This is a heavy post for me, but recent events have brought this subject closer and closer to my forebrain and it’s no longer ignorable – let’s talk a bit about racism.
First, a bit of context. I was born in a small village just North of Nottingham, and my first memory of someone who wasn’t the same race as me comes from when I was four. There was a kid in my class who’s family was from China, and because of my upbringing I treated him no differently from any other child – we played, we argued and we plotted against the teacher. Normal stuff. It was only when I got a little older and stayed paying attention to what adults said that I realised that some people around me didn’t just see another person, that people were making assumptions about him and his family based on nothing more than his origin. It annoyed me, because he was a playmate – but I didn’t tackle it as I would now. Throughout my childhood, my teachers explained things like racism and homophobia as though they were things from a prior age, as though humanity was on the cusp of finally growing past all that sort of thing. Imagine my disappointment to find thirty years later that if anything the situation is worse.
I continued to grow up despising racism, but I never really engaged in doing anything about it; up until now you could say I was a noncombatant in the race war – and let me be clear on this – a war is what it is. Now I choose to fight in that war, and to do so I first need to be specific about the term racism. I have to admit I am not an expert on the subject by any means, but my working definition of racism is not limited to racist words; instead it is any action that seeks to obtain or maintain power over people of different race. I’ll skip over the obvious things (use of language to keep people “in place”, socio-economic discrimination), and even cast a jaundiced eye on “positive discrimination” – which is at worst a kind of patronage, a way of saying that people need to be dependent on you.
Racism is a part of the whole culture. While I certainly don’t think I should be held personally to account for the sins of my forebears, I do bear responsibility for allowing my culture to continue oppression and withholding privilege. We – now – get to make the decision about what we tolerate and what we don’t. Friends act in racist ways? Educate or reject them. Business operates on racist principles? Educate or leave. Family behave in racist ways? Educate or disown them.
If it’s not obvious from the first reading, I’ll make it clear why that makes it very difficult (impossible?) for anyone in the Western world of a different race to be racist to a white man. It’s because in the vast majority of cases, the person kicking out is not in the position of privilege; and taken as a whole their race certainly isn’t. If you look at any extant source of authority or power structure in the county (business, council, bank, etc.) you can bet that the members that form that authority are overwhelmingly white, and deliberately or not power structures tend to make change very difficult. If you’re white and someone tells you you can’t dance, that’s nothing but the truth – it’s not racist because it doesn’t perpetuate a culture of dominance over you, it’s not racist because it doesn’t remind you of hundreds of years of institutionalised disadvantaging of your people, and it’s not racist because it doesn’t make you lose hope in the chance of change.
Being a noncombatant is easy, because all it requires is inaction – but by being so we allow the continuation of something that should disgust anyone with working braincells, the deliberate suppression of an entire section of society. If you’re not fighting, it won’t change – and why wouldn’t you want it to change?
“One day people of X race may outnumber us?” – so? We’re all just people. We want to live, we want to have sex and we want a decent world for our kids. If the power dynamic switches sides, we should hope we are treated with more wisdom than we treat others. Humans are humans and that’s all that matters.
“I’m not racist, but” – yes you are. No excuses. My bullets in this war are for you. If you ever hear this phrase and don’t challenge it then you are dodging your responsibility in this fight – it doesn’t matter if they’re a friend or a family member, war transcends that and to ignore that fact is cowardice.
“I’m not privileged, I have X and Y disadvantage” – great, so you excuse yourself because you have some specific disadvantages rather than being held down by the weight of an entire society. Grow up and deal with your problems and stop blaming others.
“Oh well – bloke X is of race Y and he’s a terrible person” – Again, well dodged – there are good and bad people in every type of human on this planet, and saying that individual examples cherry-picked from your choice of 7 billion people excuse your reaction to any racial type of them is obvious idiocy.
That’s my opening rounds fired, I hope they do some good. The only way this war ends is by never believing it’s been won, and the first step of that is acknowledging it.