I’ve often pondered the question, why are white people so touchy about being called out for racism?
I know some of you will say that racism is much more than the hurtful prejudice of a marginal few. Agreed. Racism is also inherited structural and political inequity by race resulting in persistent poverty, health disparities, and deficits of opportunity in communities of color. And as with all kinds of oppression, racism is ultimately kept in place by violence and the threat of violence (think in terms of lynchings, cross-burnings, KKK raids, etc. throughout our history). Simple prejudice seems pretty minor by comparison.
However, the powerful effect of white people’s touchiness on this subject should not to be underestimated. In fact, I think it goes hand in hand with the threat of violence in perpetuating racism.
For instance, racial inequality nowadays relies more heavily on the intimidation and violence of the war on drugs and immigration enforcement than on the terrorism of vigilante groups. But, racist immigration and drug enforcement policies are founded on the widespread popularity of racial stereotypes that falsely criminalize black men as the source of the illegal drug problem in the U.S., and immigrants of color as drains on our economy. In other words, ordinary prejudice is as much a part of the oppressive equation for communities of color as violence and intimidation, and the fact that these ordinary forms of prejudice are expressed through major public institutions is possible because we deny that these stereotypes are grounded in prejudice at all.
We need to marginalize ordinary racist stereotypes and behavior, and this starts with calling racism out, even when those guilty of it get touchy because they are unable to recognize their acts as racist.
But, why so touchy?
At the risk of sparking a sh*t storm, here are a couple of proposals.
First, I think white people get bent out of shape by the label racist because being able to wield it means that, at least culturally speaking, people of color have power we haven’t traditionally had, specifically because of racism.
For generations even looking at a white person in the wrong way could get a person of color fired, harassed, terrorized or even lynched. Going as far as lodging an accusation of any kind against a white person could spark a race riot.
But socially conscious people of all races fought and even died in order to end the white cultural, economic, and political supremacy that led to this kind of intimidation and violence. Today, the degree to which we are empowered to speak out against racism is a measure of the erosion of unjust white power and privilege that was achieved through these historic efforts. When white people react defensively to people of color involved in the audacious act of calling them out for racism, they are, albeit usually unconsciously, struggling to reconcile themselves with lost white privilege.
That’s my first theory. Here’s the second.
Before the fall of Jim Crow, ordinary interpersonal racism was so commonplace that in order to organize against it, racial justice advocates needed another foil. Racism’s terrorist wing: people threatening students integrating Little Rock Central High School, segregationist governors wielding state troopers like clubs, and men like Bull Connor became that foil.
I mention Bull Conner by name because the way civil rights activists used his outrageous racism exemplifies this strategy. As the Commissioner of Public Safety for the city of Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, Connor turned attack dogs and fire hoses on children peacefully protesting for civil rights, inadvertently making himself into an international symbol of American racism. This display of naked hatred polarized white people, with many taking the side of civil rights activists in spite of harboring the kind of ordinary racial prejudices that create the climate in which vigilante racists derive their power.
Today, when we call out racism, powerful symbols of opposition to racial equality like Bull Connor are invoked. Ordinary racists contrast the everyday prejudice that was, out of necessity, let off the hook in the black struggle for civil rights, against horrific, Bull Connor-style racism. Then, for lack of a better term, they freak out.
That’s why I think white people are so touchy. It’s why begging to be understood as “good” and exaggerating the harm done to them by the accusation are so often part of the ritual of denial. They’re, more often than not, genuinely good people stuck in the belief that racists are exotic monsters, who are nonetheless resentful of conceding the privilege of being able to control the public consensus on race to begin with.
126 replies on “Why Are White People So Touchy About Being Called Racist?”
I am so glad you are addressing this Scot, and as always in a thoughtful, analytical way I hope readers can hear and consider. I have been struck with the Paula Deen and George Zimmerman discussions in past week (and something else every week before) about how touchy so many Whites get both about fear of being called racist or other White folks being called racist. It becomes amazing to consider what the bar has to be for many White folks to go ahead and acknowledge another White person as racist and so often the outrage at the perceived injustice of that “cruel” label so outweighs their passion for any injustice happening daily related to people of color. (Even those who might say, and I think sincerely believe, that they care about people of color and injustices, at times will manifest a deeper, hot-flushed face or more vitriolic reply in social media to the calling out of some other White person- even ones they will preface with disclaimer about how they are no fan of theirs, etc.) To have had George Bush write in his memoirs that Kanye West calling him racist was the all-time low of his presidency was another such insane example of the outrageous weight/dismissal given the issue. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/02/george-bush-kanye-racist_n_777967.html I think it is that combination of disproportionate weight to the perceived affront and then the juxtaposition of the actual dismissal/disarming of the reason being accused of racism that’s most disturbing and offensive. If you’re going to blow off that actual offense, please just blow it off.
I also appreciate the breakdown/linkages made of individual racism and structural racism – this norming of racist behavior and validating the defensiveness against being called out is both a symptom and perpetuating tool of structural racism.
Its not that white people are touchy about being racist, its the fact that society has become very “touchy” about anything associated with race. For example, saying that some Africans (especially those with a direct lineage to people in Africa) have a different cranial structure than those of a European descent, is oftentimes considered racist. Additionally, a white person can get in loads of trouble with the government if one person screams ‘RACIST!’ It’s a little ridiculous.
While i undastand dat one may sometimes comment on structural differences in African and European skulls in benign situations such as an anthropology class, i ask what is d relevance of such a “saying” about something already obvious. I mean if u are looking at a woman and a man n u commented that a woman typically has a larger pelvis than her male counterpart, unless u r teaching a human anatomy class, how do u think d woman will feel? I understand d basic, inherent neutrality of the example u gave bt d point is dat statements are made in context-utter that statement in an environment,where institutional racism n racial prejudice have a firm foothold such as a racially abusive bosses n colleagues r the staple in a particular workplace n den u see wat i mean? Not all white pple r racist, bt d fact remains dt substantial number of dem are. I watch telenovelas a lot in my country n the disgustingly outrageous virtual invisibility and sparseness of Afro-hispanic actors among d cast is obvious n revulsive. That, my friend, is a classical example of institutional racism. Ya dig? N yes, im an African woman, Nigerian by birth and citizenship+ a Christian+a Nurse-Midwife. Wheda pple,like it or not, GOD created humans in various shades of white, yellow, sandy, swarthy, coffee-brown, chocolate, reddish-brown n varying degrees in-between to inhabit ds planet n dats how it’s gonna remain rt until d world ends n time cease n eternity begins. Shalom!
Good point Phat. Really good point.
I agree; the fact that so many foreigners call whites racist, and the fact that other whites turn against them, is the same as having no backup in a fight. It’s all down to you. And the problem with that is that whereas you’re left on your own, whoever is accusing you of being racist will broadcast it and the whole community of that race will be there to destroy you. White people are just worried of being ganged up on, and rightly so. Racism from white–>black has caused fear from black–>white. Racism is working backwards.
“For example, saying that some Africans (especially those with a direct lineage to people in Africa) have a different cranial structure than those of a European descent, is oftentimes considered racist.”
That is because it IS racist. African cranial structures include ever type found in Humanity, including the so-called “European” one. You would find that particular structure in the east African Nilotic people like Ethiopians, Eritreans and in the Sudan. Those people also have the so-called “aquiline nose” and other features typically associated with Europeans. White people are the only ones who have attempted to divide Humanity into separate groups. They invented the “races” in 1785 and are the source of racism because they INVENTED racism. They have been pulling the white race card since the 19th century as justification to be racists and sociopaths. This may not be your personal history, but it is the history of white people.
But i dont really like the fact that i’m still blamed for what my ancestors did 200 years ago it has now really gone vice-versa in my life
Its not that im touchy on it (i am white) but its a name i am called everyday of my life… racist and it just annoys me as i do nothing. Yet many people still come up to me call me racist and then say i should become their slave so they can get revenge on my kind. But this isnt even america this is britian. Ive never ever been racist to someone or anyone and its not my fault what happened but i still get the blame everyday of my life for my skin colour.
I did like your article in the sense that it was very thoughtful and delves into the ideas of what’s going on right now in terms of the topic of Racism. However, I personally disagree with the fundamental thought process behind your argument. Which is — white people are responsible and must be held accountable for their ancestors’ actions, good or bad. Even if their ancestors were part of the Underground Railroad to free black people, that’s not a pass. It’s a way of viewing the issue in a black and white sense, no pun intended. The idea is that all white people need to show that they have to be submissive, to show their contempt for the crimes of people they may be biologically related to many generations past. That seems to be the only acceptable way for white people to “prove” they’re not racist. But why is it likewise acceptable to “do your time” for the crime you may not have had anything to do with individually? It’s like saying, “white people have been able to have their cake and eat it too for generations, now you need to let everyone of a different skin color have their cake and eat it too.” Now think about that for a minute. That also forces white people to acknowledge, whether they like it or not, that that very behavior of generations in the past is acceptable in the first place. It literally just goes around and around. You cannot solve a problem by treating the SIDE EFFECTS of racism, only the CAUSE of racism. And I believe the CAUSE of racism is perpetuating that exact thought pattern that you have implored in your article. You can make analytical papers all you want but if you wanted to legitimately find a solution, you’d find that your arguments simply will never lead to the solution because there’s a fallacy in the fundamental thought process you subscribe to leading into it. If you make a building on a faulty foundation, it will continue to crumble no matter how far you get each time you build it.
The behaviors going on right now surrounding racism only serve to continually divide us, and distract us with non-sense in hopes that eventually black people will feel that white people had their time of reparation. And the human element behind that also serves to cast a blanket ideology on a race of people and drag along the conversation as if the end justifies the means. Well, I ask you, if these “means” are justified then don’t you realize that the outcome of the “end” will be just as morally flawed as the “means”? Now, if you at all haven’t understood what I mean, I’ll just leave it at this. The thought process steering the debate on racism in this country always seems to be “an eye for an eye,” no matter how you sugar coat it or how many different ways you want to look at it. You can’t deny that’s a fact. And an eye for an eye will make the whole world go blind. Whether you agree with my comment or not, this is just one man’s opinion. Challenge yourself to re-arrange your preconceived notions on the thought processes that the mainstream media professes and challenge other people to do the same. I personally want peace, non-violence, and humanity coming together. The only way to do that is transcend the behaviors of generations past and morally rise above them, not stoop to their level.
Regardless of whether I agree or disagree with any aspect of your post, I must say you have constructed it in such a way so that disagreement on the part of a white person is automatically proof of your hypothesis. It is much the same as the classic question “have you stopped beating your wife?” Further, I would say that your tendency to generalize about all white people is itself racist. One can no more lump all white people together in any meaningful way than one can lump together persons of other colors. The vast – indeed Grand Canyon-like gulf between, say, a southern redneck living in a trailer and – say – a Beacon Hill Boston aristocrat or an Oxford Professor or the Pope in Rome or Vladimir Putin in Moscow represents differences in culture and values so enormous as to seem that these various persons might well have come from different planets
Well, in this case, I was referring to white Americans, but maybe that wasn’t obvious from the American context I wrote about. I certainly wouldn’t evaluate Vladimir Putin within the context of the history of American civil rights struggles.
And, I wasn’t saying all white people are one thing or another, or at least that wasn’t my intention. I was trying to say that whites as the most privileged group by race live within a context of whiteness that leads to certain tendencies. And then to make those tendencies obvious so that people can choose for or against them since I respect that they wish to be more than the history of their race.
I also have to say that I think that if all racism is made of is attitudes, maybe I am a racist. I mean, I live with certain expectations of white people in the American context. But, I tried to point out in the post that racism is not just prejudice. It’s also much more. Anyone of any race, by my measure, can be racist and maybe I’m a racist. I live with that possibility and consider it every day, actually, and many of my ideas have changed over time as I’ve evaluated them as such – or as sexist, or homophobic, or ageist, or just plan mean or small or petty.
But, the context of white supremacy means that all racisms are not equal. A racist system that privileges white people creates a situation in which the racist behaviors and beliefs of the privileged group have a particular dynamism and power because of proximity to and inclusion to an extent within power. But, that doesn’t mean whites are more morally corrupt or less humane than others. They are simply presented with a different menu of choices within which their racist acts exact bigger consequences – that’s generally as individuals and always as a group, and here in the U.S. in particular. I don’t presume to know about Putin’s Russia.
This isn’t an exercise in moral condemnation. It’s an exercise in presenting generalities for the sake of provoking discussion, debate, dialogue, and responses, including critical ones. This isn’t journalism, it’s commentary. It’s also not a scientific survey. I’m offering myself punching bag in the interest of inspiring a discussion.
I think of social justice as a project of discernment – of taking things apart, pulling out the chaff, and then integrating what is nutritious and useful into something good for the soul.
In that process, I try to be a winnower. That means I’m provocative. A certain amount of polarization is necessary for the pieces to become apparent. I think it’s a small price to pay for whites who have been privileged by race, to hear, as shocking and unusual as it may be and maybe because it’s unusual and shocking, someone actually trying to examine and pull apart the culture they participate in just as people of color have been studied and pulled apart for the entire history of the modern world, with such disciplines as anthropology actually created specifically for that purpose.
Sorry if that makes some whites feel objectified but, what can I say. Welcome to my world.
Just adding grist to the mill… I am from New Zealand. We have a vastly different cultural context from America in a lot of ways. We are extremely multicultural and moreso every day.
Maybe I am just overly influenced by American TV, but I still flinch when white people come under criticism, I still find myself reflexively seeking justifications for the way other whites are accused of behaving. I try to stop it whenever I can, but sometimes it is almost instinctive. I don’t know why.
If I were called racist, I would be upset because I don’t think I am, I don’t want to be, I try not to be. Other whites overreacting to it… I dunno. Guilty conscience?
Or maybe it could be the same reason you just gave, Jonathon. Maybe we don’t see ourselves as racist either. Are you sure you don’t have a guilty conscience. The nerve!!!
it’s not the whole of New Zealand, mainly just Auckland which is ‘extremely’ multicultural.
