[personal profile] unearthingbone
This is one of the best articles I've read on this topic, with the exception of the use of the word "handicapped" instead of "dis/(dis)/differently-abled."

Racism 101 for Clueless White People, Written by a Slightly Less Clueless White Person

By Robin F. // [livejournal.com profile] tamago23

People of Color (PoC) encounter the following on a regular basis: they're online or in real life and suddenly a white person, who barely understands privilege or racism, is demanding that they educate them regarding the topic. The white person says, in essence, "Hi! What can I do to help fix racism?" or "Hi! Can you explain racism to me?" or "Hi! What's this 'privilege' stuff?"

Understandably, the PoC says, "Google. You know how to use it." They say this because they're real people, who have real lives and commitments and other things they need to do, and they weren't born to go around educating white people who want to sit on their ass and have an education handed to them on a silver platter.

And then the white person gets butt-hurt because all they want to do is learn and they're trying to educate themselves and that PoC is being so mean to them! And then they sulk about it and often post about how they're trying to learn and become better people but damn it, PoC are so hostile, all that does is teach whites to shut up and sit down! And the white person fails to understand that the PoC wasn't saying, "You're a moron, shut up and sit down," they were saying, "Look, I don't have time to teach you. It's not my responsibility to give you Racism 101. Go educate yourself, the resources are out there."

(Of course even if a PoC says the latter, the white person often will respond with, "But it's such a big subject! I don't even know where to begin looking!" PoC just can't win in these discussions.)

Anyway, I'm familiar with this scenario because I was once That White Person myself, and I've since come across it repeated over and over and over. So, I have decided to make a Guide to Racism 101 for Clueless White People, written by a Slightly Less Clueless White Person.

1. Put some cream on your butt and get over the hurt. The PoC weren't angry at *you* per se; they're frustrated because you're the thousandth person who has made the same demand on their time. They're tired of being seen as objects that exist for the edification of whites, and even if you didn't realize that's how your question came across, the fact is that that's how your question came across.
2. If you're a LiveJournal user, go join [info]racism_101. Read the articles and posts linked to from within the userinfo and then start reading through the entries. It's an excellent starter-level community. Even if you don't have a LiveJournal account, you can still view all the public entries on the community.

3. Make sure you understand the definitions of the terms that are going to be used. The first thing you really need to understand is that the definition of racism that you probably have (which is the colloquial definition: "racism is prejudice against someone based on their skin color or ethnicity") is NOT the definition that's commonly used in anti-racist circles.

The definition used in anti-racist circles is the accepted sociological definition (which is commonly used in academic research, and has been used for more than a decade now): "racism is prejudice plus power". What this means, in easy language:

A. Anyone can hold "racial prejudice" -- that is, they can carry positive or negative stereotypes of others based on racial characteristics. For example, a white person thinking all Asians are smart, or all black people are criminals; or a Chinese person thinking Japanese people are untrustworthy; or what-have-you. ANYONE, of any race, can have racial prejudices.

B. People of any race can commit acts of violence, mistreatment, ostracizing, etc., based on their racial prejudices. A black kid can beat up a white kid because he doesn't like white kids. An Indian person can refuse to associate with Asians. Whatever, you get the idea.

C. However, to be racist (rather than simply prejudiced) requires having institutional power. In North America, white people have the institutional power. In large part we head the corporations; we make up the largest proportion of lawmakers and judges; we have the money; we make the decisions. In short, we control the systems that matter. "White" is presented as normal, the default. Because we have institutional power, when we think differently about people based on their race or act on our racial prejudices, we are being racist. Only white people can be racist, because only white people have institutional power.

D. People of color can be prejudiced, but they cannot be racist, because they don't have the institutional power. (However, some people refer to intra-PoC prejudice as "lateral racism". You may also hear the term "colorism", which refers to lighter-skinned PoC being prejudiced toward darker-skinned PoC.) However, that situation can be different in other countries; for example, a Japanese person in Japan can be racist against others, because the Japanese have the institutional power there. But in North America, Japanese people can't be racist because they don't hold the institutional power.

