Biracial, Racism: Part 3: Words Matter

Note: For the purposes of simplicity, I will assume myself to be 100% white for this blog post. In reality I am not, I am half-white and half-Chinese, but I have been told recently that basically makes me just white. So, just for this post, I’ll indulge that theory and intentionally ‘pass’ myself off as 100% white. 

In my new racial awakening, I realize words and labels do matter (a little late to the party), especially the more nuanced and ‘replacement’ words. Words such as ‘thug’ can be a euphemism for the ‘n-word’ and ‘thug-like’ behavior also a justification of the killing of black men by law enforcement. Using the word ‘ghetto’ to describe the behaviors, appearance or actions of a white person is a way of degrading Black people as it refers to a lower socio-economic class. I have piggy-backed off of another writer(s) who is more articulate on this subject than I am.

Contributors for The Huffington Post Emma Gray and Jessica Samakow have compiled a list specifically for ‘White people’ so that we don’t inadvertently offend the sensibilities of Blacks and perhaps other minorities. Here is the list of 11 things in its entirety (my comments are underlined and italicized):

Here are 11 things every white person who doesn’t want to be Part Of The Problem should know: I sure hope I am not part of the problem but part of the solution.

1. Everyone has a race — even you. 

“Racism is the fact that ‘White’ means ‘normal’ and that anything else is different,” writer John Metta wrote in a blog published on HuffPost. Because whiteness is viewed as the “default,” white people have the privilege of distancing themselves from the concept of race or denying it altogether. The first step towards combating structural racism is acknowledging its existence — and the ways in which cultural ideas about whiteness prop up those structures.

I know that. I don’t think White means ‘normal’ or the ‘default’, and also White doesn’t automatically equal arrogant, racially oblivious maybe, but not arrogant. The denial or White privilege or not acknowledging it exists at all is still quite prevalent among White people and that needs to be addressed.

2. For white people, talking about race is uncomfortable. For people of color, it’s a necessity

No, talking about race isn’t fun. Confronting privileges and structures far larger than yourself — ones which you may feel you have little-to-no control over or no idea how to change — will always be uncomfortable. But… tough shit. “The entire discussion of race in America centers around the protection of White feelings,” wrote Metta. (See: “white fragility.”) Many people don’t have the ability to ignore these issues, because they worry that the color of their skin could mean dying in police custody after being pulled over for a routine traffic violation, or being killed for walking down the street wearing a hoodie, or being massacred by a white man in their house of worship. Discussions of racism can’t be dictated by the emotions of white people.

I can’t disagree here, it’s damned uncomfortable, especially if everything feels like an accusation, and I know, it’s not about just ‘you’, it’s the ‘collective’ White race and it’s not meant to sound like an accusation. And I learned another new term ‘White fragility’, discussion of race centered around being concerned about the feelings of White people. Hmmm, I am confused by this one, if you turn on any channel and when in discussion of race, feelings of White people is rarely a factor nor consideration, nor should it ever have to be. Also, any person, White, Black, Latino or other, do not like to be accused of something in which these authors say have ‘little-to-no control over or no idea how to change’. The police killings of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and all others were carried out by White cops, in which all other White people had no control over nor took part in that decision but yet we are made to feel we are complicit simply by being ‘White’ and therefore we must subscribe to the White culture’s belief of Black and Latino’s are criminal by nature? Or am I making it personal and about me? Lastly, they never offered any tips or advice on how to dismantle the current unjust system. To just say ‘don’t participate’ in it is too vague. 

3. You’re not “color blind.”

You do see race. You make snap judgments. Pretending that you don’t see race simply means that you haven’t had to. Guess what? That’s the epitome of privilege. People who are discriminated against don’t get to just wake up and decide race doesn’t matter, that it doesn’t exist. Neither do you.

I totally agree with this. No one is color blind. I know racism exists even though I wasn’t the recipient of it. 

4. You need to recognize that you benefit from white privilege in order to move the conversation forward.

As one student in the documentary noted, as a white person, “you don’t have to prove you’re one of the good ones.” Think about how often that applies. If you’re pulled over by a cop, your innocence is assumed. If you’re looking to move, your neighbors will believe you’re a good person without any proof. If you’re shopping in a store, you won’t be followed by an employee. You don’t get to choose whether you benefit from white privilege or not — it’s the structures in place that automatically grants it to you. Denying that only makes you complicit in continuing that cycle.

I do benefit from white privilege, I didn’t pay attention to it before, but I do now, guilty as charged, I am ready to move the conversation forward.

5. #BlackLivesMatter doesn’t suggest that other lives don’t — it’s about making sure that black lives do. 

Presidential candidate Martin O’Malley learned this lesson after he said that all lives matter at the Netroots Nation conference. Of course they do, but declaring it misses the point.

Do not assume that Martin O’Malley speaks for all White people. I don’t assume that Al Sharpton speak for all Black people. Most white people I know support #BlackLivesMatter and are appalled at the treatment of black people at the hands of law enforcement even though we (collective white people) are part of the problem. 