(in the following paragraph non whites mainly refers to maori and pacifica.)
for a ‘non-white’ in nz life can be very uncomfortable especially living in a society which is made up of roughly 67.6% New Zealand european’s (2006 census). Because ‘white’ people have been notorious for their racist behavior in the past and even today, non whites feel as if they are constantly being judged, especially with reports of racism against non-whites being broadcast in the media all the time. look at the different classes in New Zealand, upper classes are primarily whites and asian, middle class mainly white as well however, with a few more non whites than in the upper class, and the lower classes being primarily brown people. Because of this, brown people, maori and pacifica can be viewed as below the higher classes, who are mainly white people, financially and academically. i’m sure you are familiar with the stereotype that Maori and Pacific islanders are dumb, lazy, fat and so on. this is an extremely unfair generalisation as it is not true for many pacific and maori people. I am not accusing you of believing these stereotypes but it is just one of the reasons why white people are caught out for racism. I do think that some white people can be narrow minded when it comes to different cultures and skin colours but that is understandable as most white people in the 1900’s were disapproving of all non-whites.
new Zealanders are the worst racists especially in south island . shame on you kiwis
Not guilty conscience just tired all the racism. I am white have 2 bi racial children. Just don’t see color!!!!
@lisa I would advise you to learn to see your children’s colour for 2 reasons
1. There’s nothing wrong with their colour so why not see it? If they had red hair or violet eyes would you not see that? The varying colours we come in are all beautiful and should all be seen and appreciated.
2. Other people are going to see their colour. As their mother it’s your duty to prepare them for that or at least to respond supportively when it happens. Being tired of racism is not a luxury a mother of biracial children can afford. Not yet.
Excellent response, Scot. I hope Tobias gets it. Especially the last idea about white people being unaccustomed to being publically analyzed or put under a micro scope to explain their behavior they way that they have always done in regards to black people and other people of color. It must be frustrating. Yes, of course there is some generalization that goes on. I would say to Tobias, “Welcome to the club” Tobias, as you don’t like Scot’s hypothesis, then I would ask to you to explain…,after all, as a black person I have been asked countless times by white people I know to explain a certain attitude or actions of black people…so what is your answer to the question?
There is no monopoly on being subject to unwelcome analysis because of race. As a gay man I have been quite used to hearing other poeple pontificate on why I am gay and “what can be done about it” all my life. Through my college years, being gay was illegal in every state and what could be done about it was commitment to an insane asylum, jail, frontal lobotomy, etc. etc. Some of that happened to people I knew. Oh yes, I’d say I am not unfamiliar with being “put under a microsope”
Your entire message doesn’t make any actual sense, since it’s not even grounded in reality. White Supremacy is not an intellectual point, it’s a fact of our daily lives. And it’s funny how you say no one can lump all white people together in any meaningful way, since this is exactly the point – you can, it’s a fact, it’s super easy to understand, when you put your media-goggles down. And it’s a machine, a modus operandi: designed to solely benefit the white folks everywhere and anywhere. The fact that you twisted yourself out to call White Supremacy racist in itself, is ironic. Nice one.
Sorry you feel that way but imputing particular characteristics of behavior to any ethnicity as a whole is hopelessly inaccurate and racist by definition.
The dictionary definitions of racism are generally misleading, useless and hopelessly inaccurate. What you just called racist is called prejudice. Acting on that prejudice is discrimination. In general, the best definition of racism is institutional oppression and discrimination. Institutional. When you get prejudice+power, that’s racism. Prejudice+action, that’s discrimination. Google it. The fact, that you are not aware of these things is pretty telling. This topic has obviously never been particularly interesting to you before. So if not.. why did you choose to reply to this article at all?
And don’t tell me you’re sorry because I “feel” that way. I’ve explicitly stated facts as being facts. Don’t try to invalidate that by telling me I just “feel” this way, and this is not the reality.
And kindly don’t tell me what has been interesting to me or not. What I’m not interested in is arguing semantics. Clearly these terms are susceptible to somewhat differing interpretations. Just because someone may use a term in a manner different from your approved version does not confer on you the right to speculate about that person’s previous interests or other personal history. If however, you prefer to call your view that all white people can indeed be “lumped together” mere prejudice, as opposed to racist, I’m fine with that.
Based on this response and the lengthier one below, I think that you might not be in the best position to be telling any of us the definition of “racist.” Racism is a political system, not simply “imputing of particular characteristics of behavior to any ethnicity as a whole…”
I’d suggest that as a learned man you might want to read up on the subject and would point you to Michael Omi & Howard Winant Racial Formation in the United States and Howard Winant’s excellent The World is a Ghetto. Here, and in many other serious scholarly works, you might begin to see the full political force of the construct of race.
As for white privilege, it is a binary thing, it is either “on” or “off”, you have it or you don’t. Poor, uneducated whites don’t have less white privilege than wealthy educated whites. They have less economic and educational privilege to be sure, but white privilege doesn’t really admit to degrees as do other forms of privilege.
Ethnicity and race are not interchangeable in this particular instance. You probably meant race. It’s not ‘characteristics’ I’m talking about, but actual systematic institutionalised oppression reinforced through literally everything.
Yes, my comment was directed at Tobias.
And yet people manage to tightrope-walk, or fly, or ride burros, across the Grand Canyon.
Every type of white person you just mentioned is capable of, and has exercised, racism. Does it really matter where the racism is coming from? It hurts just as much, albeit perhaps in slightly different ways. Where the redneck could maybe only beat, lynch, or shoot you, for instance, the white folks from higher rungs on the socio-economic ladder could fire you or refuse to hire you (relegating you to poverty) or shut you out of a college. I don’t even know what the race situation is in Russia–who knows how much worse it might be there. It’s pretty much worse for *everybody* there. But all these things are extremely disruptive to a life and tend to keep it from being well-lived under the person in question’s power. You waste so much energy just trying to keep your head above water and to not let your reputation be totally ruined.
Yeah… did you ever think about that? That being seen immediately as a thug the first time any white person encounters you might be very like a loss of reputation? That wasn’t even earned, since it came from resorting to stereotype?
And you’re worried about being called racist? Wow.
Great reply, Scot. I particularly like:
“But, the context of white supremacy means that all racisms are not equal. A racist system that privileges white people creates a situation in which the racist behaviors and beliefs of the privileged group have a particular dynamism and power…”
I think it’s a small price to pay for whites who have been privileged by race, to hear, as shocking and unusual as it may be and maybe because it’s unusual and shocking, someone actually trying to examine and pull apart the culture they participate in just as people of color have been studied and pulled apart for the entire history of the modern world, with such disciplines as anthropology actually created specifically for that purpose.
As a white person who came of age in the 60s, I am still aware of thoughts and reactions that I’m not proud of, that I squelch, that I try to analyze. And I’m sure there are others that I’m not aware of. It’s pretty much impossible not have these as part of our makeup, and it’s our job to root them out as much as possible.
Scot, I’m not sure if this problematizes or substantiates your thesis, but the phenomena in question goes back a long way. You see it over and over again in civil rights history.
Consider this anecdote by way of Ta-Nehisi Coates:
“In 1957, neighbors in Levittown, Pa., uniting under the flag of segregation, wrote: “As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens, we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community.””
Or the writings of Robert E. Lee:
“…few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil.”
What does this mean? IMO, unlike genuine ideological battles, like say Communism v Liberal Democracy, a good chunk of the Evil side knew they were Evil. This is one reason why civil rights history is so complex…the most complex aspect of American History IMO. Its a ruse. “Bamboozle”, “hoodwink”, the “ole okey doke”; as Malcolm X would say.
I’m reminded of Sen Fritz Hollings (a post-64 segregationist) who was asked later in his career if he now knew he was wrong. He replied (I paraphrase from memory):
“I knew then”.
That says it all.
I tend to agree with the implication here, though I’m a perpetual optimist about the possibility these things can change in the right context – if we create a different menu of choices. But yes, I get the bamboozle, hoodwik, okey doke context for the choices people have made and, I would argue, are still making.
One thesis is that the reason folks get so touchy about accusations of racism is that they are in fact racist, know it, and fear the consequences. They want to keep things the same, but they don’t want you to know it – don’t want to suffer for the social consequences that previous generational fights have made necessary today – that go with that privilege.
George Wallace. I wish his change of heart had become as important in the schoolhouse history books as was his originally racist behavior. Now that was something to emulate, the willingness to admit he was wrong and to change his ways. I won’t say he turned himself into a saint but he did become a better man.
I love this question because it opens a lot of opportunities to move past the dominant discourse’s business as usual. I see your point about how pointing out racism is a kind of power that white people are not used to people of colour having. I had never connected that before to the reaction that white people often have, and I see how people of colour taking up new power, even something so uninstitutionalized and unenforceable as simply pointing something out, can feel like a threat to the status quo.
The tailspin of racism-denial seems to be weirdly disproportionate. In workshops about white privilege that I have participated in, participants’ responses to understated and extremely gentle critiques is often way out of scale. I’m sure you’re right that they are visualizing themselves being accused of being KKK members. We (white people) are going to have to interrupt that knee-jerk reaction if we expect to make any progress (suggestions, anyone?). Also, I think that the need to constantly prove that we are “good” creates a lot of anxiety. Something white people can do for each other is to acknowledge that we are racist and do racist things, that we have the capacity to learn, and the responsibility to get better at uprooting racism each day. It can really be a relief to stop “proving” that we aren’t racist and start actually “being” anti-racist.
I also wonder if white culture’s emphasis on scapegoating a few “bad apples,” combined with the punishment mentality built into our “justice” system, encourages some white people to fear retribution. What is it, exactly, that white people fear people of colour are going to *do* with this power they are demanding and sometimes winning? Treat us like we treated them? I hope this isn’t too alarmist. I do wonder if the irrational spectre of “punishment” is part of what accounts for the out-of-control denial.
Good one, my friend. Trying too hard to prove one is not guilty of something is, sometimes, an strong evidence of being guilty, unfortunately.
My own personal soul-rattling experience with the internalized racism that is America was disquietingly quiet. A number of years ago I was visiting the UK, riding on a double decker into London proper from where I’d been staying in the outskirts of the city. The route took me through Brixton. At some point I came to notice that I was the only white face on the crowded bus. I remember thinking at the time, “How interesting?!” but nothing more. It took a few more moments for me to take in that 1) I wasn’t in the least bothered by being the only white face on the bus and 2) had I been home in the US I *would* not have been so comfortable with that situation. Which obliged me to ask myself why that was the case. Eventually, I came to the very disturbing realization that on that bus in Brixton I wasn’t surrounded by black faces – in my head, I was surrounded by British faces. Had I been in America – as a white American, I would have perceived myself surrounded by BLACK Americans.
Ever since, I see the world rather differently…
Scott: Thank you for your fulsome reply to my post above. This is turning into a very interesting and thought provoking thread altogether. To further add to the complexity of the issues in question I would suggest that in fact the most virulent expressions of racial prejudice on the part of white persons often stem not from privilege but from the lack there-of. The most vicious bigotry of the civil rights era seems to have been on the part of what we might call, to descend to the vernacular, “poor white trash.” Take the infamous murders of Cheney, Goodman and Schwerner as a microcosm. The sheriff and deputies who committed those crimes were classic poor whites – poorly educated, crude slobs – not “people whom one knows” as my aristocratic great aunts would have said. Membership in the KKK seems to have been similar. One can go back to the Draft Riots of 1863 and see the same thing – very poor whites violently attacking persons of color out of a perception of competition for jobs and even for social “place.”
As we move up the socio/economic ladder, I think a big part of the problem becomes the fact that whites from a privileged background simply do not encounter racial prejudice in their own lives and hence have only an academic perception of it – which tends to minimize its importance. I can give an example from my own life. I certainly come from a background of upper middle class privilege. My family has been college educated quite literally almost as long as there have been colleges – hundreds of years of scholars and gentry. I was raised among their accumulated books – 26,000 of them and their somber portraits. In my family, race was simply not recognized as a factor in evaluating people. It didn’t exist. My parents had friends who dined with us of all races. It was their intellectual accomplishments and personal character that mattered – not their race, their occupation or their wealth. I knew that racial prejudice not only existed but was a huge factor in our nation but it was an alien notion – a strange and outre’ belief like zombies or something. As a gay man, my second partner and perhaps the great love of my life in the sense of unbounded passion was a black man – his name was Norman and we loved each other very much indeed. In ’93, Norman was diagnosed with AIDS. It became necessary to move him from his apartment in Brooklyn into Manhattan so he could be closer to his doctor and hospital and GMHC. Finding a reasonable apartment in Manhattan is difficult at best and this took us 6 months. On one apartment visitation, I went alone because Norm wasn’t feeling well. When I told the landlord the rent would be subsidized by Division of AIDS Services and showed him Norm’s ID, he looked me right in the face and said “I’m not having no AIDS carrying N***er in my building. It’ll upset the tenants.” I was absolutely appalled! All my WASP good manners evaporated in a flash and I was screaming at him that my lawyers would drag him through every court in the city. He said “go ahead. by the time this gets to court your friend will be dead.” Never in my life had I encountered anything so blatant – so ugly in the way of racism. Suddenly, in that moment – I began to have some slight understanding of what it can mean to be a black man in America even in this “enlightened” latter day. Norman was a better man than me. When I told him, practically in tears, I was so upset, he just smiled wanly and said “I feel so bad for that man. He only has a little stone for a heart. How sad that is” Norman was part Native American and was a shaman – having done the vision quest in traditional form and so on. That night he did a ritual to “send that man some love, because he really needs it.” (You see how much better a person Norman was than me because I would have sent the SOB a summons) 2 days later the man called me to say we could have the apartment if we wanted it and he was sorry for what he’d said. Cause and effect? I don’t know. However, by then we had found the perfect place – an efficiency on East 11th St. in a gay owned building. Norman passed away in ’95 and his funeral was attended by hundreds of people – young, old, gay,straight, black, white – everyone loved Norman and his life was, I think, a testimony to the power of giving love in overcoming bigotry and prejudice. Sorry for going on at length – its a difficult story to stop, once one gets going with it.
