An ever-expanding list of common understandings we share as anti-racists. Please feel free to submit your own entries.
- White privilege exists.
- Sanctuary is not segregation.
- Flipping the actors does not lend clarity to an issue, nor does it mean that you have created equivalent analogies. See entry under Fallacious Flip.
- People must own their feelings and expressions. Ventriloquy is not helpful in discussions of racism.
- Seeking the empowerment of people of color is not the same as disenfranchising white people.
- Racism is more than “individual acts of meanness.” (Peggy McIntosh)
- Hating white privilege is not the same as hating whitey.
- Defensive responses to issues voiced by people of color are invocations of privilege.
- A claim to anti-racism cannot be made based on any variation of the “black friend defense” (Mexican boyfriend, Asian wife, children of color, etc.).
- Apology means say you’re sorry and then shut up. No rationalization, no long explanation of your intention, no invocation of the black friend defense. And then work on making change.
- The anti-racist focus should be on effect rather than intention.
- Celebrations of “multiculturalism” do not address racism.
- People of color are not responsible for the education of white people.
- It’s not all about you.
- An experience you have as a white person that you think is similar to an experience related by a person of color is not a valid proof that racism doesn’t exist.
- “Anti-racism” does not exist without action.
80 thoughts on “Racism 101”
turning the tables is silly
I liked them all but didn’t understand #8: Defensive responses to issues voiced by people of color are invocations of privilege.
My understanding is that the theory of white-privelege is primarily rooted in perception– It’s not so much about whether or not a condition exists, but it’s about the belief a condition exists due to the racism that has existed forever in this country. I grasp that… and believe there’s a role for the theory in the healing of America.
However, I read #8 to mean that my only right to self-defense when accused of something by a person of color, is rooted in my white privilege. Is that an accurate interpretation?
i think it means if your reaction to a claim of racism is “no, it’s not” as opposed to “in what sense?” it infers privilege.
I don’t know about that. It seems rather silly to exclude the possibility that a white person has examined racism in their own lives… The effect, in my opinion, would be to force whites into a state of racism without authentic consideration. It’s closed-minded.
Further, it seems to me, that it would also require, in the name of equality, that whites could do the same thing to blacks… which, getting caught up in bickering over who’s more entitled or slave-minded, etc. just doesn’t do anything for healing.
I’m certain it’s just a mis-phrasing.
Further, it seems to me, that it would also require, in the name of equality, that whites could do the same thing to blacks…
3. Flipping the actors does not lend clarity to an issue, nor does it mean that you have created equivalent analogies. See entry under Fallacious Flip: †the fallacious flip- The reflex some people have to invert an example regarding racial issues to show how it is unfair that POC are claiming things (rights) or saying things (self empowerment in the face of oppressive and derisive societal memes) or afraid of things (contact with police, store security guards, speaking boldly in defense of their People) or “assuming” things (like when you walk past cars and hear doors locking, or are in a conversation suddenly rife with the same old racist arguments always leveled at you). It is a wholly invalid framing, because it assumes that all ethnicities have the same history in this land, the same power, the same struggle to claim personhood, the same assumptions leveled on them. In this light, The Fallacious Flip is nothing but more oppression and privileged (un)thinking; an attempt to shut down the POC from gaining equality.
Karma, I don’t think Racism 101 means that all claims that something is racist are valid and that all white people accused or racism or guilty — I don’t even think it means that white people can’t defend themselves from charges of racism — I think it means that white people shouldn’t be “defensive” before being thoughtful, compassionate, dispassionate, analytical, or self-reflexive.
Pan posted: Karma, I don’t think Racism 101 means that all claims that something is racist are valid and that all white people accused or racism or guilty — I don’t even think it means that white people can’t defend themselves from charges of racism — I think it means that white people shouldn’t be “defensive” before being thoughtful, compassionate, dispassionate, analytical, or self-reflexive.
Response: Thanks for the response. If you’re right, how can anyone hope to communicate when the definitions are left open to such subjectivity? (Granted, objectivity is an illusion. However, we have to attain some level of it, as equity is to fair, in order to communicate effectively.) If the definition of the words being advanced vary so greatly from one person to the next, then why wouldn’t we devolve to grunts since the words have little meaning?
Sometimes when people reject subjectivity (and when I say people I don’t mean you, KarmaChameleon) what they’re really saying is this: if I have to be subjective i.e. consider opinions other than my own, then that means too many opinions are valid — hence no opinions are valid at at all — therefore I’ll just go back to privileging only my own opinion and calling that being objective. In other words, what some whites say is — yikes, recognizing that non-whites have valid perspectives is scary — too much multiplicity and diversity of opinions makes conversation impossible, hence I better go back to only seeing through my comfortable white lens again — the white view gets elided with the normative/objective view.
No one is asking you to consider all words and interpretations of experiences subjective to the point of meaninglessness — they’re just saying that being non-racist means that the most accurate point of view may not (and in racial situations, usually is not) the one perceived through the white lens.
So, how do you, personally, draw the line of objectivity and subjectivity in definitions?
By realizing that just because an opinion is mine doesn’t make it objective and that just because an opinion comes from another person, gender, or culture, that doesn’t make it subjective — by using critical thinking, historical analysis, and a willingness to truly listen and understand. I find that, when it comes to racism, often, once people become informed about the concrete, researched backed prevalence of racism, they are more likely to trust the individual testimonies of people of color — for example: http://www.lipmagazine.org/~timwise/Obama.html:
2006 saw the largest number of race-based housing discrimination complaints on record, and according to government and private studies, there are between two and three million cases of housing discrimination each year against people of color
What does it say that he has failed to note with any regularity that according to over a hundred studies, health disparities between whites and blacks are due not merely to health care costs and economic differences between the two groups (a subject he does address) but also due to the provision of discriminatory care by providers, even to blacks with upper incomes, and black experiences with racism itself, which are directly related to hypertension and other maladies?
What does it say that Obama apparently can’t bring himself to mention, for fear of likely white backlash, that whites are over seventy percent of drug users, but only about ten percent of persons incarcerated for a drug possession offense, while blacks and Latinos combined are about twenty-five percent of users, but comprise roughly ninety percent of persons locked up for a possession offense?
Why no mention of the massive national study by legal scholars Alfred and Ruth Blumrosen, which found that at least a third of all businesses in the nation engage in substantial discrimination against people of color–hiring such folks at rates that are well below their availability in the local and qualified labor pool, and well below the rates at which they are to be found in non-discriminating companies in the same locales and industries? Indeed, according to the Blumrosen study, at least 1.3 million qualified people of color will face job discrimination in a given year. Or what of the study of temporary agencies in California, which found that white women who are less qualified than their black counterparts, are still three times more likely to be favored in a job search? And what are the odds that he’ll be likely to mention, to any significant degree, the recent EEOC report, which notes that in 2007 there was a twelve percent jump in race-based discrimination complaints in the workplace relative to the previous year (almost all of which were filed by persons of color): bringing the number of such complaints to their highest level since 1994?
I think you also have to realize (the hypothetical you, not “you” Karma) that people of color don’t like playing the victim, we don’t eagerly stride about waiting to threaten people with the race card, etc. In fact, it’s often easier, less intimidating, scary, or peaceful just to keep your mouth closed. There are times when I’ve let someone in a restaurant or store treat me very badly and didn’t complain because I was so hesitant to make waves. I think sometimes that whites think that people of color go about eagerly making claims of racism instead of realizing that people of color, like my parents, who are upper-middle class, literally LITERALLY experience racism on a daily basis. 95% of the stuff that happens to them they never address. Most people of color, simply because of the enormity of what they face, cannot address each instant of racism — so when a person of color addresses a white person to say that something is racist — realize that most likely that person has already carefully analized the situation, thought hard about whether or not he or she should bring it up, and has a legitimate claim. If the person is a white friend, that doesn’t mean they are automatically not racist. One nof the most painful lessons people of color face is realizing that those who love us to the point of kidney donation individually might still hold inaccurate negative views about our groups work-ethics, parenting, intellectualism, propensity for crime, etc. When you are our friend PLEASE respect us when we say something you did is racist, because it already took a bunch of courage for us to address it. Also recognize that people of color have a lifetime of being forced to see what others don’t have to — and that means that their gaze is clearer.
