Culture of Intolerance

Culture of Intolerance: Chauvinism, Class, and Racism in the United States

Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Culture of Intolerance
    Book Description:

    Americans increasingly blame the failures of minority individuals in our society on "racial" inferiority. Anthropologist Mark Nathan Cohen argues cogently that the problems are cultural, not "racial," and that they are rooted in the assumptions of mainstream American culture, not in the biological or cultural failings of "others."By summarizing scientific evidence proving that "races" do not exist and that few biological traits actually correlate with the color of one's skin, Cohen shows that differences in ability cannot be linked to "race." The growing gap between rich and poor and the economic subordination of minority groups, he says, are rooted in the arbitrary rules that govern American society. Culture constrains our ability to understand and appreciate the actions of others and often prevents us from seeing the consequences of our own actions or realizing our alternatives. American perceptions of what constitute merit, health, hygiene, freedom, progress, property, economics, justice-and even our own history-are distorted. Our insistence that ours is the best or only view promotes intolerance and racism. Cohen shows that definitions of intelligence, IQ tests, hiring practices, and evaluations of job performance contain many more cultural biases than we recognize and thus restrict the opportunities of minority individuals.By breaking down American cultural assumptions, Cohen offers a strong defense of affirmative action and multicultural education. He concludes with some suggestions for the future-to end the racism and indifference to one another that mark our society.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14753-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. CHAPTER ONE The Real American Tragedy
    (pp. 1-10)

    Racism, greed, and indifference to the needs of others are back in fashion. Tolerance for others—almost anyone who is a little different from ourselves—is out of style. Compromising with the needs of others no longer seems necessary.

    After decades of slowly bringing minorities toward full partnership and gradually starting to protect the poor from the worst ravages of poverty, there has been an upsurge of indifference, fear, or outright hatred of others on the part of the American public and cynical manipulation of our fears by elected leaders, political candidates, media, and political commentators. It is once again...

  5. CHAPTER TWO The Innocent Scapegoat: Human Biological Variation and “Race”
    (pp. 11-59)

    The biological differences among human beings and between “races” are all too often used as scapegoats—blamed for inequality and other social problems that are in fact the product of cultural differences and social and political pressures. Like most scapegoats, these biological differences provide a distraction that enables us to avoid looking at the real problems and searching for real solutions. Most of this book deals with the cultural and political factors that are at the heart of our problems; but it seems important first to describe what science actually knows about biological differences among people in order to put...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Understanding the Rules People Live By: Cultural Systems and Cultural Variation
    (pp. 60-110)

    The large-scale variations in behavior that we think we see among groups of people are often mistakenly attributed to biology or “race,” yet, as discussed in the previous chapter, “racial” differences among people don’t exist. Specific biological traits may occur in higher percentages in some populations than others. But these differences occur in a huge array of combinations, and they account for only relatively minor differences among people, which are important (that is, confer significant advantages or disadvantages) only in special circumstances.

    Most variation among human groups is in fact caused byculturaldifferences. Cultural differences are far more important,...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR The Real Meaning of Cultural Relativism
    (pp. 111-133)

    Cultural relativism —roughly, the willingness to look thoughtfully and tolerantly at other cultures—can help resolve many of our tensions and some of our problems. Even business leaders are now talking about the need to expand and supplement our “paradigms” (the standard models of our thinking, molded by culture and limited by our cultural blinders) to get the best results. Expanding and supplementing our existing paradigms—real freedom of thought—are what cultural relativism and anthropology are all about.

    But relativism is a dirty word among some scholars, pundits, and politicians. It is easily dismissed because very few people take...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Some Assumptions of American Culture and the Problems They Generate
    (pp. 134-203)

    Cultural relativism is essential to accurate self-perception and self-understanding. It can help us solve our own problems as well as increase our tolerance and understanding of others. This may be the most important meaning of relativism and the most crucial contribution of anthropological knowledge. By studying other cultures we learn thateveryculture has arbitrary, conventional rules about behavior and arbitrary beliefs, logic, and emotions. We also learn that every culture acts for reasons that are hidden and sets up sometimes imperfect and incorrect perceptions of what is going on. What people say and even think they do is not...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Justifying Inequality: Cultural Assumptions About Intelligence and Competence
    (pp. 204-251)

    As we have seen, cultural blinders largely govern our perception of social problems and their solutions. Reviving a shopworn but popular argument inThe Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life(1994), Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray attempt to justify inequality and our use of scape-goats. They try to prove that some of the realities of American life—differential job performance, differential income, class, poverty, crime, morality, family values, illegitimacy (and discrimination by “race,” although they don’t say so explicitly)—are grounded in inherent biological differences in human mental ability. Their book and the publicity surrounding it...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Affirmative Action and Curriculum Inclusion
    (pp. 252-292)

    Like many of our contemporary political debates, the debate about affirmative action in employment and university admissions is distorted by Americans’ imperfect perception of ourselves and our society. It is affected by the narrow and arbitrary nature of our assumptions and the definitions we place on such things as equality, efficiency, justice, and merit. It is affected by our strange sense of what society is for and what our social policies ought to accomplish. It is also distorted by the limits that our blinders place on the range of options that we are willing to consider.

    Like any cultural category,...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Transforming the Culture of Intolerance
    (pp. 293-312)

    It has become commonplace for some politicians and even some scholars to express concern that the United States is heading toward a future of extreme social stratification. They foresee increasing class distinctions involving a growing economic, social, and political gap between the rich and the poor and more poverty and hardship for those at the bottom of the social ladder, inevitably accompanied by increasing tension between groups and between “races.” But much of that stratification has already occurred. As I have pointed out, the wealthiest Americans already enjoy property and incomes that are thousands of times larger than even those...

  12. Suggested Reading
    (pp. 313-316)
  13. Index
    (pp. 317-325)