We need to talk about racism

A Black Lives Matter protester in Los Angeles. PHOTO: TNS
A Black Lives Matter protester in Los Angeles. PHOTO: TNS
Hello, I’m a nice regular white person from a white town and I’m not a racist, but I’m getting a bit worried about all these racists on the news. What should I do?

Hello nice regular white person, I’m a white person, too. It’s good that we’re talking about this among ourselves. We’ve been inflicting the burden of education about racism on black people and people of colour for as long as we’ve been actually inflicting racism on them, and it’s past time to stop.

I’ll stop you there though. I’m actually not a racist.

Right. Except that it’s possible, no, I’m going to say probable, even definitive, that you’ve been brought up in a structurally racist country with racist media and racist policies and racist institutions. Also, maybe have a listen to Ibram X. Kendi, author and historian, who makes an important distinction between not racist (not even a thing) and antiracist (actively against racism). So again, I’m going to say it’s possible, even probable, even definitive, that you’ve done or said racist things.

Doubt it.

Well, OK, but even saying you’re a regular person shows that you think there’s a subset of irregulars out there. Racism can be behavioural as well as structural and you have to watch out for that. And it’s important to acknowledge racist stuff you’ve done so you can learn from it. And it’s especially important not to go all white tears about it while you’re doing the acknowledging. It was you who did the bad. It was us.

OK, give me an example of something racist you’ve done then.

So, this is a story of race erasure. I was describing this new boyfriend to a friend: basically lush (because that’s how we talked in the early ’90s), likes The Cure, megacool Docs with mismatched neon socks. And then he showed up and we all went to the pub and afterwards my friend said ‘you didn’t tell me he was black’ and I said ‘colour’s not a thing for us’.

Oh, but it was the ’90s.

Don’t start that. It was never OK. I’ve been racist as well by being a bystander. I’ve chosen, at times, to ignore rather than engage with people making jokes or white noise. This one time, maybe five years ago, at a local show when a performer appeared in blackface, I didn’t get up and leave. I didn’t even write a letter afterwards, or an email. I didn’t challenge this racism, this dehumanisation, because I didn’t want to disrupt the room.

It was only a show.

Nothing is ever only any one thing. And anyway, there is a known continuum from maaaaaate [insert dumb racist joke here] to white supremacy and anyway, it’s past time to disrupt all the rooms.

So what should I do about the racists?

We are the racists, remember. Start with yourself. Teach yourself to be antiracist. Learn. If you’re on Instagram, follow people like Rachel Elizabeth Cargle, who generously dissects racist language and responses. But don’t just blindly repost stuff or add it to your story and then spend the rest of the day playing golf or whatever because that’s tokenism. Also, consume all the arts and all the stories by black people and people of colour that you can because it’s important to read further than the singular narrative of White Privilege and Black Tragedy. Next steps: taking every opportunity to change your own behaviours and using this education to converse with and/or challenge other white people.

A bit like we’re doing now.

A bit like we’re doing now. Also, letters and petitions and submissions against racist policies and structures. Conversations with family, with friends, with ‘‘friends’’, with employers and with people you don’t know, about racist behaviours and how to be antiracist.

That sounds like a lot of work.

Did you actually just say that out loud? Next you’ll be telling me you want to keep all the statues.

I mean, I kind of do. They’re history.

Yes, but they’re only one view of history, the one you think is regular, the one that is white and nice. When you read other versions of the same stories, our immortalised heroes don’t come off so statuesque. Nothing is ever only any one thing, remember.

Right. But we’re doing OK here in New Zealand, though, right? I mean, how we’ve always been a nation that stands against racism, discrimination and that kind of violence. Jacinda said that.

Yeah she did. And no we’re not. And anyway, it’s not like it’s a competition. We don’t get any medals for being slightly less racist than Australia. This is why we need New Zealand history in schools. And we really, really need to talk about Te Tiriti.

 - If you want to carry on this conversation, email thinkingallowed@odt.co.nz.

