They

You would have much greater personal wealth if only they would get things in order in Washington.

You would have received raises and promotions if only they would see your value at work.

You would have a job if only they would actually read your incredible resume.

You would be able to save money if only they didn’t manipulate you into buying stuff.

No matter what is going on in your life, you can probably find a reason why someone else’s actions is keeping you from what you want. There are many elements of life that are outside of our direct control, and when the people who are in control of those elements make choices that don’t benefit us, it can be incredibly frustrating.

However, it is in that moment of frustration that you decide whether or not you’re going to succeed.

Do you simply say that the powers that be are holding you down and accept that fate? Do you blame them for the problems in your life? Do you choose the path of least resistance and let the forces around you tell you where to go? Do you give in to the desire to wallow in self-pity and blame?

Or do you choose to try a different path?

If you don’t have the wealth you want, what actions can you take right now to start building it? Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Focus on what you can control. Can you spend a little less? Can you invest and diversify a little more?

If you don’t have the career path you want, what actions can you take right now to start building it? Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Focus on what you can control. Can you take control of a key project at work and make it shine? Can you take additional classes to bolster your skill set?

If you don’t have the job you want, what actions can you take right now to start acquiring it? Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Focus on what you can control. Can you jazz up that resume? Can you find ways to communicate with and network with people in your field?

If you don’t have the savings you want, what actions can you take right now to start building it? Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Focus on what you can control. Can you take control of your spending and, more importantly, seriously evaluate the spending that you consider “untouchable”? Can you find new ways to be frugal in your day-to-day actions?

It is incredibly easy to fall into the trap of blaming “them” for our problems. Yes, some of the time, others do make choices that limit our own options.

It’s when that happens that the successful separate themselves from the pack. Do they waste energy blaming others or do they figure out what they can do from their current situation?

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163 thoughts on “They

  1. Jonathan says:

    I’m always excited when I see Trent post about personal responsibility. I always end up disappointed, though, because he never seems to really push home the idea that we are 100% in control of our own lives and situations. I’m glad that he’s posting something about it, though. Posts like this can definitely help people get started down the path to accepting complete responsibility for their own lives.

  2. valleycat1 says:

    I agree we all have to take responsibility for our choices and quit defaulting to blaming ‘them’ for stuff we don’t like in our own lives.

    But, sorry, Jonathan, but I disagree “we are 100% in control of our own lives & situations.” Sometimes you get hit with something totally unexpected (short list: earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, debilitating accident), or an event wipes out your savings, your company goes broke and you’re one of the hordes of unemployed, or having a life partner and/or child means your ‘total control’ has to make way for the needs of others. Life happens; we have to make the best of what we’re dealing with.

  3. Steven says:

    Nope, we’re not 100% in control of our lives. Anyone who believes that has never had anything out of their control happen to them. The difference in those who succeed, and those who don’t, is how they respond to the circumstances that are beyond their control.

    I’m not sure I’d like to be 100% in control of my life anyway. Seems kind of boring. It’s the unexpected that keeps things interesting. Spending all your life being “in control” would translate into a very rigid lifestyle (for me, at least.) Not something I aspire for.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Having an unexpected even happen does not mean we are not responsible for our life and situation. Becoming a victim does not remove our own responsibility.

    Lets say I’m the victim of a natural or man-made disaster (earthquake, hurricane, wildfire, tsunami, tornado, flood, etc). What would I do? Act like a victim and refuse to take responsibility? No, I accept responsibility for the fact that I chose to be in that location at that time and move forward knowing that how I choose to deal with the situation dictates how things will go.

    What if I lose my job or lose my savings due to some event? I take responsibility for choosing that particular job of that investment vehicle. I take responsibility for finding a new job, developing new skills, becoming more educated about investing, etc. I do not adopt a victim mentality and start thinking that I’m at the mercy of decisions that others make or things outside of my control.

    Accepting responsibility and being in control of your life is in no way boring. It does not mean a rigid lifestyle with no spontaneity or unexpected events.

    The same type of “out of control” events happen to everyone. Some people like to be a victim of these events, while others, like myself, realize that no matter how unexpected the event, I’m the one responsible.

  5. krantcents says:

    If you spend your time blaming others you are going to be unsuccessful! Successful people do not bother with that because it is a waste of time.

  6. kristine says:

    I shudder to think of how that 100% responsibility mindset translates to the actual “victims” of violent crimes, particularly towards women and children. I guess shaken babies chose to cry? What age is the cut-off? Does it allow for differing development rates of maturity? Does it allow for a vast range of IQ?

    There is a difference between being a victim, and adopting a life-long victim mindset. But the truly victimized recover at different rates, depending on resources, and support. Looking down at those who take longer, or who can never recover, is cruel.

    Generalizations are generally not accurate in every circumstance.

  7. kristine says:

    As our superintendent addressed the faculty today, she read the results of a number of studies regarding children and technology today. One of the more startling revealed that although children are tethered to their peers and parents via texting constantly all day, their actual connectedness has suffered as a result of not learning the nuances of bodily and facial expressions as well as previous generations. We have an infinite number of ways we can combine body, face, and verbal clues, but only 30 emoticons. Children react more often remotely, and not face to face. The result is that today younger generations scores significantly lower on empathy and compassion tests.

    I see it growing like a cancer, and Jonathan’s detached and judgmental comments are but the canary in the coal mine. I fear for my old age.

  8. Jonathan says:

    I don’t apply any sort of blame or responsibility assignment to others; that is up to everyone to do for him/herself. Victims of violent crimes may choose to accept the 100% responsibility model or choose not to. Does the way of thinking allow for different levels of development, maturity, or IQ? If a person has the cognitive ability to choose to take complete responsibility then I can see no issue with them choosing to do so.

  9. Jonathan says:

    “I see it growing like a cancer, and Jonathan’s detached and judgmental comments are but the canary in the coal mine. I fear for my old age.”

    Kristine, I find this comment very interesting. I’m not sure how my choice to accept 100% responsibility for my own actions is detached or judgmental. It seems that you correlate my views on personal responsibility with a lack of empathy and compassion. While I can’t imagine how there could be a connection I can ensure you that in my situation it is certainly not the case.

    I also can’t figure out how taking full responsibility for ones own situation is related to the impact technology has had on kid’s abilities to read body language and facial expression.

  10. Johanna says:

    As I’ve said before, you can do both: You can talk, or even complain, about the circumstances in your life that are beyond your control, and the ways in which other people may be at fault, *and* you can simultaneously work to make the best of the circumstances that you have.

    I don’t quite understand the idea that blaming others is a “waste of energy.” Having a conversation about the various disadvantages you face takes no more energy than having a conversation about anything else.

    It’s important to remember that with the people we encounter – especially the ones we encounter on the internet – we rarely know the full picture. We see someone talking about the various disadvantages they face due to racism or sexism or classism or disablism, and that’s all we see – we don’t know what they’re doing with all the time that they don’t spend talking to us. We don’t know how hard they’re working to overcome their disadvantages.

    It’s also important to remember that each of us is part of somebody else’s “they.” Even if we don’t mean to be – even if we think we’re doing the right thing, or maybe even if we really are doing the right thing, the things we do are part of the reason why somebody out there is not getting ahead. Keep that in mind the next time you feel like complaining about other people blaming “them.”

  11. Jonathan says:

    Johanna,

    “I don’t quite understand the idea that blaming others is a “waste of energy.”

    Having a conversation about the various disadvantages you face takes no more energy than having a conversation about anything else.”

    I would argue that focusing on the negatives such as how one is disadvantaged blaming others does take more mental energy, for lack of a better term. However, even if we agree such a conversation takes no more energy, I would ask what benefit could possibly come of focusing on such negatives.

    “It’s also important to remember that each of us is part of somebody else’s “they.” Even if we don’t mean to be – even if we think we’re doing the right thing, or maybe even if we really are doing the right thing, the things we do are part of the reason why somebody out there is not getting ahead. Keep that in mind the next time you feel like complaining about other people blaming “them.””

    Yes, everyone’s actions and decisions impacts someone else. My perspective is that this is part of accepting responsibility for my actions. If I apply for and get a new job, then part of taking responsibility is taking responsibility for the impact my getting the job has on the other applicants. Do the other applicants blame me or take responsibility for not getting the job? That is a personal decision for each of them to make. I realize that to many people it might seem contradictory for me to take responsibility for the impact my getting the job has on the others, while at the same time saying that if I were in the position of not getting the job I would not blame the person who did get it. To be honest, I’m not quite sure how to explain why I don’t see that as a contradiction.

  12. Johanna says:

    “I would ask what benefit could possibly come of focusing on such negatives.”

    If you would ask, then I would answer. :)

    Suppose you’re the victim of a violent crime. By focusing on that negative – either by pressing charges or maybe just making other people aware of the situation – you might help to prevent the same thing from happening to someone else, or maybe even happening again to you.

    Or suppose your life has been affected by some form of systemic discrimination such as racism. A lot of racism is very subtle, and it’s unknowingly perpetuated by well-meaning people who don’t think of their actions as wrong or racist. By talking about your experiences with people who have had different experiences, you may help them to realize that their well-intended behavior is nonetheless harmful to you, and you may help them to change that behavior.

    Personal responsibility is all well and good, but there are systemic problems out there that are too big for any one person to solve. And we’ll never make any progress on them if nobody’s willing to focus their energy on them.

  13. Jonathan says:

    Interesting. While I definitely see the benefits in the actions you mentioned, I don’t see them as casting blame / refusing to take responsibility. Making other people aware is, to me, a method of taking responsibility so that the crime, racism, etc may be avoided in the future. It is also taking responsibility for educating others.

    As for the systematic problems that need to be addressed, I agree with you completely. I also view this part of taking responsibility. I share a piece in the political system, the economic situation, and society as a whole. When I see a shortcoming or systemic problem related to one of those areas I have to make a decision. Either I try to do something to address the issue, or I ignore it.

  14. Johanna says:

    Jonathan, would you mind giving an example or two, then, of what you mean by casting blame or refusing to take responsibility, if blaming the perpetrator for a crime they’ve committed against you doesn’t qualify?

  15. SwingCheese says:

    Under the “personal responsibility” idea (and I’m not trying to be argumentative here, I’m genuinely curious): I found out today that I’m not being granted an interview for a job that I was really excited about, because there are other applicants who better meet their criteria for education and experience. I knew when applying for the job that there was a very good chance I would lose out to someone who has more experience with reading acquisition in the primary language and more college level teaching experience than I have (basically, someone who was an English major). Now, although I was disappointed, I don’t blame them for choosing an English major, nor do I think that I need to retroactively take responsibility for majoring in history. It doesn’t seem like, in this situation, there is a need for someone to take responsibility at all. It simply exists, the logical outcome of my own and others’ past decisions. Can there not be situations that simply call for acceptance rather than blame/personal responsibility? Or is this viewpoint a byproduct of my basic personality, which is rather optimistic?

  16. Jonathan says:

    Johanna,

    I find that any situation involving the justice system to be complex, since it can be argued that reporting the crime is an assignment of blame. Here is the way I believe I would handle and view such a situation if it were to happen to me. First I would have to make a decision as to whether or not to report the incident. Assuming I filed a report, any assignment of blame, in my opinion, from that point forward would be by the justice system. If asked to take part in a line up or called as an eye witness to identify the perpetrator, I would not consider answering factually that yes this was the person, as assigning blame.

    In the example you gave before about systemic discrimination I can give examples of what I would consider blaming someone else for a situation rather than accepting responsibility. If I were in that situation and blame the discrimination for holding me back in life, then I would consider that not taking responsibility. If I blamed person X or group Y for discriminating against me, rather than just recognizing that the discrimination existed then I would consider that placing blame, rather than taking responsibility. If I had negative feelings as a result of the discrimination and blamed those doing the discrimination or those allowing it to happen for my negative feelings then I would be placing blame and not accepting responsibility.

    I believe that discrimination is one of those systemic issues that you mentioned earlier that is very important for us to work to address. If I felt I was being discriminated against I would feel a responsibility to try to educate others and/or help to change the system allowing the discrimination to happen. Acknowledging the discrimination would likely also be important so that I could account for that, whether it mean working harder, choosing to expect less support/acceptance from certain people/groups, etc. I do not, however, feel that there would be any value in blaming the discrimination for holding me back. In my opinion that sort of negative thinking is unproductive and can stand in the way of happiness.

  17. Jonathan says:

    @SwingCheese – I’m interested in the concept of acceptance without accepting responsibility. In my mind, accepting the situation without casting blame on someone else would be accepting responsibility myself. If nothing else, you had to make a decision in your example about whether to accept the situation or blame someone else. The fact that you decided to accept it, and are ok with that fits my model of accepting responsibility.

    This statement, “Can there not be situations that simply call for acceptance rather than blame/personal responsibility? Or is this viewpoint a byproduct of my basic personality, which is rather optimistic?” makes me think that you associate taking responsibility with blaming yourself, in which case I can see where the difference comes in. In my mind blame is negative, while accepting responsibility is positive.

  18. Carole says:

    To get in this philosophical discussion is beyond my capabilities but I do think Trent made a good point that often we tend to blame the mysterious “they” for too much when often it is within our ability to control.

  19. Jonathan says:

    Johanna,

    There was one more point I wanted to make, which fits in with the other discussion regarding negativity.

    If I read something that Trent has posted that evokes a strong negative emotion, who is responsible for that emotion? Is Trent responsible because he wrote the piece? Or am I responsible because I chose to read the work and because I allowed it to impact me negatively?

  20. Brittany says:

    “I don’t apply any sort of blame or responsibility assignment to others; that is up to everyone to do for him/herself. Victims of violent crimes may choose to accept the 100% responsibility model or choose not to.”

    There’s an interesting article and related discussion on Slacktivist right now called “No Apology” that discusses the responsibility people who believe/perpetuate attitudes like this have for creating and strengthening a rape culture.

  21. Katie says:

    I can’t help but find this discussion ludicrous. I guess if we try hard enough, we can play semantics long enough so that anything someone agrees with a person doing gets defined as “taking responsibility” and anything a person disagrees with a person doing gets defined as “placing blame,” but what’s the point?

