Pride and Prejudice
What It Means To Be Proud of a Person, Group, Nation, or Race; Racial Profiling, Racial Prejudice, and Racial Supremacy
This website is focused on Hawaiian sovereignty. Most of the following essay is written in a generic way, applicable to all groups. But readers should have the racial group of Native Hawaiians in mind throughout the essay. In particular, Native Hawaiians in their current search for a separate identity and racial pride are sometimes about 30-40 years behind African-Americans. Thus it is instructive sometimes to look at the history of racial separatism and racial pride in the African-American community.
It has become fashionable for people to make public statements expressing pride in their biological, national, or social heritage. Should it be acceptable for someone to take pride in a condition he did not earn and has no ability to control, but unacceptable to blame someone for a condition he did not choose and has no ability to control? If someone is entitled to take pride in the good things about his heritage, then should it not also be acceptable to blame an individual for the bad things about his heritage? Is it possible to take pride in one's racial heritage, without asserting racial supremacy? If racial profiling is unacceptable, then shouldn't racial pride also be unacceptable?
Three kinds of pride should be distinguished. The first two are entirely rational, but the third one is problematic.
(1) Being proud of oneself or claiming virtue for oneself because of one's own accomplishments. Sally and Betty, who are friends, might eat lunch together. Betty might say, "Phi Beta Kappa has elected me to its national honor society. I studied very hard for four years and made a lot of sacrifices to go to college. I am proud of my accomplishment."
(2) Being proud of some other person or group, as a form of giving praise where praise is due. In the above example, after Betty announces her election to Phi Beta Kappa, Sally then says, "I am very proud of you." Sally is clearly praising Betty, and is not claiming any of the credit for Betty's achievement.
(3) Basking in the reflected glory of accomplishments of another person or group to which one claims an affiliation.
(3A) The affiliation for basking might be close or personal, based on longstanding friendship or colleagueship, or frequent exchange of ideas, goods, or services. In that case such basking in reflected glory might be rational. In the above example, where Betty announces her election to Phi Beta Kappa, Sally's pride in Betty might to some extent be an assertion of Sally's belief that Sally is entitled to be praised for having Betty as her friend. Sally does indeed deserve praise for having cultivated a friendship with someone who has Betty's accomplishments. It is rational for Sally to expect that other people will hold Sally in higher regard for being a friend of someone with Betty's accomplishments, because Betty's accomplishments give Betty high status which Betty partially confers upon Sally by considering Sally worthy of spending time with her and vouching for Sally as a friend.
(3B) The affiliation for basking might be merely based on membership in a group, which people join voluntarily or which people are born into. If someone chooses to join a group and takes an active role in helping the group achieve success, then it is clearly rational for him to claim some (perhaps small) degree of personal praise for the group's accomplishments. But if someone is merely born into membership in a huge group (such as a racial group or a nation), it is irrational to claim praise for such an accident of birth. And if someone makes only relatively small contributions or no contributions at all to the achievements of a huge group, then it is clearly irrational to claim praise because of the group's achievements. Betty and Sally are both students at a large university. Betty says, "How about our football team winning the championship! I'm so proud of them!" Sally replies, "Yes indeed. And their victory makes me proud to be a student here." Betty's pride in the football team could be construed to mean that she is praising the team for its accomplishments. But Sally's statement says Sally is taking pride in herself for being a student at the same university whose football team won the championship. Unless Sally was a linebacker on the team, or carried water to the players during practice sessions, or raised money to buy helmets, her basking in the reflected glory of the team's victory is irrational. Finally, suppose Betty announces her election to Phi Beta Kappa, and Sally says "I'm very proud of your accomplishment. You're African-American, and so am I; therefore people will respect me more because of your achievement." As discussed above, it is rational for Sally to expect higher status because of her close individual relationship with the high-achieving Betty; but it is not rational for Betty to expect higher status merely because she was born into the same racial group with Betty. If a sufficient proportion of African-Americans achieve election to Phi Beta Kappa, then the general public impression of African-Americans may be raised and Sally may indeed have a rational expectation of more favorable treatment; however, expecting favorable treatment merely because of membership in a racial group would be a clear example of racial profiling (pre-judging an individual based solely on her membership in a racial group).