E. If you're in an area of your city/state/province that is predominantly populated by PoC and, as a white person, you get harassed because of your skin color, it's still not racism, even though you're in a PoC-dominated area. The fact is, even though they're the majority population in that area, they still lack the institutional power. They don't have their own special PoC-dominated police force for that area. They don't have their own special PoC-dominated courts in that area. The state/province and national media are still not dominated by PoC. Even though they have a large population in that particular area, they still lack the institutional power overall.

F. So that's the definition of racism that you're likely to encounter. If you start talking about "reverse racism" you're going to either get insulted or laughed at, because it isn't possible under that definition; PoC don't have the power in North America, so by definition, they can't be racist. Crying "reverse racism!" is like waving a Clueless White Person Badge around.

G. If you go into an anti-racist discussion and start trying to claim the colloquial definition that "racism is simply viewing or treating others differently based on race", you're going to get a negative reaction. Stick to "racism = prejudice + power". Anti-racists aren't going to take it well if you wander in halfway through the debate and start trying to make them abide by your definition rather than the commonly accepted "prejudice + power". Imagine if everyone in a classroom was chatting about a particular subject and then someone walked in and said, "No! You're all doing it wrong! The REAL definition is ABC and I don't care that all the rest of you think it's XYZ!" -- do you think that would go over well? Of course it wouldn't; the newcomer would be considered rude. (Also, making an appeal to Dictionary.com is not going to work. Pointing out that the colloquial definition is how Webster's Dictionary defines racism is not going to make anti-racists suddenly say, "Wow, you know what? You're right! I never realized it, but now that Webster's has backed you up, I see that you're totally right and racism really is just judging people based on their skin color!" Actually, they may say that, but they'd be saying it sarcastically.)

H. I'm under the impression there are a number of different reasons why anti-racists use the sociological definition as versus the colloquial one, but the major reason I'm aware of is that anti-racists aren't just focusing on individual acts of racism; they're looking at racism as an entrenched system that pervades every layer of our society. The colloquial definition reduces racism to an individual level; the sociological definition focuses on the systemic level. The systemic level is actually more important, because even as individual/obvious acts of racism become less socially acceptable, the systemic effects of institutionalized racism continue to work quietly, efficiently, and powerfully. Think of it like a body; it's easy to find a cancerous lesion on the skin and remove it, and then you'd look like you were cancer-free. But even as you looked fine on the surface, the real cancer would be inside your body, spreading from lymph node to lymph node, and invading your bones and organs. Individual and overt acts of racism are the lesions on the surface; the invisible cancer is the systemic racism. Unless you're addressing the underlying disease, eradicating surface symptoms isn't going to accomplish much. But that's enough about the definition of racism for now; let's continue.

4. Start learning about privilege. You need to understand what it is, and how it works. Read Peggy McIntosh's essay, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. (If that link is no longer good at some point, just Google it.) Acknowledge that you have privilege, through no fault or worth of your own; it was accorded to you at birth, and there's no way to get rid of it. It just is, under the current system of institutionalized racism.

If you feel like doing so, spend a little time coming up with your own list of the ways that privilege works in your life; this will give you a greater understanding of the disadvantages that PoC face. Understanding your privilege will help you learn how to:

A) use it for good when possible (for example, when I write this I am taking advantage of part of my white privilege, which is that whites tend to listen to other whites and afford them more credibility than they extend to PoC), and
B) not use it to hurt PoC inadvertently (for example, by going into a PoC "safe space" and taking over the conversation).