    The fact of the matter is that placing blame can be constructive or cathartic or it can be stagnating. The exact same thing is true for taking responsibility – nobody benefits from tormenting themselves with guilt over something for which they were never responsible for in the first place. As such, learning to place blame on the appropriate party can be a core facet of taking responsibility for those things that you are, in fact, responsible for and not the entire infinite universe of things.

    Whether it’s helpful to place blame in a particular situation depends on the individual and the situation. Generalizing on the subject is pointless.

  22. Jonathan says:

    I may need to clarify the comment that Brittany quoted. I did not intend to suggest that victims of violent crimes need to accept 100% responsibility, only that it is a choice that they have to make for themselves. My experience is that accepting full responsibility is very positive and leads to increased personal growth. If I were the victim of a sexual assault would I feel the same? I don’t know. That is the sort of trauma that that I do not believe anyone can predict how they would react to.

    As I read the article on Slacktivist there were a couple of things that stood out to me regarding personal responsibility aspect.

    The first was that other people seemed to be blaming the victim. To me this is not accepting personal responsibility. In fact, it the opposite. Rather than taking responsibility for what, if any, role they played in creating an environment in which this sort of thing could happen they were instead placing blame on the victim. Maybe they felt that she should have accepted responsibility for what happened to her, but I do not feel that is their place. We can only take responsibility for our own actions, when we insist that someone else must do so we are doing the very thing we are saying they should not do, blaming others.

    The second thing that stood out is that the victim was blaming herself for what happened. As I said before, whether or not someone accepts complete responsibility for their own situation is a highly personal decision. Regardless of the choice, however, I do not feel that blaming ones self is productive or healthy, especially in a situation such as a sexual assault. I realize that many people equate taking responsibility with blaming ones self, but I do not believe they are the same.

    I disagree with the point that proponents of personal responsibility create and strengthen a rape culture. I do believe that there are people who may enable such things to exist in the name of personal responsibility, when in reality it is something very different. I should add a disclaimer, however, that my idea of personal responsibility is not the only idea or even the correct one. I don’t know what others think personal responsibility means. Maybe most people do believe that it means blaming the victim. My comments here are meant to explain my views on the topic so that more discussion takes place.

  23. Johanna says:

    As usual, what Katie said.

    Jonathan, I don’t understand what distinction you’re drawing between “blaming the discrimination” and “acknowledging the discrimination.” Is it merely the existence of negative emotions? Or does it translate into actions as well?

  24. Jonathan says:

    @Katie – I suppose if you view placing blame and taking responsibility as being exactly the same, then there is no point in differentiating between the two. As I said before, I see them as being very different. I see placing blame as a negative action, while taking responsibility is a positive action. In terms of positive thinking I believe it makes a big difference. Its like the difference between saying “I can’t do X because I don’t know how to do Y” instead of saying “If I’m going to do Y, then I need to learn how to do X”. They both mean the same thing, but one is based on negativity, the other positive thinking. I can’t speak for others, but for me, the two would result in very different mind sets.

  25. Jonathan says:

    Johanna,

    My view is that acknowledging the discrimination would be simply that, knowing that it exists. Blaming the discrimination, on the other hand, is believing that the discrimination is responsible for some situation in ones life.

    I’m X, which may cause some people to think less of me. = Acknowledgement

    I’m X, which is why I didn’t get that job / didn’t get into the college I wanted / make less money than my peers / can’t get a date / do not have many friends / etc = Blaming

  26. SwingCheese says:

    Jonathan: Thanks for the clarification. What you’ve said regarding my question makes sense, and I think it is more of a semantics issue (personal responsibility vs. acceptance) than anything else.

  27. Brittany says:

    Agree–what Katie said.

    Johnathan, I appreciate your thought-out (and polite) defense and your willingness to consider the views of others. I guess I have trouble seeing the difference between “100% personal responsibility” and “self-blame” / “blaming” and “acknowledging” as well. However, I can give what I see as the distinction, and I would appreciate your input.

    To me, it’s not necessary to take 100% personal responsibility for what happened in the past. Some times shitty things happen. Sometimes they’re your fault (getting fired for or getting hurt while doing something stupid). Sometimes they are completely out of your control but you could have anticipated them and mitigated your risk (hurricane hitting in a hurricane-prone place, made worse because you have crappy/no insurance to cover damage). Sometimes they’re totally outside of your realm of responsibility (violent crime). Where you assign blame in the past doesn’t matter.

    It’s what you do AFTERWARDS that makes the difference.

    Post-bad-thing “taking responsibility” reaction is along the lines of: (First two scenarios) “Well, that massively sucks. I guess I could have done XX differently, although YY was out of my control. What can I do to fix it or keep it from happening again?”

    (last scenario) “Well, that massively sucks. I know it’s not my fault at all, and I’m not going to obsess over how I could have done X to avoid Y/what I did to deserve it/why god hates me because it was not my fault. I think it’s time for some therapy

  28. Brittany says:

    /introspection/time for me and then I’ll start rebuilding my life.”

    “Self-blame”: “I can’t stop beating myself up over what happened, and thus can’t move forward.”

    “Blame (everyone but me) mindset” reaction: “I can’t believe this happened. Sure I did X, but only because Y made me. Also, if I didn’t have to do Z, I would have had an emergency fund. Also, my boss hates me. And society is racist, so I can’t find a job. As a result, I won’t try very hard. Why does the world crap on me all the time?”

  29. Brittany says:

    Ah, and now I see it was clarified while I was typing.

  30. Jonathan says:

    I was thinking last night about ways to better explain my views on personal responsibility, especially for those who view accepting responsibility and blaming ones self as being the same. A few people have asked, why beat yourself over something that happened in the past.

    I believe that blaming others and/or not taking responsibility is a very dis-empowering mindset. Let’s use the example of applying for a job and not getting it.

    If I believe I did not get the job because the employer discriminated against me or did not like me, or because someone else was more qualified then I am giving them the power over my future. They are the reason I didn’t get my dream job. Why even try if other people get to determine my future regardless of what I do?

    If, on the other hand, I accept personal responsibility for not getting the job, then I can identify the factors that I can control and work on those. Maybe I need more education in the field. Maybe I need to improve my interviewing skills. Maybe I need to gain more experience in the field before trying again for the dream job. To me, this is a very empowering mindset. I failed, but I know that it is completely within my control to address the cause of my failure so I can succeed in the future.

    In the first example I would be using a limiting belief, which is very disempowering. The second example loses that limiting belief and becomes something I can control, which is very empowering. It is about recognizing and accepting what I can control and not using things I beyond my control (the actions of others, the weather, etc) as excuses.

  31. Katie says:

    Nobody said blaming oneself and accepting responsibility are the same thing. What I said was that placing blame in the proper place (instead of solely on yourself) can be part of taking responsibility, and that you should only take responsibility about what you, yourself, are responsible for.

    The fact is, some people do not, in fact, get their dream job because they were discriminated against. This is actually a real thing that occurs in the world. That doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile to improve your skills – that’s always helpful – but saying “I was denied this job – it must be because I’m a terrible writer and I should work on that till the end of time” is not actually that helpful if you were denied a job because the potential employer hates black people. That’s just blaming yourself for something you did not actually do.

    If your point is that you should (a) perhaps bring a claim against the racist employer, and then (b) go after other jobs with decent people instead instead of becoming embittered and giving up, fine. Sometimes. Because there have been times and places and still are times and places where people are still categorically shut out of opportunities they deserve because of other people’s prejudices and/or oppressive actions. We can close our eyes and wish that wasn’t the case, but that’s not going to change the situation, nor is “accepting responsibility” for societal discrimination.

  32. joan says:

    I have wondered why certain commenters were always first on the list of commenting. Click-the light bulb above my head just came on, I see where their comments are posted (in this post at least)in the afternoon the day before I get the post on my computer. They have an advantage. ha ha

  33. Steven says:

    So…what about those times when racism does keep you from advancing? Or a disability? People have prejudice, and people in positions of power have prejudice. If you’re unfortunate enough to be born of the wrong color/nationality/religion/etc, then what?

    This conversation is only relevent to white males, with no physical or mental handicaps, with a college education. Yeah, I said it.

  34. Johanna says:

    Jonathan, I tried to reply to you, but my comment was sent to moderation twice. How do you suggest that I take personal responsibility for this happening?

  35. AnnJo says:

    Trent’s refrain of “focus on what you can control” cuts through a lot of the blame/personal responsibility discussion. Our choices are often or indeed always constrained, but they always exist. Accepting personal responsibility means choosing among them with the goal of advancing our highest interest possible in the circumstances, whatever that may be.

    One of the ways open to people today to avoid personal responsibility is the ‘subtle’, ‘unconscious’ or ‘systemic’ discrimination route. Back in the day when jobs were listed in the newspapers as “Help Wanted-Men” or “Help Wanted-Women”, there was no question what was going on. But since that kind of open discrimination ended, it can be almost impossible to know whether any particular act is based on stereotyping/irrational discrimination or on rational discrimination. And rational discrimination can nevertheless have disparate impacts on different groups. Johanna would call that a ‘systemic’ problem, but that’s just replacing one stereotype with another.

    For example, let’s say that as a small-business employer, I particularly like to work with people who share my love of opera and to a lesser degree, my hatred of rap music. (Musical preference is not related to the job, however.)

    Based on the audiences I see when I go to the opera, and my understanding of the demographics of rap music, my employee pool will be disproportionately white and Asian. It would be irrational of me to rule out blacks, since that would bar me from hiring some of my very favorite opera singers who happen to be black – clearly SOME blacks love opera, but my workforce is unlikely to match the general racial composition of my area, given that preference.

    Johanna would call this ‘systemic’ racism, since opera is a cultural medium that has, historically, been less available to blacks, and she’d be correct about the history. Her solution would probably be to note that musical preference is not strictly related to job performance, and that if my selecting for musical preference disproportionately affects one racial group, I should be banned from doing it, even if that substantially diminishes my own enjoyment of my work and pleasure in my business. My view might be that, regardless of history, cultivating a love of opera is now open to anyone and assuming blacks cannot or will not do so is as much a stereotype as assuming none of them love it now.

    People who desire to work in my business could then do the blame route – “systemic racism is to blame for that job not being given to me!” – or the personal responsibility route – spend a couple of intensive weeks of reading and listening and present themselves as neophyte opera lovers excited to learn more. And if they decide that after all they hate opera, they can make a choice as to whether the job, including being cooped up with passionate opera lovers 40+ hours a week, really suits their higher interests. Just as I would do if the job I wanted entailed listening to rap music all day.

  36. AnnJo says:

    Steven said, “People have prejudice, and people in positions of power have prejudice. If you’re unfortunate enough to be born of the wrong color/nationality/religion/etc, then what?”

    “Prejudice” means “to pre-judge,” in most cases, to pre-judge members of some “other” group to be inherently and intractably different from oneself. If you are born into the “wrong” group or develop into it (through disability, weight, age, educational or cultural deficits, etc.), then you still have choices, just not as good as what are available to others.

    For one thing, you demonstrate you are NOT inherently or intractably different. This may mean subduing your “cultural expression” and adopting the dress, manners, language and habits of the majority, at least when dealing with them. This is how some groups have handled it. Sociologist Thomas Sowell wrote a book called Ethnic America that describes that process.

    Or you can start your own business.

    I’m not saying that the choice is necessarily easy, but it is a choice.

    By the way, in private business, most people in positions of power are prejudiced first and foremost in favor of the color green, as in money. That is a prejudice that should never be ignored.

  37. Johanna says:

    AnnJo, what on Earth are you talking about?

    First of all, stop pretending that you know what I think. As you’ve proven over and over, you haven’t got a clue.

    I’m no expert in anti-discrimination law, but it’s my understanding that most such laws only apply to businesses above a certain size. If your small business is smaller than that, feel free to hire or not hire whomever you please, and if you miss out on an exceptionally talented candidate because you can’t see past his or her music preference, that’s your loss.

    Now, what if your business is large enough that anti-discrimination laws apply? I can’t imagine that there’s not some precedent for how the law handles thinly veiled racial discrimination (as your singling out lovers of rap music seems to be, especially if you don’t have a similar problem with people who listen to country or bluegrass or Irish music). I’m happy to defer to that precedent, whatever it happens to be.

  38. Johanna says:

    And if this really is a conflict over music preferences, I see a couple of possible solutions.

    You can say “I’m the boss, I get to choose the music we play in the office, and I choose opera. If you don’t like opera, either deal with it or go work someplace else.”

    Or you can say “We take turns choosing the music, I’ll listen to whatever you choose, you listen to what I choose, and it’ll be a learning experience for both of us.”

    But to say “We take turns choosing the music, but I’ll only hire you if you’d choose music that I already like” makes you, at the very least, a passive-aggressive jerk.

  39. AnnJo says:

    Johanna, are you saying that hating rap music is per se racist? Since you see that as “thinly veiled racial discrimination,” that seems to be the implication. For the record, I know black people who don’t like rap and white and Asian people who do; I picked those two musical forms only because I’m pretty sure you’d find a statistically significant difference between different racial groups’ favoring of opera vs. rap.

    You are right, I should not have assumed you would think my example one of systemic racism. In your view, would it be?

    Employment discrimination laws on a federal basis apply to companies with more than 15 employees. On the state level, the cut-off is as low as 1 employee, but typically in the five to eight range. Since tort lawsuits based on discrimination claims can be brought even if the anti-discrimination laws do not apply, there is no size of business that is actually exempt from the risk of lawsuits alleging discrimination. The only way to avoid the risk is not to operate a business that hires employees. (No, you cannot avoid the risk by not discriminating. Any choice that disfavors a member of a protected class, no matter what the basis, will create a risk. You may or may not win the lawsuit, but for most small businesses, winning will bankrupt you just as well as losing.)

  40. Tracy says:

    ““Prejudice” means “to pre-judge,” in most cases, to pre-judge members of some “other” group to be inherently and intractably different from oneself. If you are born into the “wrong” group or develop into it (through disability, weight, age, educational or cultural deficits, etc.), then you still have choices, just not as good as what are available to others.”

