"Racism" as witchcraft: Insights from anthropology
[It looks like fleshing out the idea will take three separate posts -- this introductory one, one for the main argument, and a final one with a contrasting case.]
We no longer need to put quote marks around witchcraft because nobody takes it seriously anymore, so there's no need to signal our skepticism or dismissal of the idea. But the concept of "racism" is still entrenched enough that we need to. Well, I've already signaled my dismissal twice, so I don't need to make the text unreadable by continuing to put it in quotes.
Too often conservative thinkers (if they can be called that) would rather score yuk-yuk points in a nerd pissing contest than understand what's really going on. It doesn't matter if clouded thinking leads us into oblivion because, hey, I really showed that son-of-a-bitch who's boss, didn't I? A recent example was the spread of the term "Islamofascism," when the main ethnic groups within Islam -- Semites and Indo-Aryans -- are more lawless than law-and-order, small not large in their organization.
Still, even a misguided approach will hit close to the mark every now and then. The closest we've gotten is in describing mass hysteria about racists as modern-day witch hunts. That analogy actually goes much deeper than is suggested by the casual use of the term to describe any form of mass hysteria directed at identifiable groups.
The insights come from anthropology, another shameful blind spot for a group that considers itself more aware of human nature than the social engineers. This continues to leave conservatives utterly impotent to respond to liberal retards promoting this or that policy, or pushing one or another ideological point, on the basis of "In non-Western cultures..." Typically the conservative does nothing more than plop out a canned zinger -- "Yeah well if the jungle's so great, why don't you go live there?" Nobody following the debate ever took the liberal to be promoting such an extreme action, so they ignore the har-dee-har-har rejoinder and shift their views mildly more toward the liberal than the conservative.
Having concluded the opening motivational speech, this series of posts will go into point-by-point detail drawing parallels between beliefs and practices about witchcraft and about racism. In the second post, I'll focus on racism against American blacks and witchcraft in sub-Saharan Africa because those are the two prototypical cases of each.
The common factor of Africa is no accident -- in the final post, I'll contrast those cases with the way that (primarily Arab) Muslims conceive of and express their grievances with a hegemonic culture. They do not invoke anything like the concept of racism and do not show the features of witchcraft hysteria. Instead, they show the pastoralist's vigilance for slights against his honor, and his thirst for vengeance.
Hence, aggrieved minorities deal with the dominant culture in ways deriving from their own traditions, and it pays us to recognize these differences, the better to deal with them as reactionaries. "How to" would take us too far afield, apart from being more speculative; the purpose here is simply to illuminate crucial unseen patterns.
The basis for discussing African witchcraft systems will be E.E. Evans-Pritchard's classic ethnography Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande (1937). Of course, I don't expect you to read even the abridged version, so here is a Word-file summary of the main ideas to chew over in the meantime. Evans-Pritchard was a seminal figure in mid-century social anthropology, and the work is neutral and sympathetic toward their beliefs and practices. He wished for them to adopt more rational systems, and believed that understanding what made their existing system tick was the first step.
In this way, he fits into the larger project of mid-century liberal social science, exemplified in America (to take the most relevant example) by Daniel Patrick Moynihan's report The Negro Family: The Case For National Action (1965), which sought to understand how poverty kept on going within the American black community, and concluded that it was their lower rates of forming nuclear families.
The point is that the basis for what follows is not a caricature from either a dismissive or romanticizing field worker. The mid-century faith was that if experts could figure out how something worked, they could change it for the greater good. But, that required them to take a cold, hard honest look at the thing to begin with.