Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | May 7, 2012

Original racism

You’ve probably heard the media trumpet blasts this weekend, heralding a study that purportedly shows 9-month-old babies to be “racist.”

Little b-words are probably sexist, sizeist, and ageist too.

According to the study, babies of 9 months (whose lives, we should note, are centered on eating, doodying their diapers, and putting unsanitary things in their mouths) have difficulty interpreting the facial expressions of people of other races.  Medical Xpress, reporting on the U. Mass Amherst study, summarizes the findings as follows:

The researchers found that by 9 months, infants show a decline in their ability to tell apart two faces within another race and to accurately match emotional sounds with emotional expressions of different-race individuals. This is the first investigation of this effect in infancy and supports other studies suggesting that emotion recognition is less accurate for other-race faces than own-race faces.

So there is a decline in infants’ ability to distinguish between other-race faces (the decline was observed between 5 and 9 months in the study).  Of course, there are a lot of changes in babies between 5 and 9 months, such as getting way bigger, gaining teeth, sitting up and crawling, sleeping through the night, and so forth.  If we went by the labeling standard with which the “racist babies” study is being touted, we’d describe a baby’s growth as obesity and his sleeping proficiency as narcolepsy.

If “racism” is defined as any form of noticing that there are physical differences between the races – anytime, anywhere, by anyone – then the concept has no political or moral meaning whatsoever.  It is as neutral and uninteresting as eyelashes and fingernails.  The “differently abled” or handicapped, according to this definition of racism, would be those who did not develop it.  If it’s typical of babies in a study, regardless of race, then it’s – by definition – normal.


Baby, wired to register racism. (U Mass-Amherst photo)


But the thoughtless use of the word “racism” in connection with this study highlights a snowballing trend – something in the nature of an avalanche – in modern communication.  There are a number of freighted words, like “racism,” “intolerance,” and “[x]-phobia,” which have specific meanings and were coined at one time to identify patterns in which people either made conscious choices to believe certain things and behave in certain ways, or were driven to by pathologies attributable to rearing or their social environment.  The point of this post is not to refight the battles of their creation, but to observe that these words are used in invalid ways to prejudice public dialogue.

The idea of racism – see Dinesh D’Souza’s comprehensive volume on it – gained momentum in the 19th century with theories of race from well-known historians and philosophers, followed by a moral and political backlash against the idea of permanent racial disparities.  Racism was initially considered to be an intellectual choice, based on “empirical” observation and analysis.   Its opponents, for their part, regarded their position as a moral one, adopted out of moral concern for the treatment of – discrimination against – their fellow men.

As D’Souza notes, the modern take has evolved further: the “prevailing view … is that racism … is a product of irrational antipathy … a kind of pathology or dementia.” (1995 hardback edition of The End of Racism; p. 28.)

These two distinct concepts are themselves something of a mishmash, requiring much refinement and explanation.  The first implies a choice that is ultimately moral:  a choice of how to perceive and treat other humans.  The second implies a socio-psychological problem that may require therapy, although it’s not clear how to administer such a program for vast numbers of people.  But in either case, the central idea is that there is a problem, an anomaly that affects the community and needs to be dealt with by policy of some kind.

These concepts are on another planet from the untutored responses of 9-month-olds.  If our earliest natural response to other races constitutes “racism,” then the manifestation cannot be either a moral problem – which must be based on individual choice – or “a pathology,” something that is damaging to a system because it is anomalous.

We have developed imperfect (and easily abused) means to try to deal with the kinds of problem racism has been defined as in the past.  But what do we do if it’s not one of those problems?  Babies aren’t making moral choices to “discriminate” or assume derogatory things about others.  And if they carry a universal “pathology,” what meaning can that possibly have?  How are we to see ourselves as a species, if we are all carriers of this pathology?  How do we justify placing a moral value on ourselves?  Or are we to subjugate our moral value to the need to eliminate “pathologies”?  Do we declare open season on ourselves because of our innate characteristics?

The lunacy of labeling the natural responses of infants “racism” consists partly in that doing so robs racism of any useful meaning.  But it also creates an open-ended pretext for haranguing the people, and making policy that seeks to limit their options and punish them preemptively.  It suggests, if it doesn’t explicitly say, that liberty and freedom of choice are problems for mankind – because who knows what all these racist babies would do with them.

The issue here is partly that a concept as poorly defined as racism is constantly waved at the public like a talisman.  But an equally great problem – perhaps a greater one – is that so many in the media have obediently discussed the U. Mass Amherst study’s results as evidence of racism.  It’s as if the entire nation has adopted the word “racism” as a banner with felt appliqués, something big and colorful and recognizable, without much of an explicit definition, but conveying a set of self-congratulatory emotions.