Pan Posted: By realizing that just because an opinion is mine doesn’t make it objective and that just because an opinion comes from another person, gender, or culture, that doesn’t make it subjective–by using critical thinking, historical analysis, and a willingness to truly listen and understand.
Response: That isn’t a line between objectivity and subjectivity… that’s your motivation for seeking out the line. How do you draw the line? Of course, you’re going to use critical thinking, but what objective measure of right and wrong do you use or is it all just relative?
Pan posted: by using critical thinking, historical analysis, and a willingness to truly listen and understand.
Response: How do you know you’re being truly willing? So far, everything seems to point to the fact that there’s really no way for any of us to know our intents and motivations.
Pan posted: I find that, when it comes to racism, often, once people become informed about the concrete, researched backed prevalence of racism, they are more likely to trust the individual testimonies of people of color
Response: What does “trusting” mean? That, because a person has ideal intentions, their perception must be unbiased? Doesn’t the innate racist tendencies of whites due to historical racism automatically make POC have the tendency to place themselves in a role that continues the racism?
POC don’t place themselves in a role that continues racism. Sean Bell didn’t place himself in a position to be shot. When my dad drives his Mercedes he’s not placing himself in a position to be given frivolous tickets. When I eat in a nice restaurant and the waiter treats me shoddily that’s not because I placed myself in a position for him to do so. That’s like saying abused children place themselves in a position to be battered. When i say “trust” I mean to “lend credence.” Having good intentions doesn’t make you unbiased — you’re right. For example, the authors of the Stolen Generation ahd good intentions.
Perhaps if you could provide me with a hypothetical example of a situation then I could show you how I would draw the line between subjectivity and objectivity – and I do think objectivity exists.
You ask how someone knows if they’re being truly willing — I think you have to realize that this is a journey. I don’t think most (or maybe any) white people can ever wake up one day and discover they’ve reached non-racist utopia but they can try to continually become more informed, more aware, better at listening to poc’s, and better at removing their white lenses.
Karma, I just want to let you know that I really appreciate you having this discussion. I’m guessing you’re white, and most white people don’t take the time to ask the type of questions you’re asking.
Pan stated: I really appreciate you having this discussion.
Response: I appreciate you giving your time to explain.
Pan stated: and better at removing their white lenses.
Response: What is a white lens?
At this point, just so I’m clear, would you re-explain “Defensive responses to issues voiced by people of color are invocations of privilege”? It sounds to me like a number of contingencies have been added. (Ultimately, what I think you’re saying is that closed-mindedness regarding reports of racism is racist… Which is light-years in different from the original.)
The white lens assumes that the way whites experience the world is normative, unbiased, and superior to other experiences. Looking through the white lens (to various degrees) masterworks of art, music, and storytelling are all European. The only history/math/philosophy that matters is European or American. There is ignorance about what other cultures contributed to the rest of the world. American history (or history anywhere) begins with the arrival of Europeans. Through the white lens statements such as 9/11 was the first American experience of terror makes sense b/c you don’t count the terror of Native American genocide or black slavery. You definitely don’t call those two events holocausts — The Holocaust is the one where whites were killed, and that’s the only one that matters.
In the white lens, if you say “drug dealer” a non-white person comes to mind although drug dealers and users are disproportionately white. In the white lense, discussing teenagers having casual sex or using drugs or bringing weapons to school brings a picture of an urban school to mind while these things happen more frequently in suburban white schools. In the white lens big black men are scary, casually dressed black men in jerseys are thugs, baggy pants are ignorant but minnie skirts on white girls or low rider jeans doesn’t evoke the same derision. In the white lens you worry about weapons of mass destruction but don’t care that Navajos have a cancer arate 1600% higher than the mainstream b/c of uranium mining on the lands to which they were forced. The white lens sees problems such as racism in healthcare, employment, housing, credit, or criminal justice not as anti-American problems that are the concern of all citiziens but as the pet projects of minorities.
Even though minorities have huge experience with racism, when a poc presents an example of racism to a person looking through the white lens automatically assumes that they can’t be racist, the person must be wrong, minorities are over sensitive, and refuses to even consider the validity of the claim. However — white lens and white skin are too different things. Most whites admit to using a white lens to look through the world, but there are whites who don’t and non-whites who do.
whites admitting to the white lens http://timwise.org/:
According to a National Opinion Research Center survey in the early ’90s, over sixty percent of whites believe that blacks are generally lazier than other groups, fifty-six percent say that blacks are generally more prone to violence, and over half say that blacks are generally less intelligent than other groups (1). What makes these beliefs racist is that by assuming that blacks are more “prone” to violence and “less intelligent,” respondents are not merely signaling that blacks have higher crime rates, or score lower on various indicia of academic achievement–both of which are true, for reasons owing to the opportunity structure and the location of black communities relative to that structure–but instead are making assumptions about the inherent abilities and characters of black people.
A similar survey from 1993, conducted by the Anti-Defamation League, found that three in four whites accept as true at least one racist stereotype about African Americans, regarding such items as general laziness, propensity to criminality and violence, intelligence, or work ethic. And according to a 2001 survey, sixty percent of whites, approximately, admit that they believe at least one negative and racist stereotype of blacks: for example, that they are generally lazy, generally aggressive or violent, or prefer to live on welfare rather than work for a living (2). In fact, the belief in black preference for welfare over work is typically the most commonly believed of the stereotypes; this, despite the fact that only a very small percentage of African Americans–and for that matter, a minority of even poor African Americans–receive benefits from programs typically considered “welfare.”
Interestingly, whites often deny the importance of racism in determining the life chances of blacks, even as they give voice to beliefs that are themselves evidence of the very racial prejudice they deny. So, for instance, in one of the more respected opinion surveys from the 1990s, six in ten whites said that discrimination was less important in determining the position of blacks in society, than the “fact” that blacks “just don’t have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty.” But if most whites believe that blacks as a group are unmotivated or lazy, that is itself a racial generalization amounting to racism: ascribing a negative characterological trait to blacks as a group. Of course the irony should be apparent to all: on the one hand, whites are saying that blacks are lazy, but on the other they insist that racism–including the kind that holds African Americans in this low regard–would be of very little consequence to their ability to succeed; as if people imbued with that kind of bias would be able to fairly evaluate job applicants or students who were members of the presumed defective group!
Research has suggested, for example, that many persons will feign a more liberal and non-prejudicial attitude than that to which they actually adhere, when asked questions about racial “others” on opinion surveys. Meaning that if roughly six in ten whites are willing to admit to serious anti-black prejudices of one form or another, the real percentages holding those beliefs are likely quite a bit larger.
Implicit Association Tests are even more decisive as to the extent of internalized and often subconscious, but nonetheless real, white racism. These tests, which measure response time to visual stimuli–specifically testing how quickly respondents associate briefly shown images of blacks or whites with either positive or negative words that are also briefly flashed on a screen–suggest that the typical white person does indeed harbor racial biases against African Americans. According to the research:
“…when given a test of unconscious stereotyping, nearly ninety percent of whites who have taken the test implicitly associate the faces of black Americans with negative words and traits such as evil character or failure. That is, they have more trouble linking black faces to pleasant words and positive features than they do for white faces. Most whites show an antiblack, pro-white bias on psychological tests. In addition, when whites are shown photos of black faces, even for only thirty milliseconds, key areas of their brains that are designed to respond to perceived threats light up automatically.” (3)
On the other hand, if I ask people to envision an “all-American boy or girl,” or even worse, God, they invariably admit to envisioning white images (in the latter case, even those who admit to being atheists, because of the symbolic conditioning to which they have been subjected). Confirming my own experiments, researchers who have asked white focus group members to envision a “typical drug user,” report that upwards of 95 percent of whites report envisioning a black person, despite the fact that blacks only represent thirteen percent of all drug users, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, while whites comprise approximately 70 percent of all drug users (4).
