Jake Solomon (senior, Economics)



In Shoshone’s Opinion Piece, “Existence of Racism Persists in Form of Class Oppression,” he argues that our country’s media obscures the existence, magnitude and interlinking of racism and classism: “Our media, instead of ‘the poor’ or ‘the working class,’ prefers sugarcoated phrases like ‘under-privileged’ or ‘less fortunate.'” This sugarcoating masks us from underlying truths. I disagree and want to offer a much-needed bit of tempered skepticism.

If anything, it seems to me that the magnitude of racism is invariably overstated within our media and college because (1) nobody has any reason to refute racism but lots of people have reason to substantiate it, (2) many claims of racism are wholly inconsistent with how the world actually looks and (3) our community favors those who are blindly sympathetic to claims of racism and punishes those who are critical. In slightly more detail.

First, while many people can gain a lot from substantiating racism, few people can gain anything from refuting it. For example, a Black high school student who exaggerates their experience of racism increases their odds of college acceptance while an analogous White student who refutes racism does not get anything in return. Public discourse favors concentrated interests over diluted ones, and the individual-level interests for refuting racism are extraordinarily diluted.

Second, if racism was as pronounced as some people cite, the world would look very different. For example, suppose that Black men do, in fact, earn 13% less than Whites of equal intelligence/drive/education due to racism, as some empirical studies suggest (http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/1/0/3/8/0/p103802_index.html).

Given these conditions, a single clear-headed entrepreneur could form a company, hire only Black-Male workers and, well… they could sell $20,000 cars for $17,000, $2,000 computers for $1,700, etc. A 13% savings is unheard of; not even Walmart has done it. And most importantly, it would be an easy and obvious strategy. Since we do not see any goliath companies of Black men, there are probably some factors other than discrimination at play in the wage differentials.

Third, the Oxy community treats one’s position on racism as a broader signal of personal values. We interpret validations of racism as signs of empathy, while we interpret criticisms of racism as signs of heartlessness. Questioning another’s experience of racism is one of the best ways to lose friends – it is why the Anonymous commenter on Shoshone’s initial thread became “a partisan douche” after arguing that “Blacks and latinos are failing in schools because teachers are trying to teach cultural sensitivity and neglecting the core subjects, not because of ‘social constructs’ and ‘oppression.'” This is why our online-forums are so ripe with refutations of racism when they are so hard to find in face-to-face life.

We live in an environment that favors some kinds of ideas – some kinds of stories – over others. ‘Struggle’ is one of these stories. The consequence is that our collective intuition has led us astray. At Oxy, we think that there is more struggle – more racism, classism, sexism, etc. – in the world than the world tends to admit. We conclude that these struggles are silenced and obscured by malice or ignorance or even the world at large. But I think we are wrong. I think our world is sympathetic to stories of struggle and inhospitable to their critiques: The world tends to overstate the magnitude of racism. I think we must acknowledge these biases if we hope to converge upon the truth, no matter how awkward and uncomfortable it might be.

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