ALS Topic 52 -  Race, Culture, Privilege

Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, ALS 52
Saturday, January 18 2020 11 am to 1:30 PM (end time flexible)

Venue: The Rose - 31 East Terrace, Adelaide SA 5000 (Upstairs. Maximum 12 people. Please buy a drink or something. We are 'renting' the chairs in this small business)

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding.

Focus Questions

1. Do you want to be "more equal" than others? How do you plan to get away with it? How can we handle the paradox of privilege Vs equality. Everyone wants personal privilege, yet few people are comfortable feeling unequal to others.

2. Cultural relativism is the argument that "people everywhere are really the same". Are they truly? What does this actually mean, and what are the caveats?

3. Do you need to belong to a tribe? Nowadays some modern tribalism is known as identity politics. What are the pluses and minuses of identity politics?

4. Are we doomed to a mafia model of relationships? Predators and submissives - It seems that in many human relationships, beginning with sex but extending to most things, there are those who seek to dominate and exploit, and those who are content to submit. People who prefer this hierarchy see it as inevitable. They also see relations between countries as predatory, and consider other approaches, such as mutual respect, to be stupidly idealistic. Are they right?

5. We are starting to hear the phrase, "white privilege" (again) from some who feel disadvantaged. What does "white privilege" actually mean to different people in different parts of the world? What are its origins and what is its future?

6. What is the best way to handle racial discrimination when it affects you personally? Here's a scenario: When I worked in Papua New Guinea for two years as a lecturer, I was a rather rare white face. That didn't bother me - I take people as I find them - but the first time I walked into a university staff cafeteria, without giving it a thought I sat down at a table to join a group. They were horrified. At last, a man from my department explained to the others "It's OK, he has just come from Australia". Slowly I realized his meaning. The problem wasn't that I was a stranger. The problem was that I was the only white face at a black table, and they didn't like it.

7. What is race anyway? Does it make sense to define race as sense/nonsense scientifically, or do we just need to deal with it as a set of social beliefs? What is the best way to manage those social beliefs?

8. What are the upsides and downsides of thinking about your own countrymen & countrywomen as exceptional, compared to the rest of the world? The names of many tribes, cultural groups and countries worldwide, in the local language, have historically been "the people", or "the centre of the world". The idea has been that people beyond the borders are not civilized humans, or maybe not fully human. This sense of being exceptional and 'better' remains very strong in popular culture everywhere. It is a sure election winner.

9. What are the consequences of institutional racism, as distinct from personal racism? We all have stereotypes, and we all have prejudices of one kind or another. Some people have a very strong sense of in-group, out-group. If they grew up in one place and haven't had to culturally adapt, they can be very tribal. They may be kind to their own kind, but hate outsiders. There will always be people like this. But it becomes a problem if they get to run countries.

10. How do we sort out what people will actually do from what they say about other people? Many Australians are proud to "speak plainly", and don't like euphemism. With topics like racism, their language might be cruder than their actions. My father, for example, had little education and talking in a pub would use abusive language about foreigners and 'blacks' . However, when meeting or dealing with foreigners and 'blacks' he was genuinely friendly and tolerant. (Some people are the exact opposite of my father of course: they speak sweetly and act badly).


Extra Reading, Comments and Links

Bryn Williams - Background to Thor's Q2. on race and racial prejudice.pdf

Henry Bodkin (7 February 2018) "Cheddar Man's DNA shows the first Britons were black - London: The earliest Britons were black-skinned, with dark curly hair and possibly blue eyes, new analysis of a 10,000-year-old skeleton has revealed". Brisbane Times @

Philip Ball (26 December 2018) "How I changed my mind about the biology of race". The Guardian @

The Economist (14 August 2019) "What is “White Nationalism”? - Governments have underestimated a growing, and murderous, threat". The Economist @

