Racism and culture

An interesting Arabic piece (rajul lubnaan al-abayiḍ) by Khalid Saghiyya arguing that culturism has replaced racism in the modern world, which makes a couple of interesting points.

But racism, which is often used by the Europeans towards other peoples, quickly erupted within Europe itself, and and directed itself towards the Europeans themselves. [This] was the Holocaust, and the world war. Only then did big question marks appear on racist speech.

It goes on to say that Western thinkers, still refusing to be equal to the others “devised another idea the is not beyond the scope of ‘political correctness.'” The peoples of the Third World are not genetically inferior, but “culturally backward. We are all human beings are equal, but we have superior culture [. . .] Thus we uphold one Declaration of Human Rights and then divide people according to their degrees of cultural inheritance. The White Men have found a way to return to the starting point, this time as a matter of culture.” It ends off with commentay on the March 14 movement and “culture.”

I don’t agree with all of the article’s sentiments, but I do agree that condescension and racism are nowadays dressed in the language of culture as opposed “race” or racialism.


8 thoughts on “Racism and culture

  1. It is an interesting, but perhaps ultimately just a *merely* conceptual, issue(1). I think the thing to investigate is whether this ‘culturism’ is the same as racism in the effects it has(2); and, if so, should we call Dinesh D’Souza, (who writes that racism has effectively ended, Black culture now holds people back) e.g., a ‘racist’ or is a word such as ‘culturist’ more appropriate?

    1 This ‘merely conceptual issue’ obviously has massive impacts if the use of the word ‘racist’ as an epithet is anything to go by.
    2 Although this would be hard to gauge if in fact the turn to culturism is an historical effect. (Fanon argued as much as far back as the 50s in a speech ‘Racisme et Culture’ where he said that the colonists’ need for able bodies to do work in industrial areas cancelled out the possibility for biological/physical inferiority and required a focus on culture to cement a distinction between the colonists and the colonized. But it is Fanon, so it’s a little light on the empirical evidence–just mentioning it to highlight that these culturism ideas are not new and that they may be historically determined.) If in fact the ideas are based on historical changes, the substance of cultural discrimination is likely different from racial discrimination–meaning they only have the form in common.

  2. The truth is, ‘culturalism’ is much older than racism. Also, lets not forget that Eurocentrism was founded on culturalism, and racism was soon followed. In this day and age of Globalism, acknowledging race isn’t profitable. You can sell culture, and people are wiling to buy into (conform) it as long as the trend shows positive correlation to the claim.

    This is no different than my religion is better than yours sort of ideal. Than again, technically religion is a form of culture, so probably no the best analogy.

    2 Geoffrey:
    If want “culturalism” at its finest, than just read “Macaulay’s minute on Indian Education”.

    Although I agree with Dinesh’s point on “Black culture” being as (if not more) detrimental to the progress of blacks than other external factors, it is probably the only thing i can agree with him on. Dinesh is too much or a conservative puppet for inquiring minds to take his ideas as bipartisan scholarship.

  3. My name is John Press. I have written a book on culturism. http://www.culturism.us is my website.

    Racism is irrational and dangerous. It should especially be guarded against in the multi-racial societies of the Western world.

    Culturism, however, is rational and necessary.

    Multiculturalists want it both ways. They want to say diversity exists, yet they do not want to acknowledge that it might have some negative affects.

    Too often when people mention diversity in a negative way people abuse the term racism to stop discussion. Usually, the person discussing immigration or female circumcision is not concerned with race at all. They are concerned with culture. If diversity is real, cultural distinctions need to be discussed.

    Please note, culturism does not mind international diversity. Saudi Arabia practices heavy handed culturism in order to safeguard their culture. China does as well. Culturism does not dispute their right to define, protect and promote their unique cultural visions. This makes culturism different than the culturalism (with an “al”) Aaron mentions.

    Unlike multiculturalists, however culturists note that the West does have a distinct culture. The West is also within its rights to practice culturism and define, protect and promote its culture within its sphere.


  4. The problem I have with the notion of “culturism” (what an awful word) is that it is used in my opinion with a political agenda in mind, not a philosophical or ethnological point of view. While I strongly support multiculturalism, multiple languages, federalism, regionalism and pluralism in as many forms as reasonably possible, I completely refuse the idea that because all cultures should be respected and even promoted, all cultural manifestations are equal against ethics and/or law.

    China, Afghanistan, Russia and most Arabic regimes, as well as Iran and many others, use the culturism accusation to defend their own practices that are loathsome and/or unethical.

  5. Alphast, I’m sorry you think the word awful. Culturalism was taken and multiculturalism seem to me to have waaaaay too many syllables. I shot for a compact word.

    Anyhow, if you do not like China, Afghanistan, Russia or Arabic regimes, it sounds like you do not respect diversity. I wonder in what sense you are a multiculturalist.

    Culturists would point out that our values seem better to us because we were raised in our culture. WE hold these truths to be self evident. But we are not the world. Other value systems exist. It is not a coincidence that people in the parts of the world which those cultural systems predominate prefer them. We are products of our cultures.

    I find the prospect of telling a muslim that my way of life is objectively better silly. He will obviously say the same to me. That said, to us and in our culture we have a core culture that needs to be protected. Culturists here disagree with the multiculturalist assertion that we have no core culture. And since our culture is unique and not universal, we have to protect it or it can go away. Other cultures are waiting in the wings.

    They protect their existence, we protect ours. Diversity and competition exist.


  6. First of all, I refute the term of “values”. I accept that we may value some things, practices or behaviors more, because of various reasons (some cultural, some not). But there are no “values”. Value is a culturally oriented and relative concept. Hence, it is not a practical tool from an ethical point of view.

    Second, the fact that I like a specific regime or not is not the point either. As you rightfully said, liking something is also relative and culturally oriented. What is relevant for me is to know if these regimes are efficient from a political point of view and if they respect ethics or not. In this way, I do respect cultural diversity but I might have a rational appreciation of a particular political regime, especially taken into its cultural and regional background. Preference is something else all together.

    I am not speaking about way of life, these are obviously strongly tainted culturally. Defending once culture is important. Seeing the particularism of one’s culture is equally important. But seeing what is actually universal (in either culture) is no less important. “In medio stat virtus” is a concept which, I believe, applies in this field too.

    Pointing that everything is relative and culturally oriented (because we are born in a certain culture) is just as extreme and damaging as saying that one culture is superior to others. Would it be only because it would ignore the fact that cultures communicate with each others and because humans (regardless of culture) are capable of abstraction and rational thinking.

  7. I had to bump this post; I saw an ad of this guy’s (John Press) book through a “sponsored link” in gmail account. I remembered seeing one of his posts on this blog.

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