Am I Racist? Part 1: What is Racism?
There’s this meme I like. It has a stick figure sitting on a rocket that’s going pretty fast. You know it’s going pretty fast because its trail of smoke spells out whoosh. Anybody who’s been a kid, like I have, knows that whoosh means fast.
For example, someone could say “I was standing on the stop as the bus was approaching and… Whoosh!” We all know that bus was going pretty fast… And DID NOT stop to pick me up.
But this meme also has a small dot in the lower left corner labelled “the point.” Apparently, the rocketist whooshed right past the point and didn’t even notice. As I watched this video of David Pakman discussing race and racism, the feels spoke to me and we were in agreement that a point (arguably the point) had been missed. Let me lay it out.
Incepted in this video is another video where donald trump is eating and being interviewed in a diner, on the campaign, and a lady yells out “Enjoy your sandwich, you racist! I love New Hampshire!” Now, the jury is out on whether or not one can love New Hampshire, but “Enjoy the sandwich, you racist!” speaks to all of us. On this, we can all form an opinion.
In fact, the inceptor video calls into question the use and meaning of the word “racist,” whether it’s being overused, and if there should be a new word that is used. Herein lies the point that was missed and its many facets.
Pakman raises several questions in the video and as well makes several… uh, difficult… statements. He mentions that there are those that have taken the word racism and try to apply it to anyone who calls out racism because they made it about race. He goes on to mention those who use the term racism “unfairly (1:40)” to stop conversations that should be had. He then raises the question of whether the term “racism” has become a “diffuser or conversation stopper for everybody (1:50).”
Allow me to respond to this last question.
Is the term “racism” a conversation stopper?
No. Period. The only people that hear the term “racism” and end a conversation are those who are not ready to own up to their stake in the history and culture of the word itself. These people can be placed in groups of
- those who proclaim a post-racist society after the first Obama election,
- those who claim or imply that racism is the act of an individual, or
- those who think the acts designed to address racism are racist in and of themselves.
While these people are not necessarily members of one race, another, multiple races, or no race at all, they are typically unaware of their struggle with the concept of race. More pointedly, in an article on HuffPost, Dr. Robin DiAngelo says:
I am white. I have spent years studying what it means to be white in a society that proclaims race meaningless, yet is deeply divided by race. This is what I have learned: Any white person living in the United States will develop opinions about race simply by swimming in the water of our culture. But mainstream sources — schools, textbooks, media — don’t provide us with the multiple perspectives we need. Yes, we will develop strong emotionally laden opinions, but they will not be informed opinions. Our socialization renders us racially illiterate. When you add a lack of humility to that illiteracy (because we don’t know what we don’t know), you get the break-down we so often see when trying to engage white people in meaningful conversations about race.
The rest of us, as though this conversation is dichotomous, seek to address the issues as they arise and only agree to disagree after having found the consonances and dissonances within the conversation. However, the question “Is the term ‘racism’ a conversation stopper?” leads to more questions than answers regarding racism. Let’s look at arguably the most pressing of them.
What is racism?
Tim Wise defines racism in two ways: as an ideology and as a system.
Ideologically, “racism is the belief that a particular race is (or certain races are) superior or inferior to another race or races.”
Systemically, “racism is an institutional arrangement, maintained by policies, practices and procedures — both formal and informal — in which some persons typically have more or less opportunity than others, and in which such persons receive better or worse treatment than others, because of their respective racial identities.”
In the video above, there is the conundrum of whether the young lady believes trump subscribes to ideological racism, systemic racism, or both. In this series, I will not seek to prove whether or not a person is racist; however, I am seeking to explain/understand my perspective on the archetype of a racist and whether or not we, ourselves, fit that archetype.
This is a sufficient stopping point in the conversation. The information above is very dense in terms of set up and topic. In part 2, we will discuss a fundamental understanding of a racist before discussing whether or not we, ourselves, are racist in part 3. However, before we do, let’s think about, process, and discuss the definitions and understanding put forth in part 1.
The question that I would like to leave you with is “How does racism, as defined above, affect my ever day life?” When reflecting on or discussing this question, whether in the comments, on the phone, with your friends, a spouse, God, or the mirror, you want to keep in mind that this is a very complex topic that will not be solved in one post, conversation, or comment thread.
And always remember to “seek first to understand” in conversations concerning race and racism. This way, we can hear each others perspectives with empathy and patience.