As a theatre major, dance was required. It didn’t bother me but it also didn’t play to my strengths. Let’s face it, wearing tights is cool if you are a superhero, not so much if you are not. Most of us had the standard issue black body suit and tights. I have long leg hair, blond long leg hair, there is nothing attractive about a no superhero, in black tights, with long blond leg hair sticking out! I’m not sure I was any good at any of the disciplines but ballet, let’s just say I was not going to be on any ballet stage unless I got lost trying to find my seat. This means I am not good at tiptoeing which means there is a good chance my attempts to talk about racism will, just as in my short ballet attempts, fall flat on my face.
What we have here is a failure to communicate.
In an attempt to reconcile one of the biggest obstacles to success is the limits of language. This is even more of an obstacle when English is used. Often one word can mean multiple things. Once you add culture, age and gender you are asking for misunderstanding. We hear what we are programed by life to hear. We speak based on what we are programed by life to say. We think in terms of the message we want to present or in terms of the message we think the other person wants to present. Add passion and a sense that you are being wronged and we become blind to what is meant by the speaker or what could be heard by the listener. This is why we need to develop a common language, one where what is being said is being heard and understood as closely to the original intent as possible. This may be the only way that we can address the issues that divide without getting trapped in a cycle of defensiveness.
I am a white guy so I hear English in the WGT (white guy translation).
For people of other backgrounds I hope you can see from this why many interactions get bogged down in a “you are”/”am not” fight. I wish that we could find words that meant the same thing to the listener as they do to the person who is speaking (taken from a Facebook post that has since been removed)
I wish there was a word for people who make a comment that is misinformed or not the term we use but there was no intent to be racist – to me racist implies intent to hurt the other person or people group either by what is said or done.
For an older generation using negro was the respectful name for a black person (the “N” word was the insult and hurtful but negro was a way to be polite) Negro is no longer the right word but to assume that an older person who was told over and over again to call a black person a negro because it was the right term is a racist rather than outdated in their language does nothing to further the attempt to remove racism.
Terms like white privilege are also hurtful to the cause. There is a privilege afforded white people by others but to use the term to attack the white person who, in most cases didn’t even know that they were receiving that privilege, does nothing to end racism. If someone else choses to treat me differently because of the colour of my skin, that does not make me the racist.
I love the fact that I am more aware of the “privilege” that I am afforded because of my skin colour. It is helpful for me to better understand what goes on. However, once you say “check your white privilege” you say that I chose to be racist, that all white people are racist, instead of helping us see that people, by choice because of their racist beliefs or by ingrained subconscious thought processes treat other white people differently.
We need to find the words to better dialog if this is going to change. Racist to me means I set out to belittle and attack people of other races so, based on intent (because I didn’t set out to do this), I am not a racist. On the other hand I am sure I have subconscious thought processes, hopefully they are fewer and fewer, none of which are meant to hurt or belittle that enter into the way I see the world.
I in no way intend to belittle the experience of those, especially the black community, who have been mistreated, attacked and/or killed because of the colour of their skin. I am in no way trying to excuse racism. I am, however, trying to ask for a framework, for the words to move foreword so that instead of people feeling they need to defend themselves as not being a racist, we will have the words to admit that we fall short, not because we intend to hurt but because we just didn’t know.
We all, no matter what colour of skin we are, have ingrained subconscious thought processes that enter into the way we see the world. What if we had a word other than racist for those who need to better understand so that the “R” word is reserved for those who intend to belittle and hurt, for true racists?
It turns out I am worse at ballet than I thought.
In my attempt to tiptoe around this so that there would be a better understanding of why white people seem to become defensive and why black people (I assume as I am white) think we are in denial had mixed reviews. The negative responses were from white 20-30 year olds. They laid out why all white people are racists because we are white, all government is white supremacy and must be dismantled and why white privilege is a thing (if you read closely I asked for a new word after admitting that it was real). I pulled the post once I saw references to a group/movement looking to put segregation back into place and no it wasn’t a white group – I won’t allow racist ideologies from either side.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18 (NIV)
Here is my first attempt at words that could bring peace – how about we use “unsolicited bias” instead of “white privilege” when referring to a situation where a person is treated better because they are white even though they in no way desired, pursued and/or knew they were receiving this treatment? It would sound something like this in a sentence: To promote a better understanding that people can gain from other people’s racism we must point out that they are the recipients of unsolicited bias.
If we are going to seek out understanding then we are going to have to use words we all understand.