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.

My Racial Awakening

In this brave new era people who discuss racism are viewed as society’s greatest dividers and agitators. Meanwhile, the people who’s lives are structured around racist assumptions and beliefs use the excuse of “colour-blindness” to shut down any discussion of racism. I have discussed this in my previous piece, which Talib Kweli was gracious enough to read and retweet. Since that piece discussed my current passion for the topic of race, I wanted to use this piece to discuss the reason I joined the discussion.

Until I was about thirteen, my view of the world was similiar to most conservatives. I thought racism was something historic, with only a few outliers remaining, such as the Klu Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis. Elementary and high school taught me about the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and Jim Crow, but never taught me about the more subtle forms of racism that are far more prevalent. My lessons on stereotyping and racial profiling were all extra-curricular ones until University. My experiences fortunately did not subject me to violence, but I don’t think they should be ignored simply because they didn’t result in violence or death. No matter what justifications people will want to use, my experiences show that people are not as “colour-blind” as they claim.

When I was thirteen my stepdad (at the time) and my mom announced that they were moving to England due to a work transfer. While they sorted out the move, I lived in Jamaica for one year with my uncle.

I think my time in Jamaica actually offered the most stark contrast possible to the experiences I would have in England. I moved from a country that was over 90% black to one that was less than 5% black. Of course, Jamaica has its own issues of discrimination, with colourism becoming a growing phenomenon, which is also leading to more skin bleaching as people try to lighten their skin to something they view as more beautiful.

However, when I was in Jamaica, I definitely didn’t receive the same level of scrunity for my skin colour as I did in London. At thirteen, I wasn’t as self-conscious as I am now. I initially ignored people staring,  people crossing the street or holding their purses tighter when they saw me. London has a decent black population, but the area I was living in was apparently one where they weren’t as welcome. Some people will be quick to say that this is an issue of class then, not race. However, I retort that this is an issue of race and class intersecting. What I experienced would not have happened to a white thirteen year old living in London.

I was one of the few black people at the first school I went to in England, and I think this also facilitated my release from blissful ignorance. Of course, being one of the few black people did not guarantee racism. I didn’t mind that people noticed I was black. I was never conservative enough to view their ability to see me as a mark of discrimination. Contrary to conservative doctrine, seeing someone’s colour isn’t racist. The issue is how you treat them due to their skin colour. I never felt discriminated against at the school like I did on the streets or in my own apartment. The issue at school was a more harmless form of ignorance, that nevertheless made me realize how different my race made me. As mentioned before, my mother didn’t want me growing my hair long, and this is a habit that has stuck with me. However, I would usually grow my hair out for a few weeks before getting it cut. I’d have a nest of curly hair less than an inch long on my head, which still managed to fascinate some of my classmates. I can remember plenty of them running their hands through it.

Yes, London may be a relatively diverse city but these kids didn’t grow up in that London. Southbank International School was a home for the children of wealthy Brits and expats, many of which apparently didn’t mingle that much with people of other races. There was even a rumour that I was related to the only other black person at the school, a girl a few grades older than me. This girl and I never spoke. I didn’t even know her name. It seems like people assumed we were related simply because our skin was the same tone. At the time, I didn’t consider this a subtle manifestation of racial ignorance. Although I realized how ignorant the assumption was, I found amusement in it. I didn’t find amusement in what greeted me outside the school.

I loved the gated complex we lived in, courtesy of my step-dad’s company. It was amazing seeing so many high end cars in the parking lot, everything from Aston Martins to Maseratis. The building’s staff were very familiar with my parents, and knew me well. As I look back on the experience, I realize how warm and welcoming they were to us. While I revelled in this new environment, certain things started to annoy me after a while.

“Do you live here?”

This was a question I received from other residents. This question was never an attempt to start a conversation. It wasn’t followed by a request for directions, an introduction or any form of small talk. Usually the only response I received was a stare or maybe “Just checking.” I answered this question with a smile on my face the first few times, not thinking that my skin colour could make someone question my presence. Sometimes I may have walked through the gate after someone else, and I thought it was a fair question since I didn’t enter the security code myself.  Other times, I thought that maybe my casual dress begged the question. However, some of the residents asking me were also dressed casually. Before racist assumptions come into play, I have never been one to wear excessive jewellery or baggy pants hanging low. I don’t wear hoodies often either.

Sometimes I was dressed more formally than the residents interrogating me. The uniform for one of the schools I went to was a suit, complete with a green blazer. This uniform was nothing like the uniform worn by the staff and also should have signified that I wasn’t a homeless person wandering into the building. Additionally, I was often clean cut and sported no facial hair at the time (mother’s orders). As I look back on my justifications for the questioning, I wonder what the residents thought I planned to do if I didn’t live there. Did they think I was planning to sneak past the security at the front desk and ransack as many apartments as I could find?