    This.Is.The.Problem.

  41. AnnJo says:

    Tracy, yes, indeed, that is the problem, and furthermore,
    It.Will.Never.Go.Away.

    We are hard-wired as a species to notice and conjure up differences between other groups and our own and be suspicious of them. The groups, the differences we notice, will change over time, but there will always be something. The descendants of 19th century Serbs and Croats who emigrated to the U.S. get along just fine; the descendants of those who stayed behind are still suspicious if not hateful toward each other. Today in the U.S., the enmity might be between groups that hold different views on abortion or gay marriage or global warming, and in 20 years it might be between those who hold different views on some medical procedure that hasn’t been invented yet or the ethics of violence in sports or between young people burdened with the increasing costs of elder-care and elders who decline to shuffle off this mortal coil soon enough.

    The issue is what to do about it. Given the problem, do you put your life on hold and wallow in bitterness and envy until “the problem” is solved and your choices are equal to everybody else’s, or do you do the best you can given the circumstances?

  42. Johanna says:

    “Johanna, are you saying that hating rap music is per se racist?”

    No, of course not. De gustibus non est disputandum, and all that. On the other hand, hating people who listen to rap music, to the point where you can’t stand to be around them, even in contexts that have nothing to do with music, may very well be racist.

    “You are right, I should not have assumed you would think my example one of systemic racism. In your view, would it be?”

    I’m still not totally sure what “your example” is. You’re talking about basing employment decisions on music preferences – because you listen to music at work? Because you talk about music at work? (Why is it so important for you to talk about music at work, anyway?) And so you’re hiring people who like opera and refusing to hire people who like rap – what about other genres of music? As I alluded before, there are plenty of other genres whose followings are at least as “white” as opera’s is, and I’m sure you dislike at least some of them. Would you hire someone who likes country music, or bluegrass? And what about people who like both opera *and* rap?

    Simply put (hey, this is addictive!), if you’re discriminating against people who don’t like opera, that’s a bit eccentric. If you’re discriminating just against people who like rap, then yes, I’d say that’s an example of racism.

  43. Katie says:

    Doing the best you can under the circumstances and blaming discriminatory people for discriminating are not mutually exclusive.

  44. Tracy says:

    You *recognize* that it’s a problem and you don’t handwave it away as not being a big deal because it could be worse. It’s particularly disgusting to see that being done by the people that perpetuate the problem.

  45. Johanna says:

    “We are hard-wired as a species to notice and conjure up differences between other groups and our own and be suspicious of them.”

    This is quite simply not how most discrimination works, and it’s trivially easy to prove that it’s not. I’m going to switch to talking about sexism here, because I’m more familiar with the research that’s been done on that, but the same thing applies to pleny of other “isms.”

    If sexism were about favoring people like ourselves to people not like ourselves, then men would discriminate in favor of men, and women would discriminate in favor of women. For example, when asked to evaluate two equivalent resumes, one with a male name and the other with a female name, women would choose the one with the female name and men would choose the one with the male name. But this is not what happens. Rather, both men and women judge the resume with the male name to be more competent. Same goes for when they’re given scholarly articles to evaluate, shown pictures of people, and so forth.

  46. Katie says:

    Johanna, sounds like the research about how white baby dolls are chosen over black ones even by black parents and children.

  47. Tracy says:

    To add to Johanna’s comment, there’s the absolutely heartbreaking studies that have been done with small children and dolls – when asked to point to the ‘good’ doll, the children almost universally would choose the white doll and when pointing to the ‘bad’ doll, they would choose the black doll – regardless of the race of the child.

  48. Johanna says:

    Katie and Tracy to the rescue. Thanks, y’all.

  49. BD says:

    I usually lurk and read everyone’s comments (which are usually interesting), but I just have to throw in this one comment.

    I’ve never liked the experiment with the black and white dolls. It leads to what I feel is a false conclusion. It has nothing to do with race, or society’s view of certain races, and everything to do with the fact that we the human animal, being frail and soft, with little natural defenses, have evolved to fear the dark. The dark is where predators lurked to eat our ancestors (before they learned how to defend themselves with tools).
    It may be thousands of years later, but we’re still hard wired to fear the dark, at least subconsciously.

    I’d like to see them extend that experiment beyond just dolls. Try it with a big black van and a big white van. Which is scarier? Which seems “bad” and which seems “good”? I know to me, a black van with dark windows seems more ‘bad’ than a white one. Two horses…one black, one white. Which is bad? Which is good? Does the good guy ever ride a black horse? Two rooms…one painted black with darkened windows, and one painted white with plenty of bright sunlight coming in. Any child will tell you the dark room is the ‘bad’ room, and the white room is the ‘good’ room. Nothing to do with race, and everything to do with light, or the absence of light.

    It simply has to do with that hard-wiring that’s deep inside the primal section of our brains.

  50. Johanna says:

    If we’re really “hard wired” to fear dark colors in all contexts, how do you explain that businessmen, to present an air of respectability, wear dark suits, not white ones? Or that Bibles are usually bound in dark-colored leather?

    Evo-psych just-so stories will only get you so far.

  51. AnnJo says:

    The fact that an “out” group internalizes the standards and stereotypes of the “in” group does not in the slightest derogate from the point I was making. Humans do group, and take pride in differentiating their group from outsiders, even on the most trivial of grounds.

    I mean, look at Tracy. S/he is a member of the “in” group of those who take problems of discrimination seriously, while she puts me in the “out” group of people who don’t and in fact disgustingly perpetuate the problem.

    I’ve probably filed and pursued race and sex discrimination complaints on behalf of more people than Tracy has lived in months (or possibly weeks), helping desegregate major companies and institutions, but on the basis of very little knowledge, Tracy can pre-judge and stereotype me with ease as someone who “perpetuates” the problem.

    Tracy, it is your conclusion that I wave the problem away as no big deal. Your conclusion is wrong. But the fact is all of us are faced during our lives with any number of big deals, up to and including death, which is no triviality and the supreme equal opportunity proposition.

    We must pick our battles. And far too many people handicap themselves by concluding that whatever injustices MIGHT affect them DO affect them, and even when they are correct, by allowing those injustices to define them.

    The point Trent was making was to focus on those things we CAN control. We cannot control the existence of injustice in the world. Yes, some of us sometimes can do something about it, but I wouldn’t call trashing the good faith of strangers on a blog among the more heroic activities in defense of justice.

    Frankly, most of the easy battles have already been won, and even some pretty hard ones. There’s no way to know for sure, but there’s a possibility that at this point more people are held back by the conviction that they face discrimination than the actuality of it. Despite a strong pro-complainant mandate and some would argue bias, most anti-discrimination agencies find a relatively small proportion of complaints to be valid. The rest represent people who are battling windmills instead of accurately assessing their situation and making changes that ARE within their control.

    And yes, being aware of how much worse things could be is a kind of “glass half-full” way of looking at the world, but it’s just as true as that the glass is half-empty, and it helps plenty of people get through troubles rather than being overcome by them.

  52. BD says:

    Respect and fear are often used interchangeably. Think about that. Businessmen throw their weight around, they demand respect as they climb the corporate ladder.

    Why are Bibles bound in black? Why did preachers used to wear black? Why do you wear black to a funeral? Somber. Respect. Fear.

    This is really a no-brainer when you sit down and give it serious thought. (Although the part about light and dark from my first comment was from scientific research I remember reading long ago).

    It’s simply science.

  53. Johanna says:

    Yeah, Tracy, what about the bigots? You’re discriminating against the bigots. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  54. Johanna says:

    “It’s simply science.”

    I earn my living from science, and no, it’s simply not.

  55. BD says:

    As someone who makes their living from science, you should know this stuff. Or is it just that you’ll take the contrary view just for the sake of arguing? I’ve noticed that about you. You’re a big reason why I even read TSD. It’s interesting to see how you love to argue.

  56. Jonathan says:

    I missed a lot in this conversation while away yesterday. Seems like it has turned away from a discussion on personal responsibility to a discussion on discrimination.

    I can’t speak to the questions/examples of racism given since I have not experienced those personally. Yes, as Steven suggested, I am a white male. I completely disagree, however, that the “conversation is only relevent to white males, with no physical or mental handicaps, with a college education”. The conversation is relevant to anyone who decides to take complete responsibility for his/her life. Any one who finds this mindset beneficial can adapt it. If someone feels disadvantaged and chooses not to follow the model of 100% responsibility then that is ok. It is their decision to make, and that decision for them is just as valid as the decisions I’ve made in my own life. My point in this discussion is not that everyone should do what I do. My point was to present it as an option so that individual can consider the possibility when deciding which mindset to apply in their own life. The conclusion I draw from Steven’s comment is that if you’re not a white male with a college education and no handicaps the 100 responsibility model isn’t for you. I see no reason to discriminate. If you feel this mindset would be as beneficial to you as it has to me, then you should feel free to adopt it.

  57. Jonathan says:

    @Johanna (#34) – Sorry that it took so long to get to your comment.

    I can only tell you how I view this same situation when it happens to me. First, I realize that frequenting TSD and reading Trent’s worth is my decision. Second, I have had comments stuck in moderation for no apparent reason before, but still choose to comment regularly. Third, even a comment gets stuck and it upsets me in some way I realize that getting upset with the situation is my own choice. In other words, I accept responsibility for coming to the site in the first place, for choosing to comment even though I know the comment could get stuck in moderation, and finally for whatever emotions I feel if/when the comment gets stuck.

  58. Katie says:

    Jonathan, I think it’s totally reasonable to say “this approach worked for me – I’m sharing it in case it works for you.” At the same time, I appreciate your acknowledgment of the particular perspective your coming at here and wish it had come earlier. I will submit that the situation is often quite different for people who are not white males and that the reason for that is not only that those people tend to experience more discrimination and unfair treatment out of their control. It’s also different because those groups are much more often expected to take responsibility for everything as it is in our society. There’s nothing really groundbreaking in telling, for instance, most women in the United States today that they should be taking responsibility for negative things in that life – that message is drilled into most women from childhood, and working your way out from under it and accepting that some things aren’t your fault and shouldn’t be cause for torturing yourself with guilt and recrimination can take a lifetime and be extremely difficult.

    Actually, I’m sure there are white men who get those messages too (and women and men of color who don’t), but it sounds like you and Trent, at least, don’t feel you did and are writing from that perspective, which is reasonable.

  59. Jonathan says:

    Katie, based on my experience I believe that the ability to take completely responsibility could be more empowering for those who feel they experience more discrimination and unfair treatment. I can’t imagine a scenario in which thinking of oneself as a victim is empowering.

    Also, would you mind elaborating on this statement: “It’s also different because those groups are much more often expected to take responsibility for everything as it is in our society.”? I am curious as to which groups you feel are expected to take responsibility for everything in our society. Or am I misinterpreting your meaning?

  60. Jonathan says:

    Katie, Sorry. I forgot to address one other issue.

    “…shouldn’t be cause for torturing yourself with guilt and recrimination can take a lifetime and be extremely difficult.”

    I still feel that there is a serious disconnect between us if you feel that accepting responsibility means torturing yourself with guilt and recrimination. I don’t doubt that there are people in this situation who have been told they are to blame for everything wrong in the world. That is very different from my mindset, though. Again, its about positivity vs negativity. I think this might be the biggest difference in the mindset, and I know that as long as taking responsibility is equated with negative feelings such as guilt then the idea is probably not going to make a lot of sense.

  61. Katie says:

    The example I gave was women, Jonathan, because that’s the one I’m most familiar with (being one!). In my experience, women in our society aren’t taught to foist off responsibility onto other people and make excuses blaming everyone else for everything that goes wrong. They’re taught to internalize and take full responsibility whether they should or not. You can see this in a lot of workplaces – I, for one, have to constantly stop myself for apologizing for every thing that doesn’t go perfectly even when it’s clearly someone else’s fault. I see my female peers doing the same a lot more than I do my male peers. I think this carries over into a lot of areas of life and is counterproductive.

    As for it being “empowering,” I don’t think you’re really listening to what people are telling you. I’m sure it can be, for some people. That’s nice. But for a lot of people, when the narrative you’ve had drilled into your head your whole life is “This bad thing happened to you because you are an unworthy person who deserves to suffer,” what’s empowering is saying “No, actually, it didn’t and I don’t.” A lot more positive changes can come from that than from refusing to ever blame anyone for anything ever even if it’s blatantly their fault.

  62. Jonathan says:

    I understand what you’re saying Katie, but still feel that you’re missing one of the key points I’ve tried to make. Maybe it would help if we could discuss a real world example. Could you give me an example where this statement applies, “I, for one, have to constantly stop myself for apologizing for every thing that doesn’t go perfectly even when it’s clearly someone else’s fault.”?

  63. Katie says:

    As to your second comment, I think the disconnect is that I’m saying that sometimes, for some people, the most responsible way of unloading negative scripts about blame and fault and moving on with one’s life, is placing blame on the responsible party rather than for yourself. If you don’t have those negative scripts to begin with, it probably doesn’t matter. If you do, it does. In other words, I don’t think placing blame for what someone else did is diametrically opposed to or mutually exclusive from taking responsibility for what you can control. The two can co-exist.

  64. Katie says:

    Oh, and at the risk of commenting too much, you’re saying taking responsibility doesn’t have to be accompanied with negative feelings. I’m saying placing blame doesn’t have to be accompanied with negative feelings. It can also be a positive or neutral act.

  65. Katie says:

    No, I don’t really want to get into giving examples from my own life, to be honest. Imagine any common situation in which either nobody is at fault or one person is, and the other person feels the need to reflectively apologize. It’s not necessarily a bad thing as a general matter to be quick to apologize, but over the long term, it can be crippling.

  66. Johanna says:

    “Could you give me an example where this statement applies, “I, for one, have to constantly stop myself for apologizing for every thing that doesn’t go perfectly even when it’s clearly someone else’s fault.”?”

    I’ll give a really low-level example, and I hope everyone who reads it will take it in the spirit in which it’s intended – as an example of a larger pattern – rather than accusing me of “looking for stuff to get mad about.”

