Thursday, March 7, 2013

Redefining racism

If I had to pick the one blog post I am most proud of writing, it would be the one titled The Subtle Racism of Friends and Allies. That's only partially because when I posted it at Daily Kos, it was actually recommended by one of my heroes, Tim Wise.

Overall I was trying to get at exactly the same thing that Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about in an article titled The Good, Racist People.
In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist.
The reason we have trouble talking about racism in this culture is because too many white people think the word only applies to the overt hatred expressed by the "uniquely villainous and morally deformed racists." When you talk to people of color, it is often the more subtle racism that tends to come from a white privileged ignorance that is most painful. That's because its one thing to deal with someone you KNOW hates you. Its another thing altogether when the prejoratives come from someone who claims to be your friend or ally.

Its long past time for us to redefine racism based not on the intent of the sender but on the experience of the receiver. As someone said during a blog conversation I participated in on this topic long ago...if I accidentally dropped an anvil on your toe, the fact that I didn't mean to doesn't make it hurt any less.

Please go and read Coates whole article. For us white folks, the journey is not about labeling the racism "out there." Its about being open to how it has been hard-wired into our own brains. We need not fear exposing it. The only way it is perpetuated is if we pretend its not there.


  1. I will say that the more I turn my awareness onto myself, the more comfortable I become. I become happy if I spot residual racist thinking in me, because it is an indication that while that habitual thought is there, that I also have another, more clear pattern of thinking that is self-aware. It's a good thing.

  2. When conservatives attempt to get my goat on Twitter by calling me a racist, I sometimes respond, You're right. I am. Now will you admit it too?

  3. I've linked to this post at my blog because I addressed this subject today. Thank you for this.

  4. This is why I think, after living in the South for several years, that racism here is not necessarily worse than it is anywhere else in the U.S. Yes, historically, it was much worse here. But as a result of coming to terms with that history people here are much more willing to talk openly about racism. Sure, it still exists, but it's socially acceptable to point it out and discuss it.

    The more we talk about racism openly, blacks and whites together in dialogue, the less power it has.