Firstly, I just have to say–no. I’m sorry to be so blunt. But it’s NOT just “poor white trash” that still exhibit racism. There’s a hardy number of good ol’ boys and gals who own or manage businesses, or are politicians, or just in some way generally control things who are racist. See also: Justice Scalia and four other US Supreme Court members who stripped a law that helped make sure that marginalized groups (ie, minorities) were able to register and vote. See also: Texas politicians who moved to capitalize on that law being 86’ed within TWO HOURS of the ruling. See also: Arizona politicians who passed a law requiring people who looked like they “might be illegal” (ie, brown) to carry papers at all times proving that they were American citizens–kind of like the Jews had to do in Germany during WWII. See also: Our enslavement of Mexican immigrant workers, who are so desperate to escape their circumstances that they’ll work for wages that we would consider inhumane if a white person made the same money for the same job. See also: the fact that whites routinely get hired over any other race for professional jobs (probably for any job, but especially for professional jobs); one person who was job-hunting and uploaded her resume with “African-American” checked off as her ethnicity got zero calls. She made a fake profile with the exact same credentials but made herself white; her phone was ringing off the hook after that. See also: The Stop and Frisk program in NYC, which is far, far less effective when it comes to apprehending minorities because the threshold of “suspicious behavior” is much lower than it is for whites.
I could go on, but I’d be late for work.
I never said it was only poor whites who express racism. I attributed to them the “most virulent expressions” thereof. That’s quite different. I have no argument with any of the other points you make here.
Thank u for the “frank bluntness”, my friend. Sometimes i cnt help wondering, i mean, seriously? Is some one here REALLY trying to point out dt only poor, uneducated whites, carried out virulent acts of racism? So, if there wasn’t a system in place created n sustained by educated, powerful political whites, providing, like we call it Nigeria, an enabling environment for those poor, uneducated whites to perpetuate such horrendous acts, u think it would av been easier to do wat they did? What? Ya think we r stupid? Oh yeah, d cop that killed Trevor Martin in few years ago was poor and uneducated too, right? And u think that racism as perpetuated by poor whites is worse off than that perpetuated by rich, educated, refined whites? And if the latter exhibit racial behaviours, the fact that they are “educated and rich” mitigates their heinous racism, huh? Cos that is d point u seem to b making n it’s really pissing me off!!! Seriously, how outrageous can this get?
I’m going to disagree with everyone here. Just kidding. I agree with part of Tobias’ answer and strongly disagree with another part. The part I agree with is that in my experience, class makes a huge difference in how racist white people are. That is on average. I’m not saying all people of any group are the same way, and I’m pretty sure neither was Tobias. But to say that there are zero differences in things like racism that correlate with things like class would probably be a bit in denial of the reality that many people experience. I’m non-white, and there being differences has been my experience. It has also been the experience of a non-white friend of mine who grew up in a completely different geographical region from me in America. I’m going to guess that it is probably the experience of many other non-white people, too.
I’m angry that I even feel the need to qualify this, because it makes me angry when people use ideology to deny reality, but I’ll put in the effort and make this qualification: I’m not arguing that rich people are “inherently” better people, not that I believe that “inherent” even exists. I just think that denying reality that is real people’s observations and experiences hurts people in the long run, and it hurts efforts to tackle prejudice and discrimination. I think that is many social justice advocates’ own contribution to perpetuating prejudice and discrimination. That is my “please stop being in denial of reality” schpeal that comes mostly from having seen too much of denying of reality amongst people involved in social justice.
The part of Tobias’ answer that I disagree with is the part where he advocates for the “the power of giving love in overcoming bigotry and prejudice.” No, and you are missing the whole point of what structural racism is. Tobias, your one story doesn’t prove that “giving love” solves the problem of bigotry and prejudice. Maybe his approach helped him then, but in no way does that mean that it will always help people in all cases. It also doesn’t mean it’s “the” right approach that people should use when facing prejudice. I won’t get into a full explanation, but the whole point is that there’s a power differential, and that’s what’s not right.
I also want to point that that there’s another person named Annie here who is not me. The only comments I’ve written are this one and the one starting with “I just discovered your blog.” For the record.
Thanks Annie. My points, exactly. It’s plain insulting to keep watering down the raw realities of people’s lives, explaining hurtful racist behaviours with stuff dt don’t hold water. Insult upon injury.
Please Read Dr. Marimba Ani’s book Yurugu! She has scientifically laid out the whole deal on white supremacy and it’s racism behavior that keeps it propped up.
Maybe I just don’t understand the argument, but from my point of view.. If someone called me racist, I would be upset (“bent out of shape” is not the right term, really), simply because it’s not true. I feel very passionately about civil rights and equality for all races, genders, creeds, sexual orientations, everyone!
For me, there’s pushback when someone tosses out that term because it’s not something I want to hear, ever. I don’t want it to be part of the vernacular at all. It’s not a power struggle.
I agree with you, Kristen.
Yes, we know that. But you’re not the one who defines whether your behavior’s racist.
My little girl’s dad has a condition called tardive dyskinesia. What that means is his nervous system frequently misfires and causes muscles to spasm. Unfortunately they are muscles in his head and arms. He has found ways to self-medicate it and keep everything calmer, but it is not inconceivable that he could one day lose control and break someone’s nose.
It wouldn’t matter whether he’d meant to break that person’s nose or not. The person’s nose would still be broken and it’s not up to my little girl’s dad to say whether the nose is broken or how much pain the person’s in.
What you do when someone calls you racist is you say, “I’m sorry, I did not realize I was being racist. How do you mean?” and then LISTEN to what they have to say and LEARN from it.
I’m white, but I’m also a woman and you would not believe how maddening it is to catch someone in blatant sexism, explain to them why what they said or did was sexist and then have them completely dismiss me. Hate to be the one to break this to the dominant classes but the only reason you have the power is your ancestors cheated. If you want to DESERVE whatever place you have in the world, you gotta give a little to get a little.
@Dana Very well put.
Been called racist is not as bad as experiencing racism.
Calling somebody racist because of their skincolor isnt racist?!
I agree with Kristen, but I also feel like you have a point in your article (a very good one infact). I just feel like you have missed out a major part of it that Kristen pointed out as well.
I feel like some people don’t like being called racists because it points out that, in fact, they are racist. It’s an unfortunate truth that they don’t like. Combined with the disgusting history behind racism and the things that happened because of it? They don’t like thinking they’re that bad.
But at the same time, there are people who are generally not racist. I know it’s -really- hard to believe, but some people were raised by liberal, modern families and these days don’t actually think of race as a big deal. Yes, once they go out in to the real world they have to battle the pervasive ideas of racism that flow in our culture, but they do fight.
And getting called racist, to them, isn’t true and is not only akin to but actually a slur, so it’s insulting. Especially since some people who weren’t so privileged to be raised by race-conscious parents who worked HARD to get rid of internal racism (such as my grandmother, who still has tendencies from being raised in the deep south 90 years ago, but tries her DAMNDEST to break them).
I feel like we forget there are degrees of racism. If you make a black joke (I am calling them that because that is what people normally call them), a Jew joke, etc, you are being racist at the time. But that does not mean you are a racist. A racist is someone more extreme, at least to me.
I don’t personally believe that they are the same. Doing something racist does not a racist make. Letting racist attitudes color your entire world view does.
I don’t believe they’re okay or alright in any way, shape or form (being racist or doing racist things), so please don’t think I’m playing the apologetics card for people being racist. I still don’t think it’s alright, and I don’t think people should use those jokes as it ingrains that attitude in to normal day society.
As you pointed out though, racism is steeped in so much negative history, it’s where people’s minds are going to jump to, whether they’re racist or not. So getting called a racist for a single racist thing is going to get people defensive, which I think is counterproductive to informing them “Ya, that might seem funny, but it’s more harmful than anything else.”
As for myself? I have my racist moments on the metro in DC and they make me feel ashamed and thoughtful for quite some time afterwards. I’m trying, but still not there yet. If someone told me that how I reacted some times was racist? I’d agree. It is. I hug my bag closer around some people. And I am deeply ashamed by it, since I’d most likely not do it if only a single factor was changed. And I’m trying to change. But that’s about the only time that it happens as far as my extensive soul searching on the subject goes. And pretty much every single time it happens I’m wondering what else I’ve done like that.
However, if someone went out of their way and called me a racist for doing it? That is attaching a label. That is defining me as a racist, which I don’t believe I am. I understand what I did is wrong and hurtful, even if no one else realizes what I’m doing. But I don’t think that deserves the title of being a racist. I don’t believe someone actively trying to -not- have the response that is ingrained in to them deserves a negative title like that.
It’s like being labeled a sexual person for having sex once. Or being a thief for taking something once. Labels are used to define major characteristics.
I feel like word usage is important in that if you impose too negative of a connotation, people are going to recoil. So I think it’s more important to remind people that doing something racist doesn’t not make you a racist, however not being a racist does NOT free you from the societal obligation of trying to lessen your racist tendencies that might be culturally ingrained.
I hope that makes sense. I still agree, racism agrees. But being a racist and doing racist things on a not-frequent basis are two different things in my mind. And defining someone by a thought they can’t control and are trying to stop is going to get you someone who is more upset and defensive than anything else.
So let me get this straight, Will. You are not a racist because you were raised by a liberal modern family. Is that the criteria you set for a person being or not being a racist. I was raised by a conservative family, and guess what? I’m not a racist either. Imagine that.
Someone who is not a racist would refrain from telling the racist joke, knowing it would be hurtful to total strangers hearing it and that it had hurtful origins in the first place.
You know i think that every time i watch Dave Chappelle.
While I do agree that it is possible to do or say something racist without actually being racist, either through ignorance or carelessness. I disagree with the idea that other people owe it to you to coddle you or should be expected to give you the benefit of the doubt without some expression of remorse on your side or some acknowledgement of wrongdoing.
By working not to be a bigot you’re meeting the basic level of sanity and decency. Expecting people who are hurt by your mistakes to be gentle with you so you don’t become defensive, is expecting them to prioritise your feelings over their own in a situation of your making, which is itself a form of privilege.
If you’re not racist, you’ll apologise, explain yourself, learn and move on. It’s that simple.
[…] Guest Contributor Scot Nakagawa; originally published at ChangeLab Image via […]
I have some theories myself, the applicability which may vary from situation to situation:
1. They are ignorant to the effects and meanings of their attitudes and actions, but they don’t like being accused of something so unpleasant. Undoubtedly this is fairly common.
2. They know they are racist, but they know their outrage will get them attention and support.
3. Many accusations of racism are unreasonable and hateful, and the accusers often rely heavily on logical fallacies in making them. That seems like a legitimate reason to be touchy.
4. The accusers are sometimes worse offenders than the people being accused, regardless of which definition of the word is in play. They are often both more personally bigoted, and also more likely to perpetuate systemic factors that lead to marginalization and disparities. Another good reason to be touchy. It’s like having a drunk driver criticize you for getting a speeding ticket.
Many times it isn’t the accusation of racism that people are being touchy about, it’s the mendacity behind it.
Thank you, Beeker, for expressing my thoughts exactly and succinctly. Too often, I find that options 3 & 4 are increasingly common, especially when one defines racism not by the ideological acceptance of racialized thinking but by power differences between supposed racial groups. It is much easier to label people racist when your chosen definition makes you personally incapable of being so labeled. The implication and ramifications of racism by some are certainly more profound and damaging than others but race-based prejudice is the legacy of the American race ideology that enculturates Americans of all colors. There is no one explanation for why individuals react to personal accusations in particular ways. There may be common resons, as you suggest, but to suggest that people of any racial category are to be understood in monolithic terms is to perpetuate the racism/race-based prejudice that we are trying to eliminate from American culture as expressed and practiced by ALL Americans.
Good post Scott.
I think that it is important to remember that stereotyping people by their racial characteristics is so ingrained in western culture (it’s roots go all the way back to the philosophers of ancient Greece) that pointing out racism to white people is like pointing out someone’s bad breath or their obnoxious loudness.
Because much of what is “known” about various races is culturally imparted via the means of decades and centuries-old stereotypes, I believe that many of America’s white population are simply conditioned to conceive of ethnic minorities in derogatory and caricatured ways.
It is anathema to call out the fact that white people are conditioned because their culture gives so much lip-service to individuality and agency. Noting white people’s ingrained and conditioned racism is a fundamental affront to the philosophical basis that underpins everything that western civilization believes about itself – that is, accurately assessing and comprehending the physical world by virtue of their rational faculties and reason. There is no room in this world view for conditioning, since it implicitly denies agency, and once agency is questioned, reason and rationality has no solid basis upon which to exist, and the individual becomes a non-entity.
And this is the biggest lie of white supremacy; the power of the individualistic white man to assert their dominance over the non-white races by virtue of their superior capacity for reason and rational thinking. Pointing out the conditioning of racist thinking undermines the most fundamental pillar of white supremacy.
No wonder white folks are touchy about it.
Comment on this thread seems to indicate a belief that racism is predominantly a characteristic of white people. In fact it is a universal characteristic. Few cultures could compete, for example, with classical Chinese attitudes toward non-Han peoples for flagrant racism. A friend of mine has lived all his adult life in Hong Kong and frequently does business in mainland China. He speaks fluent Mandarin and is quite used to hearing himself referred to as a “foreign devil” by Chinese who don’t realize he understands what they are saying. Usually the remark is not even meant as hostile – merely diminutive. The attitude of the Japanese as expressed in such events as the Rape of Nanking speaks for itself. I cannot conceive of more blatantly racist propaganda than the “official” writings of the “10%” movement of the Black Muslims. Tribalism in Africa is difficult, often, to distinguish from racism. We can go on at length with this list. Instead of defining the issue as a white problem. perhaps it would be more constructive to define it as a human problem. It would certainly be less divisive. I already know some will respond “we are just talking about the United States situation here.” That’s true of course but we ARE living in the global village now – the era of the “market state.” The paradigm has changed. I would suggest that some people, instead of learning from history, are still prisoners of it. Further, much of the “history” that imprisons people is less than accurate and too often is but a catalog of long-past injuries, treasured up as grudges to be handed down from one generation to the next. I offer Northern Ireland as the laboratory example – a society held captive by the memory of wrongs and atrocities committed almost 400 years ago – memory freshened by periodic outbursts of violence inspired by that memory in an endless, vicious circle. The present seeming calm there is far too new to let us suppose all that is over.