This is why it was ultimately so easy for whites to believe the stories coming out of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which suggested that black folks were raping and killing people en masse in the Superdome and Convention Center. These reports, all of which turned out to be false, and which were exposed as false by the media about a month after the city flooded (retractions that many Americans never heard, it should be noted), were never questioned at the time they were being reported by any mainstream media outlet. Needless to say, were a hurricane to take out Nantucket, or destroy the summer homes of the white and wealthy who vacation on Cape Cod, and were the media to broadcast rumors to the effect that rich white folks were raping and killing people in the local Episcopal church, no one would believe the reports without evidence, without bodies, without proof. But because of racism, you can say anything you like about black people, especially when they’re poor, and others will believe it, every word of it, without question.
1) Tom W. Smith, “Ethnic Images,” GSS Technical Report No. 19, Chicago: NORC, January 1991
(2) Lawrence Bobo, “Inequalities That Endure? Racial Ideology, American Politics, and the Peculiar Role of the Social Sciences,” in Maria Krysan and Amanda Lewis, eds. The Changing Terrain of Race and Ethnicity. Russell Sage Foundation: 2004: 19-20
(3) Joe Feagin, Systemic Racism. NY: Routledge, 2006: 26
(4) B.W. Burston, D. Jones, and P. Robertson-Saunders, “Drug use and African-Americans: Myth versus reality.” Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education. 40(2), 1995:19-39.
When I hear the word “defensive” I don’t think that means someone defending themselves rationally after taking the time to consider the legitimacy of the other person’s position. I think of someone assuming a priori innocence and defending themselves without analyzing the situation because they have the (white) privilege of not having to consider the views of poc’s.
Pan stated: When I hear the word “defensive” I don’t think that means someone defending themselves rationally after taking the time to consider the legitimacy of the other person’s position.
Response: With all due respect, it doesn’t matter what you hear. The definition of the word is what matters. If the person making the statement wishes to convey a certain concept, isn’t it irresponsible to use words that convey a different concept?
Are you agreeing with my previous statement? “It sounds to me like a number of contingencies have been added. (Ultimately, what I think you’re saying is that closed-mindedness regarding reports of racism is racist… Which is light-years in different from the original.)”
Words have multiple definitions, but some denotations have different nuances than others and some denotations matter more in certain contexts. One definition of defensive from wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn is “attempting to justify or defend in speech or writing.” Other definitions from “the free dictionary” website is “Constantly protecting oneself from criticism, exposure of one’s shortcomings, or other real or perceived threats to the ego” and “guarding against criticism or exposure of one’s failings” In other words, the way I’m hearing the word and explaining it to you, as well as the way the word is used in Racism 101, are both in accordance with the defintion of the word.
I checked the definition on freedic. You took a regular definition, a definition that’s specific to the field of psychology and presented a definition from a relatively disreputable source as if it was comparable to the first.
The first definition on freedic is “1. Intended or appropriate for defending; protective.” Is it an example of “privilege” if one is defensive in this way?
Racism is definitely psychological. How is the source disreputable? I’m not claiming that the first definition of defensive on freedic is an example of privilege — but you have no reason to assume that, out of all the definitions of defensive, that’s the one meant to be used in racism 101. At this point, presented with multiple definitions of racism 101, you’re simply picking and choosing defintions that don’t fit the context because for some reason you are invested in making the original statement unreasonable — I don’t even know what your motive for that would be.
Pan stated: I don’t even know what your motive for that would be.
Response: I don’t feel like you explicitly answered any of my questions. It’s sort of like all your answers were very political… I get the impression that you don’t want to put any limitations on the subject in question.
Asking about the first definition was just a check… to see if you’d avoid saying, unequivocally,”no, the definition doesn’t apply to that.”… which, in fact, you did as I expected… which confirms, in my opinion, a level of deceit, IMO.
Pan stated: How is the source disreputable?
Response: Copyright date of the dictionary that comes from and the fact that it’s the only dictionary which carries the definition in question. It’s a copy of the “Newspeak” dictionary. You have to be cautious of dictionaries.
Pan stated: but you have no reason to assume that, out of all the definitions of defensive, that’s the one meant to be used in racism 101
Response: Well, beyond this, I don’t think there’s any reason to continue this conversation. I don’t feel that you’ve been honest… if the psychology definition was truly the definition intended to be used, you’d of had no reason to cite the other definitions (or have this long of a conversation on this topic) because there’d be no phrases like “I feel it means this”, etc. You’d simply cite the definition that’s being used. However, because, for you, I believe it’s more about being right than being forthright, you never just admitted that you didn’t know.
Regarding the definition chosen, that’s really not possible either. That’s a specialized use of the term. Use in this situation is out of context.
I kind of feel sorry for you guys for buying into this stuff. I know racism is real. However, that you’re hiding behind what amounts to nonsense (by definition because there’s no clarity of definitions) just seems to be self-fulfilling… At this moment, as a person open to hear the more nuanced perspectives on racism, I’m walking away from this with a sense that it’s over-thought excuse making.
Thanks for taking the time and best of luck to you all.
Racismese translation summary: Patronage and privilege.
Karma, I haven’t been dishonest or misleading. All I’ve done is explain what defensive means in the context of racism 101 and then provide definitions that back up that usage of defensive, but I think resistance has summed you up perfectly.
A claim to anti-racism cannot be made based on any variation of the “black friend defense” (Mexican boyfriend, Asian wife, children of color, etc.).
Love. This. I get SO annoyed, cranky, upset when I hear this one. But, I have never known how to rebut it.
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“An experience you have as a white person that you think is similar to an experience related by a person of color is not a valid proof that racism doesn’t exist.”
I agree with this, and would like to add the more general statement that: any experience that you’ve had as anything is not valid proof of anything about anyone else’s experience. In practice however (and speaking as a white person), I’m wondering if this is a prohibition against all analogy-making in general? As a member of a white minority, I’ve noticed certain stupid/harmful things that members of my group do as a result of their historical baggage. (Sometimes we are paranoid.) The problem here is that sometimes I think I see the same behaviors in Black people. This causes me to take some claims of racism with a grain of salt, as I have learned to do with claims of persecution from within my own community. Maybe this is misguided, but it is an issue (misunderstanding, possibly) that seemingly can’t be corrected without me bringing it up. . So are all analogies invalid? Or is it just necessary to be careful with them?
And on another topic..there is a “white lense,” but it is not the same for all white people. In the version I was raised with (the “white liberal” version), white people are born into sin and must seek penance and acceptance from Black people in order to become worthy human beings. I remember in preschool finding out that I was one of the evil white people in the stories we read about Rosa Parks and MLK. It was a big deal to find that out. I don’t think Black people can understand what it feels like for a 4-year-old to learn that. White liberal children learn early that their parents are pleased when they bring home Black friends. Sometimes they think their parents hate them for being white. I have a sibling who is just a shade darker than me, and I detected early on how proud my parents were of that–the fact that they had a child that might, in the right context, be able to pass as non-white. I could never pass as non-white. I can’t ever remember NOT wishing I was something, anything, other than white.
I’ve spent a significant part of my life being angry about race. For the first 22 years, I was angry at myself. When I associated white priviledge with material priviledge and having enough to eat, I starved myself. Then I found out that eating-disorders were a symptom of white priviledge, and I stopped. Gradually, I did the only thing I could do–I transferred the anger at myself to white liberals and “anti-racists.” I can’t talk about my experience with anyone, and I know it’s out of place in contexts like this, but I don’t know how to get over it. I spend way too much time thinking about this and being angry. I don’t even know who to be angry at. But I think something is wrong when any child grows up hating herself and wishing she were someone else. Anyway, that’s the white liberal version of the white lense. I don’t know how common it is. And I don’t claim to be less of a racist because of all that. But it might explain some white anger.
