Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Louis CK, and Why America is the Least Racist Country in the World

First of all, here is Louis CK on anti-Mexican sentiment in Arizona. (If you want to skip other parts, go straight to 7:40 mark.)


Although the entire episode is amusing, the punchline from the racist lady is what interested the Korean: "It's not that I don't like Mexicans, it's just that there are so many of them."

It is the Korean's steadfast belief that America is the least racist country in the world. As the Korean explained in the previous post, this is not to say America does not have racism, nor is it to say that America's racism is inoffensive. In fact, it is fair to say that America is the most race-conscious country in the world. In virtually any social context, the racial aspect of a given circumstance is never very far away in the minds of Americans. Why? It is not possible for any American to be unaware of racial aspects of her society because America has so many racial minorities.

The punchline from Louis CK is a perfect example of that. The racist woman in Arizona who gave Louis CK a ride would probably not display any overtly racist attitude toward, say, Indonesians. Why would she? Indonesians are not numerous enough in America to threaten her lifestyle with Indonesian language instruction being available along with English instruction at the parking lot she visits. But you can be sure that the woman will be just as racist toward Indonesians if America had as many Indonesians as it does Mexicans. The reason why the lady hates Mexicans (despite her protestations) is precisely because there are so many Mexicans in America, and Mexicans, through their numbers, threaten to displace her dominant place in the society.

As the Korean wrote in the previous post, it is meaningless to discuss whether a certain society is racist when the said society is devoid of a massive number of visible racial minorities. Such country may not appear racist, but that is not because the denizens of that country lack the seed of racist hatred in their minds. Unless faced with a situation in which their dominant social station is threatened by racial minorities, the seeds of racism do not germinate. America is the least racist country in the world precisely because America has so many racial minorities, precisely because Americans face the most temptation to be racist. Although the situation is far, FAR from perfect, it is to America's credit that most Americans resist the urge, denounce racism and bring about quick social death to their fellow Americans who even hint toward racism.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

32 comments:

  1. "As the Korean wrote in the previous post, it is meaningless to discuss whether a certain society is racist when the said society is devoid of a massive number of visible racial minorities. Such country may not appear racist, but that is not because the denizens of that country lack the seed of racist hatred in their minds. Unless faced with a situation in which their dominant social station is threatened by racial minorities, the seeds of racism do not germinate."

    I find this to be a rather interesting observation. As a foreign minority living and working in Korea I think I'm safe in saying that the social station of the vast majority of Koreans is in no way threatened by the racial minorities that live in Korea. If that is indeed the case, then the seed of racism should not be germinating, and yet Korea, in my experience, is a very racist country. This would seemingly go against your above quoted observation.

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  2. America is the least racist country in the world, but Arizona is one of the most racist states in America. Drive five miles from liberal enclaves like Downtown Tempe/Phoenix, and you'll find people like that lady by the dozens.

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  3. As a foreign minority living and working in Korea I think I'm safe in saying that the social station of the vast majority of Koreans is in no way threatened by the racial minorities that live in Korea.

    Believe it or not, even the small number of non-Koreans living in Korea challenge Koreans' social stations in a number of ways -- hence the racism. And as racist as Korea is, it is not about to become an antebellum South, for example.

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  4. I think Australia easily gives America a run for its money when it comes to racism and acceptance of other races.
    When you look at the stats 26.8% of our residents where not born in Australia (1st Gen), 25% of residents are 2nd Generation.

    So this means that over 50% of the residents are either 1st or 2nd generation residents.

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  5. "The racist woman in Arizona who gave Louis CK a ride would probably not display any overtly racist attitude toward, say, Indonesians."

    Dude, Indonesia is the world's biggest MUSLIM country. Yeah.

    Also, I'm from Brasil, and although there are proportionally few brasileiros in the USA (maybe less than Indonesians) there has been PLENTY of prejudice against brasileiros.
    Pretty much any brasileiro who does not speak fluent english (or is not white) has a personal tale of prejudice to tell from a trip to the USA.
    IF they manage to get past customs, that is.

    Also, the USA has a lot of Mexicans because they conquered BY FORCE a large piece of Mexico, not because it has welcomed them in the past.
    Lots of Puerto Ricans for the same reason.
    Cubans have THAT other reason.
    And the blacks and native-americans, well, I don't think you had them in mind for your thesis.
    The rest has to pass that citizen test that most "real" Americans would never pass and are not in enough numbers to serve as evidence of your pet theory.
    And who says they don't also suffer from prejudice?