Discussions of racism in this country too often participate in the same sort of time warp. Time and again the discussion returns to the era of slavery and of Jim Crow. Yes, that history is vital to know but it is also vital to know that all through that era, white people fought against those things. In the Civil War, for example, tens of thousands of white men did NOT join the Union Army because of states rights issues. They joined, in the words of the Battle Hymn of The Republic, “as he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,” and thousands of them did die. My own family has been in this country for centuries. We never owned slaves. My great grandfather, in fact, ran a station in the Underground Railroad at great risk to himself. If “the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons to the third generation,” how about a little credit for the virtues of the fathers – and great grandfathers? I am a gay man married to a black man for 17 years now. Am I supposed to not get offended if it is suggested I am probably racist because I’m white? My response to such a suggestion is going to be a less printable version of “put a sock in it.”
Saying that “it is not just white people who are racist” only highlights the fact that even well-meaning and (apparently) socially aware white folks like yourself fail to grasp the magnitude of the culture of white racism.
It also highlights the weakness in the Changelab folk’s framing of white supremacy as the product of, primarily, anti-black racism.
Yes, it might be true that everyone is racist, but it is not true that everyone who has been racist has formulated their prejudices into a philosophy and even science that has justified slavery, colonialism, and genocide. As far as I know, only white folks have done that.
That is why white supremacy is a global phenomenon – the right to rule, conquer, and take the lands away from indigenous peoples is derived from the notion of white superiority first outlined by the ancient Greek philosophers, and which has underpinned most justifications for western colonialism. This is unique to western European colonial expansion, and it is notions of racial superiority that were the driving force for it.
This is why most of the stereotypes and caricatures of people of colour, have been created by white racism, not Chinese, African, or native American racism. White racism is the most significant racism and the one we have to struggle against precisely because the imperialism that it informed has made it global. That is why people of colour in far-away places like Australia, New Zealand, and South America, often effectively have second-class citizenship status in political frameworks where it is the descendents of European conquerers who have taken all of the power, wealth, and land.
So yes, all people are racist, but only white people have successfully turned prejudice into a philosophy and science to justify crimes against humanity. The only non-white nation to do this may be Japan, but it is accepted that it was western ideas of scientific racism of the 19th century that informed this aspect of the Showa period. I’m certainly open to hearing about any other non-white culture that has utilized philosophical and scientific racism in the way that white cultures have – I just don’t think that there are many, if any at all.
It does no good to point out the universality of racism as a rebuttal unless you can show that, let’s say, the inter-tribal racism in Africa has the same global repercussions as the sophisticated philosophy of white racism and the economic, political, and social, inequalities it has created to favor the white race on a global scale. I don’t think this can be done.
Might be splitting hairs, but here in New Zealand things aren’t quite as bad as other places. Not perfect, but Maori have the Treaty of Waitangi to call on for addressing major grievances, they have a political party… Heck, a while ago some road constructions were temporarily halted due to claims that it would disturb the taniwha in the water nearby.
We’re not perfect, we have racist dickheads and stupid slip ups (like one of our best respected TV news broadcasters calling Kofi Annan a ‘cheeky darkie’ a few years back. He got flak for it though). We have a lot of immigration, a lot of cultural celebrations…
I want to believe we’re trying to be better than we were.
Incidentally, I can’t help but note that a lot of the issues in the world were caused, not just by whites, but specifically the British.
The Hutu/Tutsie genocide, the Armenian massacre, the genocidal wars of the Aztecs,possibly Tamerlane,there are more historic examples
Would you show me how these events resulted from philosophical and scientific tenets? As far as I know, none of the examples you have cited carried with them a philosophical ontology of an inherent inferiority of the target peoples, nor any kind of scientific justifications based on racial characteristics.
It’s ironic that you should choose the Hutu and Tutsi as an example of racism in Africa give that the tribes were in fact re-divided by the BELGIAN settlers according to those having more European features and believed to have Caucasian blood, the Tutsi, versus those considered to be Bantu, the Hutu.
They then allowed education and power only to the Tutsi, sowing seeds of resentment which, later led to genocide once the Hutu were in power.
The Rwandan genocide is actually the long term result of European racism.
I actually don’t think that what you define as racism is primarily the product of anti-black racism. I think that American racism is a system created specifically in order to subjugate black people. There’s a big difference. Racism in the U.S. didn’t victimize black people more than Native Americans, but it did in fact result in a whole set of legal codes and an economic system that is still plagued, structurally if not by law, by what I call the “black wage.” That’s the wage that is a product of the racial caste system on which this country is based.
This is not a moral question. It is also not just a philosophical problem, though I think the philosophical issues are important. This is, to me, a political problem. U.S. racism is a political system that required a ideological rationalization that became a foundation of our shared culture in this country. When I talk about U.S. racism, I’m talking about that political system and the culture of justification that was required to support it. I’m not talking about English colonialism, for instance. I get that English colonialism is a thing. Hawaii is the context in which I was politicized. I know something about English colonialism. I’m talking about American politics.
The philosophical issues are the most important aspect of white supremacy because it is the philosophy that underpins politic endeavour and cultural justifications for it. Without the prior ontology of white superiority then white supremacy could not have become the driving force for the assertion of that supremacy through colonialism.
I agree that the culture of justification is significant – more significant perhaps than the political issues because it is through the habits of culture that people who are not racists are able to overlook racism because they are so used to things “always having been this way”.
I think that it is something of a myth to suggest that social change comes through the political will in a top-down fashion because political will is determined by the will of the people which ultimately is shaped by culture. That is why authoritarian regimes stifle the creative arts – the written word can change people’s thinking far more effectively than legislation. That is why as you have pointed out, the institutions of racism can be dismantled, but if the culture (and philosophical thinking that informs it) of discrimination persists out of habit, then the political will is meaningless. African-Americans have full democratic rights but seem to be as oppressed as the monks in Tibet, who have none.
So for me, even though anti-black racism in the US has been obscene in the extreme, it is in all of our interests to be aware that the thinking (or philosophy, if you will) that enabled it pre-dates America itself (as well as the western nations who adopted its premises), and even pre-dates specified anti-black racism.
I could write pages on this subject but I think that I have already gone way off-topic from the original post!
I didn’t say philosophy doesn’t matter. I think I was attempting to say that I’m trying to help folks distinguish the culture of racism from the political system of white supremacy, not because one is more important than the other, but because I think it’s one of the points of confusion that recurs throughout discussions of race. Folks take the points of discussion personally and get confused about what it means to be challenged to examine racism as a personal matter and as a matter of culture because they think we attacking their identities, which in part we are, I suppose, and that we’re investing them with intent and responsibility in a way that relatively few individuals really deserve.
But, the thing is, based on what you just wrote, we are actually in agreement.
I often think of this project in terms of that old story about the blind men presented with the project of identifying an elephant. If we can accept the value of the project of naming the beast, then there are no wrong answers, even when we disagree. But, naming disagreement is also important. Just not so as to discredit those sincerely trying to do their part.
I’m just one of those blind men. I won’t presume to understand the whole beast. In fact, I think that trying to play the proctor in this process is counter-productive, at least for me, since I don’t feel qualified.
Anyway, that’s too much explanation. I just thought I’d go there because I like having you along on the journey and appreciate the criticism. But occasional acknowledgement of agreement is nice, too:)
So does this mean that “reason” is not valid, or that humans are not rational creatures? What philosophy do you believe would replace it, anyway? What would be the true philosophy of reality?
So does this mean that in a world view with ample room for conditioning (as is needed to stop EVIL), there is no room for “reason”? If so, then what is that world view’s epistemology like?
Tobias, What I think you’re missing that a number of people have pointed to in this thread is that this whole issue of race is not a moral one; it’s political. Racism is a political system, invented in the U.S. in order to justify slavery. It was made the legal code, incorporated into our Constitution, and was the de jure basis for social organization in this country for longer than it has been simply de facto.
This system is no more evil than, say, Japanese fascism in the Pacific War, or Chinese hostility and human rights atrocities vis a vis Tibet. But, evil is not what the contest is about. The contest is over political, economic and social consequences of a political system that has become the de facto basis for much of how our political and economic system is organized.
What you name is bigotry, and there is no moral hiding place for bigotry, or there ought not be anyway. Bigotry is too often the justification for war and ethnic cleansing, torture, subjugation, slavery, etc. The bigotry of anti-Semitism may well have exacted the worse toll on a people over time.
But racism is a different kind of problem. It is one of the primary contradictions between our philosophy of democratic participation and the reality of de facto apartheid. Over the course of U.S. history, the Irish, Southern Italians and Jews were subjected to racism because they became enveloped in a political system in which exploitation by race necessitated that they be raced as black.
So, I guess you could say that we’re arguing that there is a technical difference that must be acknowledged in order for the system to be changed. You can’t fix a car engine if you think “horse power” means you require a vet to make repairs.
If you can just get over the slight you feel, you might think differently about this. I mean, honestly, you and I have spent most of our lives being called perverts, pedophiles, necrophiles, and people who love sex with animals, not to mention mentally ill. Think in those terms about people of color. We’re constantly portrayed in the media as one dimensional punch lines. The public rudely wonders, even comes out and asks, about the sizes of our genitalia, our choice of language, our brain size, IQ, criminal natures, or lack of sexual control and work ethic all of the time, including candidates for the highest office in this country. Do you imagine they could do so about white people? That’s a demonstration of political power derived from racism.
So, I’ve developed a pretty tough skin over the years. I go to the gym shower, and people look – who are not gay, btw. They look to consider, does he fit a certain stereotype? People credit my life accomplishments to culture, and not to my effort. They wonder at the size of my brain and even publish in widely circulated newspapers about the possibility that the unusually high incidence of East Asians who wear corrective lenses is an indication of a biological propensity toward studiousness.
Yet I’m friendly toward these people. I have to be. I couldn’t survive if I wasn’t. I’m simply posing a question here in the form of a theory to explain why a similar level of consideration seems lacking among a great many white people. I’m not making a law against them. Never have, though I can’t say the same in the other direction.
Scott: Well…I must admit I really wasn’t looking at it in quite those terms. You frame the issue in a manner that must be considered.
Thanks. I also appreciate your willingness to be in the discussion and present your point of view. All very useful, provocative, interesting…I hope you continue to be in the dialogue.
Of course I have a guilty conscience, most of it due to things before I was born or in other countries. Where I have personally stumbled, I take full responsibility and strive not to fall again.
But I am not arrogant enough to speak for others. Only myself.
[…] in part, to reconcile themselves with a loss of white privilege, Scot Nakagawa writes in a piece at Changelab, which examines racism through a variety of lenses. I’ve often pondered the question, why […]
That’s all great and Scott you have pointed out a very good point and argued/written about excellent. But in the words of Mike Tyson. “Everybody’s got a plan until they get popped in the mouth. Then it all goes out the window.” My point is where does that leave Black, White, Asian, and Hispanic Americans today. Chicago, is a mess, why isn’t the PRESIDENT or anyone sending in the National Guard! More lives are being taken than in Iraqi or Afghanistan. NOW THAT’S RACISM.
I would just like to say, that the civility,respect,and class shown by everyone commenting on this thread gives me hope, hope that we all can learn to be this civil. I recently told a friend of mine that whites will never appreciate how black folk and other minorities feel about white America’s attitude towards peoples of color. Everything from contemptuous looks to downright viciousness toward you for being in the same space as them, a sort of how dare you exert your rights as a human around me. As a real point of fact there is only one race, a race that originally started in Africa, the human race, this civil discourse has caused me to shed a tear tonite, for as I have watched and read the racist blogs calling Trayvon Martin a black thug, the scotus say quite blithely that we live in different times now(times may have changed but some people still hold on to old attitudes and actions) and people clinging to their guns and religion as a way to to cope and justify those hateful thoughts and actions.let me say that I was expecting a series of racist diatribes extolling the greatness of whites for bringing blacks out of the jungles and civilizing them and instead of complaining about racism we should be thanking them. I just want to thank you all , for pulling me back from the brink of total cynicism, between Fox news and all the hateful comments and hateful replies and name calling this was refreshing and uplifting, please continue the fight to understand brotha Scot and know that this is the first time a blog or comment section has moved me in such a manner, but I hope it won’t be the last.
Thanks, Reggi. I love the tone of civility, too. This isn’t about a contest of who gets “it,” or who read the right books or attending the right workshops. I like to think that social justice is a never-ending journey. With each step we take, we learn something, and the road ahead looks a little different. But, we gotta be willing to accept at each step that we don’t know enough in order to continue to make progress.
Every person (internet trolls excepted, of course) who presents their point of view provides us with a better picture of what we’re for and against. Like the blind men trying to make sense of an elephant, if we accept that we most first understand all of the parts of the beast in order to name it, we can all be right, even when we disagree.
[…] There you will find 38240 more Infos: changelabinfo.com/2013/07/03/why-are-white-people-so-touchy-about-being-called-racist/ […]…
Ben: OK – I dashed off that little list of atrocities too quickly and I admit it. The Hutu/Tutsie genocide did have marked overtones of racial prejudice but they were “street level,” not an organized philosophy. The Armenian massacres were politically motivated with elements of economic and religious prejudice. The Aztecs – that was all about their insane religion. Fact is, I was getting “touchy” about the whole issue. (Point for Scott! LOL)
Though the racist American system for categorizing people was developed and implemented for purposes of justifying perpetual enslavement of Africans and their decendants and the disenfranchisement of American Indians by some Northwestern Europeans, no one here seems to question its continued usage in American society or this otherwise informed and critical discussion. This commentary and the subsequent replies are rife with acceptance and perpetuation of the American cultural system for racial categorization of humans. In the words of Dr. Barbara J. Fields, races do not exist but racism does. The longer we accept, practice, and argue based on racialized ideology, the longer we perpetuate the system that justified and justifies white supremacism and social division and conflict and inhibits social, political, and moral progress.
[…] Read Scot Nakagawa‘s entire piece at Changelab. […]
I’m not going to read all the responses because it will just make me sad (in all likelihood). But my first response, when I read the title, was “Because it’s embarrassing.” So yeah. I agree with you. I try, I really do. But I screw up from time to time. I don’t mind being called out, but I’m not big on being hammered over the head. It kills conversation. But it’s not my place (and I mean that sincerely) to tell people I’ve offended or harmed how to react.