These experiences continued to pile up, and after a while, I could not help but ask why I kept getting asked this question. The answer didn’t really come to me until a flight back to Canada during one of my school breaks. My stepdad and I had first class seats and while I enjoyed the privileges that came with it, the experience was somewhat overshadowed by an encounter with a flight attendant. I went to use the first class bathroom, and she stepped in front of me and pointed to the bathroom in coach.

I was confused, but didn’t think to argue. I had to pass my stepdad to reach coach, and he stopped me to ask where I was going. When I explained that I couldn’t use that bathroom, he assured me I could and told me to walk back towards the front. When I did, the same flight attendant stopped me and pointed to coach again. My stepdad saw everything this time, and angrily pointed to my seat “He sits here.” With that said, the flight attendant finally let me use the first class bathroom.

It took me a while to accept what happened. I remember fuming in my seat, wanting an apology from the flight attendant. Once the initial rush of anger passed I tried to justify what happened. Maybe my age had something to do with it? This proved to be a faulty justification since teenagers have parents who could have possibly paid for their ticket. My dress?  I remember that the weather was warm at the time so I know I wasn’t wearing a hoodie. I was dressed casually but there was no afro, low-hanging pants, excessive jewellery or metal gilded teeth in sight. There was no valid reason for this flight attendant to assume I was a delinquent sneaking in from coach to use the first class bathroom. She didn’t even ask me if I was in first class or ask me to present my boarding pass. She didn’t say a word to me. She just blocked my path and pointed to where she thought I belonged. The fact that I COULD be in first class didn’t even register in her mind.

Needless to say, by the time I moved back to Canada at age fifteen, I wasn’t a blissfully ignorant person anymore. I was embittered, injected with righteous indignation. Although I am still committed to exploring and denouncing racism, I know that this period was one where it dominated my life in an unhealthy way. I wasn’t just aware of how the world worked, I saw it as a poisoned entity. There were times in the years ahead where I genuinely saw racism where it didn’t exist. However, I think this stage is a natural one for anyone who was taught by his insitutions that racism is long gone, and then gets kicked in the teeth by reality.

By the time I entered the University of Ottawa, I still had more to learn. I was followed while shopping for the first time while in a SAQ in Hull, Quebec. A white friend and I entered the store, and an employee rushed over after a few minutes to ask if I needed help. I had my hands on a bottle of Appleton and advised her that I was fine. As I waited for my friend to make his selection I noticed the employee leaning on a shelf near to me, keeping her eyes trained on me while ignoring my friend. Although I was well aware of racism, this was a specific type of profiling I had either never experienced or never noticed.

There are plenty of minorities that will often argue that a racist incident, or a form of racism, must be a fabrication because they’ve never experienced it themselves. I never denied that black people could be watched more intensely than whites when they shop, but I somehow thought Canada was immune to such idiocy. Most of the time I saw it in entertainment or heard about it, the employees made some attempt to be subtle. I thought that maybe she was watching me because I had a bag on, which could be used to conceal items, but my white friend had a bag as well. Maybe some part of me wanted to believe she was just admiring me for my good looks.

I went to SAQ for a second time years later. My friends and I were travelling through the area and decided to stop in. While they were mainly focused on cheaper alcohol, I was eager to see if my first experience with SAQ was an isolated one. Lo and behold, I see an employee on the other end of the store move to a wall that gave him a good view of the entire hard liquor section. He folds his arms and leans back as he watches me move down my desired aisle. Two of my friends were in another section of the store and the employee ignored them. A group of at least four white girls walked in a few minutes after us, and they were also ignored.

There was no bag on my back this time, so it wasn’t like I could shove a 40 ounce bottle of liquor down my pants and try to walk out. I don’t believe in God, but I can’t help but feel like some force conspired to give me the perfect circumstances to test out SAQ’s racism. I say SAQ’s racism because “watch black people when they shop” appears to legimitately be a company policy. Two different employees, years apart, adopted the same protocol. Either they support the racist ideas that fuel that policy or they disagree but feel the need to just follow orders like the Nazis did. As soon as I left SAQ that day I knew I would never step foot in one again.

I remember watching Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, and hearing a modicum of hope from James Baldwin when he says (don’t remember the exact phrasing) “I must have optimism because I am still alive.”

Believe it or not, there are many people out there who have and continue to be experience far worse racism than I have. There are unarmed men shot dead by cops or wannabe vigilantes, whose deaths are justified due to their status as dangerous “thugs”. The concept of arresting someone without killing them seems to disappear when black people are in question. “So what if two cops were lying on top of him before he was shot? He was a thug anyway.”