I think the issues ms_whosit raises are valid.
I am of african descent myself, and broadly appreciate the anti-racist aims. But they can lead to several unhealthy emotional/psychological states in white people if followed too slavishly.
In the end, African-Americans as a whole do need to take some responsibility & own their own destiny more.
White people need not walk on egg-shells. It should be enough to work by a simple rule:
NEVER TREAT A PERSON DIFFERENT BECAUSE OF RACE. Period.
If you are an employer, employ them. If a kid, hang out with them. In a church, visit & form groups that are mixed & inclusive.
I believe other groups of people have suffered intense trauma in wider society (victims of rape, torture, bereavement, miliraty conflict etc). But, by and large, after a time for adjustment, folks are expected to get on. A modicum of understanding & sensitivity is usually what other “victims” get, not a massive set of sociological rules written for their exclusive benefit.
I will never minimise the absolute catastrophe that was done to African-Americans (& Native Americans too) over the last 4 centuries or so. But, frankly, even white society is not perfectly even-handed to its own.
I sympathise entirely with your 15 “commandments”, and they are useful for reflection so as to confront the “Elephant in America’s Living-Room”… but, I don’t need people to be perfect to me. I just want a reasonably fair chance to make my way through life. I ask nothing more from all men, white and/or black.
14. It’s not all about you.
I really don’t get this one. Can you please explain? Couldn’t anyone say that to anyone? Couldn’t I just say to you and this entire blog, “It’s not all about you.”
Kinda lost me there.
Hi deesee, thanks for asking. It refers to a common tactic white people have when talking about racism. It becomes about their fears, their hurt feelings, their denial, their world view. What we need to look at is the way racism plays into systemic and institutional inequalities.
Ah. Got it.
But can I just ask, and please, I just found this site so I’m playing catch up, why do you just say “white people?” Surely, racism among other groups, between other groups, has people in it that do this too, right?
Why not say, its when “a” person, white or otherwise, confronts a racism discussion by making it about them, their feelings, their denial, etc?
By and large we are talking about racism within the context of a white supremacist society.
Love the quick responses!
Ok, I understand. Very interesting discussions and will certainly provide for some enriching reading.
You just happened to catch me awake and procrastinating.
@ Panracial~ Thank you and cosign.
Wow. Such a volatile topic as always. I’m most interested in Ms. Whosit. I’d love for you to e-mail me as I’m starting up my own website on race and issues affecting black people specifically. Views of non-blacks are encouraged as long as they are as constructive as they are critical. I would also like to discuss some mental standpoints that you don’t see (or perhaps you just don’t hear about) everyday and yours is exactly what I have in mind for an article I want to write. So please e-mail me when you get a chance at email@example.com. I’d love to hear more from you. I find your state of mind very interesting and tragic. We all suffer from this social weapon of mass destruction that is race relations. Please contact me as soon as possible.
Awesome list! Can I suggest “PoC are not required to make white people comfortable before, during, or after any conversation on race”?
I really appreciate the racism bingo card; it not only keeps my own privilege in my mind so I can be aware of it, it helps me see through the derailing tacyics of people claiming to be “reasonable” or “objective”.
It’s through sites like this (and I’d like to add you to my links list, if I may) that I have been privileged (in a more positive sense of the word!) to gain the understanding that my perception of positive societal traits is neither normative or the standard that everyone should follow. It’s been really eye-opening and wonderful. Thank you for taking the time and making the effort. I will continue to educate myself.
A great compilation.
I would add the following to your list: Talking the issue of race to death doesn’t solve the problem. One has to “walk the walk”, as is often said.
I do have a question concering this list. I do often get the comment that unless you are a person of color then you do not understand racism fully. I tend to agree with that in the fact that, as a white person, I have not, in any way, experienced racism or discrimination. So basically, I do not understand. Ok, granted.
So if it is not a person of color’s responsibility to enducate me then how do I learn? Mind you, educate, as I define it can be anything from direct confrontation to blog posts and books to criticisms and critiques of my own beliefs.
Otherwise, it seems that all I get are conversations from other white people about racism. A concept that we are not on the recieving end of and thus cannot understand solely based on our experiences. And some of the best expositions about racism has come from those that experience it. That would be education.
Can you expand on that particular concept for me? Do I have this wrong?
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Jack said: “So if it is not a person of color’s responsibility to enducate me then how do I learn? Mind you, educate, as I define it can be anything from direct confrontation to blog posts and books to criticisms and critiques of my own beliefs.”
There are some good starting answers right there in your question. Yes, it is not PoC’s responsibility to educate white people about racism. And many continue to try to do just that anyway.
You could try following some of the many blogs about racism (complete with the comment threads that typically follow) which if they happen to be written by a white person (some are, some aren’t) are still usually spot on because they are held accountable by the commenters, many of whom are PoC’s.
There are countless, countless, countless books on the subject of racism, many by PoC. Might I suggest starting with bell hooks (black/female, strongly addresses interconnectedness with other isms), Paul Kivel (Jewish, but writes as a white ally), Ward Churchill (indigenous) and Derrick Jensen (white, strongly addresses interconnectedness with other isms). Anti-racism learning doesn’t NEED to come from PoC (though if no PoCs are involved, take a good hard look at that). Tim Wise is an absolutely fabulous white ally, IMO:
Go ahead and subject your beliefs to critique. Allow (as opposed to create) direct confrontation. Do this by finding a forum (online or in “real” life) that is open for you to speak, when you are sure that you are not diverting or distracting the/your focus from PoC. Keep an open mind. EXPECT to find out that you are wrong, ignorant, racist…. WELCOME the possibility that you are wrong, ignorant, racist…. This doesn’t mean accept as truth everything you are told just because it came from a PoC or a White ally that can use stronger or more academic sounding language than you. It doesn’t mean you have to put up with abusiveness, just because the abuser is a PoC. It means if your first impulse is to feel defensive, then acknowledge “I feel defensive” and then set that aside long enough to actually think about what was said rather than just immediately defend yourself (also take a moment to think about WHY you feel defensive, too). Many PoC are angry, suspicious and on a hair trigger when it comes to engaging with Whites, especially when it comes to talk of racism. Many don’t communicate with the same choices of words or manners/taboos as you and yours. Take the time to look for the message buried in the confrontational language.
Ask questions (when/where appropriate to do so!!!), but remember that no one is obligated to answer you, or give you the answer you are hoping to hear. (Consider the answer they DID give you anyway, though.)
In addition to asking questions, shut the hell up, as well! Many PoC (and white allys) are trying to scream the education white “anti-racists” want from rooftops, but can’t be heard because the white folks are dominating the space. If you just wait a little while, your question may be answered on its own. It is a fundamentally white/western idea that whoever asks the “best/smartest” questions gets the biggest slice of the pie. Many cultures gauge intelligence as the ability to learn through observation. Try it out.
Remember that “on the street” (as opposed to on the internet). You may have to actually form some genuine relationships with PoC to get the “education” you sound like you are seeking, if it coming from the mouth of a live, present, flesh and blood PoC is for some odd reason a requirement to you. Not a relationship BECAUSE they are a PoC. Just a relationship. Most PoC aren’t interested in being Racism 101 Sages to enlightenment seeking white pupils. It may be well intentioned, but it’s STILL objectifying. In the course of a relationship, the teaching will occur, if you let it. It would mostly happen in those little, seemingly casual, day-to-day interactions. You WILL fail to notice most of it. Although YOU may want to have many deep political/philosophical discussions about racism, they probably don’t because talking to white people about racism can be really really frustrating!
Unplug your television.
I hope this helps you get started, Jake.
Sorry Jack about mistyping your name there.
Thanks Lutsen. Much helpful information there. I agree that the words “responsibility” or “obligations” are the kickers I don’t expect anyone to be obligated to answer my questions and honestly,I usually don’t feel comfortable bringing up the topic unless I am very comfortable with the person I am talking with since emotions can run high ( and rightfully so).