Of course, many expressions of pride contain two or three aspects simultaneously. It can be very hard to separate the types of pride in any particular situation, or to judge which aspects are irrational or even harmful. The proud father passes out cigars when his child is born and expects to receive congratulations from friends. But the only deed for which dad can actually take credit is his ejaculation of sperm -- and it was mostly luck that one particular ejaculation produced a pregnancy, since hundreds of such ejaculations produce only a minor mess. Eighteen years later dad is proud when his son graduates from high school. This time dad's pride not only praises his son's achievement, he may actually be entitled to claim some credit for providing housing, food, help with homework, and motivation. However, if a son turns out as a bum, hoodlum or murderer, people generally do not blame dad to the same extent they would praise dad for a son's positive accomplishments. This disparity between praise and blame is irrational. The truth is probably somewhere in between -- parents should be given less praise than they actually get for their children's positive accomplishments, and more blame than they actually get for their children's shortcomings.
When the Los Angeles Lakers win the championship of the National Basketball Association, the people of Los Angeles pour into the streets to celebrate. They express pride in their team. This expression of pride is mostly a way of praising the team for its accomplishments. The people of Los Angeles should know the Lakers is not actually "their" team; i.e., members of the team may not have been born and raised in Los Angeles, may not actually live in Los Angeles most of the year, and do not receive their pay from the taxpayers of Los Angeles. The Lakers is "their" team only in the sense that the team bears the city's name, and some of the fans may have invested a lot of time and money attending games or following the team's progress through the season. Fans gradually grow proud of whatever team they cheer for, especially when that team does well. But most proud fans know they are not entitled to claim to be good basketball players themselves merely because "their" team has won. Sometimes fans superficially feel they are entitled to be congratulated when "their" team wins, as though the fans deserve some kind of credit for the team's accomplishments; but this feeling is irrational. If a Lakers fan gets congratulated by his friend when the Lakers win, the fan should understand that his friend is simply expressing fellowship and pleasure at seeing that the fan is happy. Congratulating a fan when his team wins cannot rationally be regarded as giving credit to the fan for the team's accomplishments, any more than the rooster who crows at sunrise deserves credit for making the sun rise.
Suppose a canoe club has a thousand members who each pay annual dues of five dollars. Suppose a team composed of a few club members practices daily for many months, assisted by a support group of other club members who prepare food, provide transportation, etc.; and eventually the team wins a championship. The club member who paid his dues and made no other contribution might loudly proclaim his pride in the victory. Such pride is acceptable if it is primarily praise for the actual canoe team and the support groups, but is almost entirely irrational if it is an assertion of a claim to be personally praised or rewarded for the success of the team to which someone only made a negligible contribution. Merely being a fan, attending games in a croud of thousands, and cheering, is a negligible contribution to a team's success. Even praying for a team's success is not a significant contribution, unless one claims the prayer was a major factor in persuading God to perform a miracle. It is irrational to claim a personal right to be praised or rewarded for the accomplishments of others with whom one has only a membership relationship without actual personal contribution of effort, help, or material.
If someone has personally worked hard and accomplished something, he is entitled to be proud of it. Proclaiming one's pride is then a claim to be entitled to praise, status, and rewards. People sometimes refrain from expressing pride for fear it may be seen as gloating. Gloating is a socially unattractive attitude, partly because observers take it as demeaning others who failed to accomplish so much. Some people take pride in being humble, meaning that they feel morally righteous for not asserting any demands for praise, status, or rewards even though they would be entitled to such rewards because of their accomplishments. Taking pride in being humble is a form of asserting privately to oneself that he is entitled to praise, status, or rewards for refusing to make a public claim to other praise, status, or rewards to which his accomplishment would entitle him.