 

Comments

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This article freely applies prejudice to white New Zealanders only exacerbating a racial divide. The reference to: “we are the racists” “white privilege” “white noise” “white tears” is language just as racially targeted and abhorrent as any foul statement against people of colour. If you fail to see that parallel then you are also part of the problem. The tone of the article clearly implies that simply being born white, like the idea of original sin, somehow makes you a racist by default. A truly vile assumption. Racial prejudice occurs across the world in every culture in one form or another, because it is a wider human failing. Not a phenomenon exclusive to the Western world.

You may have have missed the meta style. It's a narrative conversation, representing question and answer. The issues are discussed conversationally.

Reflexive responses accusing writers of vile opinion are tedious.

It doesn't imply that at all.

It's about owning the problem, by acknowledging We, in the third person, are part of white privilege.

Everybody has a combination of unearned advantages and unearned disadvantages in life. So why declare that one specific group has a privilege over another group when clearly everyone has these same advantages and disadvantages at any given time? Practically anything could be considered a privilege of one person over another because of that person's birth order, height, weight, gender, driving abilities, athletic abilities, race, gender, or any other factor you wish to discuss. The label discriminates horrifically against poor whites who will never know the “white privilege” they are told that they benefit from. It has become a convenient label of abuse and it is high time it was laid to rest.

hi Voll, I'm the writer of the article I'd like to make a couple of replies to your comments so hopefully you'll take the time to read them. I agree with you that we are not born racists. There is research
(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2566511/) that by three months old, babies respond more favourably to people who look like them, i.e. they learn to 'discriminate' on the basis of skin colour. So that's not default, that's learning. And we grow up with all kinds of conscious and unconscious biases and judgements, about race and about other things.

However, the racism I'm talking about in the article is structural racism (in our institutions, our stories, our policies, our whole organisation of society)- it has been set up by white people to benefit white people. And casual racism, which supports that structure. And why wouldn't you want to change that?

In terms of my own achievements I am over the moon at all I have worked hard for across the years and I’m sure most people would be of their own significant endeavors that have resulted in a rewarding sense of personal self-development and success, whether academic, sporting or in business. However, I don’t consider myself privileged, simply free to pursue greatness, as any other person would be who choses to apply themselves and take advantage of the wealth of opportunities available within the Western setting, opportunities available to all, regardless of background or identity. I am unencumbered by the deliberately targeted stigma of “white privilege,” that seeks to smear my achievements or cultural association with quilt, suggesting I am somehow responsible for the failure of others. Buying into such nonsense you set yourselves up for a life of apologetic subservience, lorded over by progressive agitators with no desire to unite, only to divide.

Liz are you suggesting that warming to and responding to the familial faces that loom over you in your cot as an infant, somehow sets you up for a life of discrimination? it would seem by making such a statement here you have already decided that babies are doomed from the womb. It is entirely normal for a child to respond that way there is nothing sinister in such a response. How would you know a baby was discriminating? Babies regard all newly observed things with natural curiosity, this would not equate to racial bias. Considering most babies match their biological parents skin colour, would this not be the natural affinity arrived at by virtue of love and nurture, as much as natural familial recognition. Based on your description of this I assume all babies regardless of ethnicity would behave the same way?

Hello again Voll, replying to a coupe your below points here, and will try and be brief.

Have a read of the article I linked about the study on the babies, if you like. I raised it to agree with your point that we are not born racist. And to extend that point to show that we do learn attitudes, preferences and behaviours.

It’s interesting that you don’t consider yourself privileged, and yet you do consider yourself free to pursue greatness. That freedom in itself is a privilege. Is there a person, or people or an institution that has personally or structurally held you back with this?

Happy to keep talking here or feel free to email thinkingallowed@odt.co.nz

No, nothing held me back in my pursuits to further my education or professional development except my own inherent and periodic human laziness. I am 100% responsible for my own happiness.

wow! Voll I am happy for you that you have had that experience, that nothing has held you back. That is what I would call huge privilege. Let's talk again if and when you want to use that privilege towards anti-racist ends. Thanks for the conversation.