    Many other countries have significant minorities that threaten the dominant "race" (asian countries with growing chinese minorities for example). Can you say that ALL of then treat their minorities worse than the USA?

    "America is the Least Racist Country in the World"?
    UNPROVED.
    "Just as Racist as the Others" could work.

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  7. @vb If the survey was done prior to 2001, how can it still be looked on as valid in 2011?

    "Unless faced with a situation in which their dominant social station is threatened by racial minorities, the seeds of racism do not germinate."

    I guess that depends on how you define racism. An individual can find an individual of a different race threatening on a one-to-one level, simply because he/she is perceived as an unknown. Even if that is only ever expressed internally, I would still call it a form of racism--prejudice at the very least.

    I suppose you could argue that, for some people, the existence of any "other" at all can be construed as threatening.

    I recall going into a restaurant in Japan and hearing the waitresses arguing over who had to serve me, because they didn't speak English, and they didn't have forks, though I was clearly reading a Japanese menu. Hurtful? No. Racist. ...yeah, a little.

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  8. Even if that is only ever expressed internally, I would still call it a form of racism--prejudice at the very least.

    Fair point. But clearly, externally expressed racism is more racist than closeted racism.

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  9. Very true. Possibly the only up-side to externally expressed racism is the fact that it can be detected and addressed (and in a best-case scenario, corrected).

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  11. "Fair point. But clearly, externally expressed racism is more racist than closeted racism."

    I disagree. They're all racist. There is a lot of institutionalized racism in the US (and other countries) -- and that type of racism is not overt. I would also think that it does a lot more harm to non-whites than some KKK member threatening someone.

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  13. I disagree. They're all racist. There is a lot of institutionalized racism in the US (and other countries) -- and that type of racism is not overt.

    So you are saying that the antebellum South (where black people were not human but properties that can be randomly raped and killed without impunity) is just as racist as America today?

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  14. I'm not sure I agree that the degree of racism is directly proportional to the expression of racism, so I'm not sure whether we can say that an act of racism is more racist than a thought of racism.

    I would definitely argue that it's worse.

    If we're using the term "more racist" to mean "there are more racist people" or "the expression of racism is more prevalent/tolerated", then it's easier to make a cogent point.

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  15. Believe it or not, even the small number of non-Koreans living in Korea challenge Koreans' social stations in a number of ways -- hence the racism. And as racist as Korea is, it is not about to become an antebellum South, for example.

    I would be curious to learn how. As I understood the situation. Much of the overt racism you described is a result of economics. The lady dislikes Mexicans because millions upon millions of them have illegally entered her country and in her opinion stolen jobs that 'real' Americans should have.

    I don't see how that relates to the situation in Korea. I'm not an illegal alien. There aren't millions upon millions of us here. We are brought into the country for a specific purpose and job. When we are no longer wanted or needed we are told to leave.

    I guess I just don't see the similarity. Perhaps I misunderstand your original point or perhaps its because I'm too close to see it.

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  16. And as racist as Korea is, it is not about to become an antebellum South, for example.

    Also, I hope that the antebellum American South is not what you hold as the line for when racism has gone too far.

    I wonder, if as a white person living in North America, that while I can be aware of racism in my society I am unaware of its depths by virtue of not being the target of said racism.

    I also wonder if the same would be true for you in Korea society.

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  17. The problem of an immigrant demographic overwhelming a native demographic is distinct from the problem of racism, although there's overlap. If immigrant Russians, say, were starting to outnumber Americans in a number of states and changing the whole culture so that in the end it becomes virtually Russian territory, people would object - justifiably.

    On the other hand, white people probably wouldn't object *as much* to Russians or any other white immigrant group as they do to Hispanics or other non-whites.

    America is very good at absorbing and acculturating diverse immigrant groups, but I guess we're now seeing a situation where the numbers have become too great for the system to absorb. Our awareness of racism should not blind us to that possibility.

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  18. @sensevisual

    It's only partly true that the U.S. has a lot of Mexicans because it conquered a large part of Mexico. The conquest accounts for the chicano population, which was 39% of the total Hispanic population as of 2000.

    Even the presence of chicanos perhaps feels new because the chicano population has been growing rapidly, from 13.2 million in 1990 to 20.6 million in 2000. Sorry I don't have up to date figures, but you get the point.

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  19. @vb

    Shouldn't that mean that we're all genetically predisposed to fear and mistrust any males from outside our own family too?

