Thursday, June 19, 2014

Racism is the new Four Letter Word

I shocked a black woman yesterday by telling her that occasionally I blog about racism.

She visibly startled, as if I had said "boo". But  as I spoke, she quickly recovered and shook her head in agreement that yes, racism is an issue that still needs to be addressed.

But I realized, I had struck a nerve.

I spend a lot of time on the internet so I'm used to the denial and outright anger when the word "racism" comes up. White people immediately internalize that word and they do not hear "something someone said or did was racist." What they hear is, "I am white. Are you calling me a racist? How dare you? I'm not a racist. If I were we wouldn't be having this conversation." And on and on until they are sufficiently certain that they are not personally being called out on racist behavior or actions.

To talk about racism to a white person who is inexperienced at addressing matters of race is an exercise in tedium. Because first they have to exonerate themselves. They must make sure that they are not included, they have to make sure that the rules against generalizing about white people are being followed - that is, if there is one white person who is the exception to the rule against millions who fall under the umbrella of what's being discussed then the caveat must be given - "You can't say all white people, because that's just raci...I mean wrong."

It's also helpful if to white people to discuss racial issues without using the words "race" or "racism". To discuss anything to do with *whispering* black people. Political correctness and the corporate boardroom have given us words to use to discuss race without ever saying the words Black or Asian or Latino. All you have to do is talk about "diversity."

"Our organization is diverse." "We embrace diversity." Which can mean anything from we have a rainbow coalition to we don't push women down the stairs. At best it means, "We find that having different people from different backgrounds gives our company an edge." At worst it means, "We realize that hiring only white people makes us look bad."

What I hadn't realized is that using the word "racism" has become taboo among black people as well. We have learned to use all the euphemisms. We have learned to describe racism in individual acts of hatred rather than an overall and collective system of oppression.

We have learned that "racism" has been reduced to something akin to "bullying." And as we are constantly told, bulling is an increasing problem but it's up to the "victims" to fight back. As long as they do so in ways that are constructive.

There's always a caveat, isn't there? There's always a "way" to discuss these issues so as not to make anyone feel bad.

Except for the person who already does.

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