KAMPALA – In my last post I wrote about who the Modern Racist might be, and my argument that we were not talking about neo-Nazi’s, extremists, or old geezers with a Southern-Texan accent. Modern racism is embedded in our culture, it is a systemic force that makes you check our wallet when someone suspicious-looking passes you on the street at night. It makes you rate a white guy as more trustworthy than a black one. It makes you more likely to hire John as opposed to Mohammed (although that may be Islamophobia.. it’s hard to keep track of the people people are scared of nowadays). As a police officer, it makes you more likely to search and/or arrest a black guy who “looks suspicious”. You might even shoot him for that reason, because he’s black. As a jury or judge, you are more likely to convict black suspects as opposed to white ones, regardless of their crime.
More importantly, perhaps, because of its systemic nature, it makes you unaware that you’re doing all those things.
To be honest, I have not encountered (read: witnessed) many acts of racism that I know of in my life. As our dear Jon Steward once asked rhetorically in response to coverage on the death of Darren Brown:
do you not understand that life in this country is inherently different for white people and black people?
,and although the rest of us can imagine its long-term effects, or empathise with victims of racism when the racism is so obvious and condemnable, there are limits, I have learnt, to my understanding. As the writer of Americanah lamented in the persona of the main character, her “Hot White Ex”, as she refers to him, would sometimes surprisingly enough understand and notice the racism she was encountering as a black person in the U.S. But sometimes, he’d be equally ignorant. For her, the inconsistency was frustrating, to say at the least (there’s a reason he was the “Hot White Ex”, after all).
Those who say we are in a post-race age are usually also the ones who say they are tired of talking about race. Why must we racialise every topic? When a white guy gets shot by the police, he was just a criminal, but, when a black guy gets shot, it suddenly is RACISM! A lot of Dutch traditions have a post-colonial element in their history, but Black Pete is not racist! He can’t be, he’s such a nice guy, after all?
Arguments like that, I think, illustrate the ignorance and lack of understanding. If you are tired of hearing about racism, imagine living it. Thing is, you can’t. Don’t worry, I can’t either. But we can try.
Denying a racial component in an event does not make you enlightened. Pretending it is not there does not make you move beyond racism. It makes you ignore that, in fact, there is a huge institutionalised racist tradition in the police force in the U.S. But, more about Baltimore and Ferguson, and the Dutch Black Pete later.
Some discussion is overshadowed by the status quo complaining they do not see the point about racism and the marginalisation that comes with it. And that’s the point, – that’s why you are the status quo. Precisely because you are in a position of privilige means that you can never fully understand those that are not. Similarly, some men and women do not see bigotry as a problem because they have never encountered it themselves. Such short-sighted opinions are problematic and derail discussion about racism to a debate on whether or not it exists at all. Listen, if you are priviliged, you compete with those on your level. You believe your achievements are linked causally to your skills and knowledge, and to you working your ass off. That in itself is debatable, but those who fall outside of the boat have to swim faster. They do not compete on the same level, they’re handicapped, in a way. Start the race a couple of minutes later.
Your subject position limits your understanding, that’s pretty much how privilige works.
On the other hand, I am also a bit allergic to those people who disqualify others from a discussion on, let’s say racism or feminism, precisely because they are white and male. Of course, if you claim you understand, then pointing out the whiteness and dickness might be important, but after all, I am white, and I am male, – would that mean that I wouldn’t be able to write about these topics? Would that mean that I could, but my contribution would be valued less because of my lesser understanding of marginalisation on the basis of sex, or race?
I’d like to think that, whilst being aware of my (white) privilige, I can still contribute to this global discussion, albeit carefully.
And I will try to be careful. My next post will expand upon the list in the introduction. But, the additions will get slightly stranger. Because racism as a systemic force makes minority women prefer white guys. It makes black people rate the trustworthiness of a white guy higher than of a black guy. It makes small black children pick the white fake baby toys. Internalised racism is at least as much of a problem as racism as we think it usually happens, I reckon.