Thanks for the response.
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I wanted to follow up a little further on the initials comments made by karma.
Karma ended a long conversation by posting: I kind of feel sorry for you guys for buying into this stuff. I know racism is real. However, that you’re hiding behind what amounts to nonsense (by definition because there’s no clarity of definitions) just seems to be self-fulfilling… At this moment, as a person open to hear the more nuanced perspectives on racism, I’m walking away from this with a sense that it’s over-thought excuse making.
In response to which resistance posted: Racismese translation summary: Patronage and privilege.
This struck me as a sad resolution (of lack of resolution) to a conversation that could have held promise for karma to become more of an ally for people of color. Instead, because of her or his own privilege, karma left the conversation with possibly less committment to anti-racism.
How do I, as someone who seeks to be an ally of people of color, engage with white people who neither follow nor these principles without reinforcing their circularly flawed thinking? Karma got defensive about using the word “defensive” as a prohibitionary response for white people to claims of racist behavior. Does that imply that she/he may have a point about not using that word in the original rule “Defensive responses to issues voiced by people of color are invocations of privilege”? On a broader level, is this list meant for white non-allies to understand? If not, how do we use this list to engage those, like karma (or like myself at times), who may “want” to be anti-racist, empathetic, understanding, etc. but fail to understand point 14, that it’s “not about you”.
As Jack brought up, white non-ally probably do need to be engaged, and in order to bring them into a deeper understanding of their own privilege they probably do need to make it about themselves at some point. How can that process play out in a productive way? I think these anti-racism 101 rules are critical to keep in mind when thinking about the end goal of doing this type of work or having these types of conversation, but in my experience, telling someone not to be defensive or that it’s not about them often has the effect of making them more defensive and more focused on themselves. How do I avoid that trap?
@pdwyer Nice points you bring up. I think, personally, being white and priviledged (priviledged in a way that ideally all people should be priviledged – namely to be judged by character rather than color) that the best way to respond is honestly and compassionately.
I understand that emotions run high in this conversation but I have been on the receiving end of quite a bit of yelling and anger and critisism for simply bringing up the fact that I don’t appreciate being yelled at.
To be told that I deserve to be yelled at seemed absolutely silly. So, I think if you are honest and compassionate (as well as passionate) with your discussion (how it affects you as a PoC rather that how a non-PoC is racist for whatever reason) the person you are talking to will attempt to view it from your perspective rather than becoming defensive.
No easy answer to this. The conversation is tough (and even tougher online).
Speak with compassion rather than with definitions I suppose is the point I am trying to get across.
Racism is alive and well in Anchorage, Alaska. You should see the comments being left over a Native employment website, good grief! I’ve been leaving comments as is another gentleman to enlighten others, but there is some serious hating going on here: http://www.adn.com/money/industries/native_corporations/story/1013464.html?plckFindCommentKey=CommentKey:e48f514d-b5e8-414b-ab74-af562ddebd63
I appreciate this conversation and regret how easily we misunderstand one another. After all, I think we all are here because we want to learn, grow, become better people. For me, somehow “see” with new eyes my white privilege, begin to be a voice back into white communities, and learn from my friends who are poc.
Two things: 1) I actually don’t understand number 5:Seeking the empowerment of people of color is not the same as disenfranchising white people. I know what the words mean but I am uncertain if I understand.
2) I wanted to post a book suggestion to the young woman who is struggling with and hating being white. Being White by Paula Harris & Doug Schaupp. It answers:What does it mean to be white? Go into the history of how those in the majority have oppressed minority cultures, but they also show that whites also have a cultural and ethnic identity with its own distinctive traits and contributions. They demonstrate that white people have a key role to play in the work of racial reconciliation and the forging of a more just society.
As for your confusion over “number 5” one example that comes to mind is the brouhaha over Black Liberation Theology. Somehow liberating blacks gets translated to “down with whites.”
I think one could go further with 12. Celebrations of “multiculturalism” do not address racism.
I might revise that to: 12. Multiculturalism is not an antidote to racism.
Because one can dismiss the celebrations easily. Celebrations may not even be reflective of authentic multiculturalism because they’re mostly consumables for outsiders. But the fact that multiculturalism itself is no protection again racism is interesting.
I just wrote about this. thank you!
osolomama, do you mean that a diverse environment will not necessary mean no racism will exist? Or that it won’t cure racism?
You’re right–two separate things. Let me try to restate that. A diverse environment (really diverse, where whites are no longer the dominant group) is still no protection against racism flourishing. So I wasn’t thinking cure as much as innoculation. My thinking about this has changed as time has gone on. Diversity accomplishes much but some groups still wind up privileged and some wind up encountering barriers.
In response to # 8 but specifically Karma Chameleon’s response to #8
KC: My understanding is that the theory of white-privelege is primarily rooted in perception– It’s not so much about whether or not a condition exists, but it’s about the belief a condition exists due to the racism that has existed forever in this country. I grasp that… and believe there’s a role for the theory in the healing of America.
Let’s refer to #1. White privilege exists.
To say that white privelege is primarily rooted in perception fundamentallny undermines the certainty of it’s existence. That it CAN exist and not that it DOES.
If we lived in a society plagued by female supremacy, then as a woman in that society I would have to accept that I was in a position of privilege.
If you accept that we live in a world plagued by white supremacist ideology and you are white then…yes. You have white privilege. How you use it is up to you.
However, I read #8 to mean that my only right to self-defense when accused of something by a person of color, is rooted in my white privilege. Is that an accurate interpretation?
I understand #8 as ” It is your privilege that prevents you from seeing your privilege” The attitude of being “above” racism. The inability to accept a POC as an authority on the issue of their own experience. You are basically making it about you. When really what that person is trying to do is share an experience. The experience is real. Try to humbly accept an observation as an observation without having to accept it or refute it. It’s not about whether or not YOU are racist,it is about that POC processing what they feel. Privilege allows a person to feel entitled to be the central role in any given situation. It allows for the privileged to feel they can exercise the “right”(given to them by privilege) to scrutinize and critique everything that does not come from themselves.While their own experiences are to be accepted as valid and beyond the same severe distrusting analysis. To feel accused puts you in a position of blocking information. Maybe getting past the accusation/defense dynamic and into one of collaboraors in the work of reconciliation would be more helpful for both parties.
You are so effing brilliant. Gitchi mii’gwetch (thanks) for this! :) I just entered into an interesting debate with a guy about the Eurocentric sciences continually contradicting itself, re: knowledge about Creation, etc.
At the end of the day he felt that my “mockery” of the limits of knowledge of “science” was committing the same crime as the “sciences” mockery of Indigenous epistemologies.
Interestingly enough he said he took issue with what he saw as my mockery committing to the same ethos that the Eurocentrist presumptions do – that one is “superior”‘ to another.
ummmm…no. Then he couldn’t grasp why I referred him to your blog to which he responded “it’s not about race, I don’t know why this is relevant.” To which I reminded him that the entire debate started because he replied to my laughing at the failure of Euro science to live up to its own myths by writing “my, how the white man’s burden has evolved.”
Sheesh! I am tremendously grateful that this exists…it is really difficult to get my white friends to talk about this and I am uncomfortable asking my friends of color to talk with me about it. 30 some years ago, I learned that I was racist and privileged not because of any intentionally racially biased behavior on my part, but because I am ‘white’ and benefit from the white power structure. About the same time I discovered that I have African American ancestors and Native American ancestors, so I decided I have a familial stake in the success and well being of people of color. So, I decided: no babies outta me, no heterosexist privilege, be as kind and considerate to everyone as I possibly can. Help out, be generous, protect the kids, etc. But I am still a racist until we can dismantle the power structure which is based on the pathological fear of differences. And of course, I still make mistakes. Perpetual personal struggle…I still catch myself in presumptions and dys-awareness, if I can coin a term…It is a process, and a journey, and geez. I just sincerely hope we get there, sometime soon, together and all in one peace.