    When I bump into someone in the hallway at work, regardless of who’s at fault, I’ll reflexively say “I’m sorry.” If the person I bumped into is a woman, she too will usually say “I’m sorry.” But if the person I bumped into is a man, at least 50% of the time he will say nothing.

  67. Tracy says:

    I know, Johanna, I am so ashamed:(

    AnnJo, I’m not exactly sure what you’re going on about, or why you continue to try to project other people’s opinions. I’m not prejudging or stereotyping you, I was responding to things you’ve *actually said* on this thread.

    A mindset that advocates that already-marginalized groups be the ones to have to make all or most of the changes is one that I consider problematic.

    Anything else you may or may not have done doesn’t change what you say here – and there’s not some sort of weird, mysterical trade-off where doing 3 good acts excuses a bad. An ER surgeon may save hundreds of lives a year, that doesn’t mean he or she is allowed to kill an ex-spouse.

  68. Jonathan says:

    “When I bump into someone in the hallway at work, regardless of who’s at fault, I’ll reflexively say “I’m sorry.” If the person I bumped into is a woman, she too will usually say “I’m sorry.” But if the person I bumped into is a man, at least 50% of the time he will say nothing.”

    Actually, anytime I bump into someone I apologize. I can’t see any issue with this. If half of the men don’t apologize then I would say that either they are refusing to take responsibility for their own actions or are, more likely, just being rude.

    @Katie – I understand not wanting to give an example. The reason I asked is I suspect that we are simply thinking of different types of situations/reactions.

  69. Johanna says:

    Jonathan, do you even realize that you’ve just proved my point? In this particular situation (bumping into people in the hallway), many men are not “taking responsibility,” but the women already are. This is exactly (I think) what Katie was getting at before, where women are socialized (under the guise of not being “rude”) to accept responsibility for everything, even when it’s not their fault.

  70. Jonathan says:

    I think you and I are seeing the situation different Johanna. If I bump into someone in the hall, how is it not my responsibility? I chose to walk down that hallway. I chose not to move out of the way when I saw someone else coming, or I chose to pay attention to something else that distracted me, causing me to not see them.

    What you see as women (and 50% of men) accepting responsibility for something that isn’t their fault I see as 50% of men (based on your observations) being unwilling to take responsibility for their own actions (or perhaps taking responsibility, yet choosing to be rude and not apologize).

  71. Johanna says:

    Jonathan, just to clarify, would you say that there’s a distinction to be drawn between “responsibility” and “fault” in this instance? Is it possible for bumping into someone to be “your responsibility” but not “your fault,” or are the two expressions synonymous?

  72. Riki says:

    Johanna, I think you’ve identified the reason for this conversation. Jonathan has defined “responsibility” in a way that doesn’t fit with my own understanding of the word.

  73. AnnJo says:

    Tracy, you said, “A mindset that advocates that already-marginalized groups be the ones to have to make all or most of the changes is one that I consider problematic.”

    You seem to believe I WANT certain individuals “to have to make all . . . the changes,” that I am speaking of what SHOULD be. Not so. Maybe I can explain by analogy.

    Let’s say we both have a place to go. My path, which I can claim no credit in choosing, is along a 4″ wide curb, not more than 6″ off the ground, and yours, which you are equally blameless in choosing, is along a 4″ wide wall, 60 feet above the ground.

    The law of gravity is neutral and applies equally to both of us, but if someone were to notice that both of us are being casual about our keeping our balance, to whom would a warning be more important? Gravity, i.e., reality, has put a more difficult task in front of you than me. We can debate whether there’s a ladder available to help you safely down, or whether we can put up a safety net in case you fall, and we should, but it would be foolhardy to suggest you should take no more care in walking than I do. Acknowledging reality is not the same thing as embracing it as good or right.

    “Man is man because he is free to operate within the framework of his destiny. He is free to deliberate, to make decisions, and to
    choose between alternatives.” MLK, Jr.

    Nobody gets to choose “the framework of [our] destiny,” but to say that this completely obviates a person’s duty and opportunity of choice is to deprive that person of humanity.

  74. Johanna says:

    So hating black people who like rap music is like the law of gravity?

  75. Johanna says:

    If it is, then I guess that means I can fly. Cool!

  76. Jonathan says:

    Johanna,

    No, I would not say that there is a distinction between responsibility and fault. I don’t understand why it is so important to assign fault. The only purpose I can find in assigning fault to another is so I do not have to accept my own responsibility.

    I can only control my own actions. Those are the actions I am responsible for. I cannot control the actions of another, nor would I wish to. I have no responsibility for the actions of another.

    If you and I are walking down a hall and bump into each other I would accept responsibility for my part in the collision. You may or may not accept responsibility for your own role in the encounter. If I wanted to assign fault I could say it was your fault because you didn’t move out of my way. Or it was your fault because you used the hallway at the same time that I did. Or maybe it is your fault simply for existing. Once I assigned fault to you, could I then do anything to prevent us from bumping into one another again? Could I use the assignment of fault to control your actions?

    I suspect that the distinction you’re making between responsibility and fault is that the person at fault is the person who is more responsible for the encounter/situation? Is that accurate? In your example, how do you assign fault? Is it the person who started down the hallway even though someone else was already there? Is it the person who crosses an imaginary line separating my side from your side? Is it the person who has broader shoulders, so naturally takes up more space? In other words, is it the person who behaved differently in the situation than I think they should? Or is it simply the person who is not me?

  77. Jonathan says:

    As an aside, perhaps I should explain why it is important to me to accept responsibility for a situation rather than just accept it without taking responsibility. It has to do with the way I think, which is also related to the work I do, which is software testing.

    If I’m testing a piece of software and find a scenario that produces an unwanted outcome I can’t just accept the unwanted outcome, at least not without further investigation. Once an unwanted outcome is discovered the next step is to identify the root cause for the unexpected result. Once that is identified the next step is to either formulate and implement a solution or, if it is determined that the issue is insignificant enough that it isn’t worth the effort, choose to accept the unwanted result without further action.

    In my own life I can only control my actions. When a situation results in an unwanted outcome it does me no good to blame someone else. I accept responsibility for my role in the encounter and determine what I could do to prevent a repeat. Sometimes I choose to do nothing, other times I choose to make a change. Regardless, the approach is the same. I take responsibility for my part, determine what I could do differently, then decide if the situation warrants making a change or if I should just accept the situation as is. In the example of you and I bumping into each other in the hallway I might very well choose to take no action, aside from the polite apology. Chances are that I need to use that hallway and the chance that I might bump into you again isn’t a significant enough risk for me to choose to stop using it.

  78. AnnJo says:

    Johanna, where did this “hating black people who like rap music” come from? I hate rap music, not the people who like it. I know very few people who like rap music (most of them are white), none of whom I hate, and I make it a point not to hate people I don’t know. If it does your soul good to build up straw men (or women) to direct your own hatred at, feel free, but just as you claim I presume too often to know what you think, it is clear to me that, whether for the love of argument or otherwise, you will not or cannot understand what I think.

  79. Katie says:

    If I wanted to assign fault I could say it was your fault because you didn’t move out of my way. Or it was your fault because you used the hallway at the same time that I did. Or maybe it is your fault simply for existing. Once I assigned fault to you, could I then do anything to prevent us from bumping into one another again? Could I use the assignment of fault to control your actions?

    Fault isn’t a hundred percent. You can say “Oh, I should make sure I watch where I’m going,” while simultaneously saying “But if Johanna decides to go out of her way to crash into me in the hallway, I may not be able to do anything to prevent it.” Both those are accurate statements. “I can always prevent other people from running into me in a hallway” is not.

    It sounds like you’re saying that you don’t see any need to make the “But” part of the statement above. That’s nice but the argument people are making here is that some people find constructive value in determining what part of a situation is out of their control. It does not need to be inherently negative or destructive for them to do so, nor does it mean ignoring what part of a situation they personally are in control of.

    I’m reminded of the old AA Serenity Prayer regarding having the wisdom to accept what can’t be changed and the strength to change what can – in order to do that, you do actually have to distinguish between what parts of a situation you are in control of and what parts you’re not.

  80. Jonathan says:

    “That’s nice but the argument people are making here is that some people find constructive value in determining what part of a situation is out of their control. It does not need to be inherently negative or destructive for them to do so, nor does it mean ignoring what part of a situation they personally are in control of.”

    This is ok. Again, I’m not telling people that they need to adopt the 100% responsibility model just because it works for me. I’m saying that I think it would be helpful for some people, especially people who feel like they are victims, but ultimately it is up to each individual to decide what works best. If focusing on something that is out of your control is helpful for you, then by all means, continue to do so. You choice is outside of my control, so all I can do is focus on what I can control, which is to tell people what works for me :-)

  81. Johanna says:

    Thank you for the clarification on responsibility/fault. The reason I asked is that you seemed to be using the words interchangeably in your previous comment, and I wasn’t sure if there was a distinction that I was missing.

    (Trigger Warning for discussion of rape, victim-blaming narratives, and violent misogyny.)

    You say that it’s your responsibility when you bump into someone in the hallway because you chose to walk down that hallway (and could have chosen otherwise, I suppose). What if you choose to put on certain flattering clothes, go to a bar, have a few drinks, flirt with an attractive stranger, and that stranger then rapes you? Is that also your responsibility, because you chose to do all those things? Would you say it’s *empowering* for you to accept responsibility?

    I think that a big part of the reason why a whole lot of people, mostly women, are bristling at what you’re saying here is that it reminds us a whole lot of the victim-blaming narratives we get fed all the time. I know you said before that you don’t agree with that kind of victim blaming, and that’s good, but I’m not sure it’s relevant, because many people do.

    You also said that you disagree that your vision of personal responsibility perpetuates rape culture. But what if it does? A lot of people read this blog and these comments, and just statistically, the readership certainly includes some rapists and maybe even some violent misogynists (of the type that harbor such hatred for all women that they’d go on a shooting spree, for example). What if someone like that reads your comments and thinks “You know, he’s right, those women are totally responsible for (rejecting me, leading me on, etc.), and they totally deserve what’s coming to them.” Would you say that you need to take responsibility for the way they interpreted your words?

  82. Johanna says:

    @AnnJo: Maybe “hating” was too strong a word. But you were talking earlier about how you’d refuse to hire someone who likes rap music, even though the job has nothing to do with music. No matter how you try to spin it, that’s just not a rational response to disliking someone’s music preferences, and really suggests that you harbor some dislike or disgust for the person, not just for the music.

    In an earlier thread – the one about the one-car family – you said you don’t ride the bus because (among other things) there are people on the bus who wear low-slung pants. Same deal with that. I don’t care for that particular fashion sense either – but to go out of your way to avoid being around people who dress like that is not a normal or rational response.

  83. Tracy says:

    “You seem to believe I WANT certain individuals ‘to have to make all . . . the changes,’ that I am speaking of what SHOULD be”

    The reason for that is first:

    In a scenario (that you created) where you have complete control over who is hired for a position that has absolutely nothing to do with opera music, you believe it’s fair for you to request that they “spend a couple of intensive weeks of reading and listening and present themselves as neophyte opera lovers excited to learn more.” (And this after already elaborately having set up that opera lover was code for not-black)

    Why would I NOT think that that’s what you think should be, since it’s YOUR scenario of what would be a fair reason to not hire somebody? And that when Johanna gave you several alternatives that you could use instead, where you didn’t put all the onus on the not-an-opera-lover, you ignored them.

    You also say “For one thing, you demonstrate you are NOT inherently or intractably different. This may mean subduing your “cultural expression” and adopting the dress, manners, language and habits of the majority, at least when dealing with them”

    You don’t happen to even mention the importance of ACTUAL QUALIFICATIONS and ways to demonstrate you have them. Even the fact that you have cultural expression in quotes is telling.

  84. AnnJo says:

    Johanna, once again you have failed to understand what I said. I did not say I would refuse to hire someone who liked rap. As a matter of fact, I have no idea what musical preferences any of my employees (white or black) over the last 30 years have had (with one exception who liked country and gospel). I was formulating a hypothetical, in which I particularly enjoyed working around people who liked opera and disliked rap, with the possible disparate impact that might have on the composition of my workforce, and the means it could be overcome by a willing applicant taking personal responsibility for overcoming an obstacle. I could have chosen preferring a culture of the outdoors vs. video-gaming, or a culture of sous-vide cookery vs. Texas BBQ.

    Likewise, you choose to seize on my reference to low-slung pants, which apparently you stereotype as a black fashion statement. In my area, it seems to me just as common among white kids as black, not that I’ve made a study of it. Moreover, you cursorily slide past the various “other things” I mentioned as distasteful, which obfuscates the fact that what I was clearly expressing was a dislike for the whole package of public transportation – an assault of ugliness and coarseness on several sensory levels, visual, olfactory (did I mention that?) and auditory, and not any one particular element. And obviously, I don’t have to go out of my way to avoid it; taking a bus itself IS out of my way.

    Look. If, or I should say since, you are determined to fit me into the “bigot” slot, there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it, because anything I can say you can torture into some support for your position. Suit yourself.

  85. AnnJo says:

    Tracy, go back and re-read my hypothetical. I did not say that affection for opera was a fair reason to hire or not hire someone. In the hypothetical, I was pointing out how someone could, rather than simply lapsing into a grievance mentality, actually overcome that obstacle to employment, which implicitly acknowledges it is not a rational, i.e., fair one.

    Sure, it’s not “fair” that in order to get a job in that business they have to spend a couple of weeks expanding their horizons and acquiring an exposure to one of the world’s great artistic traditions, but if their goal is a job in that business, would you counsel them instead to spend a couple of years in EEOC complaints and ‘disproportionate impact’ litigation? Would that be “fairer”? Remember the starting point for me of the discussion was around Trent’s advice to “focus on what you can control.”

    I hadn’t given this fact any thought when I crafted my hypothetical, but my own first exposure to opera began in trying to impress someone I was hoping would offer me an internship. As it turned out, something better came along and I never even applied for the internship, but I acquired one of the great joys of my life. Oh, the unfairness of it all!

