Earlier this week, my dear blogging friend MrMary posted on The Outlier Collective. Focusing on racism in America, I thought his words truly spoke to what many people of color (and specifically black people) feel everyday. Go ahead and read it if you want, I’ll wait.
To be looked at as somehow “inferior”, or more likely to cause trouble simply because of your skin color/ethnicity. For some of us, this will never happen…for others, it happens every week. Despite the fact that the year is 2013 and our species is the most influential and intelligent on the planet, for some reason we cannot rise above various -isms, racism definitely included. Why?
Is it a remnant of Homo Sapiens ancient past, where differences in looks could mean differences of greater importance? Your tribe meets with a separate tribe: They are a slightly different color, or have unfamiliar body ornaments, or cut their hair in odd ways. Are they dangerous? Eager to trade? Could they be prospective allies, or will they simply try to butcher your people? Once upon a time, *this* was what typical human life was like. But if racism is a remnant of it, couldn’t we be expected to use the rational parts of our minds to overcome these “instincts”?
Or could it be that people are in love with the idea of being superior? I have met men who spoke gleefully of being “superior” to all women…personally knew an old white man who would openly wonder why native Europeans were “superior” to all others…Women who claimed that they were genetically “superior” to all men…Christians who have tried to inform me of how “superior” they are to every other faith, including mine. The list goes on, but I think I’ve made my point: That some citizens of our country seem to get off on being inherently “better” than those who are different. They enjoy using overt generalizations, denial of individual experiences, pseudoscience, and blatant/willful ignorance of facts to push forward their ideas, not caring to look at other data or admit they could be wrong. Is there something in the human brain that makes us want to be better? And is racism the “giving in” to this obviously irrational side? I don’t know, but if anyone has other theories or hard data, go ahead and comment!
Another thing I want to touch on is something I mentioned in my comment on The Outlier Collective: Could the accusation of “racist” be inaccurately used? Let me use some examples from my own life…
-Last week, I was putting videogame cases out on the shelves of the store I work at. I am very sensitive about my “bubble” of personal space, and a customer unexpectedly came up next to me so close that our shoulders were touching. I shifted quickly, and dropped some of the games. I apologized to the (black) customer, but he just looked down at me angrily and said “What are you, racist?” and walked away. I was hurt, because I didn’t know his skin color when I automatically moved away from our close contact…but he assumed I moved BECAUSE of his blackness.
-Two years ago, I had to ban a (black) guy from our store because of his actions. He would come in and make inappropriate comments to my female staff about their bodies, ask them out on a weekly basis, and tried to pull their hair. He also made a habit of trying to trade in videogames that had *just* released and were still shrink wrapped…sometimes multiple copies of the same game. Either that, or incredibly filthy/smelly console controllers. When we’d tell him these were not things we wished to buy from him, he’d become angry and insulting. The sixth time he came in, I told him he was no longer welcome in our store due to how he acted. He blew up at me, called me a bitch/racist numerous times, claimed he did nothing wrong and shouted down the mall’s hallway that “everyone who works here is a racist”. In this case, I’m unsure if he actually believed I was being racist or if he just hated being called out on his sexism and dishonesty.
-In 7th grade, I stumbled while walking down the hallway, and accidentally stepped on an older (black) girl’s foot. I quickly apologized to her and asked if she was alright…but she shot me a look of pure venom and said “Fucking racist cracker”, before turning back to her friends and walking away. This encounter shocked me, because I’d never been called a racist OR a “cracker” before. It made me feel bad for being white, and confused by the amount of anger I’d just received for such a small accident.
I have more examples, but my blog is not for woe-is-me’s. I bring them up to showcase the idea that, under certain circumstances, the accusation of “racist!” may not truly be applicable. Was I a racist in any of these situations? I don’t believe so, but apparently the others involved thought I was. I have wondered though, what exactly I could have done differently in each instance to avoid being called such…or if there was nothing I could do, and I’d be called a racist simply because I happen to be white. It’s strange, but I don’t know if I even have a right to “complain” about these examples, because as a white woman I may reap other benefits that I’m blind to.
The thing I often worry about in talking about racism is how there really is no way for us to talk about it without it being painful. Minorities who contribute to the conversation are often unwillingly put in the role of the teacher…someone who has to relive their memories of racism in order to show them to the white people. This is unfair to make people bring up hurtful experiences, but I don’t know of any other way to talk about this. One should never condone ignorance, but is it really up to people of color to necessarily teach the rest of us?
Equally damaging to productive conversation is that white contributors often feel like they’re being “attacked” for daring to be lighter skinned. This immediately puts us on the defensive, and causes emotional wall-building. Usually our own experiences are deemed insignificant to the overall discussion. For example, I don’t know if the previous section of this post will just be seen as “whiny” since I’m blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Is the pain and embarrassment I felt at being called a “racist cracker” necessarily less than the suffering of someone who is called “the n-word”? Maybe, but how do we measure something like that without invalidating each other?
I guess there will never be a “good” way to talk about racism, but that doesn’t mean we can’t at least try. I’m open to any ideas about how to do so in a way that will lead to real benefit for everyone involved, or to people just using this as an open forum to talk about their own experiences with racism and prejudice. Please use the above menu to review my comments policy if you’re unsure of what I’ll allow through moderation. This is a sensitive topic, and I want to encourage my readers to be forthcoming and honest in how they feel…but please remember that your words will be read by many others.
Have at it, everyone.