Remember how I’m single-handedly responsible for sowing racial discord?
It was this divide I was attempting to expose and I would say I was successful. If your goal is racial harmony and you have a group of whites who are, give or take, fundamentally unracist yet refuse to accept collective responsibility for their forefathers transgressions and are disgusted by the overlooked hatred expressed by those of color, what do you propose to do with them?
These are not stupid people. These are not ignorant people. These are people who are no more racist than you, Aunt B. But because they do not accept the concept of collective guilt, you feed them nothing but bile and ridicule.
Good show. You are bringing "us" closer and closer to racial discord every time you strike your keyboard.
I think we all knew I wasn’t just going to let that go.
After all, it’s Christmas and, if I’m going to be sneaking into folks’ homes, sowing racial discord, I don’t want to get mistaken for Santa Claus (thus disappointing and confusing the children) or for a burglar (and thus shot).
Plus, I already pissed off all the menfolk yesterday, so what better moment to revisit everyone’s favorite topic?
I just have two points to make.
1. It doesn’t matter what is in your heart. It really doesn’t. It matters what you do and say.
Your actions are what counts. In a best case scenario, your actions and words would line up with what’s in your heart, thus making what’s in your heart apparent to everyone else. But in most cases, all we have to go on is what you say and do.
Racism is not solely found in malicious intent. You can be racist because you hate non-white people and set out every day to make their lives miserable, a definition I’m sure most of us accept as racist and most of us are sure doesn’t fit us. And you can be racist, even without feeling any hatred in your heart towards non-white folks, by virtue of how your words and actions are perceived by others.
Yes, that sucks because you can be trying to be a good person and failing, but I don’t know what to tell you, that’s just how it is.
If you do something that a lot of folks perceive as racist, it’s racist. Same with sexism, or classism, or homophobia or whatever -ism. You don’t get to decide how your actions have to be perceived.
2. You are not the default.
This is such an enormously important point that I’m pretty sure I’m going to fuck it up. And yet, if you were going to throw up your hands in the air, decide I was an insane bitch with serious problems, and that you were never going to read me again, I’d hope that this at least sticks in your head.
You are not the default.
When you, or I, or anyone, assumes that he or she is the default of human experience, that’s a problem.
And this is what I mean when I talk about racism or sexism, most of the time. I’m not talking about malicious actions against an oppressed group, because, by and large, I think most of us think that’s wrong.
I’m talking about the assumption that we are the default, that the things we want are what "everybody" wants, that the things we do are what "everyone" does, that the opportunities we have are just the opportunities available to "everybody." And, on the other side of the coin, that if some people don’t do things the way we’d do them, that those ways must be wrong.
I am as guilty of this as anyone. Look, I wrote a nice post on the spiritual implications of mythological and fairy-talish women who come in sets of three. I even used the term "we" without bothering to say, "We folks of European descent from a Christian/European pagan background." Three’s an important number for us. It doesn’t have the same importance to other cultures or, if it is important, not in the same ways. But I threw "we" out there like my audience all shares my same traditions, even if they don’t practice them in the same way.
Is that racist? Yes. Is it the end of the world? No. Am I wrecked with guilt, as so many assume all good liberals are? No. But it is what it is, me forgetting that my experiences aren’t standard.
It might not seem like the most insidious form of racism, but it is–because it’s so easy to slip into, it’s such a difficult habit to break, and it’s hard to fight against.
Let’s look at another point Kleinheider makes:
If you constantly assert that we live in a institutionally racist society while many of the cases of overt racial dislike are engaged in by people of color, you cannot expect non-racist whites to simply nod and say okay.
Kleinheider’s complaint is thus: I, Aunt B., am asserting that we live in an institutionally racist society, and yet, in Kleinheider’s experience, he perceives that people of color are more overt in their dislike of white people than white people are of people of color. Since he perceives this overt dislike, he thinks it’s ridiculous for me to expect that non-racist white people such as himself will take my word that there’s this other, institutional, racism.
Do you see what’s going on? Look at the assumptions that Kleinheider just gets to make without having to prove them:
1. That he’s non-racist.
2. That his perception of people of color being more overt in their dislike of white people is valid.
3. That racism is just overt dislike.
4. That people of color overtly disliking white people undermines my claim of institutional racism.
5. That non-racist whites, of course, think like he does.
Let’s distill them down to their essence.
1. That he has a right to define himself, to say, "this is who I am" and have it accepted by others.
2. That his perceptions of the world are valid, and don’t need to be questioned.
3. That his understandings of issues are the right ones.
4. That any proof he offers to further his points must be accepted as valid.
5. That most people think like he does.
In other words, he is the standard, the default for human that all others deviate from, for better or for worse.
Do you see why this is so hard to argue against? So hard to fight?
Because everyone does have the right to say, "This is who I am" and have it accepted by others, but only as long as it matches that person’s words or actions. His perceptions are valid; they just aren’t the only valid perceptions out there. His understandings of the issues may not be the right ones and no one has to accept any proof he offers to further his points just because he’s offering it. And he can’t just assume that most people think like he does.
We’re not just having a fight about racism or sexism or whatever. At heart, we’re having a fight because he takes things for granted that only a certain segment of our society has the privilege of taking for granted and I want him to acknowledge that–that he sees himself as the default. After that, I’d hope he’d come to see that seeing yourself as the default is inherently harmful to everyone who is not like you.
But maybe that’s hoping too much.