Thursday, September 15, 2011

Not All Perspectives on Race are Created Equal

By ardelfin at MorgueFile
Let me try to explain something to my fellow white people. If you're white, you don't get to have the same weight placed on your perspective of what is and isn't racist as that of a person of color. Call it unfair, but not for the reasons you think.

Why? Because we are not the targets of racism. We are the perpetrators, inheritors, and beneficiaries of racism. It is in our interest to disbelieve in its existence. We are encouraged to do so in small and large ways. And that racism is what makes life unfair for people of color and biased in our favor.

This is why it is frustrating to many people when some of us insist "but that wasn't racist" is a fair thing to say when someone like Michael Moore or Bill Maher get called out on their commentary. There is an imbalance of perspective going on. And it's not the black people noting they said something racist who are the ones with a skewed set of lenses.

Life isn't fair, my pale-skinned cohort. While intelligences and intellects may be equal, we do not experience the world in equal and equivalent fashions. You and I are protected from the slings and arrows of racism unless we choose to see it. Or more rarely, are forced to suffer material side effects from it. We take psychological impact from it, but that's a side point I will revisit down the page.

And even if you are one of those white people who knows that racism exists and is a daily issue, you are like me and not immune from occasionally blowing it. Declaring remarks by Maher or Moore to be racist is not identical to saying they have a white hood in their closet. It is calling those remarks out for enabling and perpetuating the system we are all a part of. And to be fair, Avenue Q has a point. We all are a bit racist, when that's defined as "prone to use stereotypes as a substitute for clear thinking or speaking."

Back to "I voted for a black guy and got a white guy/Why isn't Obama more gangsta." By saying that, they demonstrated racist thinking. And whenever we apologize for members of our cohort blowing it by telling people who know racism inside and out that they're misjudging the situation, we enable racist behavior.

There is also the sad tendency of many white people to complain that certain black people are "too confrontational." This is another area where we perpetuate the problem. Refusing to engage the content and focusing on the method of its delivery is redirecting. In other words, it belittles the content of the message and obfuscates it behind a smokescreen.

There are times I am honestly embarrassed to be considered white. I am aware my grandmother didn't have that privilege due to her Irish last name. I also know "white" is a status that was created to keep the slaves down and one that required some very dirty play by my ancestors to earn for me. So I wear it differently than some.

I'd rather not be embarrassed by an accident of birth and social engineering. The more my cohort realizes we participate in the issue by excusing members of our race when they misspeak, the easier it is.

My annoyance at being white is nothing compared to the suffering of people of color, though. It horrifies me that some people may read this and feel more sympathy for my frustration than for the real problems with the current system.

But I cannot speak for people of color. I can only speak for me. And to be clear, I consider making some of us more comfortable with being white a fringe benefit. Call it a small bit of proof that improving perspectives on race improves everyone's lives.

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