"Racial prejudice occurs across the world in every culture in one form or another, because it is a wider human failing". Exactly, Voll. And this inherent failing lies in the realm of power. White people are the majority group who have used power to create racism, racism being an adjective to describe the system that has oppressed and marginalized black people and people of colour. Of course it's not any person's fault to be born white, and we are born into a racist system that does require us to look at how we are all shaped by that. This article prompts this conversation. You acknowledge being lazy, so you may like to watch documentaries on this subject. I can recommend '13th' on Netflix to educate yourself, John Pilger has done some great work on this in Australia and treatment of Aboriginal people - 'Utopia'. Or are you cursed with the 'white fragility' that precludes you from confronting the uncomfortable?

Stream, as a by product of the evolution of post-modernist thought Critical Race Theory, (of which much of this original article stems from) makes some horrendous assumptions and accusations of racism against white westerners. The real fragility often emanates from those ill prepared to take on board an oppositional viewpoint. For example: The idea that a contrasting opinion of disagreement subjects someone to idea-based “harms” or “traumas,” and the mere presence of people who disagree reminds them of how “dominant” groups “take up too much space.” The relevant Critical Social Justice Theory literally explains that every disagreement with it is an attempt to “preserve privilege,” every disagreement is deemed to be a hostile act against “marginalized” and “oppressed” groups. Thus, “Inclusion” means only allowing people to think, act, and speak in accordance with the shifting and often nonsensical demands of the Critical activists themselves. This is happening in humanities departments, schools, and workplaces. Rather than “judging by the content of the character”, now all judgments are made by the colour of the skin. And that’s the very definition of “racism”.

This article is disgusting. The author should be ashamed of herself...oh wait, she is already. White saviour complex.

hi Bingowings, I'm the author if this article. And truth be known, I am ashamed of the racist things I've done, you're right there.

I wonder what it is I said though that makes you think I've got 'white saviour complex'?

The way I understand that term, it's that white people think that they are superior, usually based on a Christian religious belief, and they want to educate 'others' who are not as white or Christian as they are to see the world their way. It's a super colonial religious structure. Is that how you understand it too?

I'm so not interested in being the saviour of anyone. I AM interested in being accountable for the actions I have taken that have upheld casual and structural racism.

If you want to talk more, happy to do it here, or you can email thinkingallowed@odt.co.nz

Well, you're replying to another 'coupe'? I have had it with Commercial Travellers.

Oh, and 'disgusting'? That'd be men who forcibly remove hijab from Islamic women.

Don't philophise. Call it out.

Hi Liz - no, that isn't how I understand the term "white saviour". I use it to refer to the current trend of "progressive" activists who believe that they are the answer to the problems in someone else's culture. The expression "the soft bigotry of low expectations" is related to this phenomena. You view other people as needing "saved" by yourself and others who consider themselves to be superior to the average person. Colonialism in action. Can you point out where the structural racism exists in NZ, and what you are doing to dismantle this? It's scary how many people think it's ok to be racist towards white people these days as whites are considered to have some form of "privilege" - giving the green light to people such as yourself to spew your self-loathing.

Hi Bingowings, If you read the article I wrote, you'll see some of the actions I'm taking. If you want to know more about structural racism in NZ, here's a link to a report by the NZ Human Rights Commission - https://www.hrc.co.nz/our-work/race-relations-and-diversity/our-work/fai...

The politics of guilt and pity have not impressed me for a long time so I will not buy into the narrative that because I am white I am responsible for what happens to everyone who is not.

