Stuff POC do: restrain ourselves
February 22, 2009 — Restructure!
When I checked Stuff White People Do and saw a post originally titled, “Stuff White People Do: Laugh at Asian English”, I felt racism fatigue, and responded with a half-hearted and uninspired, “I am offended at your post,” followed with a description. I fully expected to be accused of looking for racism again by some commenter in a comment that closely followed mine, which has become almost a tradition at Stuff White People Do. (Sometimes this commenter is Macon D himself.)
Unsurprisingly, I was accused of “looking for something to pounce on Macon for” by a commenter named “haley” half an hour later. Surprisingly, however, the normally-defensive Macon D took my complaint seriously and tried to think of alternative ways of phrasing the title. In the end, Macon D actually took my suggestion seriously and changed the post’s title to “Stuff White People Do: Laugh at “Engrish”.”
I’m not entirely sure what happened, but perhaps my uncharacteristic comment, which left me vulnerable to the accusation of oversensitivity, didn’t trigger a defensive reaction on the part of Macon D.
Normally, I almost never criticize racism with “I am offended” or “I take offense”, because when racism is framed as “something that offends people”, then accusations of racism are portrayed as “political correctness” catering to the hypersensitivities of minorities who supposedly always force the majority to accommodate them. Even when I almost never use the terms “offense”, “offended”, or “offensive”, people have told me that I was oversensitive about racism, that I need to grow up, that I cannot always break down and cry every time someone is not sensitive to my feelings.
The people who say these things appear to think that racism occurs rarely, and that when a non-white person complains about allegedly “trivial” instances of racism, it means that she is like a young child who hasn’t yet learned that not everyone in the world is obligated to be nice to her. In reality, however, I have experienced racial microaggressions since childhood, and I am well aware that the world is not a safe space for people of colour with respect to race. I point out racism not because I’m noticing it for the first time, but because I want to bring it to the attention of others who have grown up shielded from the daily realities that people of colour have to endure. I point out racism because I want to point out injustice, not because I am some selfish oversensitive child who wants the world to revolve around me and my feelings.
Instead of “I’m offended!”, I tend to say, “That’s racist!” However, this method has its own problems, because although you are not calling someone a racist, the accused perceives it that way, that you are personally attacking their character. Calling someone racist, they argue, is an ad hominem and therefore not a valid argument. They say that you are characterizing them as a bad person so that anything they say is characterized as illegitimate. They make it all about them instead of about the action being criticized. They claim that they are being silenced if I use the word “racist”, so that I even considered using the terms “racialist” or “racial discrimination” instead to make the criticism more acceptable. Sometimes I did this, until I realized that even if you use a less offensive word, they still became defensive because they could not accept the idea that racism isn’t over, or that they could be racist (adjective, which is a different concept than being a racist, noun). I also realized that I was bending over backwards as to not hurt their feelings, instead of the other way around, the latter being the illusion that they maintain through repetition.
The idea that finding racism requires searching is based on the idea that racism is rare, or that racism is rare in the United States (or rare in Canada), or that racism is rare among liberals, or that racism is rare among the left, or that racism is rare among anti-racists who happen to be white. These types of delusions are rooted in the need to elevate the group they identify with, and separate themselves from “those other white people” who are “the (real) racists” (noun phrase). Unfortunately, arguments like, “I’m not racist. I’m Canadian,” or “I’m not racist. I’ve read books by black authors,” or “I’m not racist. I’m an anti-racist activist,” are non sequiturs. Identifying with a specific group does not give anyone immunity from having racist thoughts, even if both white people and people of colour wishfully think that there are racism-free spaces. . . .
[The rest of this post is at Restructure!'s blog; see also a reaction at Abagond. Restructure! writes of herself, "I am a heterosexual, cisgender, and currently able-bodied Canadian woman of colour. I make use of the 'illusion of objectivity' when I write posts for this blog, Restructure! I avoid the words “I” and “we” as much as possible in my posts, in attempt to throw off the white gaze and the male gaze from myself, and to throw the gaze on to whites and males."]