Today's lesson, Racism. If you see something written here that you’ve said or done, use it as an opportunity. Take it as a wake up call and make the decision to grow, change and be conscious of your own privilege. Remember, I am not a speaker for the entirety of a people. Use this blog as a reference tool, not as the one and only view on the topic.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
The Morgan Freeman quote about the best way to end racism is an oft trotted out weapon of racists but never do we hear this more than during Black History Month. In fact, I’d say it may be second only to “If there was a white history month it would be called racist.” (This was supposed to be posted last month, sorry)
Usually, when people dissect this quote to show it’s ignorance, they make comparisons. I’m sure most of us have heard someone talk about this and facetiously say something like, “The best way to end cancer is to stop talking about it.” This is usually followed by three or four more comments just like it.
Well, it’s a good point. Great point even. The idea that not talking about something will magically make it disappear is non-sense at it’s finest.
While I both enjoy and agree with that tact, I’d like to give a different perspective here. First off, the quote in question, was taken out of context. Don’t get me wrong, Morgan Freeman stands proud on the side of white supremacy but this quote, at least the way it’s used, is taken completely out of it’s contextual point.
The point here is not and was not to “Stop talking about it” but instead to stop making it a “Special” conversation. If the discussion about racism was part of our every day lives, really a part of it, a part of the national conversation- in school, at work, everywhere. It wouldn’t be “Special.” When we saw racism, we would call it out, the person would make the decision to apologize and change or choose to continue to be racist but the “Call out” or the “Talking about” wouldn’t be dirty, wrong or “Political.” It would simply be Wednesday.
When racism comes up, it’s “Special.” Sure you hear about it a lot on sites like Tumblr but this site is really it’s own environment. It’s not reflective of the world at large.
If racism, in all it’s forms was a regular, every day discussion, something that could be discussed as freely as today’s school lunch, there would never, ever be a requirement for the “Special” conversation and we would no longer have to “Talk about it” in specially marked rooms with “Race theory” written on the door.
Finally, just to state the obvious, the people who’ve read this far and are looking for something more concise to say the next time they hear someone spout off the “Stop talking about it” stuff, simply say this:
In order to talk about racism, racism would have to first exist. I can’t “Point it out” if there’s nothing to point to. Stop asking me to change the effect when you have no interest in first changing the cause.
Note: There are several comments made either within articles or on blogs that I don’t personally agree with. With that said, please let me know if you feel that any of these blogs or articles do not give quality information on Cultural Appropriation so I may reevaluate it’s place on this list. Also, I encourage everyone to add to the list any resources on this topic they deem worthy.
1-Do not separate yourself from the herd. Don’t be the exception to your own rule. If you’re white and you make statements about white people, make sure you fully understand that you are not the exception to your statement. If you believe that all white people are racist, it’s not all white people-except for you. If you believe it, believe it for yourself as well.
2-Don’t feel obligated to teach the unteachable. Failure isn’t choosing not to sit and give your time, attention, emotion and ability to a racist. Contrary to what every after school special tells you, not everyone is racist by accident. Some people want to believe what they believe. Stop giving racists things that should be reserved for people who want to be better.
3-Know the difference. One of the biggest and important realizations you’ll come to is figuring out who is worth your time and who isn’t. This is often wrongfully attributed to those who “Agree” with you. It’s not about agreement, it’s about discourse. Those who search for ammunition in your words but never quite hear you talking, are not worth your time. Discerning between the two will lift an enormous burden from your shoulders. In either case, it’s always important to let people know where you stand. Always speak up when you see/hear something racist but know who is worth more than your stand.
4-When in doubt, stay out. While you should always let people know where you stand [Read: Call out racist things you see] the level of discourse you engage in needs to be your level, whatever that level may be. If you know something is wrong but can’t quite put into words why, say you don’t approve/are not okay with what’s being said but leave it at that. Don’t give wrong information or information you aren’t 100% sure of. In a rare instance when giving information you aren’t 100% sure of, make it clear that you aren’t sure. Beware: if you say this in front of someone who’s racist they’ll likely use it against you.
5-Know you first. You can talk about, work toward and be a part of anti-racist work while you, yourself are learning. However, you should be very aware that you are in fact, learning. Don’t play the professor of a class you haven’t yet passed.
1- The Dictionary doesn’t like it either- As a matter of fact, the dictionary doesn’t have any solid belief in the validity of the book’s definitions at all. They use a societal consensus. It’s the definition that was “Socially” acceptable at the time it was entered into the book. According to Merriam-Webster QUOTE “editors study the language as it’s used.” Contrary to popular opinion, there are no “Great thinkers” who sit around figuring out the best way to define a word. Oddly enough, those that lean so heavily on the dictionary’s definition of the word racism have made no effort to read the dictionary’s description of itself.
