Race can be a hard thing to talk about. It’s one of those topics we’re all too afraid to touch, which is exactly why it’s so important to talk about! We need to have those conversations we feel uncomfortable having. We need to ask questions we are afraid to ask. We need to communicate.
Race seems like a simple thing. He’s black. She’s white. Ze’s latina. They’re mixed. But race is so much more complex than skin. It’s coded with meaning socially, systematically, and culturally.And that’s part of what makes it interesting.
It’s also what makes it somewhat confusing. Maybe you sometimes find yourself asking, “Wait, is that racist?” Well, if you’ve ever had that moment, this is for you. Here’s answers to your 5 most common questions on racism.
“Does reverse racism even exist?” — Anonymous
Simple, straight to the point question. With a pretty straightforward answer. No. It most definitely does not. But let me actually explain. Racism is when people of a particular race are systematically and socially discriminated against because they as a group are believed to be inferior to people of another race. And this is SOLEY BECAUSE OF THEIR RACE. Racism is everything from higher rates of incarceration for people of color to your white grandfather snarling the n-word at family dinner. Got it? Good.
Well, the only race that has the power and privilege to cause this mass social and systematic discrimination is the white race. Even if you are white and not consciously putting down people of color on the regular, you are always participating in a racist system. Why? Because you can’t escape the power and privilege of being white. Does that mean you’re automatically racist for simple being white? No. But it means you are tied to a lot of B.S. that you have a responsibility to call out. Like your grandfather at dinner.
Sure, people of color can be biased against white people. They can think all white people have certain characteristics that make them icky. But they don’t carry the power and privilege to have that bias enact major discrimination. And that’s the difference.
“Why is there a Black History Month and not a white one? Isn’t that racist?” — Sophia
It really isn’t! Black History Month is totally important and definitely not racist. One, because as I’ve talked about above, people of color simply cannot be racist. And two, because history desperately needs to be diversified! Think about it! You spend all of social studies class reading about straight white men who just stomped all over the place claiming land, people, and power. You probably only know about a handful of people of color who impacted history, which is B.S.
History is told through a white lens. And Black History Month challenges that. It’s a way for people of color to celebrate their history, their lives, their struggle, and their progress. And it’s a way to challenge white people to include all of that into current white-washed history. It’s a response to how effed up it is that entire textbooks are filled with white bodies, leaving people of color as a footnote. As a supporting character in a white narrative. The past was a lot more than a white narrative, and we need to recognize that. We are constantly getting an abridged version that cuts out black and brown bodies. And that needs to change.
“Why is it cultural appropriation when white people rap or are into hip-hop culture?” — Anonymous
The problem is white people are constantly applauded for taking up things people of color created, while black people are often criticized for the same act. Think of how Miley apparently “started” the twerking craze while people of color have been dancing in the same fashion FOREVER to often harsh criticism. Think of how Daniel Radcliffe was applauded for this version of “Alphabet Aerobics” while a black actor would definitely not receive the same attention for rapping a song. Think of the popularity of Macklemore as a white straight male rapper while black queer male rappers get NO ATTENTION whatsoever. Think of your friend who wore a sombrero on Cinco de Mayo while eating Tostitos and jarred salsa. It’s all cultural appropriation and it’s all not okay.
Now, that being said, I as a white person often listen to hip-hop by black queer artists like Le1f and Cakes Da Killa. I would argue that the act of listening and appreciating someone’s work is not cultural appropriation – especially if that person is of the background that the work originated. But the act of being a white person who does not recognize the roots of a culture they are participating in is cultural appropriation. We all need to be a little more conscious of histories, roots, and meanings. We all need to work on being more educated about each other. Period.
“Is it just me or do people need to stop worrying about race? Who cares? Why can’t we just accept other for who they are?” — Denise
I agree that we (mostly white people) need to work on practicing more acceptance when it comes to race. We need to work on calling out our biases toward each other when it comes to race or anything else. We need to stop banishing toxic thoughts when they happen. We need to confront them. If I ever find myself making assumptions about a person based on race, I confront myself. I ask, “Why?” I deconstruct. That’s important on the road to personal acceptance. And I encourage that type of critical thinking when it comes to race.
However, we can’t stop worrying about race. At least not yet…maybe not EVER. Race is something that has such a great impact on how the world works right now. Not just because of racism, but because it allows people of color to have a sense of community and commonality even in the face of injustice. Think #BlackLivesMatter. Having a color blind approach to race dismisses the inequality people of color face every. single. day. It doesn’t recognize racism as a problem. It doesn’t call out personal biases. And it doesn’t celebrate that community. Which is why it isn’t revolutionary to have a color blind approach to race. It’s simply dismissive…not to mention problematic!
“Why is it okay for African Americans to use the n-word and not other races? Isn’t it still derogatory and self-deprecating no matter who says it?” — Anonymous
Not true. The n-word is historically a term that white people used to degrade black bodies. It was reclaimed by some members of the black community as a term of endearment. For some people, it’s almost familial. Reclaiming it has taken the sting out of it for some. Not all. But some.
However, that sting is still there when a white person throws around the term. Whether they are snarling it to degrade a person of color or are rapping along to a tune in their car, the n-word said by a white person isn’t just a word. It’s loaded historically, linked to slavery, violence, and brutalization of black bodies. And that make it totally not okay for a white person to just throw around. Because, when you do that, you are disregarding that history and those lives.
Do you have any more questions on racism? Need help figuring out how you can be a stellar ally to marginalized communities? Let’s chat it out in the comments.