Society has a conscience, but its conscience has a blindspot. I have my own obstacles and experiences that bombard me with the truth about our utopic post-racial world. They exist, and no amount of willful ignorance or right-wing slander will change that. They impact me, but they don’t kill me. I’m alive, and going strong.

Our “Post-Racial” World

“If you want racism to end you have to stop talking about it.”

“You guys are so sensitive, you see racism in everything.”

“Black people always pull the race card, they’re the real racists.”

“I don’t even see colour.”

 

Liberals and minorities hear these complaints all the time,

Coming from people who both benefit from racism and want to silence discussion of it, or people who are genuinely well intentioned but also very ignorant,

Even figures like Morgan Freeman have championed this post-Civil Rights era mindset,

And the people who find racism tough to discuss were quick to follow his lead,

 

To someone with this mindset, the large gaps between employment and median income between whites and minorities have a simple explanation,

Minorities, especially blacks, don’t work hard enough and use racism as a crutch to avoid improving themselves,

 

It’s a very enticing mindset,

It makes racism a taboo topic,

Whites can deny that their race has any impact on their daily lives,

And they can easily shut down any discussion of racism by arguing that the people who discuss it are racist,

A common maneuver is to use Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, “…when a man will not be judged by the color of his skin…”

Although MLK used the words in his fight against racism, “colour-blind” people now use it to argue that anyone who discusses racism is racist,

A newer one is paraphrasing Obama and saying “We are all one race. Human.”

Although Obama has discussed the lingering effects of racism in multiple speeches throughout his presidency,

People still like to use his line out of context

 

It is a fact that people do see colour,

Even the ones who say they don’t,

Some of the same people who say they don’t see colour do not support interracial marriage and would be opposed to more minorities moving into their neighbourhoods,

Colour-blindness is just a crutch to avoid discussing racism, and to avoid doing anything about it,

It is all part of a lingering belief that a cancer that is deeply entrenched throughout the world, can jut be ignored and swept under the rug

 

I always hear people use the analogy of a cut,

Why do we keep picking at a cut instead of letting it heal?

If you keep talking about racism it makes things worse,

 

To someone who is supposedly “colour-blind”, there is no cut,

They will ignore the cut, bleeding, and infection because they will stubbornly argue there is no cut,

 

“You have a cut.”
“No I don’t.”

“On your arm. I can see it.”

“I’m fine, you’ve got to stop being so sensitive.”

“I’m not being sensitive, but it’s a pretty bad cut. Maybe you should get a Band-Aid or something.”

“I don’t need to do that since there is no cut. Even if there was, it’ll go away if you stop talking about it.”
“What? You don’t need to let the cut ruin your life but you need to acknowledge it and take care of it. It’s right there, you’re bleeding.”

“Yeah I’m bleeding, but the blood’s not coming from a cut. You’ve got to stop pulling the cut card.”

 

This is what it is like to argue with someone who denies racism,

Their denial is often followed by anger at people who dare to point it out,

To break the illusion,

 

Acknowledging race does not equal racism,

Acknowledging biological differences does not equal racism,

It is only racism if we believe one race is inherently superior to another due to their race, such as believing that white people are naturally more intelligent than black people,

It is a disservice to minorities to repeatedly tell them all their experiences with discrimination are only in their head,

And to tell them that if they simply have the right attitude, things like housing discrimination and racial profiling will go away,

Sadly this mindset is so prevalent nowadays and has become even more popular with Obama’s election,

We are living in a “post-racial” world where many people still prefer to date their own race and live in areas surrounded by their own race.

 

 

 

The Sad Truth

It’s a truth that I denied for as long as I could,

I can’t live in denial anymore,

 

One undeniable truth about being a minority is that people of different races will often outnumber you,

In some ways you will be at their mercy for social acceptance and employment,

I used to think that if I encountered racism in one area, then I could simply hope to find another area where people were more accepting,

Living in three different countries, and over five cities has made it clear that I was naïve,

Racism will always be present, I only get to choose the level of racism I deal with, and the group that I get it from,

Racism persists, not just in the odd person, but among the majority groups as a whole,

They use your skin colour to put you in a hierarchy and treat you like an alien, even if you have been in the country longer than they have,

There is no cultural mosaic,

This country is only a patchwork of different segregated communities,

Where different groups flock to their own, building their own insular communities and pushing out different groups.

Statistics on multiculturalism mean nothing when there is no true co-existence and acceptance between different groups,

 

As time passes, and people keep pretending the world is now “colour-blind”, this problem will only get worse,

People will keep rationalizing exclusionary behaviour, seeing it as only natural for people who look the same to flock to one another and reject difference,

There are those who think humanity is on the right track to racial progress,

But I believe we’re regressing,

Colour-blindness only pretends that we all have the same experiences, negating minority experiences of rejection and racism,

It is nothing more than a tool for avoiding the discussion of racism