5. Put down that strawman! Nobody's asking you to feel guilty over having privilege. Guilt doesn't get us anywhere. We just want you to be aware of it. Just acknowledge it and be aware of it and move on, for now.
6. Next, learn about derailing. "Derailing" refers to the many ways that white people take a conversation about racism and privilege and, well, derail it -- make it all about them, rather than the PoC. This is almost always an unconscious act. Learning about how derailing works will help you learn how to avoid making the common derailing mistakes. Derailing for Dummies is a great resource. (Notice that the first two entries in Derailing for Dummies actually address the whole "educate me, PoC!" concept. It's THAT prevalent.) Then go read this post: The Art of Defending Racism. (You will also notice both the article and the post are written with a heavy dose of sarcasm. Sometimes it feels like you have to laugh so you don't cry, and sarcasm is a defense mechanism. Some people find sarcasm to be upsetting, but even if it bothers you, don't allow the tone to keep you from absorbing what's being said. It's important stuff.)

7. Do not make the mistake of believing that because you have a lack of privilege in one or more ways (examples: "I was/am poor", "I'm gay", "I'm female", etc), this means you understand what PoC go through.
A. We're all privileged in some ways and have lack of privilege in other ways. A straight black man has straight privilege and male privilege, but lacks white privilege. A gay white woman has white privilege, and lacks straight privilege and male privilege. (A straight white cisgendered male with no handicaps, born to wealthy parents, has all sorts of privilege.)

B. By saying that "you have white privilege", they're not saying "you don't know what it's like to be oppressed" -- they're saying "you don't know what it's like to experience racial oppression". You will not win points by saying, "But I'm gay/female/handicapped/etc, so I totally know where you're coming from!" Nor will it win you points to say, "But I live in an area of town dominated by [insert PoC group here] and people are always threatening me because I'm white, so I know what it's like to experience racism!" You don't. If that's your situation then you know what it's like to be on the brunt end of racial-based acts of prejudice, but you still don't know what it's like to live in a racist system day in and day out. (If you haven't yet read Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack as linked above, go do it now.)

C. To use an example of how racial privilege and class privilege are different: If you (as a white person) were obviously poor and at a country club, people would assume you’re a server. But if you were obviously rich and at a country club, nobody’s going to assume you’re a server. But if you’re a person of color and you’re at a country club, even if you’re obviously rich and dressed just as well as all the white people there, there’s still going to be some patrons assuming you’re a server and asking where their drinks are. Even if a PoC has ‘class privilege’ -- which means they’re rich or at least upper-middle-class -- that still never erases their lack of white privilege. They will always be seen first and foremost as a PoC. You, on the other hand, get to bypass that; people may judge you on your clothes or other visible markers of wealth, but they’re not going to judge you on the color of your skin en masse. That’s part of your white privilege.

D. To use another class/race example, if you were driving a really nice car, it's highly unlikely you'd get randomly pulled over (unless you were breaking the law, speeding, whatever), even if you're young. On the other hand, if you were black and driving a really nice car, you may well get pulled over just so the cop can check that it's really your car (and not just something you presumably stole).

E. You're going to come across the term "intersectionality". The definition is "intersectionality holds that the classical models of oppression within society, such as those based on race/ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, class, species or disability do not act independently of one another; instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the 'intersection' of multiple forms of discrimination." In easier terms, this means that often different types of discrimination reinforce each other. Trying to tackle one system of oppression without dealing with other systems as well is going to leave some people in the cold. (This is a criticism often leveled at the current feminist movement; it's primarily working on issues that pertain to white women.)
F. For another way of thinking about how privilege works, here's an analogy. Imagine a racetrack with all those little divided aisles for people to run. Have a rich, white, cisgendered, straight male on the farthest aisle, and he has an aisle that only has a few hurdles. Have a rich, white, cisgendered, straight female on the next aisle, and she has a couple more hurdles. Have a rich, cisgendered, straight female of color on the next aisle, and she has a few more hurdles than the rich, cisgendered, straight white female. Keep going down the line, adding more and more hurdles as you add each form of lack of privilege. And if you've got a situation where intersectionality is often at work -- for example, a PoC who lives in poverty -- throw an additional few hurdles into their aisle beyond what they already had.