Pride in being a citizen of a nation has many aspects, some rational and some irrational. People born into a nation's citizenship clearly cannot claim credit or praise for the accident of their birthplace or birthparents. But as adults, people can choose whether to remain citizens of their birth-nation or to leave and become citizens of another nation. Most people simply remain citizens of their birth-nation without really considering any other possibility, and so deserve no credit for remaining. People who choose citizenship in a different nation can take credit and justifiably feel proud of themselves for making that choice and for enduring the hardships it may have entailed (learning a new language, adopting new styles of dress and new standards of morality).
Very few individuals are able to make such a significant contribution to their nation that they can claim much credit for its power and glory. However, there are several ways a citizen can rationally be proud of his nation. An American can take pride in his nation in the sense of praising it for its accomplishments; but foreigners can also express pride in America in the sense of praising America's accomplishments. Thus, citizenship or membership is not required and is irrelevant for pride as a form of praise for a nation.
But an individual can rationally be proud of his country in the same expectant ways Sally can be proud of her high-achieving friend Betty. Sally can rationally expect people to treat Sally with respect and give Sally higher status because of her friendship with Betty -- people see that the high-status Betty considers Sally worthy of respect and friendship, so people are predisposed to treat Sally respectfully. Thus, someone's citizenship in the United States is likely to carry advantages (and detriments) in the way other people treat him, especially when traveling abroad. If the United States is regarded as a wealthy nation, then an American traveling abroad can expect to receive prompt, courteous treatment in restaurants and hotels. If the United States is perceived as being a powerful nation that comes to the aid of its citizens who are abused in other lands, then an American traveling abroad can expect a greater degree of personal safety and protection from foreign authorities than he would get if he were a citizen of Lower Slobovia. So it is rational for a citizen to be proud of his country in the sense that he expects to receive favorable treatment because of his country's status and power. Likewise, if America is perceived as anti-Arab, or anti-Muslim, then it is rational for Americans traveling in the Middle East to be especially careful. If America is perceived as slaughtering innocent people, or supporting other nations which do so, then Americans may rationally feel ashamed of their nation, meaning that individual Americans know they will have a stigma against them when traveling abroad. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, many Americans treated all residents of Japanese ancestry with suspicion and hostility. Thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry were rounded up and placed in detention camps. Such action was clearly irrational. But it is entirely rational to expect such irrational action by others, which is why some American citizens of Japanese ancestry felt shame when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. There is no logical difference between an American of Japanese ancestry feeling proud of his ethnic heritage when Japanese culture is being praised, vs. feeling shame when Japanese culture or aggression are being villified. Both feelings are either rational in the same way, or irrational in the same way. Likewise for Americans feeling proud or ashamed to be Americans.
Racial pride (or shame) is far less rational than national pride (or shame). The examples of Japanese-American pride and shame can be confusing because it is hard to separate Japanese nationality from Japanese ethnicity. There are very few Japanese citizens who are not racially Japanese. In a multiracial society it is easier to make that distinction. Americans are praised or blamed for being Americans whether they are white, black, Asian, Indian, or a mixture. People can become a citizen or give up citizenship; but that is not possible with race. Thus it is less rational to take pride in one's race than in one's nation. When someone says he is entitled to take pride because he is a member of a racial group, that would seem to be a form of "racial profiling." If it is wrong to use racial profiling to cast suspicion of dangerousness or wrongdoing on individuals merely because of their race, then is it not also wrong to use racial profiling to project expectations of spirituality, goodness, or kindness on individuals merely because of their race?
The racial grievance industry is flourishing. It is based on racial profiling. Here's how it works. First, people identify themselves (or are identified by others) as belonging to a certain racial group. Then, statistics are gathered regarding income, health, education, homelessness, incarceration, etc. Then it is noted that one racial group has a higher percentage than average of its members with undesirable statistics. One group is said to have the worst statistics. Therefore private charities and government programs begin providing help to everyone in that racial group. These racial entitlement programs provide benefits to all individuals of a racial group, without asking them to prove they truly need the benefits. Thus, people receive benefits based on race rather than need. This would seem to be a beneficial form of racial profiling since it provides help to people. The downside is that resources are limited, so the diversion of resources to one racial group deprives other groups of those resources. Thus, racial entitlement programs are in fact a form of negative racial profiling. The negativity comes in two ways: (1) it wrongly stigmatizes all members of the chosen group as likely to be needy; and (2) it harms needy individuals of other races who see limited resources diverted toward one racial group. The obvious remedy is to give help to needy people simply because they are needy rather than because of their race.
