Five Arguments which are Wrong about Racism

Full disclosure: I have white privilege and so I have no idea what it is like not to have it. If I bugger this post up, PLEASE tell me, okay?

Note to speed readers: this post is not actually about Denmark (or Sweden even).

1) There is no continuum of racist-ness. All stereotyping is equally wrong.

I remember back when I was 16, our religious education teacher tried to tell us that “black people can’t be racist” in our society because to be racist requires power. We were unconvinced by this argument because a punch in the mouth is just as painful from someone in a marginalised group as someone from the privileged group (and for whatever the reason for getting it.)

Of course, everyone can be racist and everyone can suffer from it. But there is a major difference between someone making fun of the tea-drinking ways of Brits vs saying “ooga-booga” to a black person in a street.

You see, some types of stereotyping strips a person of their humanity and some shows understanding that you are talking about a human being.

I mean, shit, they are not ideal but there is definitely a continuum situation at play here.

Now, I am not an anthropologist but there are cultural differences between countries and peoples and talking about them is probably okay. If it comes from a place of respect at least.

There is a difference between discussing how Jante law affects the workings of Scandinavian society and simply stating “America is fat and stupid”.

Power is important, respect is important and showing you understand that the people you are talking about are real humans is important. Stereotyping cannot be stereotyped as “good” or “bad”.

2) If a black person says it isn’t racist, it isn’t racist.

I will be honest. I have been guilty of this. Over and over. It wasn’t until The Office, actually, that I understood what a dick I was being.

Ok, Ricky Gervais’ character starts telling a racist joke and a new member of staff pops over to hear what’s so funny and because this man is black, Gervais loses his bottle and stops telling it. The embarrassment is such, that he ends up telling the joke and the new guy supplies the punchline. Gervais is relieved.

Gervais is called into his boss’ office to explain himself. Gervais is shocked, a black person said it was funny, why would he then go and COMPLAIN? The boss tells him that another (white), member of staff had complained and just because one person did not find it offensive, doesn’t mean it wasn’t.

And *PING* the penny dropped.

Isn’t it, at least a little bit, racist to poll a very small sample of the target group to check for offensiveness? It’s not like all white people think alike about what constitutes offensiveness, how could asking less than a handful of black people “is this offensive?” speak for all black people? That’s just plain stupid.

3) What I said/did wasn’t racist because I’m not racist.

Also known as “some of my best friends are…” It is truth universally acknowledged that very few people want to think of themselves as stupid pricks. But we are very able to hold amazingly stupid prickish opinions even whilst simultaneously having friends from different cultures. Being open-minded and thoughtful is probably correlated with having friends from all different walks of life and backgrounds but it is not a prediction or guarantee.

Having an Asian friend might help you realise that “they” are not all the same but it does not guarantee that you won’t go around with dodgy assumptions about their upbringing or values.

Even the biggest racists out there insist they are not racist. But they still hold eye-wateringly racist opinions and whether they want the ego-kick of a label or not; they do need to face up to their flawed prejudices.

4) I can say whatever I like about Sikhs and Muslims, they are a religion not a race.

Race does not exist. It is a cultural construct. I mean, we have so many cultures and backgrounds in the world, it is useful to put people in groups for the sake of discussion. But these labels are completely arbitrary. The idea of “race”, comes from the idea that there were different species of humans, whose different characteristics were¬†immutable by virtue of their genetic code. Science proved this idea wrong.

Now, if someone wants to say mean things about groups of people they do not know individually, they criticise their “culture” or their “religion”.

Understand, real cultural or religious criticism does not occur. The people I am talking about never say “Within the Iraqi Shi’a community, I believe there is a problem with the interpretation of the Koran about…” or “The Twi culture is set up to …..”, they say “Muslims are like this and Non-westerners are like that. WHAT? They’re not RACES.”

But, it is exactly the same flawed thinking. The idea that you can “The Muslims” are like this or “The Sikhs” are like that or “People from non-western cultures” are the other. It is on very shaky ground. There are lots of groups, factions and inter-relations between all these groups. It simply isn’t possible to pronounce The Muslims against women’s rights, for example. Sorry. But it doesn’t work.

Calling it racism might be clumsy and technically incorrect but it is coming from the same misfiring neurones.

So, instead of fighting the semantics, maybe look at if what you are saying shows you understand you are talking about human beings, shows respect and that you have considered the power dynamic in your pronouncements.

5) But they ARE like that, though.

This is the most childlike of all this misconceptions. If seven red cars go past me in a row, I’ll say “Wow, there are a lot of red cars today!” but I did not count the dozens of cars of different colours until I saw a funny pattern. I have misled myself into thinking my evidence is stronger than it is.

You may encounter a lot of thieving Roma in your life but I guarantee it, you walk past dozens of Roma everyday who are not stealing anything. You do not see them because they are just “folks”. You only notice people who are doing the thing you expected to see or you build up the significance of seeing a lot of one group of people doing one particular thing.

TV doesn’t help because the stereotypes are not really ever challenged in programmes, so you get a lot more exposure to “them” doing “what they do”. Even if it is not a reflection of life.

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5 Responses to Five Arguments which are Wrong about Racism

  1. findingali says:

    You must have a really clever mother to write things the way you do ;)
    Some very good points raised. I learn so much from you. Thank you

  2. Reblogged this on Blank Danbotic Stare: Notes from Denmark and commented:
    Yup, another worthy one from another better written blog!

  3. kutubuku says:

    “I am not racist, but…” that, I have heard way too often here. People think they’re not racists, therefore they’re not racists.

    The other article that made me chuckled is when DF officials commenting the case of Tina Petersen by saying something in the line “If Tina Petersen were a racist, we wouldn’t had accept her wanting to be a member of DF”. Uh yeah, that’s like a monkey calling itself an elephant. BIG FAT DENIAL, but whatever….

    • etellerandet says:

      It’s a classic.

      I love the DF sometimes. “Comparing groups of human beings to trash isn’t racist because those groups of human beings aren’t a race!” Stupido.

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