Now we’re getting somewhere. I have been pleased to receive comments about my recent blog-post on Colorblindness. A conversation about neo-diversity issues is what we need, so let’s talk about what I was talking about.
Actually, one commentator captured part of my point when “White girl” wrote:
“Noticing someone's race is not racist or prejudicial. *Judging* people based on their race is what's at issue. You seem to be confused. It's OK to notice what makes people different.... This is not a complicated concept. I always laugh when people gasp when I distinguish someone in a crowd by saying, "the black guy" or "the Asian girl," as if those are slurs. And yes, if I'm pointing out a white person in a crowd where s/he is in the minority, I'll say, "the white woman." It's really not a big deal. I find the undercurrent of vitriol in your statement to be really unsettling. Oh, and yeah, I'm white.”
So if it’s not a complicated concept, why are so many people walking around fearful of being perceived as “racist” if they give evidence of noticing a person race, skin-color? Class room discussion with my students makes it clear that people, maybe young people in particular are tied in knots about how to interact without being judged to be racist.
Commentator “Hannah” put it this way:
“It seems like us white people can never do the right thing, where race is concerned. I mean, if we notice a black person's race, then we're accused of being racist and of judging that person by their skin color. But if we ignore a black person's skin color, then they accuse us of ‘being colorblind’ and they rant about it like you just did. So what are us white people supposed to do, then?”
Turns out I was not ranting. And I am not angry and filled with vitriol. I am sad about the way we have tied ourselves in these knots when it comes to interracial and all our neo-diverse, intergroup encounters and interactions. My advantage is that as a social psychologist I can analyze what is going on. I analyze with my goal being to give others strategies that will help them navigate the new intergroup tensions in America. Analyze?
“Step Right Up Ladies and Gentlemen and Get Your Racism Insurance.” If you could buy an insurance policy that could back you up if you made a racial mistake, would you? That’s the premise of a great spoof that is making its way around the internet (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeukZ6RcUd8).
In the first of three skits, a white office worker with disbelief in his voice says to his black co-worker, “You?... watch Game of Thrones?”
Then the white co-worker goes on to say to his black male co-worker, “Man that’s what I love about you; you’re a black dude but you don’t act black.”
Noticing the disapproving look in his black male co-worker’s eyes, this well-meaning white man says, “You know what I mean, you don’t act all thugged out.”
Black male co-worker shows agitation and says “So all black people are thugged out.” At that moment the white co-worker realizes this interaction is not going the way he had hoped it would and suddenly sings, yes sings, “Oops I was raised… black guy come here.” A black man appears and smooth’s over the interaction. That is racism insurance and that’s pretty funny until you realize Americans have been trying to buy some.
Someone says something untoward about Asian people, black people, etc. and we cry out “…what a racist!” We are confused because prejudice is not bigotry is not racism. One social psychological study has shown that when we cry out “…what a racist” we do so to distance ourselves from all that stuff. “They” are racist, but I am not. It becomes racism insurance. It seems that that is why so many Americans go so quick to the “racist” label and skip over the concept of bigotry.
We all make prejudgments about all kinds of things. But when it comes to intergroup matters, prejudice is an unfair, unfavorable opinion of a whole group of people. Any judgment about a whole group of people is prejudiced because no one can interact and experience a whole group of people. Even so, having a group prejudice does not mean a person has to give evidence of that prejudice at any time or in any circumstance. If, however, that group prejudice comes out in external, observable behavior (word or deed), that is bigotry.
So what is all this talk about a person being a racist? Racism is never in a person. Racism is institutional and organizational. Racism is an institutional and organizational system that makes individual prejudice and bigotry acceptable.
Yet, we try to absolve ourselves of having any intergroup problems by implying “I am not a racist.” One commenter on my Colorblindness post has lived with this in an interesting way. “Ebony & Ivory” had this to say:
“I am in an interracial, same-sex relationship (I'm black, he's white) and it drives me crazy when my boyfriend says he is ‘colorblind.’ After numerous conversations, I've come to understand that what he really means is he doesn't judge people by the color of their skin. But it feels patronizing when he says he's colorblind. I don't have the luxury of being colorblind. I'm reminded of my color all too frequently …
I'm not asking for everyone to be Politically Correct, I'm asking that you see the color of my skin and realize that it comes with a whole host of experiences that someone of a different race doesn't necessarily experience. And those experiences are real and valid. While it may feel good to think of ourselves as colorblind, unfortunately the color of our skin does affect our social interactions.”
You see, denial doesn’t help. Any one of us has the potential to be a bigot. Hear me loud and clear: There are no innocent. Everybody carries around some prejudice from the way they were socialized to be an American. Everybody!
That is why we should talk more about bigotry. Some of the same people who call out somebody else for being a racist turn right around and engage in gender bigotry. Or they engage in bigotry toward people with certain bodily-conditions by avoiding those people. Or they engage in bigotry based on sexual orientation through language use; fags, dykes. That’s so gay, people say without thinking of the sexual-orientation slur that is, and bigotry of that language. Or they engage in bigotry toward people with mental-conditions; saying out loud that someone is a “retard.”
You see the trick behind focusing on “racism” is that it leaves out all the other forms of bigotry in our society. We imply that if we can just stop people from being “racist,” stop people from seeing color, that would solve all the problems of human prejudice in our society. No it would not.
We are only post-racial in that racial-bigotry is not the only form of bigotry people have to deal with. With all the proximity between different groups in our neo-diverse America, many forms of group prejudice have the potential to be expressed in individual behavior. Every one of us has the potential to be a bigot.