Yet the implication – that there’s a terrible, destructive pathology born into us that needs to be eradicated – is incompatible with the idea of humans as moral actors, in charge of our behavior and accountable for what we do.  It’s incompatible with the very useful respect we have for our moral consciences.  We get angry with ourselves when we don’t follow our consciences – and we know when that has happened – but we don’t drown in metaphysical doubt about the efficacy of conscience or the fundamental propriety of its guideposts.

In the end, we can’t help noticing that the implied concept of “original racism” is basically like the Christian concept of “original sin,” but without the all-important redemption feature.  Christians do believe that the “sin nature” requires renovation through the ministrations of Jesus Christ.  But Christianity is about redemption of the whole person – turning what was corrupted to the good purposes it was meant for – not removal of innate human traits.   Moreover, America was established as the world’s beacon of religious liberty precisely because concepts like original sin and Christian redemption are inherently a matter of conscience, to be handled by the individual and his fellows in faith without coercion from the state.

We should actively resist turning public education and the legal code into a doctrine of salvation – from racism or anything else – administered by the government.  It isn’t enough to make jokes about the racist babies, and thereby convey that we’re not taking this too seriously.  The careless, inconsequent use of the word “racism” needs to be called out, and all its implications refuted.  Talking about “racism” should entail talking about something that has been defined for a declared purpose – a purpose to which the means at human disposal are suited.  We don’t have the power to remake mankind, not even with the resources of the government, nor would we use it wisely if we did.

If you believe that it’s an example of racism when David Duke associates laziness and other contemptible qualities with black people, or when Louis Farrakhan associates the world’s great evils with white people, then I’m with you, and we can unite in decrying racism.   If you believe we humans harbor original racism, an evil existing outside the competence of our moral consciences, but one that needs to be expiated, and exorcised by appointed practitioners, then just register as a religion already.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.



  1. When our youngest daughter was four, my small company made the mistake of going after a federal government contract, and had the misfortune to win it. One of the pains of that experience was the EEOC compliance officer, who took issue with our company bylaws. We were out of compliance with federal contract guideline because, in our determination to eradicate such nonsense as “racial discrimination” from our company, we forbade any mention of race in employment files, and forbade the inclusion of photographs in employment applications. That clashed with a regulatory requirement to provide a company profile by race and gender.

    As the founding partners were Korean, Chinese and American, and the employees similarly “diverse” (as if that mattered), we thought we should be reasonably insulated against such harassment, but ’twas not so. One evening, after spending yet another hour of valuable time on the phone arguing against the compliance officer’s insistence that we change our bylaws, I was sufficiently irritated to disturb the equanimity of family dinner, sparking a question from our youngest about why I was angry.

    Dad: “Some people think we should divide people by skin color.”
    Kathy (pensively weighing this new idea): “Is there a problem with Marianne [her best friend]?”
    Dad (rushing to reassure): “No!” … then, “What color would you say Marianne is?”
    Kathy: “Brown.”
    Dad: “And what color are you?”
    Kathy (who knew her colors): “Peach.”
    Dad: “Do you know that some people would say Marianne is black and you are white?”
    Kathy (shocked that grownups could be so ignorant): “They don’t know their colors.”

    Thanks for yet another needed piece. Original racism? Please…

    • And thanks for that wonderful reply.

  2. this crud has got to be one of those Hot Air doodies that Dyer emits.

    what trumpet blasts. Kid?

    Your link is to a article that delicately satirizes calling it racism……but the doodyheaded hotaryans wouldn’t notice that little thing, would they?

    • “Studies like this again remind me of the important job a parent must do in educating and culturing a child. I’m not surprised that humans develop racist tendencies even before they know the concept of race. We’re also a violent species …”

      That “satirizes calling it racism”? Even an ungrammatical mind must be able to grasp that that sentiment embraces the concept of “original racism” and – even if not universally held – will return as “evidence” in the policy arguments of the state-inclined.

      • that come from the msn squib to which the opticon linked, dOx or are you quoting some other thing?

        • “New Study: Babies Are Totally Racist” , to which she linked – a trumpet call, if you will.

          • the link in the sentence in which she pooted out her “trumpet blast” is exactly the one I called satirical, dOx, and contains not that which you attempted to import.

            ungrammatical minds may well be preferable to those harboring deficiencies in comprehension and logical acuity.