[…] I've often pondered the question, why are white people so touchy about being called out for racism? I know some of you will say that racism is much more […]
As a white person, I think your second point is much more likely than the first–at least on a conscious level. White people are often racist without it being something they realize they’re doing, so while they might behave in a racist way like in the first point, they like…wouldn’t diabolically think, yes, this is because this is a power I should have and others should not, muahaha.
Honestly I find that a lot of it is that white people, like most people, construct an image of themselves as Good. However it is that they define a Good Person–whether that’s recycling, going to church every week, donating to charity, helping kittens stuck in trees, etc. They’re highly invested in this image. But what they don’t know is that racism and other forms of prejudice are insidious, invisible, and normalized. They don’t know this because no one told them. My (white) mom told me it was a terrible thing to be racist, that you should never judge a person by the color of their skin, that you should treat all people equally, but she never told me that it’s normal to be a little racist, that the world is racist, that sometimes you get racist ideas and don’t realize they’re racist. She never told me how to deal with that when it happens, only that if I were racist I would be a Bad Person. In school I was taught that racism is like literally the Worst Thing, that racism is how you get slavery and violence and genocide. But I also learned racism in school. It was in the halls every day. The teachers were racist.
White people react badly to being called a racist because they see it as an irreconcilable attack on their character. They think to be a racist is to be a bad person always and forever, and they’re not bad people, they pay their taxes and volunteer in soup kitchens! Most of them feel guilty about acts of violence other white people have done, because those acts were terrible, and it only takes the barest sliver of humanity to look at them and say these were things that never should have happened. And since they know–they know!–that they cannot possibly be this level of awful person, they cannot be this scum of the earth, someone that should be shunned and never loved by anyone, they cannot be irredeemable, I mean look, they have a black friend, would she even tolerate them if they were That Bad? (not realizing that yes, she would, because everyone is some kind of That Bad because that’s what happens in a toxic system, and she needs to be friends with someone)–then you are misunderstanding them, you are seeing the wrong thing when you look at them, and it can feel so sincerely hurtful, to be misunderstood that badly, to have someone look at you and see a monster when you know you’re good, you try to be good.
What is needed is a better script, including actually IMPROVING ONESELF with being a Good Person. No one is born perfect, and sometimes we make mistakes and get bad ideas. If you refuse to improve, you stubbornly cling to your flaws, and are ultimately worse for it. White people need to understand that racism is not an indelible mark on a person, that mistakes should actually be expected, and someone calling an invisible error to your intention is not making you into a bad person, but helping you to improve.
Sometimes what I say to other white people who cling to their innocence is, I point out that our culture is so toxic that people of color are racist against THEMSELVES. I show them the YouTube video of the black children preferring the white doll. I say, if it’s so pervasive in our culture that even a child is this badly affected, if BEING black is no protection against thinking things against black people, what the hell makes you think YOU’RE immune? How many of these ideas have you picked up without realizing you had them, because you never had to question them? I hold their hands and tell them I know they’re not bad people inherently, that I know they never meant to be racist, but that you can be racist without meaning to–those children didn’t wake up in the morning and think, “Gee, I’m going to have thoughts of self-loathing based on my race,” but it HAPPENED, because our society is toxic and racist and awful. And if you want to resist that, you have to first admit it’s there, you have to confront it in yourself. And you’ll still be racist. You’ll still fuck up. But next time someone tells you you did something racist, you’ll be able to listen and think about why. Hopefully.
The short version is, white people react badly to being told they’re racist because the racist society we live in has given them no better script, because the white supremacy benefits when racism can’t be talked about directly and confronted on a personal level, and they’re pawns of that. Or in other words, they do it for much the same reasons they’re racist to begin with. Because they learned it from society, and they didn’t stop and think long enough to unlearn it.
It is both political, and moral, and philosophical, and it does have roots going back to the ancient Greeks, AND it is also not uniquely a European phenomenon, when looking at the global/historical view. It does relate to the power inequalities of violence and social control that originate with all state level societies. Critical anthropologists would link the ideologies of inferiority and superiority necessary for institutions of extreme inequality to be perpetuated over time with the origins of warfare, and population increases / agricultural expansion necessitated by those increases. It happened in similar ways, at roughly the same times several places in the world.
Secondly, the interactions of populations with distinct phenotypical features that had been separated historically for great lengths of time (i.e. the relative amount of melanin in one’s skin, among other visible features) led to ideologies based on religion or other attempts to interpret that variation that were not particularly positive on either side. (Note that early accounts of Native American contact with Europeans found their greater amount of facial and body hair to be unattractive, Chinese similarly judged other ethnic groups by their ‘animalistic’ hairiness as inferior.
Unfortunately, as you clearly focus on the U.S., even our cultural institutions which carry a message of peace and tolerance have reflected those folk racist categories. I teach anthropology, and would ask students to list the number of races. Many would give 4 as their number, and I would sing the children’s song from Sunday school – ‘Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” The positive news is that most seem open to learning that race is not a scientifically valid concept, and to learn the role of natural selection in creating differences in melanin production in populations over time.
Secondly, it is also clear as Tobias mentioned in his posts that the motivations of many Union soldiers was to abolish that evil of slavery, as did John Brown in his crazy Old Testament manner. Again, the place of moral and religious beliefs became the motivation for facing danger, leaving family, and changing the political system.
One further note – certainly we all have been poisoned to fear the other, and feel guilt and shame for the evils of the past. But there are changes – we took my 87 year old mother to see ’42’ on Mother’s Day because she has been a Jackie Robinson fan all her life. My 10 year old son commented afterward that he thought he knew all the ‘bad words’ before he went to the movie, but he actually learned a new one there. That new bad word began with an ‘n’, and was rather frequent in occurrence in the film. It was not a word that was used in my mother’s household either, but I am certain that I had heard it long before the 4th grade, even though our school district had no people of color enrolled at that time.
Finally, looking to elements of our pop culture that influence those perpetuation of negative attitudes, I’d like to mention this. The modern protest sound of rap with its defiant male attitude seems to me to beget imitation of the ‘gangster’ mode, but also a certain backlash, as in the ‘White and Nerdy’ Weird Al Yankovich version representing white male teens whose ignorance and innocence reacts to the racism toward whites exhibited in the music. It’s hard to raise a young white man and make him aware of the complex history of colonialism, slavery, genocide against Native American, and sexism that is part of our legacy. Cynicism isn’t the answer, either. I’d like to close with a reference to Sherman Alexie, the wonderful C’oeur d’Alene author from the screenplay “Smoke Signals”. Go to the original for the poetry of his language, but in essence, he says we all have to forgive our fathers for their failings. And to recognize those flaws in ourselves. – And in our society.
Thanks, Jill. I actually don’t disagree with anything you have written here, though I would argue that not all racisms, if you will, are the same around the world. In order to leverage enough political space for cultural change to occur at a pace that is actually appreciable to those most affected by racism, specificity regarding the peculiarities of one’s context seems necessary, in addition to understanding similarities.
And, some moral distance is necessary in order to organize white people, in this context. That’s what I meant when I said that the question I was posing isn’t a moral one. Not that racism isn’t a moral issue, but that when we use moral judgments to address hegemonic systems, we end up doing ourselves a disfavor. Yes, white supremacy dictates that each group in the systems of categories it creates experience things differently, but that doesn’t always, or at least doesn’t necessarily, mean that those on the “wrong” side are evil. I guess, keeping things simple, there are all kinds of mean, and overt racism is just one of them. what makes racism a particular problem is that it supports systematic oppression, and in the case of the U.S., oppression that has corrupted the democratic impulses that are also in the mix in this culture and political system.
Now, the trouble is, that in my 30+ years of involvement racial justice struggles, the specific takes over and the big picture gets marginalized. I believe very strongly that the people who are most directly impacted by racism have to be part of the solution, and that bottom-up strategies are necessary in order for solutions to be enduring and broadly transformational. At the eye-level of those most directly targeted, the first step is often as pedestrian, yet life changing, as getting a toxic dump site capped, defeating a racist ballot measure at the polls, beating back violent racist hate groups, getting clinics to track certain disease rates disaggregated by zip code, or overcoming mandatory minimum sentencing and racial profiling. And the window of opportunity to create change is often small, and the levers of change are controled by people who aren’t interested in the big picture, so change must occur in increments. And getting enough people involved is also tough. True believers will stick it out through thick and thin, and they are often inspired by that big picture of oppression you began describing. But the secondary and tertiary tiers of leadership that are necessary to build winning campaigns are hard to keep engaged and often have limited attention spans, even in popular literacy programs and community serving social change organizations that provide basic needs like shelter or food packages.
And all of these challenges are compounded by funding shortages. When the effort is long-term, professional staff is often necessary in order to build organizations and make them durable enough to provide a stable platform for the leadership of vulnerable people. That’s expensive. In order to get those funds, one must often resort to reaching out to foundations and individual wealthy donors. It’s rare when donors and foundations see eye to eye with low-income people targeted by racism, so one has to figure out where differing agendas intersect, and then compromise.
And, in white majority communities where I’ve often worked, solutions first have to acceptable to a large enough percentage of those in that white majority to peel them off, or at least immobilize them as part of the opposition. That means the pace of change is dictated to a large degree by those who are less directly affected, even when some among them are your most passionate and determined supporters. All of this means we need a popular language to address these problems, and one that hangs on blunt and simple hooks, that is emotionally resonant to cynical and even apathetic people.
It’s a quandary.
So, I’m always left with these questions: What does an ordinary person, someone who is directly targeted by racism, do? On what strategic interventions should the racial justice advocate focus her attention in order to be able to move from the specific to the general without making the question academic; no longer a matter of the concrete, materially meaningful progress that attracts people to the work to begin with? Around which key aspects of the complex global phenomena you’ve described should people in any given context coalesce?
If you’ve been thinking about these questions, I always love to hear what folks think about them. I think organizing, advocacy, and popular education are all about leveraging space. People’s lives on both sides of the color line are so compressed by top down pressures and day to day reality. How do you make more room for new ideas, and translate those ideas into individual and collective action, when people are just struggling for a diaper solution and consider it “time out” to read an 800 word blog post?
I appreciate your response- I misunderstood the way you meant morality/ moral distance here.
How should people come together? Obviously, it’s hard for me to not turn things into an academic question, since the academy has been my life. It’s not an ivory tower, however, especially as classrooms with real students from different backgrounds attempt to come together. Recognizing commonality between the 99% and Mills’ power elite, as did Langston Hughes (originally from Joplin, where I teach) in his poetic plea to socialism? That never goes over well here in the Ozarks!
The nexus of land use, ecology, and physicial and spiritual health seem to be the next field of universal and critical concern, with those most persecuted populations still bearing the brunt of destruction. (Indians in ?Ecuador/Venezuala being gunned down by police in protests over polluted water received about 20 seconds on an international news station, while 3 full minutes went to the premiere of the Russian theater as an example of absurdities!)
Stopping the Keystone XL for the death it deals all along the way is one concrete example that comes to mind that should unite everyone – First Nations people in Canada whose water and forests are being ravaged in the extraction process, farmers and ordinary citizens whose homes could be polluted by the pipeline here, and the poor whose homes are already polluted by the toxic output of the refineries (primarily people of color in Texas, Louisiana, and Detroit, for example.) The unholy alliance of the Kerry State Department with TransCanada is a disgrace, and seems to me to encapsulate the many aspects of those global problems into a single issue. (If you enjoy simple parody see the cartoon ‘Tar Sands Timmy Needs a Pipeline’ for a very blunt portrait of the issues; see the New Republic for an article on land agents in Nebraska for shady uses of small town faith and friendliness in TransCanada’s quest to get farmers to sign on to the proposed path. )
But that begs the question of solving apathy and having an empowered movement, not an outside solution. I wish I had the wisdom to address that – maybe the concrete small steps are more productive than we can see at present? Leadership is not at all my forte, so I cannot address that except that the basic anthropological axiom of food-sharing seems to underlie every successful endeavor- or as the elders used to say, you have to feed people (literally) before you ask them anything / have a gathering/etc.
As to the original question you posed, the second possibility seemed more plausible to me, but I agree with the person who had a list of several reasons that a multiplicity of factors could be involved.
It also occurs to me that our country never had a healing period – South Africa has more recent and horrific racial violence, in a totally distinct historic setting, but have drawn on public confessionals and apologies in their attempts to address apartheid. We have had movements to change laws (from Civil War to Civil Rights!) but no ownership, no cleansing, no coming together. How many white know their own heritage? I was comfortable growing up in a rural poor region thinking that My people weren’t part of that horrible past, only to realize, after genealogical research, that there had been more than one ancestor who was a slaveholder in different lineages over the 200 + years of ancestry in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and the Carolinas. I wanted to apologize to every African-American I saw at that point. Knowing that was not feasible, I pondered the possibility of finding the descendants of those individuals, and contacting them, and saying what? Asking forgiveness? Making amends? Maybe establishing some kind of connection across the color line? I cannot answer, but what haunts me now is not the past, as you seemed to also say, but a way to rebuild – urban homesteading always comes to mind – give people a way to possess their own space, to grow something healthy to eat, to get fresh air and sunshine away from the stress and poison of concrete and gasoline fumes. And perhaps a de-urbanization is in order. With telecommuting, small towns could be re-invented, and bridges built of inclusion. There is more possibility than one might think in unlikely places.
Again, thanks for your response. The wee hours are gone, and the new day has almost come upon us, literally, but perhaps metaphorically as well.