2- Racism is intricate. It’s terrifying that people believe a topic as big as racism can be summed up in one to three sentences. This is similar to the problem I have with “Power + Prejudice” being thrown around by people who don’t fully understand what that means. That’s a short way of saying something very long and well studied. The statement may be correct but that certainly doesn’t mean that people understand it’s meaning.
3- White men, no but yes. Remember that consensus I was talking about? Well, people like to say that the dictionary was written by white men. That’s some what true. At least, depending on when the words were entered but it’s not who put the words on paper or even who decided which words would be added that’s the problem. It’s that, the date a word was entered (or updated) has an extreme connection to what the definition actually is. The word racism was entered during the time of the American Slave Trade. The “Consensus” was 100% white men. White men’s opinion on what racism was during Slave times and say, a multiracial group’s opinion on what racism is today, would likely be vastly different but….
4- It hasn’t been updated. Words get updated regularly. Not just updated but removed, added, adjusted and corrected. Racism is not one of those words. The dictionary has not changed a word that would have such a deep meaning in one century to what it’s definition is now, in a completely different century.
5- It’s a reference book. I’m always amazed at anyone who uses the dictionary as the end all be all of anything. Yes, it’s an amazing resource and no, I don’t think all of the above arguments can be made for every word within the book. That’s the issue. Not all words will need updating. Some will likely never need to be updated. But racism is a social issue. A social issue, something that literally changes as society changes, needs constant updating. No, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it should be updated every year or even every five years. But it was added to the book in the 1800’s. Isn’t it reasonable to think that a 200 year old definition, in a book that uses society’s consensus for their definitions, for a socially constructed problem, is far too long to go without an update?
6- If it never changes, things will never change. Racism is big business. Being able to reduce racism to nothing more than “Hate” allows the racist system and the racists that are born from that system to continue on their bigoted journey. All the while viewing themselves with no fault. After all, can a system “Hate?” Is the belief white people have that Black people feel no pain, or at the very least, less pain proof that they “Hate” Black people? This belief is a racist one. But if racism is hate, none of these people are racist. Why? Because they will tell you that “It’s not racist if it’s true” and believing the (Completely false and deadly version of) “Truth” can’t be racist….just ask any racist.
There seems to be some confusion over what yesterday’s post meant. I’d like to clear up a very important point. The posts purpose was to say that we can all appropriate cultures we’re not a part of. We can all cause harm. We can all do lasting damage. The part that I wasn’t clear on was the level of damage we can create.
While it’s true we can all appropriate, it is not true that we can all appropriate equally.
The basis for white people (at least in predominantly white countries) being the main target of cultural appropriation accusations is because they are capable of doing the most damage. By being white in a white dominant society, you have more access. Not simply to things you can get but to how you’re seen. The humanity that you have above all others allows you to have the first and last look. When a non-Native white woman hyper sexualizes Native women, it’s far more likely to become “The norm.” We know this because that’s exactly what has happened. While a non-Native Black woman can and does do damage with the same image, the Black woman is doing damage to herself and Native women. As Black women are already seen as less than human while at the same time being hyper sexualized. The same action that would harm Native women only when a white woman did it, would harm Native and Black women if a Black woman did it.
Next, in this same scenario, the white woman does not and never will represent “All” white women. The Black woman will. Each individual WoC is representative of her entire race. White women are not.
Finally, it’s the power behind the race that can cause the most danger in cultural appropriation. The ruling race has more power in every avenue. The negative stereotypical images are now part of media, in school books and used to market products. They show up in pictorials and as mere background decoration. You see, while every race can appropriate, not every race can colonize. There in lay the difference. Harm can be done by all but the most harm, the deadly harm, the lasting harm comes from the ruling race. This is why, many people, while knowing that we can all appropriate choose to focus on white people only.
One strange and down right dangerous notion that seems to be spreading about cultural appropriation is that only white people can do it. I don’t know where this idea comes from or why people insist on continuing the incorrect thinking but it’s imperative that it stops.
The dangers that come with cultural appropriation are no less valid depending on the culprits race. While race can be part of a culture, it’s the culture itself that is being harmed with appropriation and as we all know, or at least we should, most cultures include multiple races.
My best guess is that it comes down to Black and white. At least, from the American perspective. While in America, Black American culture is…well, Americans of Black race, most cultures do not have that same demarcation point. For example, there is no such thing as “White American Culture” or “white culture” for that matter. This is where, I believe, many people get confused, frustrated and down right angry.
Many white people hear “There is no such thing as white culture or white American culture” and take that as a slight. What this statement means is not that no white person has a culture. It’s meaning is that white Americans/white people have a connection to a specific culture and it’s not “White.” (A little more explanation here if this is confusing) As in, Irish, Swiss, etc. Sure each of these cultures have multiple races but the dominant race is white. There are a lot of people that take the idea of culture and make it about race because in some cases, like Black Americans, race is a factor.