  86. Jonathan says:

    “What if someone like that reads your comments and thinks “You know, he’s right, those women are totally responsible for (rejecting me, leading me on, etc.), and they totally deserve what’s coming to them.””

    If someone reads my comments and reaches this conclusion then I would argue that they completely misinterpreted what I said. Taking responsibility for your own actions is not about blaming someone else. The mindset you describe is of an individual who refuses to accept responsibility for his/her own actions, but instead chooses to blame his/her victim(s).

    Having said that, you are correct when you suggest that I need to take responsibility for the way the hypothetical person interprets my words. Actually, no, let me rephrase. I am not responsible for the way they interpret my words, as I have no control over them. I am responsible for my words, however. Is the risk that my words do more harm than good? That is a decision I have to make and be willing to take responsibility if I’m wrong.

    To be honest I’m hesitant to get very much into a discussion of rape and rape-victims because it is such an emotional topic. My fear is that I’ll misstate something that could be perceived as me blaming the victim’s of rape, which is not a mindset I ever want to be associated with. For that reason I’ll try to tread very lightly while still answering your question.

    If I chose to put on flattering clothes, go to a bar, have a few drinks, and flirt with an attractive stranger, then I would have responsibility for getting the strangers attention and engaging him/her. I would not have responsibility for his/her actions, because I can’t control others. Would I say I deserved to be raped because of these decisions, absolutely not. Would I do things differently in the future? Maybe, maybe not. If my goal was to ensure I was never raped then I might choose not to put myself in a situation like this. Or I might choose to take self-defense classes or carry a concealed handgun. Or I might choose that it is better to go out and be social without constantly fearing every stranger who shows an interest. I can’t say what I would do, because I’ve never been in that situation, and most likely never will be. Its possible I would decide that after such a traumatic event the 100% responsibility mindset is just too hard.

  87. Tracy says:

    I am not saying that you are maliciously racist. I am saying that you have been saying many things that come across as racist on this thread and that you’re using racist examples to support unrelated positions.

    If that is something that you are ok with, than that’s fine – but that doesn’t change the statements themselves.

  88. Johanna says:

    (Continued trigger warning for rape.)

    @Jonathan: You’re right that you have no control over how someone else interprets your words. But if a significant number of people are misinterpreting your words, or having trouble understanding them, then it *is* your responsibility to take a step back and think about whether you might be able to say what you want to say more clearly.

    And it’s not really a “hypothetical” to say that there’s at least one rapist reading this blog. Between 5% and 15% of men (depending on the survey) will *admit* to having committed or attempted rape, as long as the question doesn’t actually use the word “rape.” (For example, they might ask something like “Have you ever forced someone to have intercourse with you, even though they did not want to, by using physical force or the threat of physical force?”) If there are at least 20 men reading this, the odds are extremely good that at least one of them is a rapist.

  89. Jonathan says:

    I would like to add another consideration for AnnJo’s hypothetical job candidate. The person may choose that they would prefer to not work for someone who uses musical tastes to choose employees. Or might choose they would prefer not to work in a setting where they might face conflicts with the others due to their differences in music and possibly other cultural tastes.

    I’m not suggesting that the person should not apply for the job based on these factors if they really want the job. If they do get the job, however, then find they unhappy due to the musical differences, should they blame their co-workers and/or employer for their unhappiness? Or realize that they chose to not only accept the job, but in this case press charges to get the job, even though they knew such differences exist.

    I can give a slightly more realistic example from my own life. I do not have a college degree. That has never stood in my way or held me back from doing my job. If I apply for a job and get turned down because I do not have a degree I can either complain that they are discriminating against me, go out and get a degree, or decide that I have no desire to work for a company that values a piece of paper over my knowledge, experience, and track history. For my, the choice is easy, its the 3rd option. I have no desire to work in an environment where I would be considered a lesser employee simply because I do not have a degree, so I refuse to accept such a job.

  90. Jonathan says:

    Johanna, I agree. I have complete responsibility over what I say. I happen to believe that my comments on the topic are more likely to have a positive impact than a negative one. I might be wrong. If someone reads this and believes I am telling them it is ok to commit rape, then first of all, don’t do it. You’re wrong about what I’m saying. Second, that’s something I’ll have to live with. Its part of taking responsibility.

  91. Johanna says:

    “The person may choose that they would prefer to not work for someone who uses musical tastes to choose employees. Or might choose they would prefer not to work in a setting where they might face conflicts with the others due to their differences in music and possibly other cultural tastes.”

    True. And black people in the Jim Crow era South might have chosen to boycott the segregated lunch counters.

    The existence of these options does not, however, absolve the people in positions of power of their moral responsibility to not be racist, nor does it make their racism any less bad.

  92. AnnJo says:

    Tracy, could you give an example of a racist statement that I’ve made in this thread? Is it, for example, racist to say that as between opera and rap, opera will draw a disproportionately white and Asian audience vs. black, as compared to rap? Do you dispute the truth of that statement or is it simply racist to say it, even if true? And if that’s racist, what about Johanna’s apparent assumption that low-slung pants are a black fashion statement? What if that happens to be true where she lives, is it racist then for her to mention it?

    Or was it racist for me to formulate a hypothetical that brings up race at all?

    Or is it racist to suggest, as I did, that discrimination, often on trivial grounds, is a common thread throughout history, and inherent in human nature?

    I’d really be interested to know.

  93. Jonathan says:

    “The existence of these options does not, however, absolve the people in positions of power of their moral responsibility to not be racist, nor does it make their racism any less bad.”

    Agreed. These type of options, along with the option AnnJo mentioned, are example of things the person has control over. That doesn’t mean they can’t fight against the discrimination at the same time. It also doesn’t absolve those in power of their responsibility, especially if you prescribe to my line or thinking regarding personal responsibility. More importantly, it does not take away my responsibility for helping to make such discrimination unacceptable in our society.

  94. Tracy says:

    “My view might be that, regardless of history, cultivating a love of opera is now open to anyone and assuming blacks cannot or will not do so is as much a stereotype as assuming none of them love it now.”

    First of all, “blacks” as a noun is just flat out racist. Second, this grouping of people into one homogenous group is racist – What you did was basically a textbook example of someone saying “I’m not a racist, but [insert highly racist statement]”

    If you have to do THAT many backflips in order to try to claim that what you’re saying isn’t racist, you’d probably be better off understanding how it really is.

    You’re setting up this elaborate construct in which you code not-an-opera-lover as someone who is black and then using it as a justification to not hire them. Using statistics and probability doesn’t make it less racist. Do you know what would NOT be racist? To make absolutely no assumption about what kind of music they make based on the color of their skin.

    I’ve already mentioned up thread your use of the phrase ‘cultural expression’ in quotes when used to describe marginalized groups and the racist implications of that.

    You also said “There’s no way to know for sure, but there’s a possibility that at this point more people are held back by the conviction that they face discrimination than the actuality of it.” – this, unlike my previous examples, isn’t overtly racist if uttered in absolute good faith. However, a bare minimum of research would prove how wildly inaccurate it is … and it’s exactly the sort of handwaving that I was talking about earlier, a way to perpetuate the problem by pretending it doesn’t exist or doesn’t exist ‘that much’ – and quite frankly, it REALLY REALLY DOES. And yes, there are very racist implications in trying to redirect a conversation from ‘there are serious problems’ to ‘the serious problems are in their [the people who experience the problems] head’

  95. Jonathan says:

    Tracy,

    First of all, I’m not taking sides in the debate you’re having with AnnJo. I wanted to make that clear, so my comment is perceived as an endorsement of her overall point.

    “You’re setting up this elaborate construct in which you code not-an-opera-lover as someone who is black and then using it as a justification to not hire them. Using statistics and probability doesn’t make it less racist. Do you know what would NOT be racist? To make absolutely no assumption about what kind of music they make based on the color of their skin.”

    After reading this comment, I have to ask, you do know what a hypothetical situation is, right? AnnJo clearly says that the decision her hypothetical self makes in the described situation would be irrational. It really seems that you are confusing the hypothetical AnnJo with the real one.

  96. Tracy says:

    Jonathan,

    I’m criticizing the REAL AnnJo’s decision to *create* that hypothetical and the way in which she framed it.

  97. Jonathan says:

    Tracy, thanks for the clarification. I’ll have to remember to be careful in the future when using hypotheticals. I wouldn’t want to be called a racist because I create a hypothetical situation that involves a racist.

  98. Johanna says:

    Jonathan, if that’s honestly what you think Tracy is saying, you’re not as perceptive as I thought you were.

  99. Jonathan says:

    Johanna, I wasn’t sure at first what she was saying in the comment I had quoted. Her clarification, though, sure makes it sound that way. If AnnJo’s decision to create that hypothetical situation is what caused the criticism them I’m not sure what other conclusion to draw.

    The reason I asked for clarification is that I don’t want to make the mistake of using a hypothetical or playing devil’s advocate in a way that causes someone in the conversation to assume that I necessarily hold those same beliefs. You say something that makes someone think you are a racist and it really doesn’t matter how valid your point is. Once you’ve said something that is perceived as racist its hard to get people to get passed that and see your point. That goes for other negatives as well, not just racism. I just don’t want to make that same mistake in a debate with Tracy, if that is in fact how she perceived AnnJo’s hypothetical situation.

  100. David says:

    One imagines an advertisement: “Position vacant, anyone who hates opera should not apply.”

    If on the one hand the advertisement is intended only to discourage people who hate opera, because the boss loves opera and has it played at medium volume throughout the workplace and throughout the workday, then the boss is not necessarily a racist.

    If on the other hand the advertisement is intended to ensure that more whites than blacks apply for the position, because blacks are more likely than whites to hate opera, then the boss is necessarily a racist.

    Now, an opera-loving small businessperson might well post just such an advertisement. By the same token, a racist who does not care one way or the other for opera might equally well post just such an advertisement.

    Pity the court that has to decide whether the boss was justified in preferring a white candidate who loved opera to a black candidate who hated it. One hopes that the boss could point to a black candidate who loved opera and had been given preference over a white candidate who hated it. If not…

    This was a well-formulated thought experiment, and (initially, at any rate) not very elaborate at all. It seems to have gone seriously off the rails, but that is because of a tendency to address the details rather than the principle. As to whether this tendency is more common in one group of people than another, I make no observation.

  101. Tracy says:

    Jonathan, that’s pretty much the exact opposite of what I’m saying. You do realize that in AnnJo’s hypothetical, the hypothetical AnnJo is explicitly NOT racist, right?

  102. Jonathan says:

    Yes, I do realize that. This is one of the reasons I was confused as to why that hypothetical would lead you go believe that AnnJo was being racist.

  103. Katie says:

    I think the point is that arguing that it is okay to set up arbitrary* hiring criteria that you know full well will exclude more people of one race than another might be pretty racist even if you have a reason for it other than “I hate black people.” Racism is a lot more complex than that and encompasses a lot more than KKK cross burning.

    And yeah, the hypotheticals you construct can, in fact, reveal things about your thought process even when people are aware you would not act as the person in the hypothetical in real life. Not exactly rocket science.

    * As opposed to, you know, hiring people based on job qualifications.

  104. Tracy says:

    Thank you, Katie, I was trying to figure out how to say that and couldn’t.

  105. AnnJo says:

    Tracy, well, I’m very glad I asked the question.

    First, if the use of the word “blacks” as a noun is “flat out” racist, don’t waste time telling me. Tell U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (the Department of Justice web site returns over 100 results on just the phrases “blacks were” and “blacks are”), the rest of the federal government, CBS, ABC, CNN, all kinds of scholarly journals, and President Obama, who used the word that way six times in his “A More Perfect Union” speech in March, 2008. It’s too late to tell the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who used the term that way in his famous 1987 Bicentennial speech. Too bad, because the man who won the Brown vs. Board of Education case could have learned a lot about racism from you.

    Second, if you had turned on a few brain cells in reading my hypothetical, you might have realized I was doing exactly the opposite of grouping people into a homogeneous group on racial grounds or making assumptions, based on race, about what music any particular applicant liked. My hypothetical expressly noted that there are blacks who are wonderful opera singers, whom my hypothetical employer would love to hire, and I noted also that cultivating a love of opera is now available to everyone, even though at one time in our history blacks would have found it very difficult to do that.

    You obviously don’t understand the difference between referencing an imperfect statistical correlation about a group and making a judgment about all individuals who comprise the group. In my view, one definition of racism would be confusing those two things.

    Statistical analysis, no matter how well done, is useless to draw a conclusion about a particular individual, regardless of its accuracy about a group.

    Just so you can complete your picture of me and call me sexist, too, take this example. Statistically, males score higher in math skills than females. This is a fact. But if you are hiring for math skills, you would be a fool to rule out hiring women, since any one particular woman may be vastly superior in math skills to any one particular man. On the other hand, if you had access to the entire pool of men and women and hired 10,000 people on the basis of their math skills, you would stand a good chance of hiring more men than women and, in my view, this would not be a sexist result. Conversely, if you had to choose between a male person and a female person for the job, but were not allowed to know anything more about either of them than that, it would be logical and not sexist to hire the male. Granted, you might hire a two-month old baby boy, and lose out on hiring Marilyn Vos Savant, but on the limited available information it was nevertheless the right choice.

    Most importantly, scoring high on math skills (or loving opera instead of rap) says absolutely nothing about a person’s OR a group’s CAPABILITIES. If more intelligent women went into math instead of, say, law, or studied math harder, or had parents or teachers who encouraged them in math, more individuals and therefore the group would, I’m confident, score higher on math skills over time. Rinse and repeat for blacks and opera-loving.

    Anyway, after your response to my question, I think I understand your position. I don’t think you understand mine, but we’ll have to let that go.

  106. AnnJo says:

    David, I agree with everything you said. Probably including your unstated observation.

  107. AnnJo says:

    Tracy, I wrote most of #105, was interrupted, and posted it without re-reading. Usually I edit out my unseemly sarcasm on a second read. I apologize for not doing so on that post.

