Serious Replies to Racial Discussions Gone Downhill

White people don’t like to talk about race. That’s because they automatically assume they, personally, are going to get called racist, and that’s tantamount to killing kittens in full view of a kindergarten class these days. But there are serious discussions to be had about race, with serious answers possible.

 

Well, why can’t we talk about “white pride” for once?

Because the world is built around making white people feel good about themselves. That’s called “white pride.” If you don’t agree. look around and see who’s in power, who’s on TV, who’s held up as beautiful, intelligent, and worthy of imitation.

 

What about Will Smith?

White people love to bring up Will Smith. This is because Will Smith is the 21st century answer to Bill Cosby, but with Scientology instead of buried sex scandals. He’s the safe black star: black, but not too black. White people everywhere can safely get jiggy with it.

 

Why isn’t there a white history month?

American history was written by white Europeans, so white people got to write the history books and determine who had the ability to affect serious social change. That means mainstream history, as taught,  is all about white people, because white people marginalized everyone else. History is written by the victors, remember?

 

Racism is over. We have a black president.

The success of one man – who, by the way, while he grew up black in America, is not strictly speaking the descendent of African slaves, which is the general condition of most blacks in America – doesn’t change the reality of the whole. Obama was elected despite constant slams against his race and accusations he was born in Kenya. His traditionally African-American-featured wife has faced comparisons to gorillas. His daughters were excoriated for looking bored at a press conference while the Bush twins got a pass for partying drunk and underage while tailed by the Secret Service. Your tax dollars at work.

 

They just play the race card.

This comes up every time a person of color identifies racism. It turns the situation into a defensive one for the PoC: the onus is now on them to prove racism, despite the systemic racism endemic to our culture. It also assumes that most accusations of racism are not in fact legitimate, and minimizes the experience of the speaker.

 

Why can’t I say the N word/the R word? They do.

It’s called cultural reclamation: people take terms used by a dominant group as a form of abuse and reclaim them as their own, thereby, in some way, asserting their own power. It’s the same reason gay people may use the term f*ggot. The sarcastic, playful, or other in-group use of the term becomes a way to bond with the rest of the subjugated in-group. You can’t use it if you aren’t in: then it becomes cultural aggression instead of bonding.

 

There are white people and there’s white trash and there are black people/Native Americans and there’s n*ggers/r-words.

Every ethnic group has assholes. See above as to why you can’t use ethnic slurs to denigrate them.

 

I have black friends.

Having friends of color does not mean you suddenly, magically opt out of systemic racism and jettison a  lifetime of white privilege. You can be friendly with people of different races and still not be committed to understanding the parts of their lives you’d rather ignore (like those that deal with systemic racism).

 

Well I’m not a racist.

When we talk about things like white privilege, white fragility, or institutional racism, we aren’t accusing you, personally, of burning crosses or using the n-word. If you’re white, you’re part of a system that benefits white people at the expense of everyone else. You may not be a racist, but you are benefiting from racism. You need to divorce the personal from the institutional.

 

Well my great-grandfather came through Ellis Island and he never owned slaves and he worked for everything he had and built himself up from nothing so you can’t accuse me of being racist.

Your great-grandfather benefited from a lot of things not available to people of color – immigration quotas, for example, and probably the GI bill, a stacked mortgage system, and the ability to vote without harassment. He benefited from Jim Crow laws. White privilege helped him achieve what he had. This doesn’t mean he was personally racist, but it means he benefitted from a racist system.

 

Why do we have to talk about racism all the time?

People of color talk and think about racism all the time: they don’t have the luxury of ignoring it. Only white people can choose to ignore the subject of racism, because they’re the ones benefiting from it. When you ask why we have to talk about racism all the time, you minimize the everyday experience of people of color.

 

Everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes.

Every white person is racist sometimes. Minorities can be bigoted, or intolerant, or hateful. But racism is specifically a type of discrimination that comes from the majority group (in the US, whites) and is directed at minorities. White people, because we have grown up in a system of white privilege, can be racist without knowing it. We commit microaggressions. We don’t listen to other points of view. So yes, everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes. Doesn’t mean we go around committing hate crimes.

 

But I never got anything handed to me and … [insert Horatio Alger story]

Privilege doesn’t mean your life is wonderful. It means your life would be worse if you were in the same situation, but a minority. See Explaining Privilege to a Broke White Person and White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. You may have been discriminated against because you’re white. You may have been called a cracker, a redneck, or white trash. You may have had opportunity taken away from you because you were poor. But that doesn’t negate the privilege of your white skin. You can have privilege and still suffer – often economically.


What responses do you get to discussions about racism? How do you answer them?

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