In the 1960s American negroes began saying "I'm black, and proud of it." But that pride was more an aspiration than a reality. To create a sense of separate identity and pride, black people began adopting African cultural customs, Muslim religion, and newly-created holidays celebrating their African heritage. The Nation of Islam religious group under inspiration from Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad began to demand the creation of a racially separatist independent Nation of New Africa. But with increasing affluence and equality, most black people followed the path of Martin Luther King toward full integration, and began calling themselves African-Americans in the same way as Americans of Irish ancestry call themselves Irish-Americans.
In the 1990s gays and lesbians began "coming out of the closet" to march in "gay pride" parades with banners saying "We're queer, we're here, get used to it." These expressions of pride were more defiant and confrontational than celebratory. Paradoxically, people who are members of a racial group receiving racial entitlements may be portrayed as having very undesirable characteristics (high rates of drug abuse, incarceration, low income, poor education) and at the same time they assert (defiantly) that they are filled with pride because (or despite?) they are members of this group: "I'm black, and proud of it" or "I'm a proud Hawaiian."
Blacks and gays had been living in a society where they were made to feel inferior. It was as though society had convinced everyone, including blacks and gays, that there was something wrong with being black or gay, and people like that really should feel ashamed. The blacks and gays who publicly asserted their pride had often internalized the feelings of shame society was telling them they should feel. They actually felt shame even though they knew intellectually that they should not feel that way. So they banded together in support groups to provide each other with the courage to step forward and assert their right to be who they were without feeling shame. They may not have actually felt pride. But by asserting pride they hoped to overcome the internalized shame of socially imposed stigma, and to stake a claim to fair treatment.
There is a mechanism that psychologists call the "labeling" phenomenon. If an individual is branded or labeled in a certain way, he tends to behave in conformity with that label. Parents are advised to tell children, "You're smart. You're pretty. You deserve the best." Children branded with such labels will tend to become smart, feel pretty, and believe they deserve the best. Thus, people who assert they are proud to be how they are may actually begin to feel proud to be that way.
To the extent that someone undergoes hardship and struggles successfully to overcome injustice or discrimination, he is entitled to feel pride in that accomplishment. But it is very different for individuals of the following generation who may not have had such a struggle. The pride in successful struggle is a pride that belongs to those who struggled, not to their children who reaped the benefits without struggle of their own.
It is usually irrational to bask in the reflected glory of accomplishments of another person or group to which one claims only a tangential relationship. Likewise, it is irrational to bask in an affiliation based only on membership in a large group, corporation, or nation where one's individual contribution to group success is remote or negligible. If it is a voluntary choice to join such a group, such as joining the Boy Scouts or the American Association of Retired Persons, then perhaps it is rational to claim some small amount of praise for having the good sense to join, or for meeting the membership requirements. If it is a group one is born into but is free to leave, such as a nation, then perhaps it is rational to claim some small amount of praise for remaining a member. People who come from outside and freely choose to enter a group deserve more praise than those who are merely born into it and acquiesce to remain, because it requires an affirmative choice to join from outside while it takes only passive inaction to remain where one was born -- thus, an immigrant who becomes a naturalized citizen deserves more praise for belonging to a nation than someone who merely basks in being a natural-born citizen.
