Monday, March 17, 2008

Feminist Racism

Feminist Philosopher Jender unwittingly lets her racism show. She begins reasonably:

Geraldine Ferraro has been widely and rightly criticised for saying the following:

“If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position,” she continued. “And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”
She agrees that Ms. Ferraro's statement is factually correct but she objects to its implications (AKA implicatures). Lacking any additional background, and Jender provides none, I had thought it most likely that Ms. Ferraro was objecting to the way the press had treated Mr. Obama, in part because of his race, as a messiah or rock star, to which "the country" had responded, giving him an unfair advantage.

It is not unusual for the press to pick favorites. In 2000, while they still thought he was a liberal Republican, the press treated then Gov. Geo. Bush very positively. Between 2004 and 2008, they treated Sen. Clinton as the 'inevitable' winner of the Democratic presidential nomination. Sen. Obama has merely been the recent beneficiary of media praise. But, feminist philosopher Jender sees it differently:

But– what [Ms. Ferraro] conveyed (via implicatures, if one wants to get technical) was that Obama was undeserving of his successes. That his successes were solely a result of his race. And that being non-white is a huge and undeserved stroke of luck in America. All false. And all so offensive and obviously false that nobody would explicitly say them.
The implications that Jender reads into Ms. Ferraro's statements come from Jender's mind, not Ferraro's. While everyone else acknowledges, for example, that Sen. Obama gives superb political speeches, in Jender's mind, Sen. Obama's successes are "undeserved" and "solely" because of race. Her introduction of the word "solely" is particularly significant: it is no where in Ms. Ferraro's statement nor in any reasonably implication of her statement. Jender's argument appears to me to show Jender projecting her own racist feelings of black inferiority onto Ms. Ferraro.

UPDATE: Shelby Steele argues that Ms. Ferraro was right.

PREVIOUSLY, liberal racism has been addressed here, here, here, and here.

4 comments:

Monkey said...

I think you've misunderstood Jender's post. An implicature is not quite the same as an implication. An implicature is a technical term used by linguists to refer to what someone manages to say without actually saying it. An example might be something like sarcasm. Where I may say, 'That was really, really, really fantasic food' and mean, the food was awful. In that case, what my words say is that the food was great, but what I manage to convey to my audience is that it was terrible. What Jender is suggesting is that Ms. Ferraro's statement went much further than saying that Obama had an unfair advantage. Her statement conveyed that Obama was totally undeserving of his success, and had got as far as he had got solely on the basis of his race. This isn't Jender's opinion (she likes Obama as other posts on the site show). She is objecting to what Ms Ferraro insinuated by her statement. Now you might not think that is what Ms Ferraro insinuated, but I fail to see how you can think that Jender is racist because she thought Ms Ferraro implied that Obama's success was undeserved.

John said...

First, I found nothing in your definition of implicature that is distinguishable from the normal English definition of implication.

"[Ms. Ferraro's] statement conveyed that Obama was totally undeserving of his success, and had got as far as he had got solely on the basis of his race."

False. That is Jender's thought, not necessarily Ferraro's.

"I fail to see how you can think that Jender is racist because she thought Ms Ferraro implied that..."

Because it is what she (Jender) thought, not what Ferraro stated, and that thought was racist. Q.E.D.

Ms. Ferraro's statement could be interpreted a multitude of ways. The only interpretation that Jender could imagine was an anti-black racist one. That tells us about the thoughts inside Jender's mind.

jj said...

John, You think JF was not implying that race alone was getting Obama where he is, and Jender thinks JF did suggest that. And so you label Jender a racist.

Give me a break! Whether Jender was right or wrong, the fact that the interpretation occurred to her does not show she is racist. Where do you get the idea that if I misinterpret someone, I must think what I attribute to them??? 2nd grade Freud?

"Implicature" is a technical term, and Monkey's example could have alterted you to the difference. Implicatures tend to work by exploiting conversational expectations. E.g., "Great food" said by a restaurant critic to a master chef might well suggest or "implicate" that the food wasn't good enough, since it doesn't describe the food the way food at that level among those experts is normally described.

One has to watch out for implicatures on letters of reference. If I just describe how amibtious and hard working an applicant for grad school is, I might well manage to say the actual research produced is not up to much.

John said...

"Whether Jender was right or wrong, the fact that the interpretation occurred to her does not show she is racist."

You need to explain then why, out of many more plausible possibilities, it was that thought and only that thought that occurred to Jender.

"Where do you get the idea that if I misinterpret someone, I must
think what I attribute to them???"


That would depend on the type of misinterpretation but the normal way that one understands someone else's unrevealed thoughts is psychological projection.

If you have another explanation, I am happy to hear it.

From reading the Stanford definition, I gather that implicatures are the subset of implications that follow Grice's rules. If so, that would explain why your and Monkey's examples were all examples of normal implication as well.

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