Racism. May 2020.
I have dated this post in the title for a reason.
On Wednesday, I finished my last exam of second year – an American Lit paper on how it has made whiteness visible. As with every other exam, I thought I was going to let go of it and chill. And here I am the next day, writing this post, not having let go of it at all.
Before I start this post, I want to explain a few things:
I do not have all the answers and I am not always right – do not take my word as scripture
I am in a current process of educating myself – if I am wrong, please tell me, correct me, educate me.
I will not and cannot possibly cover all the issues that fall under the umbrella of racism in this one post. I have tried to be as select has possible to make this coherent. More posts coming…
Get involved, use your voice and educate yourself.
Racism – an outline.
If you google ‘what is racism’ you will be overwhelmed with results and definitions and part of the issue with this is that it is a fluid and changing concept depending on context, time etc. In “The Fight to Redefine Racism” by Kelefa Sanneh in the New Yorker, Sanneh explains the varying definitions between writers, ‘Unlike Kendi, who boldly defines racism, DiAngelo is endlessly deferential—for her, racism is basically whatever any person of color thinks it is.’ So, let’s break it down:
Race – race is not biological fact it is social construct. It was created by socially dominant groups to categorise others, notably through the enslavement of Africans and colonialism, promoting the idea of white civility vs coloured barbarity.
Racism – put simply, racism is racial prejudice + power. Racism is the exercise of power to express racial prejudice.
‘involuntary modification of native values and the presence of racism which ranks racial groups into superior-inferior categories.’ (Staples 38) Staples, Robert. “Race and Colonialism: The Domestic Case in Theory and Practice”, The Black Scholar, Vol. 7, No. 9, 1976, pg 37-48. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41066048. Accessed 28 May 2020.
Racism is not a personal opinion. It is not unintentional. It is not procedure. It is not a mistake.
The “Progression” Myth.
You might have heard the term ‘post-racial’ before, usually used to talk about America. In 2008 after Obama was elected and made history, many commentators took this as a sign of a ‘post-racial America’, flagging the idea that African-American’s were finally getting racial equality. That was 12 years ago. In 2020, I struggle to find people being able to even consider the term ‘post-racial’. I feel like reaching for the term ‘dystopian’ more than anything else.
And this is not exclusive to America.
Growing up, the topics of racism and race were prevalent for me and my sisters. Our parents told us stories of their racist encounters, a very ‘normal’ part of being the immigrant generation of the 60/70’s. I still felt some distance from it. When I was younger, I definitely felt like ‘racism’ was something of the past, tied up in my parents history. But really, our parents were telling us our history – and what would be our present.
In March, a week before I left Exeter to live with Sita in London, I was walking back home from campus. I saw a white woman walking towards me and she looked like she’d seen a ghost. I felt a moment of panic – what was behind me? What was it she was so frightened of?
Oh – it was me.
At this point, racial tensions were boiling over, we had had racial attacks on fellow Asian Exeter students and the villainisation of China, Wuhan and Asia was taking possession of the media. See, my Asian racial complexion frightened her. She was holding a piece of paper in her hand, pulled her sleeve over it and held it up to her mouth. To avoid me as best she could, she trotted past me at this point, walking in the road rather than the pavement to get past me as best she could, all the while, flicking her eyes up and down from me. When she finally felt she was far enough away, and at this point I turned around to look, she relaxed and was staring back at me in a ‘Thank God I’m safe‘ sort of way. I couldn’t stop laughing.
Show me the progression.
This week, my parents went out to get their shopping. As they were driving to leave, a white man in the car next to them yelled out his window:
‘you people don’t know how to drive!’
You people. You people. You people. You people. Progression?
And it’s funny. When Dad told us on face time, the reaction wasn’t gasp, shock horror. It was pretty blank to be honest. Because this isn’t new. This isn’t rare. This is just reality.
As is the murder of George Ffloyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor – the list is endless and frighteningly forseeable. The reality is that a man in Arizona was held at gunpoint whilst trying to deliver food because the gunman claimed he was a criminal. The reality are the ‘blame China narratives’. This is the reality. This is our racist reality.
Racial progression is a myth, so where did it come from?
‘Behind closed door’ culture.
When you are not allowed to do something you look for loopholes, you look for ways about it to beat the system. This is the thought process of a modern day racist. This is the thought process of a child.
Sure, by law, by looking at the general public it might seem like equality is apparent, as if racism is being stomped out, public lynchings don’t happen anymo-
In talking about progress is where you catch yourself. If by law, this is illegal, if by morally accepted value, this is wrong – why is it happening? Well, because whilst racism might be publicly unacceptable, you can’t control what happens behind closed doors, in private. You cannot control the ways in which the media communicates and reinforces these ideas. You cannot control the ways the reactions and subsequent actions of people perpetuate racism. People become sneakier, some people think silence is better than getting involved. Thus, it becomes a behind closed door culture.
‘Loud in our laughter, silent in our sufferin” Dave, “Black.” Psychodrama, Neighbourhood, 2019.
Your history. My history. Our history.
I refer you back to the definition of racism and that word: power. What do you do when the system you live in is set up to rid you of that power, when your own history and heritage was dissolved of its power. When you realise that your own friends could have possibly benefited from this, from the racism and colonialism your ancestors were subjected to – where the product of one white heritage was the ripping apart of a coloured one.
Watch this. And then rewatch it. Repeat.
What’s funny is that whilst often, POC have found power in their history, their heritage and they are proud, it is the white habit privilege that allows white people to disassociate themselves from their same history. It is the ability to turn a blind eye, to not have to recognise that racism is where their heritage and wealth may have come from. And why? Because it is uncomfortable.
It’s uncomfortable as fuck. It’s also horrific and it’s violent and it’s devastating – and it is our history. Being ‘uncomfortable’ is not an excuse. And those who use it as such and those POC who don’t call them out on it validate that white privilege. The privilege to switch off, the privilege to disassociate, the privilege to opt out of a history created by whiteness.
I have a lot more to say, this will be something I talk about for the rest of my life, but for today, that’s where I’ll leave it. You’re either racist or you’re anti-racist – there is no grey area here. Educate yourself, take your stance and say something.