I just received an ask that attempted to take me to task for only highlighting racism from white people, saying that if I wanted to make a difference, I should focus on racism coming from everybody, not just white people. How this difference would be measured and how the asker seemed to know that my doing this would make a difference, I don’t know. But let’s leave that aside.
This Tumblr is not about calling out every single time a person says a racist thing. It’s even debatable whether or not people of color in the United States (if not most of the West) are capable of racism, if we understand racism as being inextricably tied to power structures (the shorthand would be that racism is prejudice + power). Certainly people of color can make prejudicial statements about people of other ethnicities: there’s absolutely no debate there. But without the tacit institutional and societal backing (that leads to things like stop-and-frisk practices, severely disparate sentencing in our justice system, the erosion of voting rights, or even something as mundane as being followed around a store on the presumption of being up to no good), such prejudicial views, while noxious, have a limited impact on others. In short, white racism helps to perpetuate the worst things about our country; racism (or prejudice, whatever you want to call it) from people of color, though ugly, does not. There’s no way of meaningfully equivocating the two without being stunningly oblivious to history.
So, here’s the thing. I started this when I saw that the overwhelming majority of people up in arms about the Paula Deen affair were white Americans. And more to the point, those white people mad at Food Network (the original title of this Tumblr) were often displaying their racism through the things they said. I highly doubt, however, that most of them understood they were racist: it’s often dressed up as nationalism or color-blindness or religiousness. That’s how these things tend to go. They don’t think of themselves as bad people, and, honestly, they’re probably not bad people. I’m sure most of them are kind and love their friends and family and want a better world, just like most of the rest of us.
The problem is twofold: 1) it’s really easy to be racist and 2) we have this unfortunate caricature of what a racist is in our minds (think: Nazi, Klansman, Skinhead, etc.). As such, the minor, everyday racism that’s unwittingly perpetrated by otherwise lovely people doesn’t get called out, because we don’t want to think of our friends and family as racists (see point 2) above. The point is that racism is incredibly mundane, and that’s why it’s so insidious (cf. Arendt and the banality of evil, etc.): it’s so easy, but we have this mistaken impression that racists are this evil monster who is easy to recognize from a goose-step or a white hood, so when we don’t see those things, we ignore the much more real (and, in their aggregate, threatening) microaggressions.
I’m calling out white people saying racist shit in public forums not so much for their own edification (since they often have people responding to them already), but to put them on display so that others can see what racism actually looks like. Additionally, I sometimes have amusing things to say because, let’s face it, a lot of these folks are pretty funny.
So, there you go, asker. I ignored your comment through Tumblr since I didn’t want to give you a pulpit (this is, after all, my show), but I have responded in as civil a manner as I know how. You also predicted I’d lash out at you with hate, though I’m not sure where you get that idea. Projecting, perhaps?