I often like PostSecret*, but some of the secrets posted there seem better left unsaid.
What's the secret in this recently accepted submission? Is this actually a secret, or just somebody's racist rant?
White people sometimes defend their use of the word "ghetto" by claiming that it's become such a common term that it's not really about black people anymore. Surely the words in this image expose the truth behind that claim--it's clear that the "ghetto people" here are not white people.
Whoever submitted this image to PostSecret is very likely white, and even more likely, not black. What this person is basically saying is, "I'm not a racist, but . . ." And those are words that always seem to be followed by a racist claim or observation.
The particular kind of "I'm not a racist but" claim here is the claim that the speaker doesn't want to be a racist, "but those people just make me one, you know?"
As in, "I'm not a racist, but you know, working around those people all day, it's hard not to be."
Or, "You can say all you want about how those people get a raw deal, but I've gone to school with a lot of them. I know what they're like."
With the above PostSecret submission, the conversational version of its "secret" might be, "I'm not a racist, but dude, waiting on black people just makes you racist, you know? Those ghetto people never leave a tip. They suck!"
As I've written before, this common attitude among restaurant workers toward black diners is a gross oversimplification. Not only that, this attitude can also result in a self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of servers who harbor it.
Some studies show that black people do often tip less, but that this difference occurs because many blacks customarily eat in restaurants that don't call for tipping. Other studies say it occurs because a negative dynamic is at work: white servers expect bad tips from black customers, and thus tend to pay them less attention than they do non-black customers. In return for such treatment, black customers respond with appropriately low tips, thereby confirming white conceptions of them.
What the maker of this PostSecret image exemplifies is a common white tendency, that of blaming our racism on other people. We inevitably carry stereotypes around with us, and then when something happens that confirms a stereotype, we blame those involved in the incident for making us racist, because they've supposedly confirmed the stereotype.
"If the shoe fits," we often mutter in such cases, while looking off to the side. Nevermind, we seem to think, the many more people of whatever race we're condemning who've countered the stereotype for us.
I'm reminded of a similar case--how little attention was paid during the presidential campaign by the white-framed corporate media, and by white people in general, to John McCain's usage of the g-word. Since he actually had bad experiences at the hands of Vietnamese people, the thinking seemed to go, that excused his casual use of a racist slur. Sure it was a racist gaffe, but he really was treated badly, you know? He was tortured by them.
Imagine if, on the other hand, Barack Obama had been caught on tape complaining about "honkies" or "crackers." Or instead, recall the desperate search by many opposed to Obama for the "Whitey" tape, which supposedly showed Michelle Obama angrily denouncing white people (and which, of course, never surfaced).
Even the possibility that not Barack Obama, but instead his wife, had uttered an anti-white slur got far more attention than the actual use by Obama's opponent of a far worse racial slur. Why the disparity?
I think it's partly because, as the PostSecret item above demonstrates, white people are quick to overlook racism when the perpetrator claims to have some actual negative experience with the non-white people in question. When we think we can blame our racism on the actions of other people, that's supposed to make that kind of racism okay.
*If you're not familiar with PostSecret, Wikipedia offers a good, quick description: "PostSecret is an ongoing community mail art project, created by Frank Warren, in which people mail their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard. Select secrets are then posted on the PostSecret website, or used for PostSecret's books or museum exhibits."