The Persisting Justification of Racism

Note: Been dealing with some formatting issues on the site e..g the spacing in this article. Working on it and will hopefully have it resolved soon.

When I was younger I had stereotypical notions of Texas being the most racist state in America. The Deep South still has a terrible reputation but more recent research I’ve done on America’s racial climate brought Massachusetts, and Boston in particular, to the forefront. As I was looking through an article detailing Boston athletes’ comments on Boston’s racism, I came across this comment:

 

It is no secret that Boston has always worn the label as a racist city. A well deserved one at that. But until people STOP using labels to describe ethnic group it will never stop. And that includes all groups. The African-American community needs to stop using the N word for everything. Lose it from your vocabulary . It doesn’t help your cause when you call each that name excessively. Maybe if the word disappears some of these hateful things can be avoided. Sounds a little naïve but it has to start somewhere”
This poster is right, his comment does sound naive. I almost don’t know where to start with this comment. The article detailed several testimonials about racism athelets received in Boston stadiums and Boston as a whole during their time playing for Boston sports teams. After reading all of the experiences, all this man can say is that maybe things like this wouldn’t happen if we didn’t use the N word.
“You’re the ones we learned it from. I heard nigg** back in 1971.” (Ice Cube: ‘Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It’).
It is not like blacks historically used the N word to refer to themselves, and then white people used it to insult us. The use of the n word is a re-appropriation of a term that is still used to denigrate the black population. I have heard people arguing that the true injustice is that black people can use the term and they can’t. After all, shouldn’t we be equal?
Firstly, this argument is dripping with paternalism and condescension. Secondly, it ignores context and history. Third, I would gladly trade not being allowed to say the n word for all the benefits that come with whiteness.
On average
1) Girls are more likely to date you
2) People will be more welcoming if you move into their neighborhood
3) People will be more willing to send their kids to school with your kids
4) You will be more likely to be hired for a job (Affirmative action actually benefits white women the most)
5) Less likely to get followed when you shop
6) Less likely to get pulled over by police
7) Less likely to get killed by police
Now, if someone said I can get all that but I won’t be allowed to say the n word, I would gladly take that deal. The white people who think they are victims because they can’t say the n word, represent the true “triggered” victims they always mock. They are surrounded by benefits and privileges that make their lives easier (as a whole), but they ignore all of that and focus on things that are trivial in comparison. I remember reading a testimonial from a woman who was upset because she saw a fruit stand that had a black Jesus painted on it. She felt victimized and ranted about how black people would get upset if she put up a white Jesus at her business. I remember reading this piece as part of my research for my Master’s paper, as best I can remember it came from White Out: The Continuing Significance of Racism but I may be mistaken.
This woman is blind to how white supremacy has created the popular image of white Jesus. European painters depicting Jesus in the 14-16th century were very unlikely to depict him as anything but white due to their own views on other races. Centuries later, depictions such as the Sistine Chapel still fuel the American conception of Jesus. This has been cemented by the most popular depictions of Jesus on film and on television. So, this woman ignores the dominant images of white Jesus all around her but feels the need to lash out at a fruit stand for showing something different. It is true that recently there have been more rules regarding displays of religion in some workplaces, which can sometimes affect displays of Jesus. That is not an issue of white Jesus vs Black Jesus though, it is often more of an issue of Christianity vs other religions, which is a whole other article.
Moving back to the comment that inspired this article, the poster also says that we can eradicate racism by simply getting rid of labels. It is true that the labels of “black”, “white” etc. were birthed for the purpose of creating legal and social hierarchies. Hence, the frequently cited argument that race is just a social construct. However, people are not blind. They have always noticed skin colour. The desire to create a hierarchy was a result of the idea that people with darker skin were inferior. Even in the bible, the Cushites (called Ethiopians in the King James version) are described as dark-skinned Africans.
People will still see colour if we remove the categories of race. People already factor in skin colour when deciding what areas they want to live in, who looks suspicious, and who they want to date or marry. I have a hard time believing that tendency will disappear simply because the dark-skinned folk aren’t called “black” anymore. Dating profiles will say “no dark-skinned guys” or no “guys of African descent.” People will cross the street when they see a “dark-skinned guy” approaching. You see where I’m going with this.
What truly baffles me about this post is that this poster doesn’t spout the usual “I don’t even see colour” rhetoric that I would associate with his comments. His comments on removing the categories of race displays the same naivety that the colour-blind worldview does, but he, let’s call him “Blind”, actually acknowledged that Boston is a racist city. Many people would be happy to tell the Boston athletes that the racist incidents were very isolated ones or that they brought it on themselves somehow. Blind displays some more conviction but undermines it by shifting the conversation to race labels and the black community’s use of the n word.  Although he might not mean to, he resorts to blaming the victim. It’s the equivalent of asking a rape victim how she was dressed.
Although “Blind” didn’t make this argument, his comments also reminded me of the black-on-black violence cop-out that is often used by racists to shut down discussions of police shootings of black civilians: “Well black people are killing each other all the time anyway. Maybe they should work on that first instead of race-baiting.”
White people are also killed mostly by other white people, at least in the US. The next time a black person kills a white one, can I just retort that white people are killing each other off anyway?
Even the people who can acknowledge that racism is an issue, can have backwards ideas about its causes or resolutions. I believe that part of this problem is that some white people take it personal when you discuss acts of institutional racism or individual prejudice. They hear you discuss racism and get a knee-jerk reaction to accuse you of racism, or to simply discuss how enlightened and colour-blind they are: “I don’t even see colour, you’re so racist for talking about it.”
These people will then get “triggered” if they see a movie where a white character got changed to a black one (even though this happens less than whitewashing) : “Why is Hollywood forcing diversity on us? I hate this liberal propaganda.”
Welcome to the new colour-blind era.