[…] on to the article which caught my eye: Why are white people so touchy about being called racist? The author says, more often than not, genuinely good (white) people (are) stuck in the belief that […]
Ok, here goes,have I used racist terms, made racist comments, or told racist jokes? In the Immortal words of George Washington (I know he never said this but I will explain) I cannot tell a lie, yes I have, guilty, sorry but I am a product of my environment, but this is not an attempt at justifying bad behavior just an explanation of why good people do bad things.As a 6th grader I as was bussed to a white neighborhood, on the way to the bus stop with a black classmate one afternoon, my friend told me to “look at them honkies”, at that time I had no idea of what he was referring to.As I looked around in puzzlement I realized what he was speaking of,my friend continued with his rant of continuous racial slurs.Again at that time I had no idea what these things meant,but being a studious person I pursued answers , this pursuit for answers led me to this point as I am still in pursuit of answers. Now , George Washington the father of our country in his ignorance owned many slaves, his role as slave master is largely overlooked because A.He is a founding father,war hero and the 1st Potus and B.He was white. Now I know people are going to say “yeah but that was a different time Reggi” but that’s no excuse for bad behavior. Not to long ago I made a reference to them “crackers” around my teenaged nephew, who made the comment I was being racist, to which I replied “no I am not” because I grew up with white folk endured and excepted their taunts and slurs, and yes it was wrong for me to say or use that slur but I am no racist. I went on to tell him of my life experience with racism and the racist American culture, but during that explanation I never told him to disrespect people or judge people for who he thought they were.This is big world we all live in and we must learn to live together despite what we think we know about each other, now was I wrong to use that slur, yes I was,but I also told my nephew that I don’t use that word on a regular basis but because of the subject matter I was guilty of a verbal faux pas and please don’t use that word at all.Was I being racist, yeah I was but as a product of my environment I have been privy to a lot of racism from many different cultures,I’ve had to correct my mother about Orientals,asked white folk why do you call Jose spic,asked Japanese “what is a gaijin”,ask Mexicans “what’s a bendajo?” and so forth and so on. The main thing is we all are products of our environment and yeah black folk have racist terms such as high tone and high yella and others I won’t mention for our own peoples,the point is just because others say it doesn’t make it right or acceptable, the word nigger is a part American culture, when I read Huckleberry Finn and Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the 6th grade I was acutely aware of what it meant and why it was being used, I knew it harkened back to another time of ignorance and tolerance for ignorant ways, I know whites in the antebellum south knew what they were doing was wrong but felt totally justified in the oppression of others and so here we are having this discussion. But it is a discussion worth having because I want all people to hear my point of view as I want to hear theirs, civilly without name calling and baseless arguments referencing false equivalencies about if a white person had said such and such or whites are victims of such and such, no I understand the need to feel marginalized but hey I will never know how it feels to be white but that’s okay cause it’s hard enough being black (that was a joke don’t scream on me lol)
I think the article make some very strong points on racism and how we strive to resist its grasp on us as white individuals. We have to see racism for what it is. A demon that must be cast out and resisted before we as individuals can began to be equal with other races. We can pursue many intellectual exercises on racism but still have to recognize that it was created to a large degree on plantations to keep people of color and class separated. Thus enters class hatred. Each class looking down on the class below them with in difference. I am a southern white
In the late 1960`s I had the opportunity to co found two very unique organization . The Young Patriots Organizations made up of southern white teens gang members who turned to radical politics to organize other poor whites in Uptown Chicago to fight for their community and against racism,police brutality and urban renewal. We ran a presidential campaign to expose racism and class hatred. Eldridge Cleaver from the Black Panther Party as the presidential candidate and Peggy Terry a poor southern white woman as the vice presidential candidate . The campaign was created to challenge Governor George Wallace of Alabama, who was running for president of the United States, on his racist beliefs.
This campaign led to the creation of the Original Rainbow Coalition between the Black Panther Party,the Young Lords Organization,former Puerto Rican street gang and the Young Patriots. The young patriots are the only southern whites that have ever been welcomed into the black Panther Party. This was due to the struggle of the southern whites to fight racism.
Maybe because white people feel like they themselves are racially abused which in case it’s false. I suppose it’s the stomach churning fact is they basically caused racism. Racism didn’t occur until the late 18th century when they brought ships of slaves from Africa, but until then, there was no such thing as racism in the Ancient World. Slavery only came about for the conquered of wars. So in the case that White People began racism is beyond a doubt. As for I. I don’t hate any race, but I can see where someone of a non-white race can hate white people. White People essentially have “White Pride”, which in case is basically a natural born advantage over every other diversity because of their skin color. Why is it that you see many White famous companies, and the shameful part is that they try to make themselves seem like a victim which boils my blood. They simply cannot be a victim, because they have never experienced it. How can you be the victim if you set the beauty standards, job standards, basically categorizing people based on their race? As for America being diverse, this country is basically a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Sure there are many diversities, but that’s not what is intended. Hollywood is beyond whitewashed, continuing to set stereotypes on other races example: the movie “Precious” and overweight African American teenager who is abused by her mother, implying the fact that all African-American don’t have both parents who care about her (in general) or any movie is which the Blacks have to prove their worth to Whites, rather than actually standing up for themselves. And now the new trend is which Black Men disgrace their own race of women and opt to White Women in particular, continuing to shame their own mothers and sisters, that they’re above them. But apparently that’s ok….As for me…I am not attracted to Black Men and I’m a Black Woman. If anything, I’m attracted to Asian men….regardless I can continue on, but I’d rather not.
[…] http://www.changelabinfo.com/2013/07/03/why-are-white-people-so-touchy-about-being-called-racist/#.U… […]
[…] based on appearance, that he is a criminal, that sometimes more mundane racism gets a pass. Scot Nakagawa writes eloquently about this: And as with all kinds of oppression, racism is ultimately kept in […]
White demons are the most racist people on earth. They know it, that is why they cringe and react when we non Whites call them for their racism. And thank God their population is dwindling worldwide so in thousands of years from now, these devils wouldn’t exist anymore! Praise the Lord!
As a Black woman, I will date and marry a Black man to have full Black kids who are proud of their Black race and heritage. I would never lower my standards or date or marry a White devilish man.
Congratulations on writing the most racist and ignorant comment on an otherwise mature thread.
I have read this article to get a person of color’s prospective on the racism issue. I think you may have not hit the nail on the head. As a 30 something woman from rural eastern Kentucky, I get upset when a person of color calls me racist and deprives me of my individuality (racial profiling). Apparently, what is good for the goose is good for the gander in your philosophy. I believe that would be called hypocrisy.
Even though, my white family immigrated from Germany in the mid 1800s as Mennonites to escape oppression from the government and never owned any slaves, I am suppose to take the blame for things that I nor my family did not participate in or support?
Little personal history for you. My family has been poor for generations, so this privileged white life that you speak of is foreign to me. To tell you the truth, I am the first person in my family to graduate college. My father and mother was the first couple to live over the poverty line in my family. And I was born to a 16 year old high school drop out. Where is my silver spoon? If there ever was one in my family, either my alcoholic grandfather pawned it for a drink or my schizophrenic grandfather lost it. Or maybe it was suppose to come from my maternal gene pool, so maybe it my grandmother who was given away at he age of two, forgot to pack it with her when her prostitute mother gave her to an elderly couple down the road, it could have come from my other grandmother but she married a POW from WWII who became schizophrenic so like I said before he probably found it and then lost it. Where was my easy road? Apparently, I missed the boat. How did I overcome? Was there some invisible Great White Machine pushing me forward? No. There was just something inside me that pushed and a father that showed me there was no shame in honest days work. But I did it! Even with my hard work, I am clearly not as articulate as you and some of the other people that posted their opinions. But, I do have a vast wealth of common sense.
With that said, I find that the past actions of “some” white persons are horrible, but (here comes the BUT) I did not commit those crimes and I will not take the punishment. I am not guilty! My conscience is clear. Just as I don’t expect you to take the blame for the genocide in Rwanda. It’s not logical. So lets be logical.
As far as I am concerned, the only difference between a person of color and me is the amount of melatonin in our skin, which is no significance to me. Is it to you?
Why do many White people get so touchy when they are called out as racist?
Because the truth hurts.
And it shatters their delusions that Whites–especially White America–are the “good guys” of the world.
The White responses here are predictable as they are pathetic. Some like Tobias Grace even attempt to divert blame away from America’s continuing tradition of racism and White supremacy by predictably pointing the finger of racism at other nations and cultures. His thinly disguised alibi for White America’s racism is morally equivalent to a serial killer claiming that “I may be guilty of murder but so are other people as well” as a defense for his crimes. That alibi wouldn’t hold up in a court of law, and it certainly shouldn’t stand here.
White America in general possesses a belief that they are morally superior to other nations and people. This is evidenced by America’s national dogma that the USA is the “Land of the Free,” “Beacon of Liberty,” “Arsenal of Democracy,” or “Shining City on Hill.” Talk about hubris!
America, the vaunted Land of the Free, was based and built through the enslavement of Black people and the genocide of Native Americans as well as the theft of their lands. Indeed, America is politically founded as a White colonizer empire involving the theft and occupation of an entire continent from sea to shining sea. This includes not only the First Nations but also Hawaii and Mexico.
How many Americans know that all the land from Texas to California was originally part of Mexico until the United States stole it through the US-Mexican War–a war that was motivated by the defense of American chattel slavery and Manifest Destiny? Or that Hawaii was once an independent nation until the USA staged a coup d’etat (or regime change) to overthrow its government?
Makes you wonder, who is the REAL “illegal immigrant” in the USA?
In short, the United States is the misbegotten spawn of the greatest land theft and genocidal crimes in human history–crimes that most White Americans deny, minimize, and indeed even CELEBRATE through idiotic holidays like Columbus Day or Thanksgiving. I’m of course talking about the European “discovery” (aka colonization) of the Western Hemisphere, or “New World” as they called it.
Yes, you can find examples of bigotry or racism in virtually all human cultures, but the United States of America deserves special condemnation because it hypocritically upholds itself as a global crusader for tolerance, diversity, equality, freedom, democracy, human rights, etc. and thus is the moral judge and jury of the world in all but name.
1) Because you don’t know what that word means. I’m “touchy” about being called racist because the definition of the word – to the extent there even is one – has become completely distorted. “Racism” is properly defined as the belief that one’s race has a primary effect on one’s behavior, which may may lead to the the associated belief, that one race is better than another. Jim Crow laws segregating African-Americans and denying them access to college because of a belief in their inferiority is definitely “racist”. Domino’s not delivering to high-crime neighborhoods because too many of their vans were robbed is not racist; it’s common sense, if unfortunate. Writers like the author are so quick to label any acknowledgement of the vast cultural, social and economic differences between the races (whose very existence they deny, though obvious to the naked eye) that the word becomes shrill and meaningless. So, yes, I am “touchy” about being called a word which has basically become an epithet.
2) Because you don’t know who I am or what I believe.. I’m “touchy” because by calling me racist, you assume I harbor certain beliefs which I might not have. You don’t know me, Maybe I’m a Buddhist Monk who fought apartheid and gave my kidneys to the NAACP Maybe I’ve spent a lifetime in tolerance workshops, before becoming enlightened. But you can still call me a racist because I’m white? (This especially includes the lame “we’re all so racist!” piece that I come across, with various authors, from time to time).
3) Because you don’t get to decide who’s right and wrong. Racism is the belief that one race is better than others. Now, a person harboring a racist belief is either right, or he’s wrong. If he’s has done the research and he thinks he’s right, well, then good luck convincing him. But if you can prove he’s wrong, then he’s just wrong. Incorrect. A flat-earther. But we have tons of flat-earthers, creationists, and fundamentalist believers in many churches, and all sorts of people who are just irrefutably wrong — and we don’t have a special word for them, we just call them Idiots. And yes, a lot of evil has been done in the name of racism, but so too certain religions — so it’s not the history of the idea that offends, it’s the Idea of idea. By not making it a (subjective) question of Moral Right and Wrong, and making into a question of plain old right and wrong, you’ll get farther because you won’t be accusing them of Thoughtcrime, which is what you’re doing now.
4) Because you’re making the problem worse. ECONOMIC INEQUALITY is the root cause many of the race-related problems in America, and there’s a lot we can do about that, from fixing our schools, straightening out our economy and changing finance laws. But there are quite a few race-centric problems which are not the fault of the Establishment; abstenee fatherhood, school non-attendence, and teen pregnancy are examples of Individual Choices which are informed by a Common Culture. By blaming all the ills of minority communities on The Man, you present the idea that those effected don’t have to change their own behavior if they want to get ahead, economically.
5) Because there’s an Anti-Racism Industry that encompasses a certain swath of academia and the media who exploit “white guilt” for attention (and clicks!) or to legitimize their self-focused academic pursuits. I’m not talking about the people who are actually thinking out the inequalities and working and fighting for social change. I’m talking about people like this author,
6) Because you pretend that you or anybody else is above it. Is there a single ethnic group that doesn’t have some special pride, who think that in some way they’re not justa little bit better than everybody else? Granted, it’s bad taste to talk about it publicly , but isn’t there a reason having a creation myth where your group is somehow chosen or special is a human UNIVERSAL? Our entire inborn moral code revolves around preferentially helping those with a similar genome to us, — aka our family and clan.. Everybody from salamander on up does it. The case can be made that altruistically helping those different from us is a better plan for society, but a) I haven’t seen you make it and b) I don’t see a whole lot of people putting it into practice (like sending your own kid to public school while you send a random minority child to private school).
7) Because my experience beats your dogma. Like everyone else, I’ve had enough encounters with individuals of various races enough to notice patterns. The truth is there are often wide gaps between cultural practices, customs and values bewteen different races and cultures in our society, and these differences hold true across enough of society that stereotypes are often fairly accurate. That’s why there’s always room for them in comedy shows, jokes and TV — because there’s enough truth in them, and taboo around them, that they’re funny. I’d rather live in a world where we can be honest about ourselves and each other than one where every real discussion is bludgeoned by the shrill, invetiable cry of “racist!” The problem that arises from stereotyping is statistical, not moral: stereotypes are probabilistic; no probabilistic model can predict the behavior of an individual. The streotypes are not to blame; it is how some people use them.
6) Because when you say it, there’s a special disdain in your voice like racism is somehow worse or different from any other kind of ignorance or stupidity. Racism is the belief that one race is better than others. Now, a person harboring a racist belief is either right, or he’s wrong. If he’s has done the research and he thinks he’s right, well, then good luck. But if you can prove he’s wrong, then he’s just wrong. Incorrect. A flat-earther. But we have tons of flat-earthers, creationists, and fundamentalist believers in many churches, and all sorts of people who are just irrefutably wrong — and we don’t have a special word for them, we just call them Idiots. And yes, a lot of evil has been done in the name of racism, but so too certain religions — so it’s not the history of the idea that offends, it’s the Idea of idea. By not making it a (subjective) question of Moral Right and Wrong, and making into a question of plain old right and wrong, you’ll get farther because you won’t be accusing them of Thoughtcrime, which is what you’re doing now.
