Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What is racism?

(Aside: I'm alright after a 6.4 quake off the coast, just in case you worry ;)

Race has come into my radar in 3 unrelated issues this week, and being a believer in things grand and cosmic, I can't help feeling that happened for a reason, so for the rest of this week I'll be posting on race and racial issues. I hope I give you some food for thought.

Last week, a think tanker posted an article about President Obama's "convenient" pre-election stance on homosexuality. The blogger accompanied her post with this photo (which I will probably remove soon).

The think tank removed the picture and offered an apology for a picture that was "racist and pornographic." The blogger apologised, saying she meant nothing racist by it, it's just that the state was a Southern one, and fried chicken is Southern.

A friend posted a link to all this on Facebook, and I said I was much more offended by the pornographic end of it, and that I didn't believe the connection of black people to chicken to be a racist one.

Enter argument, stage right.


My defence lies in the definition of racism. After a few times back and forth with my friends, I was beginning to think my definition was skewed. So I checked 5 dictionaries - the one that is physically in my house, and 4 online ones, because I wanted to be sure that racism meant what I thought it did.

Racism is NOT, as many people seem to think, the universal connection of a race to one trait, one type of food, one category of anything. Racism can include all of that as an aspect of it. But racism MUST include some aspect of inferiority or discrimination or negativity.


To say all people of one race are murderers or liars or thieves is racism, because it's negative and discriminatory. To say black people have good natural rhythm is not, because there isn't an element of inferiority or discrimination or negativity.

So what are these things which lump all people of one race into a category, if not racism? Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the racial stereotype. Racial stereotypes, like any other stereotypes can be both  useful or harmful. They can be the root of racism, but they aren't in and of themselves racism.

Come back tomorrow for my look at Race and Entertainment.


Asia Morela said...

Interesting. I think the same kind of confusion is often made with "sexism". I read a very interesting article a while back which went even further... Sexism (and maybe racism as well) isn't just about being prejudiced against one sex/race, ie thinking negative things about it, but about a socially/politically/economically organized power structure which institutes inequality.

So, for example, women can't be "sexist", but they can be prejudiced. Their prejudice holds no power, though. (Article is here, if you're interested: http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2007/10/19/sexism-definition/)

In the same vein, another blogger argued that slurs were not hurtful because of the intention behind them (in which case, you could just choose to ignore them), but mainly because they are supported by organized privilege: http://bunnika.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/words-from-a-cripple/

In other words, a black person in a Western society will *never* be able to offend or harm a white person the way the opposite is true, no matter their amount of prejudice, even of negative stereotyping of whites. Racism isn't just a personal feeling; it is a structural type of oppression.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I will never understand what makes someone create a picture like that. It's not funny or clever. All I can think is a person who puts something like that out there is ugly in spirit.