Re: It's their race, not my racism, that terrifies me


I'm really not understanding argument #1, I'm sure she is racist but not because she argues that she wasn't afraid of some brown-skinned people at location x therefore her fear of brown-skinned people at location y does not have anything to do with them being brown skinned. That argument seems to be pretty standard arguing style for a culture unschooled in logic and even if one were to identify the logical errors in it I don't think that it would reveal a racist underpinning.

Also she is trying to legitimize her fear of muslims, not by referencing indians but by referencing hindus and muslims, near pakistan.

#2 is correct however.

Posted by: bryan | Link to this comment | 07-21-04 12:52 PM
horizontal rule

I see racism in the fact that her categories of people are such that she thinks Indians (Hindus and Muslims) are in the same group as Syrians. If they're not in the same group, then the story is pointless. If they're in the same group, then she's suggesting that brown-skinned-and-from-thereabouts is actually a category. If that's a category for her, then she's thinking in terms of skin color and not in terms of something that would make more sense, like nationality.

Or maybe she's successfully arguing a silly thing to argue, which is that race alone isn't enough to scare her. It's true that faced with harmless-seeming brown-skinned people, she doesn't get scared. What I'm accusing her of, though, is that she requires people of a particular racial group to be ostentatiously normal before she lets herself relax around them.

As for your point about her fearing Muslims, yeah I mostly give you that. She mentions Hindus to make the point that there were a lot of Indians on the plane with her. Later she talks about being near Pakistan. So she references brownness on the airplane and then narrows it for at the village.

Posted by: Bob | Link to this comment | 07-21-04 1:24 PM
horizontal rule


I think your argument is overblown. It is not racist to fear 14 Syrians acting in the way she describes these guys acting on the plane. She's a racist only if she harbors suspicions of Arabs in other contexts as well.

And her citation of her time spent in India is supposed to reassure us that she's not racist for provincial reasons -- not to draw an 'equivalence' between Indians and Syrians.

My view is that the Syrians were probably praying in the loo, or doing something equally innocent. I don't think Jacobsen's story deserved publication. I think nothing of interest happened on that flight except that some people got spooked in all-too-intelligible ways.

But she isn't (based on this story) a racist. The way to deal with this sort of terror-mongering is to dispel these natural fears that people have, not to make them defensive by calling them racists.

Posted by: Ted H. | Link to this comment | 07-21-04 1:30 PM
horizontal rule

For it to make any sense, her inclusion of the story requires there to be some equivalence between Indians and Syrians. Otherwise why bring Indians up at all? I'd be satisfied with her story if it had been other Arabs and if it had been another situation that could have set her imagination going. But non-Arabs in a completely nonthreatening situation? It's too easy, and it just demonstrates something about how she divides up the world.

As for making people defensive, you're right. I should say it more in terms of people's categories being screwed up. I still think it's racism, though -- and the way to make the point to the cops and the TSA is to point out the racism inherent in interrogating brown-skinned people for the very things that white people are allowed to do without a second glance.

Lots of cops and TSA people read this site, of course.

Posted by: Bob | Link to this comment | 07-21-04 1:43 PM
horizontal rule


Posted by: [redacted] | Link to this comment | 07-21-04 1:58 PM
horizontal rule

Sounds like she had grounds to be nervous, but should have let it go when things turned out to be okay. The scariest part was that she apparently considers Ann Coulter to be an authoritative source.......

Posted by: quartz | Link to this comment | 07-21-04 2:15 PM
horizontal rule

Speaking of Fontana's Klan suit, if we knew a domestic, white-power terrorist group was planning to blow up stuff, would we not pay more attention to white people behaving wacky? In this case, it's Fred Durst, not d12, who gets the evil eye From the Jacobson equivalent, and not unreasonably so, right> Bob, are you really going to say that the answer to FL's non-rhetorical question is "yes, suspect all groups equally" when it comes to Klansmen?

Posted by: baa | Link to this comment | 07-21-04 5:03 PM
horizontal rule

If white people were known to be planning some sort of attack, say on airplanes, we would not have Michelle Malkin raging against the government for failing to strip-search white people who board in groups and dart their eyes about suspiciously. The reason is that there are too many white people for the profile to make sense. Similar goes for Middle Easterners. People think there are fewer than there are -- many think America is a white (and maybe black) country and that other people are foreigners and therefore suspect.

