Another way that racism harms white people is by denying them the ability to develop their critical thinking. This is due in part to the constant, regular reinforcement that white is right. White people are raised in an environment in which they are regularly assured of their superiority. Their experts are white, like them. And they often live in segregation, thus denying them the opportunity to be exposed to other viewpoints.
What happens in a culture of white supremacy? White people assume that they are the experts. Even in the absence of any history, education or knowledge.
The most blatant example of this is when a white person (typically a white man) is pontificating about a subject and is challenged when a person of color expresses an opinion. The white person will assume that the person of color knows nothing about the subject and will strive to “correct” him or her. I’ve had this happen when a white person who was not in my field was speaking with authority about something in my field. They never assume that you might actually be knowledgeable on the subject, nor do they assume that you might have professional credentials. (I’d also note that this is a very common experience on the part of people of color. And I recently heard an anecdote about this happening to a writer of color with a white man who was discussing her book. Only he didn’t know she had written it.)
It does not cross their minds. This is racism.
Instead, the assumption is just that you’re wrong. They aren’t listening to what is actually said. They are making an assessment based on their racist assumptions about the speaker. These assumptions prevent them from learning.
We learn early on who is “right” and who is “wrong.” We don’t necessarily learn to judge for ourselves.
Often the response on the part of the know-nothing is one of disdain or contempt for the speaker. I once saw a man attempting to unscrew a radiator cap off his overheating car. I ran over and yelled, “Stop! Don’t do that! You’ll be seriously burned!” He looked at me and said, “Right. Like you know anything about cars.” (For some reason, I’ve had multiple incidents of this nature. Guess I must look like somebody who knows nothing about cars.)
I wonder if being scalded taught him anything.
In a white supremacist culture, racism becomes a habitual behavior. As commenters to the other thread noted, there is often a knee-jerk response that is learned behavior. These types of responses often lack any kind of critical thinking at all.
In response to Miley Cyrus’ “slant-eye” gesture, many white people were quick to deny its racism. However, their responses were grounded in “I don’t think it’s racism, that’s why,” rather than any critical thought. The racism behind the “slant-eye” gesture is obvious and blatant: It is racist because it is used to mock people for their physical attributes. And yet defenders are not only incapable of grasping that rather simple concept, they additionally offer ludicrous responses in defense of their original position. (Post on dictionary defense to come.)
In addition, white people often use ad hominem defenses to avoid addressing the issue at hand. There are several common ways in which these defenses present. The first is when others are accused of being “oversensitive” or “having chips on their shoulders” or being “overly PC.” These characterizations do nothing to address the issue. Rather, they are used to delegitimize the other party.
The second, more subtle ad hominem defense is use of statements such as, “Well, I guess I’m just the sort of person who gives people the benefit of the doubt,” or “I guess I’m just not as quick to label other people racist.”
This method allows the white person to position him or herself as the person of reason, the unemotional, unjudgmental thinker and all-around wonderful human being. It additionally is a slam at the other person. You can see what type of individual they are: Unable to give others the benefit of the doubt! Quick to label others racist!
Both of these forms of ad hominem defense are intellectually lazy. They are not addressing why we might take care in our speech and actions, nor do they present a good argument for being less thoughtful. But often these sorts of empty slams are used to end the conversation. They are based on the faulty assumption that discrediting a speaker discredits his or her argument. To use one of these defenses is an understood code among white people. It is the final word. Why? Because a white person said so.
If you ever want to confound and upset somebody, ask them to explain the reasoning behind the argument. And don’t let go.
I’ve used some examples here that have to do with discussions of racism. But white supremacy runs deep throughout our lives.
When people are not regularly exposed to alternative viewpoints, and when other viewpoints are not carefully considered but instead immediately discounted, the end result is a people who lack the ability to think critically. Because they never learned to consider all the evidence. They learned only who they need to listen to.