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  20. Much of the overt racism you described is a result of economics. The lady dislikes Mexicans because millions upon millions of them have illegally entered her country and in her opinion stolen jobs that 'real' Americans should have.

    What I mean by "threatening the dominant social station" in the OP goes a lot farther beyond jobs, although concern about jobs is a part of the threat. The threat I am speaking of is anything that challenges the power of the majority race.

    Take the lady in Louis CK's story, for example. While jobs may be in the back of her mind, the specific event that triggered her racism was the fact that there was an option for Spanish in her parking lot ticket machine. It is an insignificant event, but it nonetheless challenges her power as a member of the white majority to control her circumstances. Previously, she didn't have to go through the extra step of pressing 1. Now she has to. She finds that "offensive," in her own words.

    So how do non-Koreans in Korea challenge Koreans' dominance? In a number of ways. For example, American GIs are constant reminder that Koreans cannot control their own national defense. English teachers remind Koreans that they must learn a foreign language to survive in the economy (unlike Americans who do not.) And so on.

    And I should have elaborated on the antebellum South point. My point is that it is possible for Korea to become even more racist. There is no doubt that Korea is racist, and certainly more racist than America. But as racist as Korea is, non-Koreans in Korea do not constantly have to worry about their physical safety, for example. Again this is not to say Korea's racism is inoffensive, but it could be worse.

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  22. @vb
    So to simplify your answer to Matt: Yes?

    @Matt
    The problem of an immigrant demographic overwhelming a native demographic is distinct from the problem of racism, although there's overlap. Agreed.

    @TK

    What I mean by "threatening the dominant social station" ..."

    I agree that economics is only part of the racism issue.

    Inconvenience in terms of language creates a lot of discontent because English speakers don't want to think that they might someday have to know more than one language to go about their daily life. There has never been a (non-self-imposed) necessity to do so, so the idea of other languages even becoming an option registers as a potential threat.

    If you contrast that with the point you brought up about it being necessary for Koreans to learn a foreign language to survive in the world economy--something that Americans don't have to do--it does bring to light the fact that English speakers, independent of race, are reluctant to let go of that foothold.

    It's curious to me that, while prejudice/fear in terms of race doesn't often inspire physical violence, prejudice/fear in terms of sexuality does. The distinction between types of "other" is interesting.

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  23. In reference to my last comment, I recognize that the US does this as well.

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  25. I think your point, as it regards Korea, is interesting and useful, but I have to disagree with the use of America as a good example.

    First, bringing up certain periods in American South is a bit of a red herring. It's just about the most violently racist society that has ever existed, of course things have improved. But the post and all of the comments here, even those that touch on economic exploitation, ignore the most profound and brutal effect of racism in the United States, the Prison system. Combined with the entire judicial apparatus of the drug war and divestment of rights like voting and the ability to hold a job, it has been the driving force in producing more segregated ghettos and unleashing the poverty-provoked gang violence that composes such a large portion of the US murder rate. As for whether things are better or worse than the worst possible racism, Loïc Wacquant has a great book (and article) drawing a direct line from the slave plantation to the prison complex. http://newleftreview.org/A2367

    I will say that my experiences in Western European countries find their racial attitudes to be more shocking, but the actually produced racial disparities are either comparable or less harmful than in the United States, which makes me wonder how significant the move away from overt racism has actually been.

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  26. "America is the least racist country in the world, but Arizona is one of the most racist states in America. Drive five miles from liberal enclaves like Downtown Tempe/Phoenix, and you'll find people like that lady by the dozens."

    America is the least racist country in the world if you ignore the fact that about half of all Americans are Republican/Christian. And the Koreans that I've talked to think George Bush was a great president and a good guy.

    *facepalm*

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  27. According to its findings the least racist country in the world... (surprise! surprise!) is Sweden.

    Check out this post -- you might think differently.

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  29. Consider the degree of dominance -- can you honestly say that white people in America are just as dominant over their society as white people in Sweden are?

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  31. Please compare the two facts: 1. The "Whites" colonized the entire continent, wiping out (by ethnic cleansing and genocide) the indigenous population and later bringing Africans as slaves. It was not their land to begin with 2. The Swedes (vikings) were there from the dawn of the early history. They opened up their country for the refugees to come.

    As interesting as those facts are, how are they relevant to the question of the question of dominance by the majority race today? Maybe your point is that America has been historically more racist, but that's not relevant to the point I am making here. My point is about here and now.

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