But membership in a racial group is completely involuntary. Nobody can choose to join from outside, and nobody born into a racial group can choose to leave. Thus, it is completely irrational to claim credit or praise for belonging to a racial group, just as it is irrational for one person to award praise or blame to someone else for belonging to a racial group. Perhaps there would be a rare exception in the case of someone who has such a small quantum of a particular race in his geneology that he could successfully avoid being classified as a member, and who nevertheless affirms and publicizes his affiliation with that group even when the group is treated as undesirable. In the United States some negroes were so light-skinned with such small noses and thin lips and silky straight hair that they could easily be mistaken for or "pass as" white people; slaves like this who escaped could easily blend into society as free, and might even marry a wealthy white person and join the "best" aristocratic societies. If such a person "passing as white" were to acknowledge her African ancestry as a way of asserting pride in that ancestry, such a courageous act would be worthy of great praise. But the praise would be given for the act of courage, not for the affiliation with the undesirable group. And that same person gets no praise for affirming the white portion of her ancestry, because it requires no courage to affirm membership in a group where membership automatically brings privileges.
It is completely irrational to claim praise merely for being a member of a group one is born into and can never leave, such as a racial group. Saying "I'm proud to be Hawaiian" is mostly irrational basking in the glory of bygone generations or of other living people. The individual who makes such a claim seldom has made much of a personal contribution to the achievements in which he takes pride, which is why it is irrational to assert such pride. But there's usually no harm in it.
If it's OK for Hawaiians to say "I'm proud to be Hawaiian," then why do people think it's improper for someone to say "I'm proud to be white"? If today's white people are to be held responsible for American slavery of 150 years ago, or for colonial oppression or decimation of indigenous populations through imported diseases, then why should today's Hawaiians not be held responsible for the institution of human sacrifice, idolatry, and repression of women? When Hawaiians take pride in Kamehameha The Great's unification of all the Hawaiian islands into a single Kingdom, should they not also take blame for Kamehameha's brutal invasions and slaughter in the Big Island, Maui, O'ahu, Moloka'i, Lana'i?
It is interesting that some people who have only a small quantum of Hawaiian ancestry assert great pride in their Hawaiian ancestry, while never mentioning their other ancestries of far larger quanta. Someone who is 1/8 Hawaiian, 3/8 Chinese, and 1/2 Irish-American might be very aggressive about proclaiming his Hawaiian ancestry, might also acknowledge his Chinese ancestry if asked about it, but might be very reluctant to admit being Irish. 50-100 years ago people with such an ancestry might have been ashamed of their Hawaiian portion, but today they proclaim it as their primary identity. That's because today it is an enormous advantage to be Hawaiian.
The resurgence of Hawaiian culture and language is a source of racial pride. On the surface, such pride is irrational, as discussed above. It is merely basking in the achievements of others of the past or present; or it is basking in membership in a group which one did not voluntarily join and from which one cannot leave.
However, there is one way that it is entirely rational to take racial pride in being Hawaiian. In Hawai'i today there are a huge number of racial entitlement programs available to anyone with even a small quantum of Hawaiian ancestry (plus a few available only to people with more than 25% or 50% Hawaiian blood quantum). The Office of Hawaiian Affairs filed court documents in the Arakaki #2 lawsuit citing over 160 such racial entitlement programs. OHA believes that the existence of so many entitlement programs establishes the existence of a "trust relationship" entitling Hawaiians to political recognition and to more such programs. The situation is analogous to what happens when someone pasees a beggar on the street and gives him a dollar several days in a row -- next time, the beggar expects to receive the dollar and might chase after the passerby who fails to give it. With such a wide range of firmly established racial entitlement programs, it is economically desirable to be identified as Hawaiian. One can rationally claim praise for being Hawaiian because of the goodies he can claim for being born into that status.
It has also become socially and politically desirable to be known as Hawaiian. That's because people in Hawai'i are generally on the left of the political spectrum, favoring affirmative action, government assistance, and social approval for groups perceived to be downtrodden, victimized, or struggling. Thus Hawaiians as a racial group see themselves allied with non-racial groups like gays and lesbians, welfare recipients, the disabled, victims of medical diseases like aids, etc. Large and wealthy Hawaiian instutions, such as OHA, spend huge amounts of money on research studies designed to prove that Hawaiians are at the bottom among all Hawai'i's population groups regarding victimhood grievance statistics like poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, diabetes, breast cancer, incarceration, family dysfunction, poor education, etc. The highly-paid bureaucrats of these institutions then take pride in their victimhood statistics -- their pride is rational, because they can expect job security and increased funding because of their research results.