The issue here is that when we’re talking about the culprit of appropriation, this is one of the very few instances where race doesn’t matter. Any person, of any race can appropriate a culture. For example, every harm that can come from a non-Native white person appropriating Native culture can come from a non-Native Japanese person, a non-Native Black person or any other race that you can think of if they’re not a part of the Native culture they are taking from. It isn’t just incorrect to think otherwise, it’s dangerous. Sticking with the Native example, while we’ve talked about how the hyper sexualization of Native women has a direct correlation to their being the highest group of rape survivors in this country, the very idea that a Korean person wouldn’t be doing the exact same kind of damage that a white person would, is fatal.
The entire point here is not to cause harm. Not emotionally, physically or spiritually. The belief that only white people can be cultural appropriators is opening the door for a pandemic of problems caused by non-white people who choose not to know better and white people who simply don’t give a damn. There might be things that only white people can do but cultural appropriation isn’t one of them.
1- “It’s not really part of your culture” -Some form of this will be said as they, a person not of the culture in question, tells you what is or is not part of your culture. At least half of the time, this will accompany some form of belittling the item/issue. Clever retorts like, ”You can have it" or "I wouldn’t even want that to part of my culture" will be made.
2- “Sharing/Blending/Appreciating” -These are some of the favorite code words used instead of the word they actually mean, stealing.
3- “If I can’t wear thing A, you can’t wear thing B.” -This will be the more extreme racists. They tend to equate something important in one culture to something non-important in their own. This is a place where you’ll often see the use of “Blue Jeans” used as something that “Others” can’t do ya know…’cause appropriation. This also let’s you know that the person speaking, has absolutely no understanding of what cultural appropriation actually is but…they sure do like to regurgitate their opinions about it loud, often and without an ounce of knowledge.
4- “Oh yeah, such and such is real important to culture A” -This will be said, on this post, after racists read number 3. No seriously, save this post and come back and read the notes. They will pick a dance, a food or something seemingly random that they’ve seen someone call an appropriated item. They will then belittle said item and give the verbal equivalent of an eye roll. Once again, see number 1.
4b- “If so-and-so did this" -This is a favorite tactic of the racist. They wouldn’t miss a chance to use it during cultural appropriation talks as well. If someone, specifically someone famous or well known among the crowd, gets accused of cultural appropriation, a racist will often jump to say "If so and so did this no one would say anything about it" or some form of the like. Racists often have no understanding of why one person can do something and another can not. It’s basic human decency for most of us but racists believe that they, specifically them, should be able to do all things to all people and everyone should stand and applaud.
5- “Cultural Appropriation isn’t even that bad.” -This will almost always be followed by a dissertation containing the code words from number 2. They will talk about the “Blending” of the cultures and how it makes things better when the powerful steal and abuse the less powerful…*ahem*…I mean, appreciate the less powerful. If they really find themselves in a corner, they’ll pull out the “There are more important things to worry about" line. Which, also tells you how little they actually know about appropriation.
George Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin because he perceived him as dangerous. The defense argues he was, the prosecution argues he wasn’t. No one, of course, argues that Zimmerman approached Martin with kindness, or stopped to consider the boy as anything other than suspicious, an outsider. Ultimately Zimmerman shot and killed Martin. A lack of empathy can produce national tragedies. But it also drives quieter, more routine forms of discrimination.
Let’s do a quick experiment. You watch a needle pierce someone’s skin. Do you feel this person’s pain? Does it matter if the person’s skin is white or black?
For many people, race does matter, even if they don’t know it. They feel more empathy when they see white skin pierced than black. This is known as the racial empathy gap. To study it, researchers at the University of Milano-Bicocca showed participants (all of whom were white) video clips of a needle or an eraser touching someone’s skin. They measured participants’ reactions through skin conductance tests—basically whether their hands got sweaty—which reflect activity in the pain matrix of the brain. If we see someone in pain, it triggers the same network in our brains that’s activated when we are hurt. But people do not respond to the pain of others equally. In this experiment, when viewers saw white people receiving a painful stimulus, they responded more dramatically than they did for black people.
The racial empathy gap helps explain disparities in everything from pain management to the criminal justice system. But the problem isn’t just that people disregard the pain of black people. It’s somehow even worse. The problem is that the pain isn’t even felt.
A recent study shows that people, including medical personnel, assume black people feel less pain than white people. The researchers asked participants to rate how much pain they would feel in 18 common scenarios. The participants rated experiences such as stubbing a toe or getting shampoo in their eyes on a four-point scale (where 1 is “not painful” and 4 is “extremely painful”). Then they rated how another person (a randomly assigned photo of an experimental “target”) would feel in the same situations. Sometimes the target was white, sometimes black. In each experiment, the researchers found that white participants, black participants, and nurses and nursing students assumed that blacks felt less pain than whites.
