Saturday, 5 May 2012

Blip: Racism is not a bad thing.

Racism is a term that is thrown around too liberally and analysed to incorrectly all too often, so I'm going to try to enlighten some of those that are confused. First off, racism is not inherently a bad thing! I cannot stress that enough. No word or concept is naturally wrong, everything has its upsides and downsides, depending on your point of view. No exceptions. I can explain that in fuller detail if its needed but I want you to have an open mind if you are going to read this post.

Now that I've got that out of the way, I will try to deal with this as fairly as possible. I deal in linguistics heavily when it comes to high implication issues such as this and its easy to see why; words are all we have to categorise the world, so to clarify how we feel about a certain concept we have to understand and use words. With that in mind, let's move on to racism itself.

Racism is defined in many ways across many dictionaries although they all touch on the same basic thread and that is that it is grouping people by race. Definitionally, words are best understood through their roots; racism refers simply to seperating people by their races. It also often covers a trait that is assigned to a person, based on their race. Consider these statements and whether they are racist and also whether they are harmful:

-"All Black people are thieves.": Is this racist? Yes, of course it is. It is making a judgement about an entire race of people that is incorrect and harmful, however the racist element of it is not that it is harmful, only that it concerns a whole race of people. Is it harmful? I would say yes because of the situations it leads to. see the next statement.

-"Jay is Black therefore he is a thief." Is this racist? Yes, it is making the exact same presumption as the first statement, the delivery is different but fundamentally it is saying all black people are thieves and applying this 'law' to a person. Is this harmful? Yes, this is an application of the first statement and is unfairly applying an attribute to an individual, of whom we have no more information.

-"All Chinese people are good at mathematics." Is this racist? Again yes, because it is grouping all Chinese people together under a presumed trait. Some say this is a positive-type racist statement but there is no such thing. Any statement can be considered positive by some and negative by others. Regardless of the nature of this statement, it groups and assigns a trait to people and therefore is racist. Is it harmful? It is as harmful as any other racist statement can be, so yes.

-"That Black guy stole my pen." Is this racist? No its not. I know this may be hard to accept but it really isn't. The person who made this statement has identified the culprit as Black and has accused said individual of stealing the pen. We don't know if he really stole the pen, nor do we know if the accuser is saying so just because he is Black (which would indeed be Racist.) All we know is what has been said. There is no group of people being singled out and having a trait assigned to them. Is it harmful? Awkward question this time because all we have is the statement itself. It may be so that the accuser is accusing the guy because of his race or it may be that his race is irrelevant, in which case they are being harmful, unnecessary and generally a crude pillock but not racist.

If that last one doesn't quite settle with you then consider this: "The blonde girl ate my avocado." Is this racist? No, don't be absurd, no race is mentioned. Is it discriminatory and harmful because it uses a persons physical trait to identify them? The answer's in the question: no. The girl is just a girl and to determine which girl is being talked about, a feature is given.

I am quite tall and I object to being recognised as the "tall guy" when height isn't being referenced, I think it's a shame that we have to rely on physical attributes to establish eachother as different people but I understand its use. Regardless of my disdain for this though, it isn't harmful.

-"Jay is black and therefore more likely to be a thief." Is this racist? Yes. It isn't making an affirmative statement about 100% of black people, but it is nonetheless presuming a trait (in this case the heightened likelihood of possessing the qualities of a thief) about a race. Is it harmful? Not necessarily. If you treat Jay differently because of this statement, you are assuming he is indeed a thief, which is clearly harmful. If this statement is taken on it's own or has no such harmful effect, then it isn't harmful on it's own.

This is because the harm from the other statements comes from the element of presumption. Making a judgement of someone due to something unrelated to the matter being discussed is where the problem lies. This final statement makes no presumption though. Due to a myriad of socioeconomic reasons and the course of history, if you are black, statistically speaking you are more likely to live in an under funded, run down area of a developed country or a totally undeveloped area of an equally undeveloped country than you are to live in the opposite set of circumstances. People who live in down trodden circumstances are, due to lack of privilege, more likely to turn to crime, including thievery.

 This means if you're told Jay is a black male and you're given no more information but are asked to make some statements you could fairly say:

-His name is Jay
-He is male
-He is black
-Due to his colour, he is more likely to exist within an area that generates more thieves than other places and is therefore somewhat more likely to be a thief himself.

You would be stepping across the line and making a harmful racist declaration if you were to say:

-He is a thief
-He is certain to have any trait due purely to his race.

The aim of this is to show that racism isn't the enemy. Using racism as a weapon is just as wrong as using anything else as a weapon. A stick can be used as a weapon, but can also be used to build a treehouse or a ladder. To fix the problem you must remove the desire to weaponise, not remove racism.

On an additional note: I have issues with the vague nature of the concept of racism, such that I think it should be removed altogether, just not for the same reasons as most people. For the purposes of explaining the term, vague though it is, my original point stands.  

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