  108. Tracy says:

    “Second, if you had turned on a few brain cells in reading my hypothetical”

    heh. Very nice. Sadly, nothing you said makes your statements less racist. And if you think you were NOT grouping people as a homogeneous group, you may need to look up the definitions, because that’s exactly what you were doing. Either way, I’m done with you – I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt before but … *shrug*

    You’re the kind of person who is more offended by the fact somebody might think you are racist than you are worried about if you are making a racist statement and that’s your right but it’s definitely a reflection of your character.

  109. Tracy says:

    hey, truth shines through, no worries

  110. Johanna says:

    AnnJo, you seem to be saying that an action cannot be racist unless it treats (or would treat) all black people negatively and all white people positively. That’s not an unusual thing to believe – it’s the basis of the “I can’t be racist because some of my best friends are black” defense (which is not too far from “I can’t be racist because some of my favorite opera singers are black”) – but it’s false. In fact, exceptionalism – saying “I like you, because you’re not like all the other (black people/women/whatever)” – is itself a form of marginalization, since it lumps “all the other (black people/women/whatever)” into a single group, which the speaker regards negatively.

    As for the women in math example, it absolutely is sexist to use gender as a proxy for math skills (as in your example of hiring the male candidate over the female candidate when you know nothing else about either of them). In fact, it’s even sexist by your own definition, since it treats every male candidate positively and every female candidate negatively.

    I could say more, but it’s very late here and I need to go to sleep.

  111. AnnJo says:

    Johanna, I agree that what you call exceptionalism is racist, in large part because of what you added – that the group as a whole, other than the exception, is viewed negatively, and no, that is not at all what I was saying.

    As for the women in math example, you once again refuse to read what I actually say. I expressly said that it would be foolish to use sex as a proxy for math skills in real world hiring. What I did say, and it clearly does NOT apply in the real world, is that:

    1) IF absolutely the only fact you were allowed to know about two people was that one was male and one was female, and
    2) IF your goal was to maximimize the chances of hiring the person with the best math skills, and
    3) IF statistically the group of all men score higher than the group of all women on math skills,
    THEN (and only then) it is rational to choose on a statistical basis rather than an individual basis, but that’s because all you have to go on is the stats.

    You could choose based on a desire to maximize math job employment for women, or based on chance (the flip of a coin), but you would then be disregarding clause #2 above. You would be discarding your best chance of choosing the person with the best math skills. And if you read the possible result (you hired the 2-month old boy and lost the math genius), you should realize what a poor chance I think that is.

    People make these statistical choices all the time. If we can only afford to offer mammograms to a certain number of individuals per year, we should focus on women, although men do occasionally get breast cancer. But if we can take into account familial history, then we may want to include certain men in our testing.

    It should be clear from my example that I believe statistics to be a very crude instrument, that offers help only when there is absolutely no other data available, or when we are looking at aggregated data rather than individual people.

    And ultimately, the only real “anti-racism” is looking at individual people as individual people.
    Being looked at primarily as members of a group, even if in a supposedly positive or helpful way, can’t help but diminish us.

  112. Johanna says:

    AnnJo, maybe you should take a little more time to read what *I* wrote. I said that your statistical example is an example of sexism. You’re arguing that it’s rational. These are not mutually exclusive. Sexism doesn’t have to be about consciously saying “I hate women, or I think they’re all stupid, and therefore I won’t hire any.” People can mean well and still do sexist things. If a man is more likely to be hired than an equally qualified woman (whatever “equally qualified” may mean – I’ll get to that shortly), that is a sexist result.

    You seem to think that your statistical example – where you know nothing about your two candidates other than that one is a man and one is a woman – is irrelevant to real hiring decisions. It is not, because hiring decisions are always based on incomplete information. Test scores, for example, are an imperfect measure of actual ability, because a person can have a bad day on the day of the test, or he or she can get lucky guessing on the multiple-choice questions, or the math required for the test can be very different from the math required for the job.

    Two people with the same test score can be very different in actual ability, and two people with the same ability (or even one person taking the test twice) can get very different scores. Each test score corresponds to a range of abilities. If we accept your premise that men’s average ability is greater than women’s, it is rational to see a male candidate with a particular test score, and to assume that he’s actually a little bit better than his test score indicates. Likewise, it is rational to see a female candidate with the same score, and assume she’s actually a little bit worse. (I’m oversimplifying here, but this is the basic idea.)

    This is rational, but it leads to a sexist result, because between a man and a woman with the same score (or even the same actual ability), the man is more likely to be hired. As a result, men are overrepresented in the employee pool – even when you take into account the actual difference in skills – which leads the employers to overestimate the actual difference in skills. So in the next round of hiring, men might be given even *more* of an advantage, and would be even *more* overrepresented, and so forth.

    Unfortunately, this is all very difficult to prove in any individual case, because (1) there’s no actual measure for “actual ability” (I’ve been talking like it can be quantified in principle, but we just don’t know how to do it, but I don’t even think that’s right), and (2) a lot of the “assuming men are just a little bit better” happens unconsciously, by people who don’t realize they’re doing it, or even by people who are trying not to. So the success (or lack thereof) of antidiscrimination lawsuits is not a good measure of the scale of the problem, and it’s certainly not going to fix it.

  113. Johanna says:

    (Also, Marilyn Vos Savant is not a math genius.)

  114. Jonathan says:

    Sorry to keep getting involved in others’ debates, but I keep seeing things that intrigue me.

    “As for the women in math example, it absolutely is sexist to use gender as a proxy for math skills (as in your example of hiring the male candidate over the female candidate when you know nothing else about either of them). In fact, it’s even sexist by your own definition, since it treats every male candidate positively and every female candidate negatively.”

    What if the only thing the employer knew about the candidates is that Candidate A was statistically more likely to outperform Candidate B in math? Would the decision of the employer be sexist? If not, then the factor that makes the hypothetical sexist is knowing the gender. Since gender has no bearing on ability it is reasonable to consider the other available information, which in this situation is that Candidate A is more likely to possess the desired skillset. If the employer can’t make that choice, though, for fear of being seen as sexist, what should he/she do? Flip a coin? Or hire the female candidate to be safe?

  115. Johanna says:

    “the factor that makes the hypothetical sexist is knowing the gender”

    Well, yes.

    “what should he/she do? Flip a coin? Or hire the female candidate to be safe?”

    The employer should choose randomly, but perhaps not with 50/50 probability. For example, if you expect the male candidate to be more qualified 55% of the time, then you should pick a random number between 1 and 100, and choose the male candidate if the number is 55 or less, and the female candidate otherwise. I think that this would give you a fair outcome. But statistics was never my strong suit.

  116. Johanna says:

    Here is another example, that may be clearer, of how a hiring decision can be simultaneously be rational from the employer’s point of view and sexist from the job candidates’ point of view.

    Suppose the employer is looking to fill a position where ability doesn’t matter very much – anyone with a better than average ability can do the job perfectly well, and that’s all the employer needs, so there are plenty of qualified candidates that are all basically equally good in the employer’s eyes.

    But suppose that the employer already has another employee who is an old-fashioned blatant sexist: He hates women, thinks they’re all stupid, and has a really hard time working with them. Suppose that the sexist’s job does require a high level of ability, so that it would not be easy to just fire the sexist and replace him with someone else who’s equally good.

    The rational thing for the employer to do – the easiest way to ensure a smoothly-functioning organization – would be to appease the sexist and eliminate all the female candidates right off the bat. But of course, that would be a sexist thing to do itself.

  117. Jonathan says:

    I think that your idea of hiring randomly is fair. Unfortunately it is probably not how most people would decide. In this situation I believe the majority of employers would either hire based on the statistics, or hire based on the candidate least likely to have a case to allege discrimination (which would actually be the more sexist choice, since the only factor considered in that choice would be gender).

    The point you made that really caught my attention, though was “…a hiring decision can be simultaneously be rational from the employer’s point of view and sexist from the job candidates’ point of view”. This puts employers in a tough situation, because even though they might make the decision without considering gender at all, the fact that they know the gender of the applicant makes them the potential target for sexism claims. This is made much worse by the employers who actually do discriminate when hiring and employees who abuse the system to get an advantage based on laws intended to protect them. There remains, however, a segment of honest employers and employees who might run into the situation you describe where the employer has no sexist intent and the employee sincerely believes he/she was discriminated against. If only there were a way to keep gender a complete secret, so neither side has to worry about this type of conflict.

  118. Jonathan says:

    Sorry, one other point I wanted to make. Based on the idea that any decision making that considers gender is sexist, then if we want to prevent sexism, should we avoid producing any studies that focuses on gender differences or groups results based on gender?

    If a study shows that men are more likely to be in an auto-accident than women, it would be logical for insurance companies to charge men a higher premium. That would be sexist however, so the company should not consider gender when setting premiums. If they know about the study, though, it might be difficult to be completely unbiased, so would be better if they never knew the results. If no one can use the results of the study for decision making, would it be better if the study was never performed? What benefit can be gained from the study if the results can’t be used for decision making? Or are there situation, such as AnnJo’s example about breast cancer, is it better to make a decision that takes gender into account if it is likely to provide a significantly better result than ignoring gender? In other words, is there ever a situation with sexism (making a decision based on gender) is acceptable or even preferable?

  119. Tracy says:

    @Jonathan

    One value of the studies, though, is that they can actually be used to find out where there are systematic flaws and help address them. For example, the boys being better at math – studies have started to reveal that a lot of that is a reinforcing stereotype.

    For example, look at SAT scores – you can go to =fairtest.org/facts/satfact.htm and skip down to the part about SAT Bias.

    Now, on the surface, you could use the SAT without attaching a gender to the person and base college admissions on that. But if you read down, you’ll realize that the test *itself* is inherently biased – that if you don’t take into account gender (and race), it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, which is predict academic success.

  120. Johanna says:

    “This puts employers in a tough situation, because even though they might make the decision without considering gender at all, the fact that they know the gender of the applicant makes them the potential target for sexism claims.”

    Yes. It is a tough situation. Sexism (along with racism and all the various other -isms and -phobias) is so pervasive that rooting it out is difficult, and avoiding it entirely is nearly impossible. I mean, I do it too – back when I was a postdoc, I caught myself making sexist assumptions about the students in a class I was teaching. It’s hard. The best thing we all can do (as a first step, anyway) is just be aware of it.

    I’m troubled, though, that you chose to end the sentence with “…the potential target for sexism claims” rather than “…prone to making sexist decisions.” It sounds like you’re saying that accusations of sexism (even toward employers who are actually guilty) are a worse problem than sexism itself. You might want to rethink that.

  121. Johanna says:

    @Jonathan: I’m going to sidestep your question about the studies, and address an underlying point that you and AnnJo both made with your examples (car insurance and breast cancer), which is that sexism hurts men, too. Yes, it does. And (without commenting on your specific examples, because they’re things I don’t know much about), yes, it’s a problem. Feminists are often accused of only caring about sexism that harms women, and it’s not true. I have three points about that, though:

    First, sometimes what people see as “sexism against men” is really just men losing (some of) the unfair advantages they’d been enjoying up until now.

    Second, sexism against women and sexism against men often stem from the same roots. For example, you often see the idea that a woman’s consent is not that important paired with the idea that (straight) men are all sex-crazed dolts who can’t control themselves around attractive women. (And on the racism side of things, you see the idea that African American culture is inherently inferior paired with the idea that white people just can’t help but to demand, for their own amusement, that black people bend over backwards to act and look like white people.)

    Third, even though sexism goes both ways, the situation is not symmetric. On the one hand, you have the legacy of centuries and millennia of oppression, and on the other hand, you have higher car insurance rates, and a few other things. Not the same thing at all.

  122. Jonathan says:

    “It sounds like you’re saying that accusations of sexism (even toward employers who are actually guilty) are a worse problem than sexism itself. You might want to rethink that.”

    No, what I’m saying is that even when there is no intent at sexism by the employer they are at risk of being accused of sexism by someone who feels they were discriminated against. The issue is the difference in perception (the employer perceives the act as no sexist while the employee views it as sexist). The feelings and perceptions of each are valid, even though they are different. That line of thinking does to apply to employers who are guilty of sexism.

  123. Jonathan says:

    Tracy,

    I think that the SAT is a complicated issue because the test is meant to predict college performance, not simply measure a student’s performance in a given subject. For this reason I understand the logic behind adjusting based on gender or race, if the results of the test to not correlate to college performance in the same way for all genders and races.

    “For example, the boys being better at math – studies have started to reveal that a lot of that is a reinforcing stereotype.”

    I wonder, where does the reinforcing stereotype come from? Is it only based on observations in the classroom? Or do the results of the studies that show males perform better also impact this? If no one was ever told that males performed better at math, would that stereotype exist?

  124. Jonathan says:

    Johanna,

    Actually my example was made up specifically so it did not appear sexist :-) My original example was that women are statistically more likely to be in an accident, but I changed it so it wouldn’t appear I actually thought women were worse drivers. Obviously it had the opposite effect.

    I wasn’t trying to say that men face the same level of sexism as women. My point wasn’t that men are treated unfairly in that example, it was simply that any focus on gender (or racial) differences fuels sexism (or racism). If we are in agreement that sexism and racism are bad in all situations, then it seems we should stop focusing on differences between genders and races. I’m not saying that African Americans need to be more Caucasians, or vice versa. I’m saying that society should stop using those attributes to group people.

  125. Johanna says:

    “No, what I’m saying is that even when there is no intent at sexism by the employer they are at risk of being accused of sexism by someone who feels they were discriminated against.”

    What *I’m* saying is that even when there is not intent of sexism by the employer, they are still at risk of engaging in unfair discrimination. You can have sexism without the intent of sexism. Sexism is not measured by intent, nor is it measured by any one person’s opinion. You don’t get to say “Well, you see sexism here, but I don’t, so eh, who knows?” Google “Feminism 101: ‘Sexism is a matter of opinion’” for an article that explains this better than I can.

  126. Johanna says:

    “Or do the results of the studies that show males perform better also impact this? If no one was ever told that males performed better at math, would that stereotype exist?”

    “Studies show that males perform better at math” is one of those things that “everybody knows,” but for which the supporting evidence is not as strong as everybody thinks it is.