  3. At one time the word “discriminate” meant the ability to differentiate one thing from another. Not anymore. A perfectly good word has been perverted by political correctness and can only be used in the approved context. There are, of course, others.

    • Nice reminder that the loss of language is a loss of thought – and particularly nice that you focus on reclaiming the verb “to discriminate”, because that is in fact what this silly study is all about: We all discriminate most easily among the familiar, and that is hardly limited to facial expressions (which are, after all, communication, which is cultural/tribal/familial). Indeed, anyone who has lived long in another language knows how easily the native language is lost – vocabulary, shades of meaning, even pronunciation of words that no longer come readily to tongue.

      Do we really need social “scientists” to remind us of the obvious – that we discriminate most readily among the familiar? – that Eskimos who have a hundred words for snow might have only one for tree? It shows nothing about intent. Enough nonsense…

      • I think you probably have it in a nutshell. However, Dyer goes a step further and says the research claims that 9 year olds are (to use a phrase) ‘hard-wired’ to be “racist”. Given that racism is a conscious (if negative) choice, and we are talking about infants, I am somewhat sceptical that the researchers actually claim what Dyer claims they claim.
        Perhaps she’ll substantiate her claim with a direct quotation from the research.

  4. I suppose the idea of “original racism” is no more outlandish than the Christian doctrine of “original sin”. But of course if you trawl the internet you can find all the outlandish stuff you could wish for – Particularly, if your modus operandi is the straw-man argument, and imputing malign motives to people you hate by conjuring up alleged associations with something silly you found online. The sheer quantity of research done in Universities is mind-boggling. Much of it finds itself onto the web. Some is rigorous, more of it is less so. The latter is often self-parodying. God bless it all. Some of the stuff on “creationism” and “intellegent design” emanating from Fundamentalist universities is simply hilarious.You can find all sorts of weirdos as well – people such as (the late?) Ron Hubbard and “doctor” Neil Snyder (Who on earth sold this comedian his doctorate?). You can find Jihadists and Islamophobes, and people who believe that it is ok to steal from, or kill people with the “wrong” religion. It’s all out there. But we take it all with a large grain of salt. Just like we take you.

    • It turns out that, amazingly, you’re right, in a way. U Mass-Amherst is a creation of the sophomoric satirical “news source”, “The Onion”. Since they’ve invented this institution, thousands of applications for admission have arrived, which are automatically forwarded to a company that prints clothing emblazoned with the logo of the imaginary school. On a regular basis phony press releases announce the results of studies like the racism in babies thing, global warming, intelligent design and so on. Pretty sharp of you to catch it.

    • I was *really* tempted to let this go, because the topic deserves a more appropriate forum… but on second thought, given the blog topic, it is not entirely out of context, and IAC I can’t let a sound idea stand casually impugned.

      The Christian doctrine of original sin can be paralleled in a modern psychological context: A baby – necessarily at the center of its universe – is entirely subjective, egocentric, and at the farthest possible remove from the ideal of loving others as oneself.

      Can one be both intellectually innocent and morally predisposed to sin? – that is a working definition of baby. It takes a lifetime to learn to love the truth without reservation, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. In this context it is really not so far removed from the subject of our gratuitous study. For a more thorough philosophical rendering, I refer this idea to other venues [where coincidentally (and happily for us), JED also contributes], FirstThings and Patheos.

  5. I haven’t actually read the original dissertation done by the Amherst people. I presume that Dyer has, and that the researchers make the claim that 9 month old babies are racist, and all the other conclusions she implies the researchers make. Imagine how totally dishonest her commentary would be if the researchers were claiming nothing of the sort, and that they were merely saying their research showed that babies best understood and responded to faces that more closely resembled those of the parents with which they were familiar?

    • Dyer is never dishonest….. merely quite opinionated

  6. Actually, I believe it’s clear in the post that my concern is with the media running with the “racism” theme. The author of the study, Lisa Scott, told US News today that she does NOT believe babies are “racist.”

    Her concern, like mine, is that the media leap on empirical findings and put a pejorative political twist on them. It’s not only the media, either. Politicians, activists, and academics spin research to conform with their political themes.

    Do a search on “racist babies” and verify for yourself how many media outlets defaulted to the theme.

    • Oh, please, Madam…don’t bother explaining it to these guys. After all, research shows that some babies are born predisposed against common sense and logic…They grow up to become religious fanatics that follow blindly behind any sort of officially endorsed government promoted thinking and often become PC zealots or racist believers or dedicated followers of Global Warming. In some extreme cases, instead of searching for some sort of unfulfilled happiness at these lower levels by just attending these weird, pagan services they turn into full fledged socialists, communists or anarchists. But, alas, they are invariably all…well… Democrats, don’t you know?


