Cognition & Reality

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Jackie Robinson Day

Filed under: Race,Sports — drtone @ 3:05 pm

Friday night, 15 April, was the anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson became the first Black man to play in a major league baseball game. Before the game, the Dodgers aired a short piece, narrated by Vin Scully, celebrating Robinson’s accomplishments as a player and as a Civil Rights pioneer. It showed, among other things, Robinson stealing home and Robinson signing autographs for adoring fans. Reminding me of my feelings about the current view of Martin Luther King, it did not show, nor so much as mention, the constant abuse Robinson took during his first season, 1947, and subsequently, for having broken baseball’s color bar. The abuse came from fans, but also from his fellow players, many of them Whites from the South. Robinson’s stoic response to this outpouring of hatred made him a hero.

Something is happening to history, and it is not good. As a friend of mine said about leaving out the death threats, etc., that Jackie Robinson faced leaves the frosting and takes away the cake, portraying an empty heroism. To forget about the open bigotry unleashed by Robinson’s debut season, not only detracts from Robinson’s greatness as a man, but also does a disservice to our country, especially to young people, who deserve to know what we were then and how we have changed. In these daze when a person somehow becomes a “hero” for simply being a police officer or soldier, we can’t afford to forget what real heroism requires.

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Sunday, 13 February 2011

Not In Our Genes II

Filed under: Behavioral Genetics,Books,Human Evolution,Propaganda,Race,Science — drtone @ 1:03 pm

I posted recently regarding the 1985 book Not In Our Genes, by R.C. Lewontin, Steven Rose & Leon Kamin. In that previous post, I discussed the reasons, despite its fame, that the book failed to block the increasing popularity of sociobiology. The authors’ criticisms of the latter are trenchant and occasionally funny, but they are couched in neo-Marxist language virtually guaranteed to turn readers off.

In addition, the chapter on the state of the debate, at the time the book was written, regarding the role of women is, thankfully, somewhat dated. Even if they believe it, no one of any substance currently argues that women can’t fill roles in society previously held exclusively by men. Advances in the quarter century since the book was written have favored the inclusion of women in the professional world, which is not to say that true gender equality has been reached, but only to say that it has increased noticeably. Indeed, it could be instructive for young people to read that chapter in order to gain some appreciation of the the character and pace of what was then called “women’s lib.”

That said, Not In Our Genes is a good book, well-written, well-argued and entertaining.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Who’s Reporting?

Filed under: Race,Television — drtone @ 1:57 pm

By accident this morning, I tuned into the news from Cairo a few minutes after Mubarak resigned. Because it was clearly big news, I stayed with the coverage for a few hours. On MSNBC, for the first hour I watched, Lester Holt was the anchor. He handed off to a woman named Tamron Hall, who shifted coverage to a reporter in Cairo. I could not help but note that Holt, Hall, and the Cairo reporter are all African-Americans. I am old enough to remember when the idea of a national news broadcast by a Black reporter was–and I use the word advisedly–unthinkable. Once upon a time, that an African-American was a reporter for a major news organization would have been at least as big a story as Mubarak’s resignation. Here in the middle of it, however, was a Black woman holding the anchor chair, and it was not of any interest. I love that.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Book Circle

Filed under: Behavioral Genetics,Human Evolution,Psychomyths,Race,Science — drtone @ 10:10 am

The other day, passages in the book I just finished, The Metaphysical Club, regarding the succession of “truths” in science triggered me to look up “sociobiology” in Wikipedia, and I wrote a short post on the subject. In a striking coincidence, the Wikipedia article on sociobiology referred to a New Yorker review of a Steven Pinker book by Louis Menand written about the time he finished the The Metaphysical Club, suggesting to me that perhaps he saw a connection between the content of his book and foolishness of evolutionary psychology. Indeed, Menand’s book is filled with discussions of Darwinian evolution and its uses within debate about social issues, discussions that had stimulated me to post on scientific racism and specifically on Louis Agassiz, making the point that the scientific consensus is often misleading, The same Wikipedia article referred to a 1985 book I had long meant to read, Not In Our Genes, by Lewontin, Rose & Kamin, a famous work deeply critical of  biological reductionism. I decided that it was past time for me to read it, given my own longstanding interest in the subject, and I ordered a copy from Amazon. Almost before they start, the authors of this latter book discuss both Agassiz and the often bogus authority of “science.” It is as if an invisible teacher is guiding my reading.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Racism In The Civil Rights Era

Filed under: Film,Race — drtone @ 1:10 pm

For anyone under the age of about 40, it would be difficult to imagine the state of race relations at the beginning of what is now called the Civil Rights Era. Witnessing the TEA Party and its attacks on President Obama, one is struck by the obvious, but veiled, racism at the back of the vitriol. That the racism is veiled, however, is perhaps the most important thing about it.

Not so long ago, the concept of a Black man in power might not even have occurred in the mind of the most dedicated civil rights activist, White or Black. In 1963, African-Americans had been second-class citizens for a century, and before that, had not, most of them, been citizens at all. Americans were used to the subservience of one race to another. When most Whites saw a Black person, it was as some sort of domestic worker. Black professionals served their own community; it was inconceivable for a White person to seek out an African-American doctor or lawyer, and I use the word “inconceivable” advisedly. No one was free of a racist understanding of the world. No one had ever questioned the position of Whites on top of a world in which those of other races existed to support Whites’ privileged existence, an attitude that extended beyond the borders of the United States and was reflected in the distribution of global power. The world literally belonged to Caucasians.

Everyone had grown up within a system that accepted and depended upon the dominance of White people. As late as the early 1970s, no African-American was in a position of authority over Whites. I have already used the word “inconceivable” and I will use it again: for a Black man or woman to be the boss of any White person was inconceivable, even by individuals who questioned the order of things. For example, we did not see Black head coaches and managers in the major sports until the 1980s. One need only watch either film version of “Imitation of Life” to grasp the how total was the acceptance, by both Whites and Blacks, of their unequality: The plot of the movie, which adopted a relatively progressive point of view, revolves around a young Black girl’s inability to accept how wrong it is for her to “pass” as White.

The inferiority of Blacks was taken for granted. It was, as I pointed out in a previous post, regarded as a matter of scientific fact, hardly questioned until the 1950s (and still accepted by some people to this day). The story is often told about American WWII POW camps, in which Black American soldiers had to sit in the back, behind German and Italian prisoners, when movies were shown. Although the injustice of the situation could not have been lost on many who were there, in the cultural milieu of the time, it could not have been any other way. The US Army itself was segregated, with Blacks mostly relegated to the dirtiest jobs, as many who are still alive remember. One questioned this racial hierarchy at one’s peril.

My purpose here is not to celebrate how far we’ve come. As far as I’m concerned, the United States, having been built by slavery, will always have a long way to go in putting its errors to rights. The point is that it is no wonder that, as I suggested in a previous post, the current view of the Civil Rights Era suffers from inadequate recognition of the circumstances that prevailed at the time.

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