    I want to look up the actual data before I get too deep into this, and I don’t have time right now. But just going from memory: I think that when you test very young children at math, there is no significant difference between the sexes. The difference only shows up at the middle school or high school level, once girls have had plenty of time to absorb the “you’re not good at math, so you might as well not even try” messages that are coming at them from every direction.

    In terms of inherent ability, there is some evidence that men are naturally better than women at “spatial reasoning” – looking at two pictures of an object taken from different directions, for example, and determining whether it’s really the same object. But (1) that’s not math, and (2) even that is a skill that can be improved with practice. (I know, because I’ve done it.)

  127. Tracy says:

    Jonathan,

    Right, but I was responding to your question as to whether it might just be better to not do gender-based studies. If nobody had bothered to do a gender study about the results and the subsequent performance, we wouldn’t know where and how to adjust – we wouldn’t know that the test itself was flawed.

    Well, reinforcing stereotypes is complex, because the human brain is a lot more complex. For example, do you know that they’ve done studies of girls taking math tests and if the girls are *reminded that they are girls* before they take the test, they perform less well than if they’re not? In other words, just being asked to check their M/F on a form before taking the test actually makes them perform worse. (Relatedly, boys do better if they’re reminded that they’re male.)

    That’s where it becomes self-fulfilling. And the message that “girls are less capable at math” is broadcast all of the time. But to answer your question, if no one was ever told that males perform better at math, would that stereotype exist – no, it wouldn’t. Not only by the definition of stereotype, but because if you read the link I gave you before, you’ll notice that it actually says in other countries where the stereotype is less pervasive, so is the difference in test results.

    Part of the problem is that stereotype is one that’s being messaged on multiple levels all the time, everywhere. Even on this thread, it was asserted as fact that boys are better than girls at math – when if you actually look at the evidence, the situation is a LOT more complex than that. Actually, studies are starting to show that boys are better at some kinds of math and girls are better at other kinds of math and even THAT is probably not a matter of innate, blank slate ability.

  128. Jonathan says:

    I actually agree with you on the results of the studies and the factors that might convince girls they aren’t as good at math. I know too many females who are good at math to believe that being female equals being bad at math. Where did that stereotype originate, though? Was it completely made up? Or was there a study conducted at some point, flawed as it may have been, that showed that boys were better at math? Wouldn’t we be better off without studies that tried to who which group (gender, race, etc) was better at a subject than another? Would we have these stereotypes if no one ever made the initial claim? Tracy gave a good example about the SAT where some sexism might be useful, or more likely where the test and conclusions it is used to form are flawed. In general, though, do studies that group results based on gender or race do anything more than create bias and/or stereotypes that do more harm that good?

  129. Jonathan says:

    I think society would be much better off if we simply stopped telling people, you’re gender is X so you’re better at activity Y, or you’re gender is X so you’re worse at activity Z. Why can’t we just tell people, you’re an individual, you’re unique. You abilities are not pre-defined by your gender or race. Billy’s math ability is due to his actions, not some fluke of genetics that granted him math abilities because he is male. Susie isn’t performing as well in math, but she can study and do better if she wants because her gender isn’t what is holding her back.

  130. Tracy says:

    Well, it’s actually mostly the opposite. Studies don’t create stereotypes – they can reinforce them or they can debunk them, but they don’t create them. There are definitely people who create studies with an agenda – they want to prove that a particular stereotype is true or false. That’s why nobody does just a single study by one person and takes it as fact – they need to be peer reviewed, duplicated, etc. But the fact that studies can be used to break incorrect stereotypes is a good enough reason to continue them, imo.

    As to how the stereotype came to be – well, welcome to the History of the World. I mean, it used to be believed that women couldn’t learn math at all, that their brains literally couldn’t handle it. Their poor heads would overheat like a computer without a fan and they would be driven mad. Over the years, it’s become modified more and more – and studies and reports are what show how false the stereotype is.

    I googled some numbers for you and I think this quote from a psychology today article is interesting “In the 1980′s, researchers found that for those students scoring 700 or above on the SAT-M (the 95 percentile for 12-grade college bound males), boys outnumbered girls 13 to 1. Fast forward to 2005, in which this difference had shrunk to 2.8 boys to every 1 girl. Interestingly, the period of this drop coincides quite closely with the enforcement of Title IX legislation (The Equal Opportunity in Education Act) which, broadly speaking, is designed to ensure that both sexes have the same access, instruction, and support for education-related activities. One likely reason why boys don’t outnumber girls by the same magnitude in terms of SAT-M top scores as they did 30 years ago is that girls now have access to better quality math instruction.”

    Evidence pretty much points out that boys-are-better-at-math stereotype is going to die out at some point. 50-100 years from now, it may be as ludicrous as the idea that women would go mad if they tried to solve a multiplication problem.

  131. Tracy says:

    I also want to clarify your statement here:

    ” Tracy gave a good example about the SAT where some sexism might be useful, or more likely where the test and conclusions it is used to form are flawed.”

    It’s not that sexism is useful, it’s that awareness that sexism could possibly be impacting results could be useful.

    And I absolutely do agree with your statement “I think society would be much better off if we simply stopped telling people, you’re gender is X so you’re better at activity Y, or you’re gender is X so you’re worse at activity Z.”

  132. Johanna says:

    @Tracy: The Psychology Today article doesn’t mention it, but the numbers you cite are actually for 13-year-olds scoring above 700 on the math SAT. So we are talking about the very, very high end here, which is of limited relevance to everyone else anyway. As Evalyn Gates points out in a letter to Physics Today, “mathematical genius as defined by high math scores is not a prerequisite for success in science and engineering. Fewer than one-third of college-educated professional men employed in science and engineering have SAT math scores above 650.”

  133. Jonathan says:

    “It’s not that sexism is useful, it’s that awareness that sexism could possibly be impacting results could be useful”.

    My use of the term sexism in that comment was based on the idea that sexism = taking gender into account when making a decision. In other words, if gender needs to be accounted for in order to make the test accurate, then that would be a case where sexism is beneficial. I’m not sure I agree with that definition of the term, though, especially since it has such a negative connotation.

  134. Riki says:

    This conversation reminds me about an experiment I participated in as part of my education degree.

    I was in a high school program with a group of 26 individuals — all of us white, fairly middle class, and pretty homogeneous. We did a specialization in education for aboriginal groups and in one class in particular we watched a documentary on an experiment on racism. In the video, the research separated a group of white people based on their eye colour. People with blue or green eyes were put in a room with few chair and no refreshments. They were treated rudely, spoken to in condescending tones, and even told they were stupid for asking questions. A second group of people (with brown eyes) were segregated into a comfortable room with plenty of seating, refreshments, and treated as equals with the utmost of respect. So, this experiment set up one group of people who experienced “discrimination” and another who did not.

    After watching the experiment, my class had a discussion about how this scenario could related to discrimination of minority groups (i.e. the aboriginal children we were going to be teaching). The conversation was difficult at times but the vast majority of people in my class felt that the discrimination in the experiment was entirely unrealistic and that it didn’t happen very often any more. Essentially they denied the issue entirely.

    Then we watched interviews with people who had watched the same experiment. Without exception, the aboriginal people interviewed described heart-breaking events relating how they felt real and active discrimination every day. The treatment in the experiment, they said, was pretty typical. And yet lots of people in my class denied it.

    The two perspectives are very, very interesting.

  135. Tracy says:

    @Johanna,

    True, I really only mentioned it to reinforce the idea that there are a lot of stereotypes about innate ability that have been proven wrong when access to resources have been increased.

  136. Jonathan says:

    “Third, even though sexism goes both ways, the situation is not symmetric. On the one hand, you have the legacy of centuries and millennia of oppression, and on the other hand, you have higher car insurance rates, and a few other things. Not the same thing at all.”

    I think this was cleared up earlier, but I’ll reiterate here, I was never suggesting that the discrimination between groups was equal. Clearly some groups have historically been discriminated against much more than others.

    The danger, though, is when past wrongs are considered when determining current behavior. You can say that “…sometimes what people see as “sexism against men” is really just men losing (some of) the unfair advantages they’d been enjoying up until now.” The problem is that if sexism is treating someone differently, giving them an advantage or disadvantage based on gender, then treating present day members of one group worse because their ancestors received advantages is wrong. I’m not claiming them presently sexism against men is worse than sexism against women. In fact, I believe that women still face more discrimination, which is something we have a responsibility for remedying. What I’m saying is that if we want to rid the world of sexism we should start by refusing to acknowledge the myths than either gender is inherently better or worse than the other at a given task. We need to stop dividing the world into groups. We need to stop thinking in terms of making up for past injustices and treat everyone equally and fairly today. Lets make gender (or race) as irrelevant when making decisions as eye color or shoe size.

  137. Jonathan says:

    Oh, and Tracy. You raise a good point about how the stereotypes can to exist. I was being overly simplistic in my comments about how studies correlate to stereotypes. Clearly there are historical factors that lead to such stereotypes. The boys are better at math stereotype is a very good example of the type of “issue” I think can be solved by individuals simply taking responsibility for their own actions. Self-fulfilling prophecies for things like this only work when the people involved actually believe their gender dictates their performance, rather than them being in control.

  138. Johanna says:

    “What I’m saying is that if we want to rid the world of sexism we should start by refusing to acknowledge the myths than either gender is inherently better or worse than the other at a given task. We need to stop dividing the world into groups. We need to stop thinking in terms of making up for past injustices and treat everyone equally and fairly today. Lets make gender (or race) as irrelevant when making decisions as eye color or shoe size.”

    I totally agree with this. However, actually accomplishing it will be a lot harder than you’re making it out to be.

  139. Johanna says:

    On second thought, this:

    “We need to stop thinking in terms of making up for past injustices and treat everyone equally and fairly today.”

    sounds like you’re saying “We need to make racism and sexism just go away so we don’t have to think about those nasty past (and present) injustices anymore.” Unfortunately, that would be not merely hard, but impossible.

    Even if you could snap your fingers and create a world that’s totally colorblind, gender-blind, and egalitarian, it would still be a world where, for now, there are a lot more men than women in certain scientific fields. And it would be a world where, for now, for every dollar in wealth that the median white family has, the median black family has 2 cents. There is no way to make those things go away overnight.

  140. Tracy says:

    “Self-fulfilling prophecies for things like this only work when the people involved actually believe their gender dictates their performance, rather than them being in control.”

    See, but that’s now the way the brain works. The problem is, when the brain is being bombarded by these messages, it’s the subconscious portion that’s influencing it. Simply resolving not to believe it doesn’t actually change the way the brain will process and internalize a lot of outside messages of ‘girls aren’t good at math’ – I think if you research it, you’ll start to see that.

    Plus, as I pointed out, access to resources also has an impact. If a child doesn’t have access to quality teachers, quality educational materials, solid nutrition, time, etc … it’s going to have an impact. Children have even less control than adults over what kinds of resources they’re allotted. Granted, personal responsibility plays a role – a child can choose to study for their math test or not, they can choose to do their homework or not. But they can’t choose not to be bombarded by stereotyped messaging and having that influence their subconscious thinking. It’s a societal responsibility to try to eliminate those messages. Or, you could say, it’s a personal responsibility to call them out when you see them. Unfortunately they are numerous and widespread and a lot of times, it feels like 2 steps forward, 3 steps back.

  141. Jonathan says:

    Johanna,

    I don’t think that we need to just ignore our history as a way of making ourselves feel better. We need to be aware of the mistakes we have made and learn from them. What we don’t need to do, though, is say that its ok to discriminate against people today to make up for past discrimination that they had no control over or involvement in.

    “Even if you could snap your fingers and create a world that’s totally colorblind, gender-blind, and egalitarian, it would still be a world where, for now, there are a lot more men than women in certain scientific fields. And it would be a world where, for now, for every dollar in wealth that the median white family has, the median black family has 2 cents. There is no way to make those things go away overnight.”

    I do not disagree with this at all. Even if we could wake up tomorrow in a world that really saw everyone as equal we would still have the artifacts of the old mindset to deal with. I’m not suggesting that we’d see that men outnumber women in a certain field and decide to fire a bunch of men and replace them with women. I’m suggesting that we wouldn’t notice the difference because we wouldn’t be focused on diving men and women into different groups. From that day forward everything would be equal, and gradually the numbers would start to even out. It would take years to get rid of those artifacts from the past mindset, but it should eventually happen. The sooner we become genderblind and colorblind the sooner this process can start.

  142. Johanna says:

    Jonathan,

    I’m going to be blunt. You are obviously new to thinking about this stuff, and there is a lot that you still don’t understand. Maybe you want to educate yourself a little more about the scope of the problem, and what people have already learned and tried, before you start making declarations about what “we” need to do. Thanks.

  143. Johanna says:

    (I recommend the book “Why So Slow?” by Virginia Valian. It goes over a lot of the important research results, and it’s very readable. There are used copies on amazon.)

  144. Jonathan says:

    Johanna,

    I will make the clarification that when I say, what “we” need to do, that is my opinion about the hypothetical situation that we’ve been discussing. I assumed that was obvious, but apparently it was not. I have thought about this plenty, but I appreciate your suggestion nevertheless. It seems that I’ve hit a nerve, though, so I’m happy to end the conversation here if you’d like.

  145. Johanna says:

    What hypothetical situation? This is the real world we’re talking about. (To be clear, I’m referring mostly to your comments that are not in response to my “Even if you could snap your fingers…” hypothetical.)

    And no, to be honest, you have not thought about this “plenty.” Until a few hours ago, you didn’t understand that sexism can be unintentional, that it is not a matter of opinion, that studies don’t cause stereotypes, and that people can’t just choose not to internalize stereotyping messages. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you understand all these things now, but these are just the basics. It gets much more complicated than this.

    I’m not saying this to be unkind, or to discourage you from learning. But if you want to be an ally here and to help offer solutions, you really do have a lot more learning to do.

