paft (paft) wrote in talk_politics,

Newt, Racism, and the Stanford Experiment

Chris Matthews, in the wake of the Republican Debate where Newt Gingrich belittled Juan Williams: And by the way, calling someone a racist is the worst way to get them to stop being a racist, because everybody gets defensive…and they get mad about it. It’s stupid to say it, but if you notice it, you sorta oughta blow the whistle…but boy is this tricky…”

Let’s be clear about something. Nobody who actually knows anything about racism labors under the illusion that calling someone a “racist” is going to make that person stop being a racist. That’s not why the term needs to be used.

It needs to be used to call out racism before it makes significant inroads back into the mainstream. It needs to be used to ensure that racism continues to be viewed as something immoral, shameful. If racists had been consistently called out for what it is twenty years ago, overt racism would not be rearing its ugly head again in national politics.

But no, people like Matthews thought it was clever to avoid using that icky “R” word. They allowed racists to take control of the language, and the result is that today, what should be quite simple and obvious to anyone with an IQ beyond two digits is now deemed “tricky.”

In 1971, a study was conducted now known as “The Stanford Prison Experiment.” A small group of Stanford students were divided into “prisoners” and “guards.” The experiment was called to a halt early because so many of the “guards” became abusive towards their “prisoners.” These guards, it should be noted, were not sadists or sociopaths. They were human beings put into a situation where they were given “permission” to abuse other human beings, and where such abuse was treated as the norm.

What it revealed about human nature was simple and obvious. If no consequences are suffered, no restraints in the form of shaming or punishment, many human beings, even normal human beings, will do stupid, horrible things to each other.

I think what’s happened with the issue of racism in this country, and in fact intelligent debate in general, is a sort of vindication of the Stanford Experiment. At some point, complacent liberals and moderates decided that they needn’t call out any but the most overt public racism by using the term “racist” or “racism.” The result has been bolder and bolder forays into racism. At some point, the media decided they needn’t point out obvious flaws in logic and reality. The result has been increasingly brazen lies and a dangerous dumbing down of our political discourse.

Back in 1993, a major speech by then House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich was edited to remove the following passage:

For poor minorities, entrepreneurship in small business is the key to future wealth. This is understood thoroughly by most of the Asians, partially by Latinos, and to a tragically small degree by much of the American black community.

I wonder, if he were delivering that speech today, if that same passage would have been omitted. Probably not, considering the following:

Gingrich: I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African American Community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.

Gingrich: I had a very interesting dialogue Monday night in Myrtle Beach with Juan Williams about the idea of work, which seemed to Juan Williams to be a strange, distant concept.

Fan of Gingrich: I would like to thank you Mr. Speaker, for putting Mr. Juan Williams in his place the other night. (cheers and applause)

Yet another fan of Gingrich in response to Gingrich referring to President Obama (can be heard quite clearly at the .09 mark):

String him up!

An intelligent, educated adult who claims not to get the coded racial language here – a language plainly recognized and embraced by Gingrich’s followers -- is being, at best, deliberately obtuse.

If those claiming not to see it applied that same inability to read social cues to their daily human interactions, they’d be so socially inept they’d risk being labeled as having Asperger’s Syndrome.

Crossposted from Thoughtcrimes.
Tags: elections, racism
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