To be clear, I would like to see a thriving society where fairness and equality reign supreme. I think the whole question of Race is a tiny distraction when compared to the bigger root issue, namely the stupefying power and wealth in the hands of a few individuals and corporations, and the ensuing decay of our societal fabric that has been happening since the 70’s. I think the race stuff is, when it doesn’t have a clear plan of action, a total distraction, and hopefully this will help explain why.
WZ and Tobias – Thank you for well reasoned posts on a difficult subject. This topic is important to me at this time because I am a member of a non-profit board helping homeless individuals (of all backgrounds) in Seattle and a day long retreat on “Classism & Institutional Racism” has been organized for us to attend. Reading these posts is part of my research for the retreat. I value the comments posted here and do not doubt the sincerity of other posters with whom I disagree, however my general experience and viewpoint aligns with WZ and Tobias.
There is likely unanimity on this page in the shared goal for a world freed from prejudice, racism and classism. We disagree on means to that end. Sadly this reminds me of the recent global Occupy Movement. We older progressives attended many Occupy Seattle events, forums and working sub-group meetings. Leaderless orgs can work well in the take-off stage, but have an abysmal record of achievement post-take-off. Tried to convey that message at the time, but ideology trumped strategy. I have the same sort of feeling about race victimization ideology -vs- working strategies that lead us further away from racism – historical and current. For an introduction to the problems of leaderless orgs see the 1971 article; “THE TYRANNY of STRUCTURELESSNESS by Jo Freeman aka Joreen ” written from the authors direct experience in the early Women’s Rights Movement.
For those that generally agree with WZ and Tobias I humbly recommend an excellent book by Gordon MacInnes (1996); “Wrong for all the Right Reasons : How White Liberals Have Been Undone by Race”. With impeccable progressive credentials he writes in the preface; … “Mondale’s lopsided defeat was not just the result of Ronald Reagan’s telegenic smile , but was, in fact, brought on in large measure by the Democratic Party’s timidity and hypocrisy in dealing with racially charged issues…..This book represents an effort to explain how progressive forces have taken a wrong turn on racial issues and how they can rectify mistakes…”. A well reasoned book as are those by Dr. Cornel West and Noam Chomsky.
Have to think some more about all the views expressed on this page before offering my own synthesis, but hoped the books cited above would advance research by others.
There’s nothing wrong with pointing out a specific act someone has done as a racist act. What’s wrong is simply labeling someone as “a racist”, especially when it’s done without offering any evidence to support the claim. It often seems that when someone is called a racist, the burden of proof lays on not the accuser but the accused. The so called racist is expected to somehow prove that they are NOT racist, which will prove futile because they’re stuck trying to prove a negative.
Imagine if someone said you were a pedophile, and then everyone simply assumed you’re guilty unless you could somehow prove that you DON’T molest children. How would you?
To speak up and say “What you just did or said was racist” is necessary, helpful and constructive. Not only does this allow the person a chance to explain or defend themselves but other observers can look at what happened and objectively judge whether you or they are correct. But if you simply “You’re a racist” without reference to anything the person did or said, you’re not doing anything helpful or constructive. You’re just hurling hurtful insults.
We white people hate the allegation of racism because the accepted definition of a racist is only applied to the white man and delivered with a hammer blow to us. We are ridiculed in the press and movies but we are supposed to be all forgiving because we are so full of hatred? There is a silent agenda to minimize and genocide the white European race with mass integration. I don’t hate any other race, in fact i grew up seeing other cultures as beautiful and amazing, so why is there so much tension amongst the races? Forced integration maybe? We could all get along fine if we stop listening to the media and government and worked together to make our neighborhood’s secure and safe.
Racism is easy to define. If I favor my parents, my spouse, my children, or myself over others I am a racist. Racism is family. All families that favor their self or their genetic family over others are racists. Racism has a negative context as a slur but racism can be very positive. I am a racist and favor my parents, my wife, my self, and my children over all other people. I am a racist. All people who gather by race, by family, are racists. Racism can be very positive. Judaism, Zionism, and the Old Testament are racist. African tribal life is racist. Racism can be the best way to figure out who to favor in this world. Sadly governments and organizations take advantage of racism and families to foment wars for money. I take it as a compliment to be called a racist. I defend my family. I love my family. I love my genetic descent. I am proud of my genetic descent. I am a racist. White pride world wide. I mean that in a positive way practicing loving kindness but also defending my family and race.
First, I’d like to say that I appreciate the ability to comment on this post.
Second, I like how you describe yourself: “Lifelong political activist, community organizer, organization builder, and trouble-maker.” I feel like we have a lot in common because of it. I’m also a political activist, community organizer, organization builder, and most definitely a “trouble-maker”.
I can’t answer this question about ALL people with white skin. I can only answer it for myself.
I have never actually been called a racist or called out for racist behavior, possibly because I don’t conduct myself in a way that would warrant it. That’s what I’d like to think, but I’m highly aware that we humans have big blind spots when it comes to our own behavior and beliefs.
As I child I was witness to horrific acts of racism including some that are too graphic for me to type here. As I child I was subject to abuse at the hands of those very same racist adults. I still remember my shame when I asked and received permission from my mother to invite the girl who lived next door to play at our house and when my step-father discovered us happily playing in my room he flew into a rage about “those filthy Indians” and chased us out of the house. I was terrified that he was going to hurt one of us or both of us and so ashamed to be associated with him. But I was powerless to change his behavior or his attitude.
Again, I have never been called a racist because of something that I did or called out for racist behavior (and I stand up when it is called for, to stop ugly behavior by my peers), but I have been in conversations where I was told that ALL white people are inherently racist because they are insensitive to those less privileged than they are and it does bother me, because I associate that word with the obscene behavior of those family members mentioned above.
I am highly invested in creating an ever more egalitarian world and I see all members of humanity as my extended family because we share a home that is this beautiful, majestic, and mysterious planet.
As a person with white skin I have, sometimes, felt pushed out of conversations about how best to create that better world for all.
I do not think that being called racist is worse than experiencing racism. Not by a long shot. But I also don’t think that it’s a price I should have to pay for the horrific crimes of my ancestors. Nor do I think it is useful to try to prove who has suffered more in life or who has had it easier. We have all suffered in ways that we cannot understand unless we hear each other’s stories.
I’ve heard from people in various caucuses that I should not try to share my experiences with them when they are sharing theirs, because it feels to them like I am belittling their experience. I think that is fair in any human relationship. As humans we need to feel really heard and it’s never fun to be in a game of who is suffering more.
Hard is hard. We can’t see each other’s scars. We simply have to treat others the way we would want to be treated… for me that means not assuming that I know something about you because of your skin color…. for me that means not assuming something about you because of anything, but listening if you care to share your experience.
I am touchy about being called racist that same way I would be touchy about being called sexist or ablist or a violent person or a bad mom. I’ve certainly not been a perfect mom, but that doesn’t mean I’m a bad one. The word racist is a trigger and it seems to be one that is often used to shame someone else into silence, sometimes when they are be contrary, but not necessarily racist.
I am not a racist simply because I disagree with the model of dismantling racism that someone else believes in. I do not look at people different than me and see people lesser than me. I do not think that I have earned all of the good things in my life. In many ways I have been very lucky. In many ways I have been unlucky.
I do not want thriving to be a privilege for anyone, I want it to be the default, normal setting. I know there is much work to be done to get there and I am willing to do it and I know so many people who really are willing to do it and who are being told that it isn’t their fight or that they couldn’t possibly understand. But they want to understand, they are willing to try. Why drive them away with accusations that they aren’t committed enough? Why drive them away by lumping them into a category of “privileged white skinned people” right along with the Paula Deans and Yuck Whinesties in the world.
I have so many friends who are the diabolical opposites of their parents on issues of race and other social justice issues. In one generation they have turned oppressive attitudes upside down. What is wrong with them wanting to differentiate themselves from the previous generations? What is wrong with acknowledging that progress and saying, “Let’s step it up even more.”?
I think your first theory is undermined by the fact that a white person is more likely to be called racist by a fellow white person than a person of color. The term has been severely undermined by the tumblrati social justice middle class hetero white people who use it as a weapon to dismiss others and prop up their own moral superiority.
So why continue to use a term that is inherently an attack on one’s moral character? If the purpose of the social justice movement is genuinely education and understanding than being intentionally insulting does zero to help the cause and attracts the self-righteous rather than the morally instructive.
The problem, and I am not saying it’s all white people’s fault, and I honestly couldn’t tell you where this came from, is that people think being called racist is an attack on your character. I think that is an inaccurate interpretation of the word in most cases. It is not necessarily meant that way when people say people are racist.
I think most people are racist and it just means they have ways of thinking and behaving that are racist. Yes, it is wrong to dehumanize people because of race. There is also a difference between calling someone a racial slur and the more common types of racism that stem from ignorance but not malice.
I think it’s better to not take being called racist personally and to try to understand what you did that was considered racist.
Some people who are racist really are malicious people who I’m really afraid of.
Other people are ordinary folk who have some prejudices they have not thought much about. Those people get better in my eyes if they’re willing to think about them when the prejudices are called out.
I interpreted Scott’s second point to be what I mean.
I think not being able to fess up to hurting people is more telling about your character than if you have some prejudices that you weren’t that aware of to start with.
I just discovered your blog and I really like how clearly you write about race issues for a general audience.
“They’re, more often than not, genuinely good people stuck in the belief that racists are exotic monsters” – I think that’s really true. I think most white people, at least the liberal white people I’ve mostly been around, tend not to think of themselves as racist, and they think of being racist as a really horrible thing, as opposed to it being a very common thing that, yes, hurts people, but nevertheless is very common.
With regards to your other guess, the part about how white people are “resentful of conceding the privilege of being able to control the public consensus on race to begin with,” my opinion about that is that most white people aren’t necessarily even aware of their white privilege. As such, I think that the idea of giving up undeserved privilege often comes across as unjust. White people feel like their voices aren’t being heard or they’re being silenced, as they might not realize that having less voice has disproportionately been the experience of the non-privileged throughout history.
I hope I understood your point correctly.
I think white people are touchy about it because when you accuse people of a deeply immoral act they get defensive. Also, any white person who isn’t totally ignorant probably recognizes some ways in which their privileged existence plays into a racist system, and on some level they resent this fact because it makes them feel guilty about a bunch of stuff that really isn’t their personal fault. We (white people) start to get paranoid that we are terrible racists, and then we may actually even start to notice all of our myriad unintentional little racist tendencies. So on the one hand, we feel guilty over all our real racist tendencies but simultaneously defensive because we who live in 2014 feel blamed for slavery or Jim Crow, or the general system of racism in America, which doesn’t seem fair to us. It’s this combination of guilt and feeling attacked for things outside our control that makes us get extra-defensive when we are accused of racism.
So as a white guy that’s what I actually think, but I have to say it was really interesting to hear Scott’s unfounded speculations about what I think. Oh wait, no it was just offensive.
a humble response. and because of that, there was no need to insert the last two lines. how unfortunate.
Why are white people touchy about being called racist? Its because generalizing white people as being racist IS racist. Its demeaning to undeserving be made to feel like a horrible person because of the color of your skin. Always wondering if people hold contempt towards them at first sight. White people aren’t some alien species that can’t be offended by racism. They are human just like any human of another race on this planet. The fact is no one wants to be victim of racism. What is illogical is trying to fight racism by exerting racism at the same time. What is sad, is that people will continue to rationalize an anti-white mentality as being acceptable, because they believe that white people owe a debt to the world. One problem I see is that white people have been conditioned through fear and humiliation to accept anti-white racism.
The label of racist is usually used as an attack. The only reason non-Whites shrug it off is because we know it doesn’t carry as much weight with us. This idea that “calling out racism” is merely a precursor to civilized discourse is simply not what happens in real life.
I had a discussion recently and think it would make a great thesis project, some where along the line “racist” stopped implicating a structure or apparatus and became a strictly moral invective. I think that erasure is purposeful. By un-mooring it from the laws (spoken and unspoken) that underpin America, it can be polarizing in it’s reduction to “good” vs “racist”, we don’t negotiate with “evil”, we destroy it, the the occlusion of the structure isolates it (“one bad apple” – all the others are inherently good) and avoids examination beyond that “one” – be it a company, an individual, some elected representative, an officer of the law, etc.
I love this comment, Beverly. You’ve summed it up better than me. If you’re writing on this subject I would enjoy talking/emailing with you about it. I’d enjoy seeing where this goes!
I am white. I grew up in Kentucky around many overtly racist people and organizations. I am extremely guilty of perpetuating racism especially in my younger years. I joined the Navy and during my service developed many close friendships with people of all races, ethnicities, and sexual orientation. Yet I would still say racist things and harboured many racist beliefs. It was not until getting out and finishing college that I began to recognize how racist I actually was. I had always been an avid X Men fan as a victim of bullying I thought I identified with their message. I started to post on a comic book forum a couple years ago. It was there that I started to understand race issues a little better. In the last 4 years or so I’ve begun to challenge myself about my racist beliefs and actions. I’ve started to challenge my family and friends about those same things. So that brought me to reading this blog and admit that there was an almost visceral negative response. I felt like lashing out claiming I was not racist and that it was unfair to say white people as a whole were racist. I wanted to say well if I’m going to be thought of as racist then I might as well be overtly racist. Then I realized that what I was feeling is what is being described in the blog. Its hard for people such as myself (white male who thinks they are socially responsible and opposed to racism) to admit their own racism and endeavor to recognize it and work to be different. Once I got over my initial reaction it felt good to understand why I had that reaction. I guess I may be rambling here but I appreciate the message being conveyed here and thank the author for helping me to better understand myself.
