I’m incredibly sheltered, being a sociology student; either racism just doesn’t happen or it is criticised and talked through to understand it. Race becomes politicised, so that it just isn’t an issue between students. In fact I’m a minority among the sociology department; there are far fewer white people than there are POC. Maybe we avoid a lot of racist gits because they all went to LSE, I can’t make those sorts of assumptions though.
A couple months ago I went home to my high school friends. This is a very diverse group, some more educated in social issues than others, but on the most part they’re all your average politics avoiding college students.
I was at dinner with a large group of friends one night and was relaying a story to a couple friends about something annoying my close friend Lauren*, who is from Southeast Asia, did a few days earlier. One of the women, Kate*, seemed really empathetic. Until she said, ‘Asians are so annoying, I hate them’.
I went from laughing about something else to feeling very uncomfortable. Kate obviously noticed. ‘I’m not racist though!’, and she began to try to explain away her racist comment.
I mean what do you even do when you don’t want to rock the boat too much but at the same time you feel the immense need to call bullshit? I tried not to make a huge deal about it but Kate seemed to know what I was thinking, considering she kept trying to justify herself for quite a few minute. This was so early into the night that I didn’t want to make it too awkward but at the same time she made me feel uncomfortable.
This is very similar to other experiences I’ve had when going back home. I have ‘friends’ who I found out started calling one of our black friends ‘Cotton Gin’. It’s dismissed as banter and our friend outwardly doesn’t seem to care, though he just might, and that is what especially bothers me. To be honest I haven’t transitioned well from non-political to political.
How does one balance friendship and calling out bullshit?
* Names changed
- Maximum Racist Aggression (cynicalafrikan.wordpress.com)
Most of us feminists have seen the quotes, or paragraphs. Many of us may have used it on friends, family, maybe on our blogs. It’s stuff like this:
If you believe in, support, look fondly on, hope for, and/or work towards equality of the sexes, you are a feminist. Period.
Now, I am a feminist. But I can understand why some people would not define themselves as one. There are, of course, the nobs who don’t believe in men and women being equal, and those who just simply aren’t educated enough on what feminism actually is. There are other types also which need to be educated and really wittled down to come to a feminist friendly perspective.
However, these are not the ones I’m speaking of. These are the ones who have real reasons not to identify as a feminist.
Some of the early feminists were incredibly prejudiced. The first wave of feminism consisted of middle class white women, some who believed that they needed the right to vote in order to out-vote Black people. They were cissexist, ableist, and racist, among other horrible ‘ist’s. Margaret Sanger, champion of birth control, favoured eugenics, fighting for forced sterilisation of those who she deemed were ‘unfit’ (i.e. those with disabilities) to reproduce. Even just recently there was a situation where, on an event page from London Feminist Network, some self-proclaimed feminists were claiming that transwomen could not be feminists, were not ‘real women’ and are part of the problem. WOC still have to fight in order to get their ‘specialty’ concerns heard.
These are huge problems which must be addressed. They are valid reasons to reject a feminist identity in favour of a more inclusive one. Many feminists (I’d like to think I’m included in this) do try to fight against the prejudices in feminism, and those feminists should be supported. Until prejudice in feminism is eradicated, however, the movement will always have conscientious objectors. And I sympathise with them.
One evening a few months ago I was walking my usual route from my flat in Harrow (I tell you where it was because I don’t live there anymore) to the tube station. Normally about halfway through my walk down one road I cross to the other since I have to be on that side anyway; it became a habit, when it was clear I crossed. I started walking down one road and saw a person walking in my direction in front of me. In my conscious reasoning I figured I should cross the road since I do it anyway and that way I won’t get the whole awkward ‘which side should I go to when we cross paths’ moment. Therefore I proceeded to cross the street and go on my way, since the road was clear.
Then I heard it.
‘Black people won’t hurt you!’
‘What did I do wrong?’ I thought. ‘Asshole!’ I thought. How dare he. He didn’t know me. He didn’t know why I crossed the road. He just assumed something horrible about me: that I, as a mixed race woman who passes for white, am a racist. I was livid. I thought about it for most of the ride to my partner’s place.
Now, months later, I caught myself thinking about that incident. Was my crossing of the street really just about my usual convenience logic, or was there something subconscious going on? To this day I’m not sure. I would say what I did wasn’t racist, because I did that sort of thing all the time. I always cross the road a bit down it, whether or not there is someone approaching me. However, being raised in an inherently racist society, I no longer want to dismiss the idea that I have subconscious prejudices ingrained in me since birth. I start seeing things about myself after the fact. I sit down in a crowded train, and realise there were many seats near a Black man close by where I wouldn’t have been crowded. Is this just because I didn’t see it (I am quite bad at spotting things) or because my subconscious veered me away from sitting near him?
I am now constantly thinking about how my actions affect people around me. Whether or not my road-crossing incident was racist, the person interpreted it that way. That person felt like I was being racist against him. If he thought that enough to call me out on it in the middle of the street (whether or not I’m guilty of it), I’m left to wonder how many times he’s experienced that same thing. How fed up he is at people avoiding him, consciously or subconsciously. And then I realise how racist this world is.
But then I come to a weird dilemma: should I make deliberate efforts to sit near people of ethnic minorities simply because they are ethnic minorities, or should I just sit wherever I actually want to sit and acknowledge that some of my actions may or may not be influenced by deeply ingrained subconscious prejudices? How do I even figure out if my actions are prejudiced, and how do I change them if they are?
- Message To White Folks Who Call Me A Racist (curmilus.wordpress.com)
- I’m Not a Racist But … (blogcritics.org)
- What Makes You A Racist In Canada / Is It A Crime To be One / How Do We End It? (archemdis.wordpress.com)
- “Because… all Black people are n****s” (mosmalls.wordpress.com)