Well, yes. But the question raises some interesting points.
Does a person endorse near slavery, horrific working conditions, the purchase of moral “indulgences” by the privileged, and the manipulation of the population with religious woo-woo when appreciating the architecture of a medieval European cathedral? Because that bad stuff is what happened to make that cathedral exist. If you visit the Sistine Chapel or Notre Dame in Paris you endorse all that is connected to the creation of these edifices. You might as well have personally carried out the inquisition! Especially if you pay to get in or buy a slide set or a curio in the gift shop.
The critiques of Cameron’s Avatar (see this) in relation to Western-centered racism are valid critiques, and lauding various aspects of the movie, enjoying the movie, and telling other people they should see it can be done at the same time.
Humans actually do this … holding contrary beliefs or taking actions that contradict each other … all the time. Only occasionally do we notice a particular contradiction, at which time we may then act in an arbitrary, often political manner. Making Rules and Demanding Purity are common inappropriate reactions to the discovery of contradiction. Another common reaction is sticking the index fingers into the ears and going “La La La La” really loud you can’t hear anyone else’s voice.
This came up in comments here when I made mention of the idea that one could approach a discussion of racism by not assuming, at least initially, that all racism is bad. I admit that when I mentioned this, I was baiting my readers, and one of my readers did indeed retort with a set of excellent questions.
The pragmatic pedagogic reason for starting out a conversation about race by removing the value judgement over racism is simple but takes a bit of explanation.
People often want to classify some behavior related to race as “OK” or “acceptable” such as a doctor knowing what a person’s “race” is in order to more effectively treat them. If you think this is a good thing, because it leads to better medical treatment, then you think of it as a good application of the race concept. Therefore it can’t be “racism” because racism is bad.
However, this causes a problem when we try to classify things people do, think, want, or ways people act as both “not racist” vs. “racist” and “good” vs. “bad.”
The acknowledgement that African Americans have really good rhythm is an example. That is a fairly racist-sounding thing to say. It may have been true at one time … that African Americans had rhythm and the whites who were making this remark did not (as much). Across the world, in most cultures, most individuals engage in production of music including singing and dancing as part of a group. Children grow up singing and dancing far beyond what Western children get in school or home, and rhythm is a trait that they acquire through development. It is probably hard to find a person in such a culture without rhythm. But it is easy to find run of the mill Americans who don’t have rhythm because they did not grow up in such a culture (or otherwise engage in music production as a child). In other words, it may be that in the early 20th century when I imagine (this is a total guess) this “blacks have rhythm” thing to have emerged (I’m sure someone will wikipedia this and correct me if I’m wrong) white people were often deficit in the rhythm department while African Americans were normal …. they had it.
So in that context, acknowledging that “blacks have rhythm” may be a benign, or even complimentary, statement. How nice of those white people to say such a thing.
When Richard Nixon acknowledged African American abilities in the areas of entertainment, perhaps Richard Nixon was being a nice guy, and perhaps it occurred to him that African Americans were acting in a more or less normal manner, and that our strange broken Western culture hobbled most white Americans in our brain development in this area. On the other hand, when he said “The second point is that coming out–coming back and saying that black Americans aren’t as good as black Africans–most of them , basically, are just out of the trees. Now, let’s face it, they are.” or “There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white… Or a rape” … maybe he belied a deep seated racism that would make us wonder about his “complement.”
My point is that the attribution of rhythm to a particular race could be an example of a benign act or a nefarious act, but either way it involves the race concept. I see the color of your skin and I thus know that you likely have rhythm or not. Statistically. And we assume it is innate. Genetic. And so on. That is the race concept in action.
So if you think “Blacks have rhythm” is not a bad thing to say, and you have the usual view of “racism” (that racism is always bad) then the statement is not racist. But if you realize that it really is a bad thing to say, then suddenly saying “Blacks have rhythm” is a racist act. But it is the same act. How can it be racist one time and not the other time? Well, that can only be true if you think that racism is always bad and never good. You are of course free to think that but it is rather poorly thought out. Why not call something that is good “good” and something that is bad “bad” and look at a term like “racist” or “racism” for what it is… the specific set of thoughts and mental models that use a race concept. Racism is simply believing that races exist and matter, and racism is simply an assertion or act based on this belief.
Putting it yet another way, the structure of the act or assertion as racist is one thing, the judgment of it is another, and conflating the two is a lousy way to define a term that one might want to use in any kind of thoughtful discourse.
Yes, yes, yes, I know, there are other words or terms you can use. “Race-based thinking” or “racialization” and so on and so forth. But these terms are claims that races exist, they are claims that races have multiple correlated characteristics some more easily seen than others, and thus these terms are claims that I can look at the color of your skin and tell if you are likely to have rhythm. Statistically.
It is all the same thing.
So that is the structure of the argument, but what is the purpose of the argument? There are two.
First, I want to ask people to consider racism by first removing their existing moral judgement (racism is bad … and a thing that uses or acknowledges races that is not bad can’t therefore be racism) because even if racism is bad, I strongly suspect that your particular construction of both racism and badness and the link between the two is uncritically received knowledge and you will be better off getting yourself out from under that. You can put it back later if it still fits after examining a number of historical and current issues.
Second, there is an argument that “benign racism” is the hobgoblin of the racist conspiracy. Well, at least, I would make that argument. We often see certain arguments about the benign nature of one or another racist assertion, especially related to medical things these days, but in the Jim Crow days there were many others as well. “For their own good” we will do this and that and this. Separate but equal. Happier among one’s own kind. And so on. So, the construction of racism as always bad and the rule that you can’t label a good thing as racist is a trick. A trick to get you to believe certain things because they are not really bad. Even if they are.
These two things are not unconnected.