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The Physics of Racism
A conceptual tool evolves.
Having been a race man online for many years, I dropped the discipline. These past few weeks have been especially painful, especially in light of the ridicule the ridiculous have not been receiving. Various entities have been dumbing down racism since the cancellation of William Bennett in 2005. I had been trying to come up better ways to clarify what is and what is not. Now cicada-like I’ve been chirping away since June. I hope to hibernate before the summer ends.
One of the tools that I have used to attempt to bring some balance to various discussions was the concept of ‘Six Pounds of Racism’. I came up with the concept shortly before Obama’s famous Beer Summit. If you don’t recall, this was about an encounter between a police officer and black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. known to all of us in the Talented Tenth as ‘Skip’. I forget the details, but suffice it to say that Skip was furious and made such a fuss that President Obama was obliged to show off his diplomacy skills. He arranged a sit-down that summer, 11 years ago with the officer, Veep Biden and the offended Gates. I seem to remember that Gates drank a Red Stripe. At any rate, the point I was making at the time was that racism and racist acts are not all of equal weight and effect. Part of our problem then, and a major pain now, is that ‘everything is racist’ and nobody really bothers to qualify how racist is racist, and most importantly what is the border at which social pressure should yield to or alter the force of law. I assume many Americans, especially young ones, might begin to wonder why the racism they perceive is not against the law.
This morning, as is frequently the case with me, I came up with a brilliant insight (to me) that requires I get online and begin description (to you). Racist action don’t only merely have weight, it exerts force over time across an area. The idea of racism and power is not wrong, it’s incomplete. So with only the most elementary grasp of physics I will attempt to formulate some sort of conceptual equation.
But first let us begin with a theoretical framework to describe racism itself. Now I’ve happened to have done this in a debate 13 years ago in which I was confronted with the thesis that there exists a Global System of White Supremacy that dominates all non-whites, etc. I had serious problems with the very premise, but in the course of that debate it became clear to me that various systems of white supremacy, namely Apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow in the American South were prime examples of such systems of power that had been very effective during their operation and that their operation had been dismantled via political action. Yet after their dissolution, while they lacked the legal force of the state, hearts and minds were still poisoned by their ideological premises. In fact, it was fair to say that like a virus, both so-called blackfolks and so-called whitefolks were infected by its premises and principles. Many had by dint of its force been involuntarily infected, others willingly accepted these premises. OK. So for the sake of brevity (which I may later regret), let us describe a ‘operational racism’ as distinct from ‘ideological racism’. Ideological racism is what individuals have in their heads. It is the little demon on their shoulder that whispers, like the ghost of Obi Wan Kenobi into the ear of Luke Skywalker saying “Use the Race, Luke”, yet is powerless to do any work in the real world. Operational racism, on the other hand interacts with the real world and equips with anything from prayer beads and a slingshot to X-Wing fighters, battle plans and photon torpedoes, or something explosive like unto kaboomsday weapons.
With regard to ideological racism, I think my Race Man’s Framework v2.0 does a good job of clearing up the matter of the purity and the priority of racial theory in thought. But now we need a way to describe the phenomenon in deed and in effect. I preface this by saying Dr. Richard Feynman once famously said “Merely because you live under the effects of gravity for your entire life does not mean you understand particle physics.”
I would like to describe the action of racism as a force over a distance and time. Perhaps one could think of it as a constraining force. Constraint forces limit the movements of component in a system. Or perhaps the force of racism is a force of deflection where the ambition of the person acted on is one vector of progress for which they are putting in work and racism exerts a counterforce decreasing the speed of progress. Physics describes this the work-energy theorem. Perhaps the force of racism is analogous to a resultant force and torque on the rigid body of an individual which if constant fatigues it causing deformation or catastrophic collapse over time. Quite frankly I can envision all three. A force of constraint, of deflection and of torque working against freedom, ambition and integrity.
It is important that at any moment we recognize that these forces are dynamic and in flux. The constraining force may only work in certain regions. The deflecting force may be transient. The torquing force may affect different bodies in different ways. To my way of seeing things this neither overcomplicates or oversimplifies the force of racism, rather it clarifies something that is neither binary, uniformly felt, distributed or experienced. With these three types of racist forces, sources, areas of operation, dynamics and effects may be calculated with more precision and therefore solutions more appropriately designed and results measured.
I leave my future use of these terms in debate and discovery to determine whether they are useful. As always, you are welcome to use, critique or ignore at will.