  146. Jonathan says:

    You’re welcome to your opinion, but it doesn’t change the fact that I have thought about this. You thinking it doesn’t make it so. Until a few hours ago I wasn’t clear which view of sexism was being discussed in the thread. Most people think of sexism has gender-based discrimination which is how I usually see it discussed. The fact that I spent time getting a feel for how you and others in the discussion were using it is no indication that I didn’t know what sexism meant. I won’t take the time to respond to each of the other points one by one, but I find it laughable that you believe I did not know these things until you taught me. We all have a lot of learning to do, I’ll agree with you on that. Just because I happen to disagree with your opinions on some of what has been discussed does not mean that I have a lot of learning to do. Perhaps you need to learn that you don’t have all of the answers. I should have realized that you were hinting that you thought I was unlearned with your comment that the book you suggested was “very readable”. Its quite funny to know that i show you see me :-)

    I honestly thought that the conversation was going well and we were making progress. I was apparently wrong.

  147. Jonathan says:

    LOL, I just caught the mistake I made in my last comment. That should read “Its quite funny to know how you see me :-)”

  148. Tracy says:

    I guess the question is, then, if you already understood these concepts before, why did you not understand them in this thread?

    Why, if you understand that people can’t choose not to internalize stereotyping messages, did you suggest that they do so?

    Why did you even posit the fact that maybe eliminating gender studies would eliminate the creation of stereotypes if you understood that stereotypes don’t arise FROM the studies?

    Why, if you’ve thought about it extensively, did you ask questions like “I wonder, where does the reinforcing stereotype come from? Is it only based on observations in the classroom? Or do the results of the studies that show males perform better also impact this? If no one was ever told that males performed better at math, would that stereotype exist?” when the answers are actually the sort of thing you learn very early if you do research?

    Or I guess the question is, you say you’ve thought about it extensively and I am sure that you believe that you have. But have you done any actual research, reading, and learning? Because if you’re just listening to yourself, you’re not listening to reality.

  149. Johanna says:

    “I should have realized that you were hinting that you thought I was unlearned with your comment that the book you suggested was “very readable”.”

    Actually, I was assuming that you *are* fairly learned, or at least well-read, and familiar enough with academic writing to know that it’s almost invariably dry as dust. So I wanted to mention that Valian’s book is an exception.

  150. Jonathan says:

    Tracy, many of the questions were asked to get an idea of where you and Johanna stood. It is difficult to engage in debate or conversation when you don’t understand the perspective of the other side or when you don’t know what they mean when they use a certain word, such as sexism. Other questions were meant to spark debate or thought. I find that sometimes in order to delve into a topic it is sometimes necessary to ask questions or pose scenarios that you yourself do not believe. I have found at times that some people have a hard time separating statements or questions, even if rhetorical, from the opinions of the person saying them.

    I will say, however, that I stand by my assertion that it is possible to choose not to internalize stereotyping messages. Again, that comes from learning the concepts of taking 100% responsibility.

  151. Tracy says:

    “Other questions were meant to spark debate or thought.”

    Except those were basic, uniformed questions, not questions designed to spark debate or thought. They were literally the questions of someone who has never done real, solid thinking or reading about the topic, someone looking for a 101 education. There mere fact that you asked them demonstrates you don’t yet understand it. Also, “I will say, however, that I stand by my assertion that it is possible to choose not to internalize stereotyping messages. Again, that comes from learning the concepts of taking 100% responsibility.”

    I highly suggest taking Johanna’s advice, reading that book and doing some actual research, because it seems like you’re just repeating your own biases to yourself. Because it’s absolutely not true that it’s possible to not internalize them. It’s possible to actively work against them and attempt to overcome them, but that’s not the same thing and it’s not only not guaranteed, it can’t be done the way you suggested on this thread.

  152. Katie says:

    On an individual level, you can choose to work towards uninternalizing stereotypes. I think you’re underestimating the complexities of human psychology to say that it’s possible to totally eliminate them. As for not internalizing things in the first place, this stuff happens from birth. There are studies showing parents talk differently to babies after learning they’re girls vs. boys while they’re still in the womb. Children being fed stereotypes right along with language don’t have the choice of not internalizing them.

    Anyway, to be honest, I think in the end, we need to have room in our philosophy to accept that people aren’t perfect and we can’t expect them to be. Saying “Well, just don’t internalize that” expects them to be, even for adults.

  153. Jonathan says:

    I’ve read the reviews of the book that Johanna suggested and do look forward to reading it. The description of the book and the reviews I read do not reveal anything new, but I assume there will be something new to learn from reading it.

    Unfortunately your view that “…it’s absolutely not true that it’s possible not not internalize…” stereotyping messages is just as foreign to me as my view that it is very possible is to you. Actually, I take that back. Because I use to internalize those same messages and know people who still do it, its not a foreign concept to me. It’s the idea it is so ingrained into our psychology that people just accept it without realizing it can be changed. I hate to use this analogy, but I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s like the movie the Matrix. Once you are told about the Matrix and see it, its impossible not to see it and its hard to understand how everyone isn’t seeing it, especially when you tell them it is there.

  154. Jonathan says:

    “Actually, I was assuming that you *are* fairly learned, or at least well-read, and familiar enough with academic writing to know that it’s almost invariably dry as dust. So I wanted to mention that Valian’s book is an exception.”

    Johanna, thanks for the clarification. I apologize for misinterpreting your meaning.

  155. Johanna says:

    Jonathan,

    I’d be interested to know what you think of the Implicit Association Test. As someone who’s escaped the Matrix (or whatever the right analogy is), you should be able to always ace it, right?

  156. Johanna says:

    More to the point, if you really have cleansed your mind of stereotypes so that you can ace the IAT, how did you do it? Don’t just say “I take personal responsibility” – I want you to give me specific, detailed instructions so that I can do it too.

    If you’ve discovered a way to totally get rid of all your internalized stereotypes, that is really something. But unless you can teach everyone else how to do exactly what you did, it’s of limited use.

  157. Jonathan says:

    Johanna, I’ll check it out. It sounds very interesting. It’ll probably be a few days, unfortunately, though, because I have a busy weekend ahead.

    I’ll go ahead and note a couple of things, though. First, I’m not claiming that I’m immune to the impacts of stereotype messages as they apply to others. I’m nowhere near that advanced on the path yet. I was referring specifically to the impacts of external stereotype messages on myself (and the ability of an individual to do the same). Second, I can’t claim to be able to teach others to not be impacted by stereotypes. That is well beyond my ability. All that I can do is say, it can be done and personal responsibility does work, and hope that it sparks an interest in someone to look into the concepts for themselves. I’m not a teacher, I’m simply a messenger. If down the road someone hears about these concepts again and thinks to themselves, this is the same sort of thing that weird guy on TSD was talking about, maybe I should look into it more, then it has been worth it. It is a radical concept and its not something that you hear about and suddenly start doing.

  158. AnnJo says:

    Johanna, at #112 you say:

    “If we accept your premise that men’s average ability is greater than women’s, it is rational to see a male candidate with a particular test score, and to assume that he’s actually a little bit better than his test score indicates. Likewise, it is rational to see a female candidate with the same score, and assume she’s actually a little bit worse. (I’m oversimplifying here, but this is the basic idea.)

    This is rational, . . . .”

    First, it is not my premise that men’s math abilities are higher, if we are using the word ‘ability’ to connote inherent traits. What I said is that as a group they score higher on average than women, which I see as a proxy only for current competence, not innate ability.

    Second, I’m not a statistician, but I believe that your conclusion quoted above is not rational. If a man and a woman have the same test scores, I don’t think that the fact that men on average score higher than women on average adds any meaningful data to the test scores themselves. If a score of 10 denotes a skill range between 8-12, it does so for both test-takers.

    Third, I disagree that a rational action can be sexist. Maybe we are using the term differently, but to me, sexism is a belief system that supplants rationality.

    A rational action may certainly have a disparate detrimental effect on a woman or on women generally, as in your example of an employer who refuses to hire a woman for an inconsequential job in order to retain the services of another uniquely valuable but sexist employee. The employer in that instance may be called callous or craven or desperate, but his/her frame of mind is not sexist, despite the fact that his action discriminates against women and is illegal.

    If you needed the services of a top surgeon to save your life and you had available to you the services of a top surgeon who was a sexist pig or a non-sexist doctor just completing her surgical residency, you would not be sexist yourself, or endorsing sexism by choosing the more experienced surgeon.

    As for your solution to the math employment problem at #115, I concur that would be a superior way to solve the problem if you had the necessary data, but as far as I can tell, you’ve still committed the sin you complain of, by assigning more than half the potentially winning slots to men. You’re still using sex as a proxy for skills, albeit with greater statistical accuracy.

  159. AnnJo says:

    Johanna, thanks for pointing us to the IAT site. I just took the Race test. Curious. I scored among the 2% of the population that shows a Strong Automatic Preference for Black people compared to White people. I would have predicted either Little or No Automatic Preference or a Slight Automatic Preference for White people.

    I have no explanation for this score, and cannot, therefore, give you any guidance. Possibly it relates back to a childhood spent in a foreign country of which I have fond and positive memories, where 99% of the people were darker in skin color than I was. Or, since I’m white, maybe I’m self-hating? You’d tell me if I’ve shown any deficiency in self-esteem, wouldn’t you?

    I’ll have to poke around in that site a little more.

  160. Johanna says:

    Oh who knows – I’ve stopped even trying to figure out what’s going on in your brain, AnnJo.

  161. Jonathan says:

    Johanna,

    I took 6 of the tests on the IAT site. On the first two my score showed the “exepcted” result, which was the same strong preference most others apparently had. Once I got use to how the tests worked however, I scored a result of no bias (or whatever they call it, I can’t remember). The only test on which I scored a preference was the one that compared Barrack Obama to George W. Bush. According to the test I strongly prefer Bush. That result couldn’t be farther from the truth, so I’m not sure what it indicates. Maybe it indicates a flaw in the test or the conclusion it forms. Maybe it indicates that the order in which they present the data or which side the put which answers on impacts the result. Or maybe its just a a fluke and is a result that just needs thrown out.

    Let me know how you interpret the results. I don’t know that the results qualify as acing it, but aside from that weird Bush/Obama result it appears I can now regularly complete the test with a score of no automatic preference.

  162. Johanna says:

    @Jonathan: The test scores by themselves are not rock-solid proof of anything – it’s more to get you thinking about how biases run deep. It’s much more complicated than saying (for example) “I know that women can do math, because I know a few who are very good at it, so I’m not biased.”

    I’m not sure what you did differently once you got used to how the test worked, but if that means you were deliberately trying to fool the test (either by going a bit slow on the black=bad section so that your speed on the black=good section looks better by comparison, or by focusing on specific black people whom you hold in high regard), then that would mean you really do hold the bias that the test is supposed to reveal. You can’t deliberately conceal a bias if you don’t have it in the first place. (I’m not saying you definitely did these things, just giving examples. Only you can know for sure if they apply to you.)

    I wonder if maybe that might explain your Bush/Obama result too – maybe you were trying to compensate for what you thought was a preference for Obama, but that preference wasn’t as strong as you thought it was, and you ended up overcompensating? (Again, I’m not saying this is necessarily what happened – only you can know that.)

    I started rereading Valian’s book this weekend, and one of the points she makes early on is that advantages and disadvantages accumulate, just like compound interest: Small biases that are almost imperceptible individually can be repeated so often that they add up to a huge advantage or disadvantage at the peak of one’s career. A boy might be 1% more likely than a girl to be called on in class, 1% more likely to be praised for getting a good grade, 1% more likely to be given constructive feedback when he gets a bad grade, 1% more likely to be encouraged to take the most challenging classes, 1% more likely to be encouraged to apply for a prestigious summer program, 1% more likely to be written a letter of recommendation that highlights his achievements and abilities (as opposed, for example, to his appearance and his personality), and so on. If you look at the various teachers, counselors, professors, bosses, and colleagues that are responsible for each one of those 1%’s, none of them look like they’re biased, and probably none of them think that they’re biased. But as a result, the boy is far more than 1% more likely to become an engineer, or a CEO, or a partner in a law firm, or a Nobel Prize winning physicist, or President of the United States.

    That’s why this is a complicated problem.

  163. Jonathan says:

    It wasn’t that I was trying to fool the test. I can give you a couple of examples of what I mean.

    The first test I took was structured so that the the answer for Group A was on the left and Group B on the right. The second round had Positive terms on the left and Negative terms on the right. The third round had Group B and Positive terms on the left with Group A and negative terms on the right. The final round had Group A and Positive terms on the left and Group B and negative terms on the right. At first I thought that the issue was that rounds 1 and 2 were establishing the pattern of Group A on the left, then Positive Terms on the left, them Round 3 changed that pattern, putting Group A on the right instead. Then round 4 moved back to the originally taught pattern of Group A and Positive terms on the right. Given the way the pattern was established, then broken, then resumed I wasn’t surprised that my result showed a preference for the pairings as they were in Round 4.

    The next test I took, which was the following day, however, did not follow the same format. In that test the first two rounds had Group B and Positive Terms on the left, them Round 3 had Group 3 and Positive terms together on the left. The final round had Group A and Positive terms on the left with Group B and Negative Terms on the right.

    My conclusion is that the issue with the first test wasn’t the established pattern as I had thought. The issue was simply that the first time I was faced with classifying multiple categories at the same time I was slower than classifying single categories. By the time I got to round 4 I had started to get the hang of the multiple categories, so round 4 went faster. The same thing happened when I took my second test today. It had been more than 24 hours since I took that first test, so took me a few minutes to get the hang of classifying multiple categories at once. By round 4 I had it down and so was faster there, once again showing the “expected” result. From that point, however, the difference in times between round 3 and round 4 was gone, since I didn’t have the learning curve for the multiple classification. This is why I believe that I showed no preference in the latter tests, other than the Obama/Bush abnormality. My guess is that if I took another of the tests right now I might show a bias, unless the expected “preferred” pairings where presented in Round 3 instead of Round 4, since its been several hours since I took the test. That might not be the case however. I may not need to re-adjust to the multiple classification thing now since I seemed to get it down fairly well earlier.

    As for the compounding of disadvantages you mentioned, I agree completely that it is an issue. I think that you summarized quite well why teachers, etc do not notice their bias, but added together with several other individuals showing a small bias it can add up to a significant disadvantage.

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