      Also, remember: The worse form of deafness comes from those that will not listen.


      • very poor taste, rafa, to post that comment calling people “religious fanatics”.

        show some respect and esteem….. and save talk of fanaticism for people who give clear proof of fanaticism and not just deep faith.

        even the deeply religious are not devoid of logic or common sense in matters mundane.

    • I think you are being a tad disingenuous. You certainly use supposedly distorted media coverage as the cue for conjouring up this lengthy bit of inconsequentiality. However, you soon revert to your usual exercise of flogging the usual dead horses. One thing though, the more you read the piece, the more one wonders what exactly you are arguing. It is entirely unclear, so I suppose your interpretation is as valid as any other. Or otherwise.

  7. it was quite clear that you were attempting to make the point that there was some outpouring of media attention to this that was “trumpeting” the cry of racism……

    the trumpets didn’t much blow, opticon, your essay did.

    it would have been a cute and interesting piece had you not tried to amp it up more than the “media” did.

    the link to msn that you posed was anything but supportive of your claim and even the witless HuffPo didn’t sensationalize the study.

    even the HotAirheads didn’t jump through the hoop with you on this one

  8. Some thoughts, observations and the obvious implications.

    Racism is a world-wide phenomenon. No race or ethnicity has ever been immune.

    Implied but unstated is the observation that prior to the 5th month of development, babies show no signs of “racism”.

    Babies deeply bond with their parents, whose race and mannerisms set the template for the babies categorizing the baby’s

  9. Argh! continuing…Babies deeply bond with their parents, whose race and mannerisms set the template for the babies perception of its experiences.

    Tribal cultures typically view people outside the tribe as “the other”.

    Many tribe’s name, such as the Navajo, translates in their own language to; “the people”

    Assuming an honest study, with no preset agenda, this study suggests to me that as a baby reaches a certain stage in their development, a “focusing” in perception occurs, which allows for deeper perceptions but necessarily narrows their perspective. Obviously a nine month old baby harbors no racial animosity. But until sufficient familiarity occurs, everyone views the facial characteristics of other races as ‘generic’. Evidently babies are not immune.

    Different doesn’t have to be weighed upon the scale of inferior/superior but until experience and maturity brings a broadening of perspective…often that is the default perception of humanity.

    • Once even the southern and northern peoples of that tight little isle whose name you carry thought of one another as different races. “Race” today is a more general and less geographically specific notion, but no less artificial, so I wish we would not succumb to the tendentious silliness of our time, that “No race or ethnicity has ever been immune [to racism].”

      Because “race” is such a fluid and evolving idea, it conveys so little useful information that we would be best served by dropping the word altogether. Your word “tribal” is much more useful, because it conveys the general proposition that we identify characteristics (of heritage, culture, location, …) that distinguish the more familiar from the less familiar – and ultimately, in the worst case, us from them. The best thing we can do for children is to reinforce their openness to discovery, to teach them not to be afraid of the unfamiliar, that the “other” is a neighbor you have not met yet.

      • To: Ox (you don’t seem dumb to me)

        You are indeed correct. “Race” is just another issue that has been kidnapped by the politicians and charmers in order to keep us niched for their own convenience.

        Race used to be a matter of genetics but it is no longer. For instance, I have been contacted by phone by a top-of-the-line research firm (Gallup, by the way) and they have asked me to place myself in any of the following racial groups: White, African American, European, Black, South American, Central American, Caribbean, etc… Now, I ask, what does being from the Caribbean or from Central America have to do with one’s race?

        Now, lately, the pc dung beatles in Washington have switched to “Ethnicity” but don’t be fooled, they mean excatly the same thing and they have exactly the same intentions…

        I still can’t get the difference between Black and African American or between White and European as far as race goes.

        I don’t think Washington is stupid. I think THEY think WE are.

        Funny, no, not funny but ironic, but the thing is that, now, racism, like sexism, is being practiced and promoted principally by Washington Politicians.



        • you can’t REALLY mean to say that racism and sexism in America is coming from DC… nobody could possibly say that and not be off the wall.

          • Off the wall…?


            Well, then, you level headed paradigm of common sense, you explain to your enthralled and almost raptured audience the following:

            Who designs the census data in order to count the “races” in America? How do the races affect the tax code, the districting and all the other stuff that the census was originally created to clarify?

            Who imposes Affirmative Action laws and regulations based on race?