I agree with this- but my question is always “Who is?”. Not everyone is good at self-educating or acknowledging all the internalized bigotry that’s so heavily involved in our culture.
There is no such thing as reverse racism. Racism has no direction.
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I couldn’t find a contact email so I’m posting here. I work for an AIDS Service Organization and am currently designing a training session around HIV Stigma/serophobia and understanding the role of racism and homophobia in responses to HIV/AIDS. I wanted to ask permission to use this piece with credits in the training as an introduction to racism. I’ve left my email if you’d like more information on the training.
Hi Evan C, thank you for asking. You may use this with attribution in your training. Any written work must have “© 2010 Resist Racism, https://resistracism.wordpress.com/” appended to it. We’d love to hear about your training.
I’d like to nominate another point or two for your list. If a person of color seems to lack credibility or is automatically discounted while a white person can say the same thing and be taken seriously, then that is RACISM. See “Black Like Me.”
Asking you not to use racial slurs and stereotypes does not infringe on your First Amendment rights. You don’t get to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Don’t expect to provoke people without being held accountable.
We need a thought through strategy on #15, most whites get violent when you try to explain this to them. More pedagogy for these kids.
“Defensive responses to issues voiced by people of color are invocations of privilege”
I think I agree the language is slightly wrong for this, which can be an effect of trying for pithy and to the point. For example if a person of colour alleged that I stole her car and I haven’t I’m entitled to responde defensively.
“Automatic defensiveness when issues of racism are voiced by people of color are invocations of privilege”
seems much closer to the truth form me, although I’m not sure it’s quite right.
Like your rewording of 12. Celebrating multiculturalism is in itself a great advance, and one which I believe may be an essential percursor to breaking down walls of prejudice rooted in race and culture. But even if I’m right by itself it’s no silver bullet.
“People of color are not responsible for the education of white people”
The difficulty I have with this is I suppose is I believe we have a responsibility to educate ourselves and, where relevant, each other. The very fact that I’m reading this document is partly down to the fact that for centuries PoC have been attempting to make their voices heard and that because of this these voices are getting out.
Perhaps :” “People of color are not the only ones who should be responsible for the education of white people. White people have to take responsibility too.”
Then again, way too long.
“An experience you have as a white person that you think is similar to an experience related by a person of color is not a valid proof that racism doesn’t exist.”
This sounds perfectly accurate to me. However trying to think of analogies in experience can be useful in terms of learning to put yourself in another person’s shoes.
oft times it seems moot to speak extensively about anything involving race. it seems to me, from my experience, you have to deal with it in sections. bc you speak about one thing , someone else comments about another. and then there is never no real understanding to the issues.
i know white people today are exhausted about hearing the complaints, from blacks, about the injustice we suffer on a daily basis, well guy, i dont know what to tell you but you can thank your fore-fathers and mothers for creating the mad-ness we both live in today.
As a white person, I am in no position to lecture racial minorities about personal responsibility.
True Solidarity requires us to acknowledge that privilege is not just economic.
@Nathaniel Matthews: “Perhaps :” “People of color are not the only ones who should be responsible for the education of white people. White people have to take responsibility too.”
are you fucking kidding me? White people should take SOLE responsibility for educating their own fucking damn selves. POCs who WANT to can help the white people who ask for it humbly and earnestly, but by saying “POCs are not the only ones who should…” you insinuate that it is OUR job to make sure white people are educated.
It’s not MY job to make sure YOU aren’t a racist ass. If you want to not be racist, then YOU go read the fucking million educational materials out there which explain very nicely all the ways you could be an ally and anti-racist instead of putting the onus on us.
Nice try though.
In my own struggles to overcome my racist attitudes, I have usually needed the help of others who have pointed out to me my faults, some who did so angrily and with great emotion and pain and others who patiently worked with me to help me change my attitudes. If I had seen it as “my job” or “your responsibility”, I don’t think I would have been willing to change. Moreover, reading educational material never brought me face to face to really challenge my way of thinking. It was always within the hot, uncomfortable confines of real relationships where I had to be honest with myself and ask, “Do I really think that?” or “Am I really wrong here?”
Bottom line, I don’t think white people are ever going to be educated out of their prejudices. I think that it will only be as they form real relationships with people of other races and begin to spend real time in everyday ways. At first, it’s awkward, the steps are uncomfortable, misunderstood. Offenses are taken and given, three steps back two steps forward. Then, once lives have become inextricably entwined, once friendships have been forged, then all involved will look up one day and say, “S/he’s (color/race)? I never noticed.” Somehow, the goal has to be to move beyond race.
@Tim: ““S/he’s (color/race)? I never noticed.” Somehow, the goal has to be to move beyond race”
No. I do NOT want you to ignore my race. I WANT you to look at me, see my race, and realize that I am DIFFERENT than you but that that difference in no way makes me inferior or superior to you and that when I tell you about how my experiences differ, you listen.
I am Asian-American. I am proud of that identity, my culture, my heritage, I draw strength from my family’s history and traditions. I do NOT want you to erase my identity by “not noticing” and “moving beyond” my race.
Also, I’m glad to hear that you don’t think white people can be educated with readings and etc. so that a POC always has to expound lengthily on materials which can easily be accessed if only one gave a shit.
I’ll even throw a quickie in there for you:
I think it is one of the most ironic and cruel forms of mass trickery for so many white people to SUDDENLY feel offended by the very mention of the EXISTENCE of color. Too bad they didn’t catch onto the idea that race doesn’t matter FOUR F*$(%)-ing centuries ago!!! As a women of African / Indigenous Descent in the so-called United States, I am so amazed by this ” New Age Racism”
To me “New Age Racism” is basically white people implying by there shock and horror to race that it is somehow an issue that is “beneath” them and they are so spiritually advanced that it is painful to their highly evolved souls to have to lower themselves to think about or have a dialog around something so base. To me, Whites who hold this view are saying ” WE will tell you when race matters and WE will tell you when it doesn’t. Since you have the education and self-awareness to hold us accountable in REAL ways now about our past actions in regard to race….WE have decided that it is a moot point. ”
That would be like me robbing banks for 50 years and when I finally get caught claiming that the idea of money is imaginary. ” Sorry, money is imaginary, so I don’t have to be accountable for my actions in regard to something that doesn’t exist.” How fucking convenient .
Any discomfort you may feel during a conversation about injustice is NOTHING compared to the “discomfort” of the injustice itself so…suck it up.
For me, educating White People on race is very,very tiring. If you are a White person who EXPECTS people of color to be responsible for YOUR education then I would recommend reading “How To Rent A Negro” by Damali Ayo or visting http://www.rent-a-negro.com . At least then you can start getting used to PAYING for the services of POC. Trust and believe that dealing with your ignorance is definitely WORK.
Yeah, put some thought into it White folks because if you don’t your children will have to or their children will. No amount of New Age b&*(% is going to sweep centuries of injustice under the rug. So deal with it. The rest of the inhabitants of the planet already are.
I wouldn’t mind giving a non-American (British specifically) opinion on this blog.
There’s some great posts by the way from all concerned! Although over here, what could be termed “White Priviledge” would be for us “Middle Class Peiviledge” as people fare better based on their social strata over here more so than race or ethnic background.
For example, we have a phenomena where people are identified as “Chav’s” (Pronounced shav” which stands for council housed and violent). Chav’s generally come from council estates (similar to housing projects or section 8 housing in the USA) and wear sports gear and are regarded as uneducated violent drug taking illiterates. A vast majority of Chav’s are White.
This may just seem like the definition of trailer trash to some Stateside, but over here there is a lot of Mixed Race and Asian (what Is known as Indian, Pakistani etc) that are also considered Chav’s.
What is interesting is that in the UK, if you ask what the definition of a drug dealer, thief etc is then you will invariably get the description of someone who is White, Skinny and wearing sports gear. For some reason, Scottish And Some Irish people are also seen amongst being a Chav even though not all are.
