to vote.)

"For instance, U.C.-Berkeley psychologist Phillip Tetlock thinks that Banaji's test doesn't prove anything about discrimination in real-life situations"
(I don't see how he can impossibly interpret the study in such a narrow fashion as to exclude the possibility that implicit racism actually influences nearly all of our daily to day actions.)

"it muddies the issue by implying that bad people acting with racial animus are behind it"
(only when one assumes that the term "racism" implies to "bad people acting with racial animus," which it 95% of the time does not. this is ridiculous.)

"There are real instances of anti-white racism"
(false)

"There's plenty of room for legitimate criticism"
(name me some legitimate criticism of affirmative action, except that it's not enough.)

"But we should think twice before jumping to the convenient conclusion that people who don't agree with us must be bigots."
(this is the same bullshit conclusion every other pundit is drawing from recent discussions of race in the media.)

"whether they're leftist agitators or right-wing blowhards"
(fury)

On the whole, however, I love your post, and absolutely agree with everything discussed re: sexuality / gender identity. Which makes it seem all the more unusual that you are a fan of the above article on race. It's so, so bad.

Anonymous said...

What I was attempting to say is that to take a tax deduction or a tax credit or to receive a tax free fringe benefit is the equivalent of receiving a benefit that is tailored to benefit and therefore support certain individuals or activities or to discourage others. That is the basis of tax law. I don't think probing an argument from a different angle is necessarily bilious. Sorry if it seemed that way to you.

Anonymous said...

There seem to be multiple anonymous posters on this thread now.

I am the one who's not a fan of the race article.

Tenured Radical said...

I do wish everyone would choose a name, no matter how arbitrary.

Anonymous 12:00 --

No it doesn't seem bilious -- I just didn't understand the question, but now I do. What I am talking about in the post is not "benefits" written large -- we actually know the tax code is discriminatory in all kinds of ways, and depending on people's point of view they have different opinions on what those discriminations are.

But this post is about employer-based benefits packages, not the state. And I'm not an attorney, but don't think you can really call tax deductions a benefit, since what they do is allow you to keep your a larger portion of your own salary.

And as for Anonymous 7:21, I don;t think you have to agree with all aspects of someone's essay to think it is important. Whereas I too would disagree with some of the conclusions, what I liked was the structure of the piece that attempted to address teh complexity of "racism" as a phenomenon. And I would *disagree* that Cosby's many disparaging and disgusting remarks about poor black people are racist. I think they are nasty, classist, and part of a tradition dating back to du Bois's views about a Talented Tenth. Cosby would also be joined by people like William Julius Wilson who once famously wrote in the NY Times that if young black men didn't want to be perceived as criminals they would not dress as if they lived in the ghetto.

Anonymous said...

I will call myself AnonGirl, then.

But why does the fact that black conservatives exist and have existed negate the fact that what Cosby said was abhorrent? Sure, Shelby Steele might agree with him, but I'd strongly, strongly disagree with both their views, though hesistate calling the men themselves racists.

And I'm no historian, but I'd see Cosby's perspective as more in line with Booker T. Washington than DuBois.

The only difference I see about that article and others which I'd expect you to dislike is that it at least mentions the ideas of institutional racism, cultural racism, implicit / unconscious racism, and environmental racism, but I'd consider any positive attributes it accrues by mentioning these negated by the author's decision to insist that none of those four are in fact appropriate uses of the word "racism." And his "the left and the right are equally outrageous" comments bother me to no end, as if radical anti-racists are fundamentally the same as men like "reverse racism" complainers like Glenn Beck. I honestly do not see a single valuable point that author makes.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear AnonGirl,

I respect our differences on this matter and won't belabor it. But I think you make my point: Cosby's remarks *were* abhorrent -- that doesn't mean they were racist, and abhorrent strikes me as accurate, rather than swapping in the word "racist" because Cosby was so irresponsible. And this is exactly why I thought the piece was provocative: once everything becomes "racist" then nothing becomes distinguishable as to its origins and effects.

And as to historicism -- yours is a common misperception, but a misperception all the same. Booker T. devoted his life to caring for the poor -- DuBois, for all of his virtues, had utter contempt for the poor (take a look at The Philadelphia Negro, for example) until his latter days as Marxist in Ghana, where his contempt was slightly leavened by looking at what the masses of Africa were achieving in the decolonization process.