Edward Helmore (7 August 2019) "Fox News host Tucker Carlson dismisses white supremacy as 'a hoax' - Carlson: ‘It’s actually not a real problem in America’. .... Tucker Carlson said of white supremacy: ‘Just like the Russia hoax, it’s a conspiracy theory used to divide the country and keep a hold on power.’". The Guardian @

Oscar Schwartz (13 June 2019) "What does it mean to be genetically Jewish? DNA tests have been used in Israel to verify a person’s Jewishness. This brings a bigger question: what does it mean to be genetically Jewish? And can you prove religious identity scientifically?" The Guardian @

Gary Younge (24 May 2019) "Shocked by the rise of the right? Then you weren’t paying attention - The seeds of Trump, Brexit and Modi’s success were sown by endemic racism and unfairness". The Guardian @

Chris Zappone (12 August 2018) "The high price of 'white genocide' politics for Australia" [reference to South Africa's white Boer farmers under threat]. Brisbane Times @

Yixin Li (July 2018) "How does rascism in the United States compare to  China?". Quora @  [Quote: "Chinese people are not just racist, but blunt in their racism as well.Chinese racism usually takes two forms. Most of it stems from ignorance, since most Chinese people go about their lives having encountered only other Chinese people. Other times, it comes from a place of genuine hostility and hatred. But either way, it’s going to be overt and honest. Americans were rarely overtly racist, since it was socially unacceptable to be racist until White America saw fit to elect a racist Dorito to the Presidency. Terms like “economic anxiety”, “manufacturing jobs’ and “religious freedom” were bandied around, but it’s pretty obvious what Trump and his base care most about. Since then, racism in the United States has become more overt. However, America has always been a place governed by racists with racist principles, so in that sense, I suppose nothing has changed."]

Aditya Kabir (June 2018) "Which are the most racist countries in the world?" [see the Quora posting for a tabulated list] Quora @  [Comment, Thor: India topped the list: 43.6% of Indians don't want neighbours of another race || Comment by the author, Aditya Kabir: " Bangladesh, my own country, is no less racist than India. But, the survey, unfortunately covered only 61 countries, and did not include us. The only difference would be absence of someone to be racist against. You see, 90% of people in Bangladesh are Bengali-speaking Sunni Muslims coming from the same pool of genetic mix. Have you noticed that 13 countries in the top 18 are Muslim countries? Sad."]

Collin Anthony Spears (May, 2018). "How different is racism in Japan compared to the U.S.A.? I lived in Japan for a year and have traveled there several times since. ... I'm a dark skinned African American, so I can speak from that perspective". Quora @

Cassie Callaghan (February 2018) "Which is the most racist country in Europe?" Quora @  [Quote: "Harvard researchers collected data from 288,076 white Europeans between 2002 and 2015 and created this map based on the implicit association test which measures implicit racial bias ie how easily these countries associated darker skin with negative ideas".]

Mona Chalabi (26 February 2018) "What is white [American] culture, exactly? Here's what the stats say - Whiteness is hard to define, but apparently it involves lots of vegetables, alcohol and the arts – and names like Yoder". The Guardian @

Francisco Sisci (12 December 2019) "A 200 Years Crisis and its Knowledge". Settimana News @  [Thor, comment: A virulent form of racism is that which attaches itself to nationalism and the rise or fall of countries. For example, over the last few centuries this has been potent in Britain, Japan, China and the United States of America, among others. This article does not discuss racism at all, and deals with privilege only indirectly. However, it is an excellent historical account of the love-hate economic embrace of Europe and China since the Ming Dynasty. Thus it sets the background for all the human folly which comes from that].

