Michelle I Goa & Mussolini – Getting it quite wrong

Michelle Goa writes in Harvard Crimson:

‘It bemuses me that some absolve non-white people of racism. They declare point-blank, “It’s literally impossible to be racist to a white person.” “Racism against white people doesn’t exist.”

“Because there’s no scenario in which racism is not a bad thing. If some extremists won’t engage in good faith, we can’t force them. But at least among the rest of us, we can do better. We shouldn’t need to compare how a possible act of racism would differ if perpetrated against blacks, whites, or Asians just to understand if it’s wrong. We shouldn’t allow some people to indulge in their racism just because they may not have any power to systematically discriminate against other groups. “


This is knee jerk response to an issue  and well below what one would normally expect of a well educated Harvard student.

The idea that racism is in the mind and attitude of the actor is a myth  that evolved after WW2. Gordon Allport and others came up with the idea of the ‘authoritarian personality’ as an explanation of the support for Nazism. This allowed one to argue that what was required was changes in opinion and attitudes. It also allowed one to argue that since US was a democratic country its citizens would not be fodder for similar. This is rather breathtaking given US history of slavery and genocide against Native Americans.

This idea of reducing racism to attitudes allows one to adopt policies of slow change and directs attention away from the institutions and oppressive practices. It also allows people to absolve themselves from accusations of racism if they can show they have no racist opinions. This is rather important as even Mussolini admitted he did not believe in races but only used the idea for political purposes. It also does not allow appreciation for Lyndon B Johnson who introduced civil rights legislation in US without anyone believing he did not share the majority Southern views about Black people – he thought the civil rights legislation was not only good for US but necessary.

Even though she quotes people who seek to differentiate between prejudice (attitude of mind) and racism (acts of oppression) she deliberately seeks to misunderstand.

Perhaps an easier way to understand it is to consider religious intolerance.  One person may sincerely believe that all Protestants and/or non- Christians will go to Hell, but nevertheless treats them well and does not discriminate against them in any way. It is hard to call such a person a religious bigot. Religious toleration was not about everyone changing their beliefs but about allowing others to have different beliefs yet treating people equally well regardless.

Queen Elizabeth 1 famously said she did not wish to make a window into men’s hearts. It was their behaviour she wished to regulate.

It is true that people’s opinions may be an indicator of their likely actions but they are not the same thing. This focus on opinions can be politically dangerous as in the case where legislation is passed that has a direct and differential impact on specific ethnic groups. The legislators can sincerely deny having any personal prejudice (as their secret motive was political). To take Goa’s position is  to support Mussolini… he cannot be racist because he did not believe there were real races.

As to the applicability to Asia this is clear …Japan’s treatment of Korean women and the treatment of Chinese in Nanking and the conduct of Unit 731 constitutes racism. The deliberate working to death of white prisoners of war also constitutes racism – so yes, one can be racist against white people.https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/prisoners-of-war-of-the-japanese-1939-1945h

Chinese and Malay  ethnic tension does not qualify.

Acts of oppression with a racial motive  – is generally what is meant by racism. Expressions of opinion begin to cross the line when they advocate or encourage a climate of opinion that will result in oppressive acts.  A Jewish holocaust survivor who says he hates Germans is not equivalent to a German army officer who says she hates Jews. Michelle Goa is pandering in a thoughtless manner to certain conservative tropes. Why? I can only guess but I presume she seeks acceptance by the white power structure, on both knees grovelling. Its a competitive world and one has to do whatever it takes  – even if it means taking a position that would absolve Mussolini- right Michelle?