6. People of color are allowed to be angry about racism. Don’t dismiss that anger, take it in. 

Social change requires making some noise. As the Black Lives Matter protest at the Netroots Nation conference proved, activists of color are going to hold all influencers — allies or otherwise — accountable. And doing so probably will involve “disruption,” fueled in part by (righteous) anger. As white people, we have to accept that anger is a natural response to being systematically oppressed. And it can be an effective tool. “Frustration. Anger. Silenced. Talked over. Ignored,” reads a post on Eclecta Blog, about the Netroots protest. “Every single one of these emotions are felt acutely and painfully every single day by racial minority groups in our country.”

This sounds condescending, I don’t even know the point of this edict, people can feel whatever they want to feel and express that feeling any which way they like. Just because White people ‘respond’ to the feelings of anger is no way ‘silencing’, the White person is just stating his/her view on whatever is being discussed, last I checked, that was still allowed. 

7. Everyday racism is subtle and insidious. 

Blatant racism is easy to recognize, and easy to separate ourselves from. As President Barack Obama stated in a June podcast, “It’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.” Racism is everywhere — black actors and actresses are sidelined in Hollywood. In the workplace, the wage gap hits black women and Latina women the hardest by far. And people of color experience racial microaggressions on a daily basis. (Comments like: “What are you?” and “You don’t really act black.”)

Yes, yes and yes. This is the front line of fighting racism in the 21st century. The quiet insidious almost unseen racism that seeps into everyday American life. The subtle stereotypes, the polite ignoring of people of color because they are ‘not like us’. A group or herd mentality that seeks to oppress those who aren’t the same by social ostracization. This can only be fought fully when ‘white privilege’ is recognized, acknowledged and accepted as daily part of American life and accepted without making excuses for it, only then can subtle latent racism be fought. And the so-called ‘racial microaggressions’, and asking people questions like ‘what are you?’ and ‘you don’t act black?’  and ‘Can I touch your hair’? This to me speaks more to lack up proper upbringing and ignorance than a ‘racial microaggression’, you don’t ask any person questions like that. And you never ever ask to touch another person unless you are invited. Period. Not another person’s hair, not their pregnant bellies, weird birthmarks or anything that strikes your curiosity. 

8. Words matter. 

Before you speak, think about the impact the words you choose could have on the people around you. At one point in “White People,” a black student breaks out in tears when a white girl doesn’t understand why casually calling her white friend’s behavior “ghetto” was a problem. As BuzzFeed’s Tamerra Griffin put it, when a white person says “That’s ghetto,” black people hear, “That is a negative thing I associate with blackness and/or the working class.” See Griffin’s list of 14 Words That Carry A Coded Meaning For Black People for more phrases you should consider banning from your vocabulary. (Yes, describing a trend as “urban” is racist.)

I have a few choice ‘words’ on the subject too. I will elaborate later.

9. The conversation about race implicates you, but your voice should not be at the center of it.

As Taylor Swift learned from her recent Twitter back-and-forth with Nicki Minaj, when people of color criticize structural inequality it’s not about you, personally.  Again: It’s. Not. About. You. Personally. So don’t try to make it all about you. White people need to take responsibility for the big and small ways we perpetuate racism. But often that means taking a step back and listening to the people who are impacted by racism day in and day out. If you’re going to add your voice to a dialogue — which you should — make sure you’re adding value to the conversation, and not just silencing the grievances of people of color.

This I don’t get, since this whole list is directed at specifically White people, how are White people suppose to take it in and accept it without making it personal? You are talking about me and my race and the beliefs, actions and a whole slew of unearned privileges associated t0 my race but it’s not personal? About Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift’s twitter ‘spat’, just to provide context, the comment ‘skinny white girl’ who gets all the VMA nominations, all the nominees were black in the category except Taylor Swift, so of course Taylor Swift in the heat of the moment took that to be personal to her. And she graciously apologized on Twitter and called Nicki Minaj on the phone to apologize again. I think she’s done her duty as a conscientious and responsible skinny White girl. I am not defending Taylor Swift nor am I a fan, but to use a twitter ‘conversation’ between 2 entertainers to make a point about race relations is a bit absurd. And by the way, both Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift are EXTREMELY privileged people in more ways than one, so they are hardly good examples for the case they are trying to make here. Also, Nicki Minaj’s voice was no where near silenced, I don’t think she can be and that’s why we love her.

10. “Reverse racism” isn’t a thing. 

Watch comedian Aamer Rahman debunk the term (really, do yourself a favor and watch this):

I know that, I didn’t watch the video, don’t need to watch it. Reverse racism was invented by disgruntled White people who didn’t get into the college of their choice because their ‘spot’ was handed to a minority due to affirmative action. 

11. Don’t think you know it all — or even most of it. Listen, listen, listen. 

Self-explanatory.

Lastly, about No. 8 – ‘Words Matter’, yes they do. So, here are my ‘words’. I am not a hapa, half-breed or any word that includes the word ‘breed’, I am biracial. I identify as biracial Caucasian-Chinese to be very specific, but biracial will do. There’s nothing wrong with the word hapa, I just don’t like it, I’ve never used that word to describe myself, it’s just not ‘me’. I don’t look in the mirror and go ‘there’s a hapa’. It’s not a derogatory word or a racial slight, I get that, I just don’t like it. So I am not a hapa. I am biracial.

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