Now, let everyone run the race. It's likely that straight rich white guy is going to finish first. And as for everyone else -- well, many of them will still make it over their hurdles and get there too, but it's going to take some people a lot more effort than others. And some people have so many hurdles that they're going to be psychologically beaten from the get-go. No, being white didn't get you where you are now -- nobody showed up in a car and drove you to the end of the race simply because you're white. But being white made it easier to finish that race, even though you will have had additional hurdles from the other ways you may lack privilege (being gay, poor, etc). No matter how many hurdles you had, at least you didn't have the additional hurdles that the PoC faced.

Also, what's even more unfair is when that white guy finishes and says, "Well, I got here on my own two feet, so I don't know what you all are whining about! If I can do it, so can you!" That's the nature of privilege, both to discount the ways it helps us and to refuse to see the ways a lack of privilege makes it harder for others.

8. Read. Read read read read read. I suggest starting with these blogs: Angry Black Woman (http://www.theangryblackwoman.com), stuff white people do (http://stuffwhitepeopledo.blogspot.com/), and Resist Racism (http://resistracism.wordpress.com/). There's a lot of other amazing anti-racist journals too; try checking the blogrolls on those sites for links to other blogs. (If you're a LiveJournal user, there's syndicated feeds for the blogs I recommended: [info]abwoman_feed and [info]whitesdostuff and [info]resist_racism .) Also, go read the public posts on the LiveJournal community [info]debunkingwhite. (If anyone else has good resources to suggest, please do so.)

9. Accept that you will make mistakes and you will show your privileged ass and people will get upset at you about it. It doesn't feel good to have people upset at us; we're social animals and we don't like it when we hurt people and people get angry. But don't get defensive; relax, take a deep breath, and know that however upset you're feeling about being jumped on, the people on the other side of the exchange are probably even more upset about what you said. (If you're feeling very defensive and angry, the best option is not to respond right away; give yourself a little time to cool down and think things through. It's a natural reaction to want to dig our heels in and defend ourselves, but it's not the most productive path to take.) What you need to do now is accept that you screwed up, make a sincere apology, and figure out what you did wrong so you don't do it again. Making mistakes is part of the learning process and it won't kill you, so don't get butt-hurt about it. Just make a sincere apology, figure out your mistake, and keep learning. (If you don't know how to make a sincere apology, it goes like this: "I'm sorry I hurt you by saying XYZ." Statements like "I'm sorry I did XYZ, but [offer excuse here]" or "I'm sorry if I upset you" or "I'm sorry you found my statements offensive" are not sincere apologies and they won't help the situation.)

10. Once you reach a place where you are somewhat less clueless, start reaching out to other white people and trying to educate them about these issues. The weight of educating white people does not and should not rest on the shoulders of PoC; as a white person, you're in a good position to educate other whites. White people generally listen to other white people (who are seen as being "more rational" about the topic of race, but that's a whole other topic), and it's less frustrating/upsetting for us because we're choosing to educate others, rather than it being demanded/expected of us.

11. No, you can't erase your privilege, or dismantle racism. But you can do as much as you can. That's all any of us can do.

So there! Now you know how to start educating yourself on this topic, and the more education you get, the easier it will become for you to find ways to apply it. :)

This is a guest post at "Stuff White People Do" by Robin F, who lives in Toronto. She writes at Dragon Life, and offers the following in the hopes of helping white anti-racist newbies, and of relieving PoC from the burden of said newbies.

Date: 2009-09-03 07:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] walklikethunder.livejournal.com
handicapped? seriously? there is nothing offense about that term at all.

Date: 2009-09-03 07:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] walklikethunder.livejournal.com
offensive. i can has spell.

Date: 2009-09-03 09:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nullset.livejournal.com
I concur. Did I miss the negative connotations that "handicapped" implies, but disabled doesn't?

from a bbc article and some other place

Date: 2009-09-04 09:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] musechick2007.livejournal.com
- why disabled isn't or shouldn't be offensive (in some people's opinions):

There's an idea that the correct terminology is "people with disabilities". It's quite cute because it's born of a belief that we're people first.