Arwa Mahdawi (25 May 2017) "How a neo-Nazi turned Islamist flipped terror narratives upside down - Devon Arthurs is a case study in the way we talk about terrorism, the arbitrary lines that often seem to get drawn between ideology and pathology ... the road to extremist violence can take many paths". The Guardian @

Hussein Kesvani (23 May 2019) "What happened when I met my Islamophobic troll - In 2017, I started getting regular messages from an anonymous Twitter user telling me my religion was ‘evil’. Eventually I responded – and he agreed to meet face to face". The Guardian @

Megan Molteni (2 April 2019) "The World Might Actually Run Out of People - The United Nations predicts that the global population will soon explode. In Empty Planet, John Ibbitson and Darrell Bricker argue they're dead wrong". Wired @

Anonymous (January 2019) "Local vs. Global: Globalisation". Navigating The Global @

Wikipedia (2019) "Cultural globalization'. @

J.J. Charlesworth (November 2013) "Global versus Local -‘Increasingly, it has become clear that in the emerging global scenario no one cultural form will be enforced on all. Instead, it will be one culture made of many cultures, one history made of many histories – a whole made of disunited fragments, with no imperative to unite them.’" Art Review @

Thor May (2015) "Probing the limits of tolerance? -Can we reconcile “live and let live” with “drawing a line in the sand”?" The Passionate Skeptic Website @

Thor May (2015) "So You Love Humanity But Can’t Stand People? ... Humanity, when assembled as a state, also finds it hard to tolerate the individual. When should collective interests (e.g. those of a state) override the interests of individuals? Example: Many Americans see “the right to bear arms” as a triumph of individual rights over the collective rights of the state". The Passionate Skeptic website @

Annie Lowrey (1 August 2018) "Jeff Bezos’s $150 Billion Fortune Is a Policy Failure. Growing inequality in the United States shows that the game is rigged". The Atlantic @  [Quote: "Bezos is the world’s lone hectobillionaire. He is worth what the average American family is, nearly two million times over. He has about 50 percent more money than Bill Gates, twice as much as Mark Zuckerberg, 50 times as much as Oprah, and perhaps 100 times as much as President Trump. (Who knows!) He has gotten $50 billion richer in less than a year. He needs to spend roughly $28 million a day just to keep from accumulating more wealth. ... This is a credit to Bezos’s ingenuity and his business acumen. .. But his fortune is also a policy failure, an indictment of a tax and transfer system .. Bezos did not just make his $150 billion. In some ways, we gave it to him ... Bezos has argued that there is not enough philanthropic need on earth for him to spend his billions on. .. “The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel,” he said this spring. “I am going to use my financial lottery winnings from Amazon to fund that.” ... In contrast, half of Amazon’s employees make less than $28,446 a year".

Julie Szego (2 December 2016) "Ordinary Australians are not 'bogans', 'battlers' or the 'working class'. Brisbane Times @  [Quote: ""One little-known element ... is that the white working class resents professionals but admires the rich ... The real target of white working class resentment is not the chief executive who makes 300 times what they do, but, well, people like Klein, Williams and me. Academics, lawyers, teachers, people who deal in words and abstraction, the managers who, writes class migrant Alfred Lubrano in Limbo, "don't know shit about how to do anything but are full of ideas about how I have to do my job"."]

Thor May (2014) "Multicultures – communities of familiar strangers". The Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "I have been a dockyard labourer and an office clerk, a university lecturer, a high school teacher, a salesman, an airport dispatch officer, a writer, an editor, a taxi driver, a poet, a researcher and heaven knows what between (nor in that order). I have been a customer and a reveller, a hospital patient and a consultant … and so it goes on. I have been a rich foreigner in poor countries and the despair of banks in my hometown. When a stranger asks “what do you do”, as he fishes for the right stereotype to pin on my chest as a mark of admiration or secret contempt, I am at a loss to answer. That is, I am a man of my age, a chameleon creature accustomed to slipping amongst a kaleidoscope of roles."]


Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar

Index of past discussion topics & questions:

Convenor : Thor May Personal website (legacy)
Articles  (.. about 147 articles by Thor)


Race, Culture, Privilege (c) Thor May 2020 return to Ddiscussion