Racial pride is usually irrational, but usually harmless. The harm comes when racial pride turns to political assertions of racial entitlement or racial supremacy. Hawaiians feel proud that a voyaging canoe mostly built by Hawaiians and captained by Hawaiians successfully navigated the Polynesian triangle. Such pride is irrational for most Hawaiians, who had no role in building or staffing the canoe; but such pride is harmless. The harm came when a non-Hawaiian pioneer in building a voyaging canoe was shunned, assaulted, and excluded because he was not Hawaiian. The harm comes when it is felt that voyaging canoes are a "Hawaiian thing" and occasional non-Hawaiian participants are tolerated only so long as they "know their place." Hawaiians are proud about forcing the U.S. military to stop using the island of Kaho'olawe for target practice, and proud of helping to restore vegetation and cultural practices on that island. The harm comes when laws are written to designate racial requirements for membership on the board that controls access to that island, and when a written agreement for returning ownership of the island to the State of Hawai'i specifies that the island must eventually be handed over to a racially exclusionary political entity still to be created. Hawaiians are proud of the resurgence of Hawaiian language, although such pride is irrational for Hawaiians who do not bother to learn the language. The harm comes when non-Hawaiians are encouraged to study the language as an affirmation that the language is worth studying, but then are insulted and abused for actually using the language for ceremonial or political purposes.
The greatest harm from racial pride would be to create a race-based government. One form of such a government would be to set aside portions of the Hawaiian islands for exclusive control and use by Native Hawaiians (plus any guests they might choose to invite), while also allowing Native Hawaiians to roam freely around all other areas and participate fully as citizens of the State of Hawai'i and of the United States of America. The Native Hawaiian Recognition bill (also known as the Akaka bill) is an attempt to do that. Another form of race-based government would be to declare all the Hawaiian islands to be an independent nation, where everyone could vote (on some issues) and own property (in some places) but where Native Hawaiians would have exclusive voting rights on some topics and exclusive property rights in certain areas. Under either type of Hawaiian sovereignty, there would be guaranteed racial supremacy for Native Hawaiians, while all other people become second-class citizens. Turning racial pride into political racial supremacy is disastrous as we have seen in Germany 1935-1945, and more recently in Bosnia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, and Fiji. That must never be allowed to happen in our beloved Hawai'i nei.
(c) Copyright 2002 - 2004 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved
ADDENDUM OF SEPTEMBER, 2004:
One assertion of ethnic pride which resulted in severe prejudice was the Polynesian voyaging canoe project. Hokule'a was created in 1975 primarily for the purpose of reasserting ethnic pride. But the project was conceived and headed by a haole; and numerous haoles also participated in designing the canoe, constructing it, and serving as crew mwmbers. The result was ethnic Hawaiian prejudice and racial hate-crimes against the haoles, to the extent that the head of the Polynesian Voyaging Society (a haole) resigned, along with the master Micronesian navigator who had trained a Hawaiian navigator. Several Hawaiian crew members endangered the entire crew by refusing to perform their assigned responsibilities on the open ocean. The second voyage was racially exclusionary, with none of the original leaders or crew being asked for advice or participation; the canoe capsized and a life was lost. Polynesian voyaging is an example of irrational racial pride when individuals who have not participated in the organization or its voyages claim praise merely for being members of the racial group. But the irrationality is further compounded by the lack of authenticity of “Polynesian” voyaging. The claim to authenticity is based on a claim that ancient knowledge has been authentically resurrected by modern people despite centuries of time when the knowledge was lost. Such a claim can only be sustained by a belief in a collective racial memory of a deep culture which is carried in the genes even when someone has only “one drop” of native blood. For details, see: Book Review - "Sailing in the Wake of the Ancestors: Reviving Polynesian Voyaging"