[The following is a response to a comment I made on xoJane.com to a commenter who asked me to further explain my position on the post that asked xoJane readers what they thought about the ESPN headline that referenced the ethnic origin ofJeremy Lin. I wrote it here because as it turns out, I have a lot to say on the subject].
thanks for your comment marie. i’m not sure what you’re asking, or how to answer you exactly but i’ll take a stab. please bare with me, because there is SO much better and more articulate literature out there that can explain this far more eloquently than i can….
i think our subjective ideas about racist structures by their very nature are designed to mess us up, meaning that when it comes to racisms, everyone is a victim. if it was possible to establish a hierarchy of oppressive racisms, there is no doubt that the racisms perpetrated against people of colour would rank highest on the list of these aggressions. however, white folks are and can be victims too, but in an entirely different way. for example, by virtue of being a victim of their own successful racist constructs and the social mores that help to perpetuate these racisms, i believe that white folks have an even greater responsibility to dismantle racisms because they still hold the power to do so. in fact, because white folks are “in charge” so to speak, which means they benefit in quantifiable ways, they have much more to lose in over-turning the structures that “enslave” society as a whole. conveniently, white folks are inclined to become reactionary apologists or guilt-laden deniers when a force beyond their control threatens the status quo for example, an asian-american basketball player. the way this new phenomenon is handled is to create a meta-language that puts stereotypical isms first and foremost instead of focusing on human ability; hence all of the “LIN” prefixes, and the inevitable c-word debacle.
there is no mistaking the fact that white folks benefit from racisms. it’s indisputable. we call this privilege. unfortunately, the surest way to shut down a conversation on race is to make accusations of privilege to white people because it’s often received defensively. [note: people of colour have privilege too, but it’s different. another topic for another time?]
ok, as regards racism itself, well, racism is an institution that is very much embedded in the culture, so it’s an unavoidable and inescapable fact of our collective reality. and it most definitely colours and influences the way we think about one another. the media creates a powerful addendum to our perceived reality in terms of what we may already subconsciously think about human behaviour and those who express their culture differently from our own. which is why media-literacy is so important! we can no longer claim innocence because the un/noticed visual cues that we choose to ignore, are very much a part of the racist isms that we continue to perpetuate.
until such time as their worldview is comprised/shaped by adults, the only individuals who can claim such innocence are children. children, however, are “easy” targets. agenda-bearing adults who think of learning in one particular way have created academic structures with school curriculum that very much informs and enforces how we think about culture. [i remember a grade 5 french class in which a white teacher of mine gave a lesson on africa. she began her lesson by telling the class that ALL africans lived in grasshuts with dirt floors. when i put up my hand to tell her that this was not true, that my father was african and that he lived in a mansion with servants she repeatedly told me to be quiet because “the majority” of africans she knew lived in grass huts with dirt floors.
now, we may never think that we have been conditioned by imperial racist ideologies, but we all have—every single last one of us— and denying them or suppressing them or wishing them away will not make them go away. every level of our society has profited from racism. and so we have to deal with the reality of the situation, and take it at face-value rather than holding out for hypothetical "what ifs" that are unlikely to ever materialize. [now while saying this, i'm an optimist, and i believe in goodness, and i put much stock in believing that good things can happen, and very often do.
we can’t even use the convenience of a colour-blind, or a post-racial society anymore because that gives us the false sense of security that everything is all right. well, no it isn’t. if you don’t *see* my race, you don’t see my experience, and you erase the reality of my lived experience most of which has been informed by virtue of my colour. In not seeing, we aid the white power structure in preserving an idealized form of racist behaviours. [this is the part that gets a little complex, another discussion?]
so! do i “believe” in honest mistakes? absolutely! do i think that there might ever be a situation in which a person could use a racial slur, claim to not know it was one and then expect that there would not be any repercussions because the person in question is generally-speaking, a good person? no! am i naive enough to think that privately people don’t use racist language when people of colour aren’t listening or looking? no again! but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening or it doesn’t happen simply because i don’t know personally claim to know about it.
the bottom line is that the game changes irrevocably when your privilege allows you to conveniently use certain micro-aggressions and then take offence when people of colour call you out of it. no, when it comes to these discussions of race, white folks cannot have it both ways. i think there are far better ways cope and manage our racist proclivities without having to debate whether an issue is racist or not. i mean, it’s one of those situations where if you have to ask…
at the end of the day, we’re fallible human beings and none of us is perfect, frederico included. but it’s like this: we’re finally at a place in race-history—no, we do not as yet have the luxury to talk about a “post-race” history, because there is currently NO such thing due to how utterly profitable racisms are—that we no longer need to pretend to hide or modify ourselves from one another due to the erroneous assumptions each of us makes about race. in other words, we have a choice. a choice to engage, or the choice to disengage. except we have to recognize that while we have every right to not participate you might say it leaves us open to be questioned on why we choose to not participate.
there’s a great many things that each of us still don’t know about how the “other” half lives—even as we rely heavily on convenient stereotypes and profiles, which means that rather than engaging in a perpetual game of unapologetic anger and silencing, and/or excuse-making we find better ways to educate ourselves on the things we don’t know, or the things that we might be afraid to know. so for my money, it’s best not to assume anything. i mean, the question was asked, “do we think that ESPN headline was intentionally racist?” and the response given was a resounding YES! so now what? are we gonna find the teachable moments so we can learn from this experience and move on, or are we going to stand by our convictions, stick our heads in the sand and wait it out until someone throws a bone in our favour? life is too short, you know?
i hope i’ve answered your question. apologies if i haven’t; racisms are so layered. anyway, i’m always open to talk more. cheers!