Saturday, July 30, 2011

Race and Double Standards

The other night I was out with a group of people that I did not know that well. I am not sure how the topic of race came up (it seemed out of the blue).

One woman said, "If you just say what race a person is, people call you a racist." She pointed to bartender, saying, "hispanic,' and then, "I'm racist!"

She continued. "You can only say your own race - that's okay - but not anyone else's."

Some other comments followed this, including one man who, in the midst of insisting that stereotyping should be more acceptable, argued: "Some things are just fact. See, I could say, 'Black people generally come from Africa,' and then someone would say, 'Oh you're racist.'"

First, in response to the man who likes to stereotype I would say, you just demonstrated the problem with stereotyping. The example is far from cut-and-dry. For example, if you are talking about African Americans, most generally have some European ancestory; a significant number, in fact, have more European ancestory than African. So what does it mean, then, to say "Black people come from Africa.." ? The statement assumes racial purity, and more neatly separates "black" from "white" (genetically, geographically... ) than is truly the case. It also ignores an entire chunk of African American, nay, American history pertaining to slave mistresses, interracial marriage, the "one drop rule," "passing," etc. etc.

But really I would like to focus on the woman. Her first claim that to simply recognize race constitutes "racism" in our society is a misconception shared by many others. To the contrary, "color blindness" is a strategy often employed to maintain racial inequality by making it an "off limits" topic and therefore rendering it impossible to address. Obviously people in this society are going to be conscious of race because it has social significance. Racial consciousness is not a bad thing. One of my favorite definitions of "racism" is something along the lines of: racism is to knowingly benefit from a system of inequality and do nothing to change that system.

What is a problem is when consciousness of race takes the form of stereotypes. And I just touched on this above.

The woman's second point is even more contentious. I have often heard white people complain about double standards in terms of what one is allowed to say. The "N" word is one notorious example. I think that was what the woman was eventually getting at.

Ohhh the irony of white people complaining about double standards. They have enjoyed better jobs, better pay, better access to public services, the ability to take out loans and buy houses in whatever neighborhood they want... and they are upset about not being able to say the "N" word?

... Or the fact that they can't be the ones to decide who does and doesn't get to say it? The thought of black people having control over one tiny area of life - over one little word (a word that was used to abuse them, no less) - drives these people nuts!

In the midst of continued educational achievement gaps, income gaps, residential segregation, differential treatment by the justice system... white people are complaining about the "unfairness" of not being able to say a word that black people can say?

As they say, if that's all you have to complain about...

No comments:

Post a Comment