But speak to a disability studies student or rights campaigner and you're likely to be told this is a thoroughly incorrect use of language, due to a concept known as "the social model of disability".

They will tell you the correct term is "disabled people". Why? Because the word disabled and disability refer to how society treats them, not their impairment, which is a medical matter.

Disabled refers to what barriers have been placed in their way due to the physical environment: steps instead of ramps, no Braille menus in restaurants etc. It also refers to attitudes which perpetuate joblessness or non-inclusion.



like 'person with a disability' , it focusses on the defficencies of the individual . And that is offensive because it implies Disabled people are somehow lesser. 'Disabled' on the other hand implies something coming in from the outside and impaired you. Like when you disengage a wheelchair battery or put key lock on your phone, you're literally 'disabling' it, it's not that the battery won't work, it's that you've stopped it from working


However, I'm not sure about handicapped either. To me it has the same connotations as disabled (someone is being handicapped by society/something). I guess the difference is "having a handicap" and "being handicapped"--the latter is the term I'd use.


Date: 2009-09-04 09:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] musechick2007.livejournal.com
I don't use racism to only describe systemic things; I use it to describe all levels of prejudices and actions based on those lines of thinking. Whether a racist thought makes anything HAPPEN and how big of an impact it has is another matter. I think the sociological definition, while necessary because it brings power into the equation, glosses over the intra-POC and POC-to-white acts of prejudice, and so it softens that part somehow, especially in light of the colloquial understanding of the word. Maybe it's just me.

While I definitely am aware of patterns and trends or whatever, I like also focusing in on personal interactions and displays of power, and on a micro-level, I do think POCs can be racist and wield power. On a macro-level, not so much. I get the cancer/lesion analogy...but I also think that we really need to address the lesions. Think of it as an attack on two fronts. Society is simultaneously a system/collective AND a bunch of individuals, so we need to deal with the broad AND the specific.

I feel the racial prejudice vs. (sociological def of) racism idea is similar (kind of) to being racist or having prejudices vs. actually carrying those out and DOING something based on those prejudices. However, with the sociological definition, even action based on prejudice is NOT racist if it's coming from a POC.

I do agree that "overall" it's not likely that a POC can enact racism and harm a white person in some meaningful way.

The term lateral racism...meh. Does white/POC racism get called vertical racism?

I also think it's a little weird that we always lump POC together, as if we were all one giant mass of equals. I know this is not the point and that there IS a history of whites vs. everyone else...but still. I guess I just don't like the idea some people have that all POCs automatically get along, or love each other. (Then again, I guess some POCs also think "white people" are a giant blob too.) Oh, and a lot of people don't realize that who got to be called "white" has changed over the years (e.g. Jews weren't "white" for a time).

Colorism--definitely hear ya on that.

Date: 2009-09-04 09:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] musechick2007.livejournal.com
but for the most part, i love the article. :) the burden of teaching part was spot on.

Date: 2010-04-23 08:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tamago23.livejournal.com
Suggestion for the future: if you have an issue with someone's article, post it as a comment to their article, where they'll be able to read it and possibly take action on it. Writers are humans like everyone else, and we don't know everything there is to know. Sometimes we need a heads-up. :) I know my guide is being widely used as an anti-racism resource now, and I want it to be as good a resource as it can possibly be. One way for me to improve it is for people to let me know where I've screwed up. This is why I periodically Google the title of it, so I can read discussions people have had about it elsewhere. That way I can consider their input and if there's common concerns, I can address them in the guide. But most writers don't Google their articles; if they've done something incorrectly, the quickest way to hopefully resolve it is to let them know. Assuming they're not a douchebag who gets offended by having their weak spots pointed out, they'll probably fix the issue. :)

Okay, moving on. :) I can't modify the version that's on SWPD, but the main version that gets updated is in my journal (http://tamago23.livejournal.com/565302.html). In that version, I've now changed references in the guide from "handicapped" to "disabled".



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