I believe white people are touchy about the subject because of the push many whites have made within their own race to create change and to reduce the amount of racism amongst their own people. Having lived in Mississippi, Florida, North Carolina, and now in Kansas, I have seen the quiet, but touchy relationship. It’s sad to be honest. Each should not be defined by the color of their skin nor should it be a deciding factor in the opportunity to obtain an honest living in our world. Stamping out racism in any culture is almost impossible. Find any two people from different areas of the U.S., and you’ll quickly find differences. What should be encouraged is a language and set of terms that doesn’t vilify one group over another. Most young progressive people like myself have no control over what our forefathers did or didn’t do, but we’re willing to sit down at the table to talk about improving our relationship with our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and so forth. We could talk about defining racism until each of us were well exhausted, but the term in itself has become a taboo label which automatically shuts doors to powerful and productive conversations. These conversations should take place, and it’s refreshing that most people on here are taking it in stride. Recognize the validity in the responses. As a teacher once stated in undergraduate school, I don’t ask a question when I am not fully prepared to hear the response.
Very simply – racism isn’t about colour. It never has been. Racism is about race. The discrimination against race is as old as mankind’s existence on this planet. The U.S. is kind of pre-adolescent in it’s experiences with and subsequent articulation of this subject. The more mature continents and areas of the world like Africa, the Middle East and Asia can ascribe with greater volume of experience to the idiosyncrasies of this universally shared phenomena.
It’s not that it’s touchy to call a racist white person racist. It’s that it’s touchy that a black racist person can’t be called racist.
As a European, where manifestations of racism culminating in the extermination of 2/3 of the European Jewish population, I was confused when encountering the trend going around America of trying to reappropriate the term racism to meaning the one-sided white on black type of structural prejudice you have here. Sorry, but the word has the definition it has, and it includes “notions of inherent biological superiority of one race over another” and whether the oppressor is white or black remains unspecified. The reason why it’s particularly unsettling is that it diminishes the suffering of oppressed non-black peoples, such as the Jews during WWII. Or what about societies where racism against whites is structural, such as in Zimbabwe? That is clearly an instance where whites are structurally disadvantaged because of the color of their skin. Does this qualify as racism?
So why not call things what they actually are? Racism is the notion of racial superiority inherent in real or otherwise perceived biological differences. Meanwhile, why don’t you go ahead and call the structural prejudice you’re referring to something else!? Because if you conflate the two terms and use them interchangeably, you’re essentially accusing whites of the sentiment perpetuated by Adolf Hitler, while what you’re really trying to convey is that white people tend to not be affected by certain societal ailments that are particular for black people in America – also known as structural prejudice or oppression.
The reason why it’s touchy is only the most obvious reason in the world for anyone willing to look up the word racism in a dictionary.
You make some good points. I really appreciate your comments. Thanks!
Everyone views the world from their own point of view. Everyone can be considered racist. If a white American goes to Japan, he might find racism was lodged against him. If he goes to the Congo, he might find the same. In most cases, everyone thinks they are right. They don’t view what they are doing as racist. They view it as their culture, or protecting their culture.
In fact, it’s also possible that White Americans, who grew up in non-white neighborhoods, may have actually been victims to some form of racism, because they were different than most of the people around them.
There is one new form of white privilege these days. It’s the privilege of being the only group who constantly gets racism claims lodged against them, but can never do the same. It may also be a new type of white burden. But basically, white people have become the new punching bag for everyone else’s problems. I think that is a topic, worthy of discussion. Why is that?
Who do you target when you can no longer target one particular group of people for what you view as wrong?
When you call someone racist it’s a label that you can never shake off. It’s not “being” racist; you “are” racist. No matter what you do – try to stop racism, become less ignorant about other countries, treat everyone equally, change your views on race – you’re forever considered (or you continuously consider yourself) racist. That’s why people are afraid to be called racist, because it makes them hate themselves so much and they just can’t stop.
I am a white and this is a fantastic article. I have a possible few theories that explain the phenomenon but it is a real head scratcher.
1-white people are offended that they are called racist just for being white, because ‘white’ is such a large encompassing word that black people use. When black people talk about ‘white people’ they are talking about systematic oppression caused by european imperialism. When white people hear someone talk about ‘white people’ they think that someone is talking about their momma and they go f’in nuts, like you would if someone talked about your momma. Something about the actual term ‘white people’ sets off a personal defense system because you’re talking about their momma.
2-american white people in particular, have a mysteriously insistent bug up their ass that perpetuates the individualistic belief that everything good they ever achieved is actually because of their own individual hard work. Individualism is an american tenent and belief system that is probably as old as ben franklin. But ben franklin had slaves and he didn’t just get there because of his ‘hard work’. But as white people we refuse to believe that we received any sort of privilege, because doing so would be ADMITTING THAT WE DID NOT GET SOMEWHERE because of own hard work, and that would make personal success less admirable and make them question their positive beliefs about themselves. This is a real killer for narcissists and people that are obsessed with success.
3-not all white people are created equal. there are your british whites, then there are your italian whites, then there are your irish whites, and then there are your russian, eastern european, central asian and south american whites and jewish whites, many of which received systematic oppression at the hands of OTHER WHITE PEOPLE. These are entirely valid points and sort of off-the-radar personal experiences that black people can’t relate to, understand, or even slightly relate to that much because it just doesn’t apply to them. However, most russians and latinos I know, can be white as the wall and generally do not get offended when black people complain. In general, they actually just roll their eyes and move it along. (which could also be construed as more racist, ive seen a bunch of arguments erupt along these lines).
4- white people are terrified of being viewed as racist because it lowers their social standing. white people love to have good social standing (just like everyone really, who wouldnt love to be on top of the world) and dont really want any of these fuckers ruining their public image with socially relevant conversations
5-white people, like italians (I am part italian) will say dumbass things to prove that they are some sort of magical exception to the rule because it makes them feel enlightened. Examples of this include statements like “not all white people are like this” and “dont speak in generalities” or “that’s making a dangerous assumption about white people”. Italians feel enlightened by saying they are not racist, because it’s much easier than admitting their grandparents voted for mussolini and their uncles and daddy cops beat up black and brown kids on a daily basis on the other side of town. That’s where their paycheck comes from so it would make it really hard to swallow a meal to admit to these disgusting life truths, and it would obliterate the value of their paycheck as something ‘earned through hard work’ because ‘i deserve it’ (see point #2, it always rolls back to point #2) It also leads to serious daddy issues if you find out that your daddy, uncle, and grandpa are assholes, I mean you’ve gotta recognize that one as a hard pill to swallow.
6-white people feel guilty, like the way you felt guilty when you dumped all over that girlfriend/boyfriend and treated them like shit and felt like a bad person afterwards. The guilt is all encompassing and if you don’t stop feeling guilty you literally won’t make it to tomorrow. Therefore, you try to reconcile with your “ex” by having the pity talk, saying you really understand, that you didn’t actually dump them and treat them badly, and that not “ALL” women or men will act like the confused piece of shit that you did. The dumpee therefore feels more confused because they dont understand how such a fuckin asshole could suddenly be so touchy about acting like a saint. Rinse, lather, repeat.
7-white people actually think that racism is just about not saying bad things about other people like the words n*r, sp*c, etc. They don’t acknowledge that voting for assholes like trump and giuliani, demarcating their neighborhoods into white bubbles so that their property values go up, and hiring primarily other white people has anything to do with their seriously biased and limited perception of the world or any effect at the poor unemployed fuckers around you. They think not being racist is just about being polite, and not about the fact that you can be racist with your vote, with your dollar, and with your choice of who to hire. Then they’ll make dumbass excuses like “we just hired him because we clicked”. Yeah because he reminded you of yourself, you self centered shit.
Loved your article and couldn’t help but comment, even though its clearly like 3 years later.
Because the word “racist” is unjustly used as a weapon to silence white people or destroy our livelihood.
Because the word is used improperly nowadays as opposed to its actual meaning. AKA I dislike their species because they’re violent, not all, and not an assumption – proven overwhelmingly time and time again via many mediums which isn’t up for discussion.
Meanwhile I get called a racist for posting the following elsewhere.
“Most white actresses have standards which dont include miscegenation or the mixing of species. Even if simulated. Movies are very influential, what kind of image would that project to the ignorant or naive masses unwilling or unable to think about genes or the future of diverse species. We spend billions on ensuring the survival of a particular animal species yes?
Meanwhile hyper-liberal, faux-progressive Hollywood has some type of agenda that’s been being pushed well prior to the date of your question so you must not be a very avid consumer of media. I see it almost as the norm now. Inter species relations in nearly every movie and tv show I watch. Somebody isn’t a fan of diversity or the homo sapien species.
Still catering to/making reparations to a species which is responsible for more than half of the violent crime in our country and for our academic performance being 17th on the world stage. Remove said demographic and we rise to 4th.
Yea. Let’s assimilate those genes.
This isn’t to say they’re inferior overall. While it’s largely been disproven that they have bigger genetalia, what is true is that they do have better musculature most certainly due to the land and lifestyle from which they hail. This leads to a bias in sports and the like. Nobody can be the best at everything and we as a society have to decide what is most important and what is valued. Monetarily it seems rhyming words and shooting a ball through a hoop is the pinnacle of success. Those of us with half a brain choose to believe it’s the people furthering a quality of life with inventions and technology by using are brains that do, albeit for paltry sums or recognition in comparison. Anyways, moving on.
PS : not a racist, a realist. Turn to your own about these issues, don’t blame me. I’d feel the same regardless of race or species. I don’t hate blacks I hate the disrespect for life and propensity/predisposition for violence they largely adhere to. Two of my closest friends are black and are both hard working productive members of society. The first person outside my immediate family to hold my newborn daughter was an African American stranger. Unless you subscribe to today’s politically correct and watered down invalid definition of racism, I’d say I’m free n clear.
Stick to your own species folks. It’s better for everyone, always will be. The motives are very rarely if ever valid or altruistic and repercussions never understood or at best considered.”
Wait what? White privilege? White f***ing privilege? Let me tell you guys my story. I’m a 22-year-old woman from Europe (for the sake of my anonimity I will not specify which country). I was born to parents of traveller origin (a group usually identified as Roma, also known by the racial slur “gypsies” even though we’re not). In my country, people really hate us and see us as stealing, drug-dealing, dirty, slutty rogues who drink all day and make a living by scamming people. In my culture, usually the woman is meant for three things: cooking, cleaning and giving birth. The men provide them with enough cash to go shopping, which they think earns them the right to batter their wives and make them feel like sh**. My mother encouraged me to choose a different path, namely getting an education, a job and finding a non-traveller man who would love me and respect me. Because she saw that I could do more with my life than be a free cook/cleaning lady and breeding machine.
In my country, people start choosing their future career path in their teens. This means that schools give you about 6 months a year to have an internship at a company you like. When my time came to search for a place to work for a while, I wasn’t hired by any company based solely on my address. Less qualified people were hired for the internship, and I was left in trouble with the schoolboard for not finding a company in time. The same thing happened every year at school after that.
At a certain point, an openminded teacher (a kind Indonesian man) noticed my exceptional marks on my monthly reports. He asked me if I studied hard to get them. I told him I never did, because it was too easy. He tried to get me into a school with better education, but based on my cultural background (which they plainly stated as if it was normal!!!) they didn’t trust me and decided to decline. I was devastated.
So, school was over and I was ready for something new. I graduated from high school with exceptional marks, as usual, and I thought it could be a fresh start for me. So when I applied for a community college, I was sure they wouldn’t decline me. They didn’t decline anyone. But, again, based on my cultural background, they decided not to put their trust in me. I went to the local discrimination complaint office, but I was laughed at by their employees. After all, I was a white christian girl. What kind of discrimination could I possibly be facing?
Beauty school accepted me right away, even if my parents’ background was explicitly stated in my files. Even though they had their doubts, they decided to give me a chance since my motivation was so high. To be able to finish beauty school I had to have a job at a hair salon, which I got. That’s where things started to go bad again. Unexpectedly, a traveller woman I knew well became a customer of the hair salon I worked, and she happily started chatting to me. The owner of the salon smiled and asked us if we knew eachother. The traveller woman then happily exclaimed: “This is a traveller girl! I’ve known her since she was born! She’s a really good girl, you can trust her!” The face of my boss turned to a grimace.
Two days later, another employee stole from the counter. No-one knew who it was, but the blame was put on me. My boss started yelling at me, saying that she “should’ve known better than to trust a dirty gypsy, if I had known I would’ve never hired you. Now, if you kindly admit that it was you, you’ll just be fired and I will not notify the authorities. But if you keep denying I will call the police and you’ll never work a day in your life again”. My blood was boiling; my mother had raised me to be honest, to work for what I wanted, and not steal or otherwise harm another person. The fact that this woman was accusing me of something I could never do just because I come from a different cultural background was too much for me. So I told her in my anger: “I didn’t f***ing do it, I will not tell you again. Now, I will leave and you can stick your salon where the sun doesn’t shine.” So I left. The day after I left I got a phonecall from my colleague: they caught the security images of the act- and it was another colleague in the video who stole the money. I didn’t even get an apology. I just never heard from them again.
School kicked me out for losing my job, and no other school wanted to burn their fingers on me. So I got stuck working as a cleaning lady, which I still do today. In cleaning, they want traveller girls ’cause we’re good at it and not afraid of working a job that other people find “beneath them”. We have no choice, we have to get those jobs and be pretty damn glad we even got one in the first place. I started an online education two days ago; no records or files of my background were needed because I’m over 21, I live with my husband in a normal house, and my last name changed from a standard traveller name to an Italian one (my husband is Italian). Since I have some Sinti ancestry I am not as light-skinned and blonde as most of the girls in my country; I can definitely pass for an Italian girl. So I hope people will believe me and give me a chance when I finish my online education- that way my future could still be secured.
My husband was very accepting of my background, and I love him for giving me a chance for me and my personality. The guys from my country either thought I was easy (I stayed a virgin until marriage like most traveller girls- but among non-travellers our reputation is bad because of the way most traveller girls dress) and gave up once they figured out I wasn’t. Or, they would not give me a chance from the start since they thought traveller girls would be trouble (i.e. we’re trash). So my cultural background didn’t only affect my professional life, but also my personal life. Dating, friendships…Did I already tell you that at school parents and teachers would advice the other children not to play or hang out with me because traveller kids are not trustworthy?
I experienced all of this despite my white skin, and then black people wanna lecture *ME* on discrimination and privilege? Heck, all of the people lecturing me on those issues found good jobs and finished a good education without problems! Don’t f***ing lecture me on privilege.