The point is that over here, Priviledge is not seen as synonymous with being White but being higher in status. For some reason, Indian Or Pakistani people are seen as being of a higher class and i would think would fare better at getting a job than me or other White people because of the notion that Asians are better educated than most other races including whites. If you’re White, from somewhere like Buckinghamshire and have a posh accent (as in the queen’s English) you would likely have a much better chance of getting a job than someone like me even though we would likely have the same skin colour. I think I would get on better being English over an Irish person because of all of the troubles with Ireland.
I’m not saying we don’t have racism, but I think classism is a more prevalent phenomena over here.
So therefore, is the Priviledge of being White an American phenomenon that has other parralels over the world not race related?
“”People of color are not responsible for the education of white people.””
“I agree with this- but my question is always “Who is?”. Not everyone is good at self-educating or acknowledging all the internalized bigotry that’s so heavily involved in our culture.”
IMHO, white people who have gotten some education need to talk to other white people. As I’m sure all people of color know far better than I do, there are some things that white people will only hear from other white people. Those of us white people who *can* say something, *need* to say something.
There have certainly been some very interesting posts here; and I greatly appreciate the intellectualism and clarity with which they are offered. Interestingly though, I did not notice any points of view by anyone in an interracial marriage or relationship. If there have been some, please do not think that I am dismissing your perspective, I simply missed it.
I am a man of mixed race, and have a darker (non-white) skin complexion. Because of my features, hair type, and complexion, most people have no idea what my “nationality” or race is, or just assume that I’m Egyptian. Trust me, I am an American who identifies himself as African American. My wife is from the Czech Republic, and prior to coming to the US shortly after our marriage, had no idea about the racist situation in America.
It seemed to me that by marrying a European I had insulated myself from the issues faced by most black men who marry white American women, i.e., the latent racism that sometimes presents itself in the heat of an argument, such as the denial of white privilege. I have found this however, to be most untrue; and I am wondering if anyone else out there has had similar experiences.
My wife’s eastern European culture inspires hard work, and a strong work ethic that she brought with here to America. As an immigrant with no formal education above a high school diploma, and absolutely zero work experience, her first job in America (two weeks after arriving) was as a staffing agent with the job of determining who else was qualified to work. As a pretty blonde girl with no education or experience she was instantly put into a position higher than those with years of higher education and work experience. She had no idea at the time, but this was the white privilege in effect.
Later on she obtained a Bachelor’s degree, continued working hard, and her jobs got better and better.
I myself am an attorney, and have studied African American politics in college before attending law school. As a POC, I have become used to spotting the white privilege when I see it. I have tried to explain it to my wife in the context of her own life in the job market, but am met with characteristic denial. I will explain it to those reading just as I have to her. Keep in mind, my white brethren (we are ALL brethren), that the white privilege does not just mean that you will automatically get the job over POC. There have been many POC who have earned jobs over white people. The privilege can manifest in a much more subtle manner. More often than not it will mean that your merit–the fruits of your labor that you bring to the table–will be evaluated more fairly. Before any white person goes off by saying “If I worked harder then I deserve the job!”, know that I agree with that statement, as it is absolutely true. But that is not white privilege. White privilege means that your efforts will be given an appropriate weight, while the efforts of POC will not be. This is why we say that POC must run when the white man can walk, or that we must fly when the white man can simply jump. We are not implying that the white man need not put forth any effort to succeed, but that the effort required of POC for the same reward is disproportionate and unfairly weighted. Because the privilege is not so overt or obtuse as it used to be, it is this subtlety that make the white privilege so difficult for POC to combat and for innocent white people to accept. Know this white people: just because effort is required of you does not mean that you earned the job fairly. The only time anything is fairly earned is when all the merits of all candidates are weighted appropriately.
My wife seems to think that since she is not a white American that the privilege does not apply to her, since she never willingly invokes it. But this is the vision problem that most white people have. You need to know this: simply because you don’t invoke the privilege does not mean it is not in effect.
Those born into a life of luxury and riches simply cannot appreciate the struggles of the impoverished, just as those who continuously reap the benefits of a privilege cannot understand the plight of those against whom the privilege is leveraged–within the context of the privilege. When something is given to you so freely that you take it for granted, you lose the ability to see objectively and become defensive when faced with the truth. This is the current state of those reaping the benefits of the privilege.
Now, a word about “over sensitivity”. For all of you out there in interracial relationships, please listen to your non-white partners when it comes to race matters. If your non white partner expresses discomfort because of a racially related issue, then that person is used to the feeling and spotting the issue with certainty. Yes, we are better suited for spotting racial issues because we have been on the losing end of the racial divide in this country for centuries, and are anything but naive when it comes to dealing with it. The claim of “over-sensitivity” is just a dismissal of our history of slavery and discrimination, and is an affront to the validity of our claim. Imagine if we summed up the entire history of the white experience in this country with two words like that? How about “murderous-greed”? You would be insulted by that right? That’s how we feel when you summarize our emotions with such flippancy. Never use those words with your partner again. Never trivialize the emotional result of hundreds of years of oppression, degradation, discriminatory legislation and social ignorance with such careless verbiage. You owe your loved one much, much more than that.
The exact same explanation applies to the claim that we are playing the “race card”. We are not playing anything, as race has never been a game to us–especially when our race has only seemed to work against us in this country. “Playing the race card” is another term that must be done away with. It is simply another way for whites to trivialize and dismiss the result of racism leveraged against us for so long. The insult is the equivalent of saying that a woman is merely “playing the rape card”. See how it sounds in a different context? Horrible, isn’t it? Never do it again. Racism is racism, and rape is rape, no matter what politicians say.
Is there anyone else out there in an interracial relationship who has had to explain or deal with this? It would be nice to hear other views.
“We all suffer from this social weapon of mass destruction that is race relations.” To this I can only say well put. Felt the need to say that even though it’s been 3 years since the actually comment.
Luv your blog! Thanks for being part of the solution to de-construct racism.-Izzie J
How do I counter the argument that so called White Pride groups are NOT the same thing as Latino/Pan African/GLBT/Native/First Nation/Asian et al Pride groups?
[Oh my! My first post on the blog! I sure do enjoy lecturing people of color about racism. Also I think that white people must be really stupid, because they can’t learn anything about racism if it isn’t gently spoon fed to them.]
“If POC aren’t responsible for our education of white people, who is?”
“POC are not the only people responsible for the education of white people…”
First I direct similar question/comment-bearers to this comment up above:
It is by a POC, it is worded very compassionate and gentle, and it is very thoroughly detailed.
The key point, in my opinion, on this thing here is the word RESPONSIBLE. Responsible, required, and similar. Educating white people is incredibly frustrating even to me, as a fellow white person, and my experience of frustration in this is not the same thing nor on the same level as the experience of a person of colour. I am not looked upon constantly to be a fountain of information about racism based upon the colour of my skin.
As pointed out by the person who made the comment I linked, there are indeed many POC who do go about educating people. This is a personal choice and they always get to individually choose when to educate and how much. Educating us white people about racism is frequently exhausting, tiring, frustrating, etc. even when we are approaching it with the very best of intentions and as open a mind as we can make at the time.
On the concept of race and racism not being as applicable over in the UK — I am not from the UK and cannot pretend to know what it is like over there. However I have been somewhat educated (need to do lots more reading and conversing) already thanks to the words of many POC from the UK and elsewhere in the world (the Internet is a beautiful thing.) While it is obvious that different cultures will have variances, the UK is a white-dominated white-privileged society, and a colonialist country (I speak of this not only in the historical but also the modern context — and no North America is not free of the colonialist label.) Colonialist countries benefit from colonialism whether it is stemming from past or present colonialism – and colonialism is intricately tied to racism. Class is another thing intricately tied to racism. And xenophobia. And so much more. But right down at its most basic, as I said, the UK is a white-dominated white-privileged society.