To FL's thing about scrutinizing everyone equally, I say yes that's how it should work. Look for behaviors, not behaviors in combination with ethnicity. Interrogate people for testing positive for traces of explosives, not for carrying fabric-wrapped oblong objects onto airplanes. Otherwise you have a situation in which Middle Easterners (and Indians, light-skinned blacks, etc.) have to be ostentatiously "normal" in order not to have people glaring at them and watching their every move. You have dark-skinned Americans treated like foreigners in their own country, and you undo decades of work convincing America that immigrant Sikhs are exactly as American as Mayflower descendants.

Posted by: Bob | Link to this comment | 07-21-04 11:08 PM
horizontal rule

Bob, I think this is where we part company. You nicely evade the Klan question by saying ti si impractical, but that's not the issue. We can think of others analogies that fit the bill, like profiling by religion for potential abortion clinic bombers. Can we focus on certain denominations, or must the FBI devote scarce resouces to Unitarian Universalists too? I think your answer is, basically, yes. This strikes me as nuts, frankly, and not just because religious is "chosen" in a way ethnicity isn't. Hey, I'm Jewish, but if the CIA thinks someone is leaking important secrets to Israel I say "profile away!" I really am sorry that innocent, patriotic Arabs are getting funny looks. And I would be equally sorry if they got more than their share of airport security hassles. But I don't think it's an unreasonable, unethical, or impractical response, if (and let's just stipulate this) Al-Queda membership is overwhelmingly Arab by ethnicity. Obviously how one profiles, the expected gain one needs to justify the intrusiveness and unAmerican nature of the process, will be a very hard judgment call. And maybe absent a really compelling benefit, we should err on the side of treating everyone the same. But I don't think profiling is prima facie unethical or impractical.

Posted by: baa | Link to this comment | 07-22-04 9:58 AM
horizontal rule

I'm gonna try again here by being a sarcastic bastard:

given that the brown-skinnedness of arabs is never referenced as proof of racism on the parts of people evincing fear of arabs (which I know a lot from of arabs who are not brown-skinned, I suppose this is just an indication that people of arabic descent tan differently than northern europeans), it follows that someone with poor arguing skills trying to pre-empt accusations of racism by pointing out that they associate with brown-skinned peoples without fear is being a racist scumbag. or something.

As i said, I think that she probably is racist, I think that there are a lot of things in that article that indicate it, however the phrase brown-skinned has been a recurring refrain to indict the war on terror as being a racist enterprise long enough that she can be forgiven trying out that particular rhetorical maneauver to cover her ass before going out on a very distasteful attack.

Posted by: bryan | Link to this comment | 07-22-04 2:15 PM
horizontal rule

Baa, I'm not just saying that profiling would be impractical -- I'm also saying that it would be ineffective. It's the Bayesian thing: yes the prob that a terrorist is an Arab is high, but that in itself doesn't say anything about the prob that an Arab is a terrorist. Screening Arab-looking people is all about the second probability (we want to know whether THAT Arab guy is a terrorist), which you can estimate if you know the probability that a person is Arab and the probability that a person is a terrorist. The large number of Arabs and Arab-Americans in the US and the world make the fact that Al Qaeda members are almost all Arabs difficult to use in airports.

I also think that the ineffectiveness of profiling makes it unethical.

And even if I thought it were effective, I think I'd say that imposing conspicuously greater hassles on Arab-looking people just encourages people like Annie Jacobsen (and the journalists who propagate her fear) to call the cops the minute she sees something SHE thinks doesn't look normal -- and scream bloody murder when no one arrests the musicians. If the only harm were a little more inconvenience for some people, I might reluctantly be okay with it. (I might not, but I'm vacationing and mellow.) The bigger problem I fear, though, is the government confirming some people's xenophobig and racist instincts and just driving the general terror level higher -- to the warmongers' political benefit and to the detriment of everyone else.

Posted by: Bob | Link to this comment | 07-23-04 10:46 PM
horizontal rule

That should be "xenophobia" (or, I suppose, "xenophobic"), not "xenophobig." I apologize for any confusion I caused with this error.

Posted by: Bob | Link to this comment | 07-24-04 12:57 AM
horizontal rule