Rather than a glib article by a white person suggesting that all white people are racist unless they are "antiracist", what I would like to see happening is people rioting over modern slavery. So that's the migrant chef, the taxi driver, the fruit picker that the orchardist takes all their wages for their accommodation, the hairdresser, the sex worker, the people on trawlers, cleaners and all those people that serve us quietly and we don't give a thought to. Oh and while we're out for a good riot, let's have one about NZ's outrageous statistics for child abuse, poverty and domestic violence- let's all talk about that, shall we?

When I saw a statue defaced with the emblem of arguably one of the most racist regimes in history, a swastika and "black lives matter and so do Maori", that was just offensive to the people who gave their lives defending us from the nazis and shows the ignorance of the people that vandalised it. Let's acknowledge our past, pledge not to be there any more and move on together as one nation.
ALL lives matter- no excuses.

Hello Net_taxpayer. I do like the idea of acknowledging the past, learning from it and moving on from it, but I suspect you and I might have different ideas about what that 'moving on' might look like. I also think it's a great idea that we talk about, and take actions against, child abuse, poverty and domestic violence, and about modern slavery. And what's interesting, and heartbreaking, is how much many of these issues intersect, because of the very inequality we're talking about.

In my opinion, while there is still structural racism, the danger is that the 'moving on' won't be meaningful or beneficial. And that is why we have to keep saying that #blacklivesmatter. If you want to educate yourself about how offensive it is that you say 'All lives matter' in response, here is one place to start - https://www.vox.com/2016/7/11/12136140/black-all-lives-matter

Agree, would be great to have protests highlighting all the systemic failings, including and because of racism. Would add to what "modern slavery" is with the web of debt that ensures people working, and inhumane hours and in inhumane environments such as sitting on a chair in a windowless cubicle all day under artificial lighting.

The thing about the Black Lives Matter movement is that when black lives matter then all lives matter. I think that when people feel sufficiently whole and healed from this, they will not feel compelled to deface statues. Of course this brings into question who or what the statue represents, there are clearly some statues that need to go.

To pick just one example of how Critical Race Theories oversimplification provides incorrect diagnoses and solutions to what’s driving systemic inequality in the black communities of America, consider a line from “Black Lives Matter’s” manifesto:

“We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.” Notice the word missing from that phrase? Fathers.

In the black community in the US, 70% of children are currently being raised by single parents, almost all single moms, the highest single-parent proportion by far of any other group. If BLM gets its way, that number would be 100%, because the nuclear family needs to be “disrupted,” and active dads are an irrelevant variable in successful child raising. Except we know they’re not, and what is really needed in black America are more active dads, not fewer.

Its fine to write about so called white privileges but don't mention non white privileges In this country if you are Māori you have your own rugby teams, netball tournaments,special police officers, Government departments, Political party,MPs, Māori TV channel, schools,Maori intake of doctors, etc etc.All these roles and activities are based on one criteria RACE.And someone tries to tell you whites have privileges ,what a joke.

I really am over this white privilege crap, let's get something straight. I am white and was born into a slum in Scotland.I am not and never have been privileged. If it wasn't for school meals we would have starved, just like thousands of Scots kids.
I dont give a damn what colour people are, stop coating us all as racists because that is not the case.

So I read the page that you referred me to Liz regarding structural racism. I then read some of the research that was linked on that page. The actual science page didn't conclude links to structural racism were the cause of different health outcomes for non-pakeha. However the Human Rights page jumped to that conclusion. The idea that racism is behind every difference in outcome, whether it's health, education, incarceration etc is at best reductionist, at worst racism. You attempt to simplify complex issues down to one - racism. This avoids confronting the actual issues, doesn't provide any solutions, sets yourself up as the White Saviour, and allows you to look down your nose at others. You aren't helping anybody except yourself Liz.

HI again Bingowings, I'm glad you took the time to read it. Which was the 'actual science page' you're talking about? I'd be keen to read that.

I am not attempting to simplify all the issues down to one. I do not think, or believe, that racism is behind all inequality. I do, however, think that racism is one thing to pay particular attention to at the moment. This conversation in this article at this time is about racism. So let's keep talking about that if you'd like to.

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