I’m Canadian and though we are inundated with US culture on a daily basis, there are differences in our culture from the US and this does have an effect on many things including racism in our country. Many, many, many white people in my country like to think of ourselves as being “less racist” and “better” than the USA in terms of racism. I see this as kin (not the same, but similar) to white people in the northern USA thinking of themselves as “less racist” and “better” than the southern USA. First, I think “less” is a terrible qualifier to use — “different” is much more accurate. “Less” frequently leads to thinking that there is less work to be done, that less means none, and related. Perhaps there is less OVERT and BLATANT racism, though even this is not always true — but covert racism is quite insidious and incredibly prevalent. Some beautiful comments near the start of this thread on all of this. If you have the attention span, energy, etc. really do try to read through all the comments here (like the person in the comment I linked to, already said.)
I know that it wasn’t denied that racism is a thing over in the UK, but I don’t think it’s even really possible to weigh racism against classism in that way in order to say which one is more prevalent, which one causes more issues, which one is more of a problem, etc. Though race is intricately connected with class, they two are separate axes of oppression (until they intersect, which for POC the intersection of race and class is very prevalent,) and as I attempted to elaborate I think that “different” is a far better term to use than “less” when comparing the effects of racism in one area to the effects of racism in another area — even within areas very close to each other. Like, in my city, I think a very common automatic association people would have with the terms “gang” and “gangster” would be to asian people, actually, because of the reported commonality of asian gangs in my city, though there are gangs in my city of people of every race pretty much. Note I said *reported* commonality, what appears a lot in the media. I know that’s still a POC association but it’s culturally different than an automatic association of the term with black people. We Canadians as a country are also sorely educated on our history of enacting overt institutionalized racism on people of colour, most obvious case in point is how we are frequently taught (in a glorified way) how we were a destination for escaping slaves going through the Underground Railroad. There’s some education about Europeans coming in and wiping out aboriginal people, sticking aboriginal people into residential schools, and our own Japanese/asian internment camps during WWII, but that’s mostly it, and it misses a LOT both past and present. Again, we have some (if not many) differences in how racism is enacted in our country when compared to the USA, but it is definitely still here, still prevalent, still a big deal.
And even if racism is “lesser” when compared to something — be it another country’s institutionalized racism or a different axis of oppression — it’s still a big and important problem and comparing it to other things and determining that it’s a “lesser” problem only serves to minimize it.
The point about defensive responses to accusations from people of colour should be understood within the context of this blog — this is a blog about (anti-)racism and that is what accusations are being talked about. Defensive is most definitely being defined here in the psychological sense, basically getting instantly defensive and expressing that as soon as we, as white people, are called out by a person of colour for something we said or did that they are calling out as racist — that is an expression of our white privilege. When we as white people tell people of colour what is or is not racist, what to think about racism, how racism works, and similar, we are being classically (and currently) racist. We have collectively been telling these things to people of colour for hundreds of years, though not always in the same language it is true.
The nature of privilege is that it makes one unaware of one’s privilege. In terms of racism, white people who think of ourselves as not being racist, we all too easily jump defensively at accusations of saying or doing racist things because this does not fit with our image of ourselves. We think that because we were not consciously or deliberately racist, that we “logically” could not have been racist. We think of racism as being the overt type, the KKK or skinhead groups for example. We think of people who flat-out admit and own up to their racism as being the only possible type of racism. We are made unaware of how many covert forms racism takes, how it is ingrained upon us from day one by our white privileged society, how these assumptions and opinions and attitudes and unaware experiences so easily and frequently stem from the more subtle effect of our overall culture indoctrinating us throughout our entire lives. This is what gives us the “white lens” which yes is not uniform for everybody just like racism is not uniform — it still exists though.
Not always being about us is exactly that. Not only does this mean that we need to take care to not dominate conversations on racism and race (because white people get that automatically through white privilege) and turn it into our thoughts, our concerns, our feelings, our struggle — we need to be able to look at and hear conversations about race and racism without taking comments about white people, white privilege, white culture, the white lens, and related, personally. We need to be able to read and hear call-outs of racist language and behaviour and beliefs without making it all about how we are “not racist” and getting upset as though having racist behaviours called out (let alone being called a racist, which frequently is not what actually happened but was incorrectly inferred — reasoning related back to thinking of racism as only being the overt kind, “only racists say racist things ergo I have been called a racist by this person saying my actions/words/beliefs are racist”) is worse than actually, yanno, doing/saying/believing racist things.
Learning the language of social justice is very tantamount to not having discussions get derailed by privileged people making it all about ourselves. A common linguistical definition of racism in many places is the concept of privilege + power. While many or most of us have grown up with a different understanding of racism (understanding it as a generalized term meaning “prejudice against a person based on their race/perceived race/colour of their skin/etc.”) this is frequently not what racism means in many social justice/anti-racist/etc. circles. I feel this is best understood as essentially learning a new language in order to properly engage with and understand others in these types of conversations. Racism meaning prejudice + power basically means it’s not racist if it’s prejudice only — without the added power of privilege, white privilege specifically.
This means that within anti-racist/social justice language (and seriously it really is best to treat it as a new language — yes it takes time to learn, yes it’s not easy to remember or understand at first, but yes it is necessary and useful,) people of colour cannot be racist because they do not have the privilege, the social capital, to back it up. This is not saying that people of colour cannot be prejudiced against others based upon race, it *is* saying that people of colour don’t have institutionalized racism (which is alive and well) backing them up. People of colour can have internalized racism as they grow up in a white dominated white privileged society, but it’s wholly different from us white people growing up with that internalized because they are subjected to racism and we are not.
Tone. Don’t, as a white person, instruct people of colour on what a “proper” tone is for educating white people about racism. This isn’t about accepting abusive behaviour, but it is vitally important for us to understand that by very nature of being privileged we are far more likely to perceive a hostile tone where there is none, or a more hostile tone than is actually there. This, again, is due to the nature of privilege — it is not a comfortable thing to have privilege pointed out, and the discomfort is all too easily rejected, translated into perceived hostility, and more. I personally had to learn how to turn my response of anger (I know not everyone will have this response but I do) into a more productive direction — instead of reflexively being angry at the person pointing out my privilege, I worked on aiming my anger at the institution of racism itself. I try very hard, I work diligently on educating myself, I Listen, I speak up to my fellow white people, I aim to be an ally (never do I claim this label for myself, I believe it can only be given to me by others and most certainly that label can be taken away as well) — when another aspect of my white privilege is laid out in front of me, the anger response I get at my discomfort is best aimed at the institution of racism which privileges me based on my race, which has taught me these unconscious racist beliefs and behaviours for my entire life, which permeates all aspects of the society that I live in.
“The tone argument” is a classic way privileged people silence oppressed people — it is basically saying “I won’t listen to what you have to say unless you say it in the way I tell you that you should.” Frequently folks who are trying to be careful and gentle in their tone, as oppressed people speaking to the privileged, find that no tone is good enough, not to please everyone, that there are always people more than ready to refuse the underlying message regardless of actual or perceived tone.
And, I have learned much from the anger of others. In those whose response is anger, is passion, it is very right that racism and oppression in general should make one angry. It is to be expected and unsurprising, though we are not all the same in the realm of feelings and so I am most definitely NOT saying that everyone should experience an anger response — only that it is incredibly common, and those of us who experience anger tend to experience it in relation to racism.
I fear that my comment is too long by this point. I am hyperlexic, autistic, and verbose, yes (this leaves me extremely direct, and also incredibly socially anxious.) But, going by other responses in the comment thread, this appears to be the sort of place that it is okay for me as a white anti-racist to come in and write at such length.
“An ever-expanding list of common understandings we share as anti-racists.”
No it isn’t. It’s a list of a variety of things *your particular* group shares. Lots of us other anti-racists disagree with one or more parts of what you said below, and it’s disingenuous to pretend you speak for “anti-racists” as a whole and speak to what we share.
Oh noes, I can see the headlines now: “Warring anti-racist factions unable to agree, anti-racism actions grind to a halt”! By the way, we are a group blog. Who do you represent?
I don’t understand
someone explain #6