            Who is stupid enough to pass “Hate Crime” laws based on a perpetrator’s racial MOTIVATIONS (provided that the crime is white on black, of course) and what is the signal that they send out with this stupidity?

            Who thinks up and monitors the web site “African Americans for Barak Obama”? Oh, wait, it must have been…Barak Obama, the president of these United States.

            How about the “Hispanics for Barak Obama”? Aw, forget it it’s the same guy…

            Where does the Congressional Black Caucus reside?

            Who counts government contracts and groups them into race groups and who awards those lucrative contracts according to race not ability to perform better?

            Who forces higher education schools to award their limited seats based on race instead of merit?

            Who or what said the following: “Treyvon was hunted down like a dog. He was shot down in the streets. He was racially profiled” before the facts of the case were known even a little tiny bit?

            Who else rushed to Florida to drum up black anger and to call up the ever-handy race card on the Treyvon Martin case and where, oh center of common sense and logic, did they come from? Washington perhaps…? And what, oh magnificent thinker of deep thoughts and living proof of man’s superior intelligence on Earth, were they trying to achieve with their uncalled for and unsubstantiated blatantly hateful racial speech?

            And, just in case you might consider something this silly, if you are going to waste all our times saying that all this race baiting and race oriented political regulations, laws and posturing is thought up and executed with relentless racial abandon in order to suppress and – wow, are they good or what? – eliminate racism, don’t bother.

            Don’t bother because I ain’t listening to that blather and, I can venture to guess, neither are the rest of your long suffering, albeit impressingly patient audience. First I would dare suggest to your magnificent level headeness, that you get that same head out of your butt and perhaps, besides seeing just a tad better and achieving a better level, the sounds you might try to emit in response won’t come out as distorted and muffled as they generally do.


            • rafa, you indeed mustn’t be bothered, particularly if you think that all racism in the country is associated with the Obama campaign and advocacy groups for the traditional targets of racism in the country.

              Indeed, you must also consider that AIPAC is a horrible racist entity, but not the Aryan Brotherhood as the AB is not centered in DC as is not other fine old American groups such as the KKK and all the other white-supremicist groups and the ones that tell us that America is controlled by a “Zionist Occupation Governement” aren’t racists

              keep holding that “Do Not Disturb” sign, rafa.

              • Oh, come on, Fuster… Stop looking out your bellybutton to see where you are going.

                Here is the original exchange (I’ll type slowly…):

                I said: “racism, like sexism, is being practiced and promoted principally by Washington Politicians.”

                And you answered: “you can’t REALLY mean to say that racism and sexism in America is coming from DC… nobody could possibly say that and not be off the wall.”

                And now, like the liberal you are, you jump off context to avoid whatever I did say following your fumble.


                By the way, I DO say that racism is comming from DC. and that it is being scooped onto us by the ton, actually. I gave you a number of examples. That it comes from other places as well changes that sorry-ass fact not one iota.

                Fact is, I am not at all surprised that racism exists in the world, humans being what humans are. But, that it comes to us packaged and delivered by elected public officials and that they constantly shovel it in our direction in official form is something that even liberals like yourself should not take likely. But you do. And you run cover for it. Because it serves your purposes. Just like it serves the purpose of the KKK and the Aryan Brotherhood. You are just as bad as they are and it’s only the target race that diferentiates you from them far as I’m concerned.

                Have a nice day. Or not.


                • rafa—–“racism, like sexism, is being practiced and promoted principally by Washington Politicians.”

                  when you said that it’s PRINCIPALLY coming from DC politicians you were lost……

                  and I’m not acting as some sort of reflexive liberal yutz.

                  there’s no question that i agree with you that left-wing political figures engage in it and pander to those who are involved with it.

                  what I do say is that you can’t ever make a case that racism hasn’t been the law of the land and widely practiced by them white folks all over the land. it’s no longer the law and the practice is no longer as widespread but the belief, while shrinking, remains wildly distributed in folks throughout the land.

                  here in NYC, there are about 100 different groups that hate 100 other groups. we have an incredibly diverse sample of all the racist feelings in the entire world on offer.

                  I had a guest from Japan spat upon by an immigrant from the former USSR because that woman said she hated the “filthy yellow Chinese”.

      • “I wish we would not succumb to the tendentious silliness of our time, that “No race or ethnicity has ever been immune [to racism].”

        I’ll rephrase. No group has ever been immune from the ‘instinctual’ perception that anyone outside their group was of “the other”.

        Consider the word alien, not as applied to other human beings but what that word would/will mean when/if we meet an extraterrestrial species. Consideration supplies considerable insight into the core reaction that “the other” evokes.

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