Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Blip: "White people don't understand racism"

This is a sentiment that boils my blood for many reasons:

-First off, racism is a word. Understanding of a word relies on comfortability with a given language and its connotations. I am English, I was born and raised in England and taught English as a first language. I also have a great interest in many other languages, this is handy to show the roots of language by how similar certain words are across the world. I understand what the word means and I understand the situations it refers to. That should be enough but I'm white so apparently it isn't.

-Racism is making a distinction about someone based on their race, it doesn't refer to a single instance of racism in the past and it doesn't refer to a single race and its associated hardships. So there is no reason why any race would be unaware of such a concept.

-Humans are often intelligent beings capable of sympathy and empathy, we are also capable of explaining complicated concepts thereby effectively communicating these ideas indirectly. I can describe a certain feeling and you can take from my description what the feeling is like. Words/concepts/feelings all function under this idea, which means I don't need to have experienced racism directly to understand what it is and how it damages people.

-This myth is mainly based from the similar idea that white people have never experienced racism, which is so monumentally stupid that to be honest, I shouldn't have to waste the time in a modern society disparaging but evidently I'm going to have to. Racism is a distinction made against a race of people, positive or negative are both just as destructive because of the fundamental issue of racism. That is that it spreads false information about a group of people that are only grouped together with base physical characteristics such as skin colour. "Black people are all thieves" It's pretty obvious why this statement is inaccurate and unnecessarily destructive but more importantly it's a sweeping statement about all people that display the qualities of being 'Black' which defines the statement as racist. What about "Asian people are all good at maths"? Regardless of its intent and its effects both positive and negative, it too makes a sweeping statement about a race, ergo racism. Now: "White people can't dance" This is a common stereotype propagated by many T.V. programmes and alot more of popular culture itself. Yet again though, it makes a racial distinction and is therefore racist.

Again standard argumentation clearly shows that that evidence alone defeats the premise, although I suspect many people wouldn't accept just that so I will offer a further argument in the form of a small story:

A black boy at school has a difficult homelife and deals with it by victimising those around him in the classic bully way. A white boy becomes one of many targets of this abuse, suffering daily insults and racial slurs. One day, the last day of a school year, the bully attacks the victim physically with the help of a few friends and the victim retaliates, striking one of the bully's friends. This allows him to get away from the attack but the bullies give chase until the whole thing dissolves due to the intervention of a teacher. When the next school year begins, a case begins discussing whether to kick the white victim out of the school or not, based on him striking someone based on racial motivation.

I was glad to find out that eventually they just decided to drop the case. As is fairly obvious from the style of narrative, the white boy was me. I was singled out because of my race and then accused of racism because of my race.

-This phrase tends to crop up in the middle of discussions that started because of a mutual need to eradicate racism. What I mean by this is that the kind of people who say this are implying that they are trying to get rid of racism while supporting a racist statement and that kind of hypocrisy defeats the point.

In summary, this phrase and the sentiment it represents is harmful, unnecessary and most of all downright silly. I think the next time someone tells me I can't take part in a debate because "white people don't understand racism" I'm going to give them a hug and reply simply "I'm very sorry, I wasn't aware you had mental difficulties."

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