Can anyone please help me with how to respond to someone who has told me that he doesn't understand racism and can't admire it either? Is it possible that someone doesn't get what racism is?

Here is the quote attributed to Blaise Pascal: You always admire what you really don't understand.

Source: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/blaise_pascal_162851

  • Coloquially, racism stem from experience, so it makes sense to not understand racism although still wonky. If I have no experience with Mongolians, there is no possible racism for me towards them. Unless we are talking about some eugenic-type racism.
    – Panda
    Oct 1 '19 at 18:12
  • The language does not set the quantification. Does it mean that all the things one does not understand are necessarily admired, or that only things that one does not understand can potentially be admired. The former seems silly. I don't understand what it is like to be a bat, but that does not make me admire bats, or their experience. It probably means the latter, in which case, there is no problem. It is a common experience that deep enough understanding takes the shine off many things and keeps you from admiring them. Most likely this is a case of loss of specificity in translation.
    – user9166
    Oct 1 '19 at 18:39
  • ok i may have produced answers and comments on the wrong blaise (very funny)
    – user38026
    Oct 1 '19 at 19:21
  • 1
    This is a little scant to go on. Reaction to a vague quote without context does not really tell us much about person's attitude towards racism. Not "understanding" how people can have racist attitudes can just mean that a person does not empathize with them. Pascal had God in mind, by the way, and he also said that fools admire while men of sense approve.
    – Conifold
    Oct 1 '19 at 19:53
  • Sometimes "I do not understand X" does not mean I do not get what X is, but rather how it is that is exist. As in I don't understand the people ascribing to X.
    – christo183
    Oct 3 '19 at 8:54

The quote attributed to Pascal by Brainy Quote is "You always admire what you really don't understand."

It may be viewed as a proverb. Here is Wikipedia's description of proverb:

A proverb (from Latin: proverbium) is a simple, concrete, traditional saying that expresses a truth based on common sense or experience. Proverbs are often metaphorical and use formulaic language. Collectively, they form a genre of folklore.

There may be many situations where such sayings are useful, but there are also situations where they are not. That one can find situations where they are not applicable may be viewed as a flaw either in the proverb or one's expectation of its applicability.

Being unable to convince someone of something, such as an argument regarding racism, may require understanding better why that person is not convinced. Assume that person is rational and has a reason otherwise the argument cannot continue.

It is possible the person does not want to be convinced of the conclusion you want to draw and is citing this quote as a way to move on.

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, September 30). Proverb. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:10, October 1, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Proverb&oldid=918876688


It's difficult to think that someone could live in todays modern world and not know what racism is. Franz Fanon in his book, Black Skin, White Masks, describes racism as subjecting the black man (as a type standing for all under racist oppression) as:

a zone of non-being, an extraordinarily arid and sterile place ... [where] black is not a man ... [and mankind] is digging into his own flesh to find meaning.

to which his reply is that the first thing that the black man wants to say is no.

No to the degradation of man. No to the exploitation of man. No to the butchery of what is most human in man - freedom ... [And above all] no to those who want to build a definition of man.

So perhaps you could begin by giving this book to your friend... but it is rather strange that your friend says:

"he doesn't know what it [racism] is and doesn't admire it either"

Why would anyone bother to admire or not admire something that he doesn't understand? This makes so little sense that it leads me to suspect that perhaps there is no rationale here, except the rationale who wish to misguide with malintent - and so he's pulling your leg - or you are pulling ours. Perhaps he does know what racism is, and does actually admire it, but knowing that this is politically incorrect, he has decided to say exactly the opposite of his true feelings because he doesn't want to own up to it in public.

You're in position to find out - so I'd say: ask him some tougher questions.


I suspect Pascal was pointing at something in the 'ignorance is bliss' category: e.g. that blind admiration is only possible when one lacks information. To give the obvious example, many a movie star, religious leader, and politician has been the subject of blind admiration up until the moment that elements of their personal life make it out into public knowledge. Idolizing something requires a kind of glaze that blurs away any of their more fallible human aspects.

With respect to racism... Racism is generally perceived as a human flaw (except among those who are most deeply committed to it). It is perfectly possible to disrespect or have disgust towards racist attitudes without really understanding the mechanisms or attitudes behind it. Of course, racists themselves must carefully avoid seeing or discussing the uglier aspects of racism — in order to idolize racism (as Pascal suggests) they must blind themselves to its nastier qualities — but those who have no desire to admire racism don't need to blind themselves to anything.

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