But the researchers did not believe racial prejudice was entirely to blame. After all, black participants also displayed an empathy gap toward other blacks. What could possibly be the explanation for why black people’s pain is underestimated?
It turns out assumptions about what it means to be black—in terms of social status and hardship—may be behind the bias. In additional experiments, the researchers studied participants’ assumptions about adversity and privilege. The more privilege assumed of the target, the more pain the participants perceived. Conversely, the more hardship assumed, the less pain perceived. The researchers concluded that “the present work finds that people assume that, relative to whites, blacks feel less pain because they have faced more hardship.”
This gives us some insight into how racial disparities are created—and how they are sustained. First, there is an underlying belief that there is a single black experience of the world. Because this belief assumes blacks are already hardened by racism, people believe black people are less sensitive to pain. Because they are believed to be less sensitive to pain, black people are forced to endure more pain.
Consider disparities in treatment for pain. We’ve known for at least two decades that minorities, primarily blacks and Hispanics, receive inadequate pain medication. Often this failure comes when people need help the most. For example, an early study of this disparity revealed that minorities with recurrent or metastatic cancer were less likely to have adequate analgesia. Racial disparities in pain management have been recorded in the treatment of migraines and back pain, cancer care in the elderly, and children withorthopedic fractures. A 2008 review of 13 years of national survey data on emergency room visits found that for a pain-related visit, an opioid prescription was more likely for white patients (31 percent) than black patients (23 percent).
Some of the problem is structural. We’ve also known for some time that pharmacies in nonwhite communities fail to adequately stock opioids. In a 2005 study, Michigan pharmacies in white communities were 52 times more likely to sufficiently stock opioidsthan in nonwhite communities. But this does not fully explain the problem. When pain medicine is available, minorities receive less of it. Medical personnel may care deeply about treating the pain of minorities. Even so, they might recognize less of it—and this may explain why the pain is so poorly treated.
The racial empathy gap is also a problem of our criminal justice system. Consider research on the impact of race on jury decisions. A 2002 experiment showed the power of race, empathy, and punishment. The researchers asked 90 white students to act as jurors and evaluate a larceny case. The manipulation, as you might suspect, is whether the defendant was black or white. But before jurors decided the defendant’s fate, they participated in an “empathy induction task.” Some jurors were assigned to a high-empathy condition and asked to imagine themselves in the defendant’s position. Other jurors were assigned to a low-empathy condition and asked to simply remain objective. Ultimately, the jurors gave black defendants harsher sentences (4.17 years) than whites (3.04 years)—even in the high-empathy condition (3.26 years versus 2.20 years, respectively)—and felt less empathy for black defendants.
This helps explain harsh sentencing in juvenile justice. Nationwide, youth of color are treated more harshly than their white peers. What is a prank for a white student is often treated as a zero-tolerance offense by a minority student. Minority students are more likely to receive an out-of-school suspension, even if they have a disability, more likely to be referred by their schools to law enforcement, more likely to be arrested, more likely to be tried in adult court, and more likely to receive a harsh sentence. Recall that participants assumed blacks felt less pain because of their perceived hardened lives. Stanford University researchers found something similar in juvenile sentences. In Stanford’s study, people perceived black children as more like adults, who deserve severe adult punishment, and not innocent kids, who deserve our empathy and compassion.
If we know part of the problem is a lack of empathy, is it possible to learn empathy and overcome an implicit bias? In the study of jurors, we saw empathy induction did not eliminate the empathy gap. But it did produce somewhat more lenient sentences. Perhaps this is a first step.
The perspective-taking approach seems to help. In a 2011 study, researchers tested whether empathy induction reduced pain treatment disparities. Participants assigned to the perspective-taking group were instructed to “try to imagine how your patient feels about his or her pain and how this pain is affecting his or her life.” As other studies have found, many people exhibited an empathy bias that drives their bias in pain treatment. But this study gives us some hope. It shows that the perspective-taking intervention reduced treatment bias—in this case by 55 percent.
But this approach misses something crucial. Perspective-taking must account for—and eliminate—the assumptions about what it means to be black or a minority in the United States. After all, imagining how pain affects a person’s life will not completely extinguish bias. Part of the problem is how we think about other people’s pain—and how when we stereotype their lives, we don’t.
I was going to post all of the recaps of the Trayvon Martin Murder Trial but as I started re-reading them, it became far to overwhelming and I’m sure that many feel the same way. For those that would like to see the daily/hourly recaps, check out The Political Freakshow. He has done an outstanding job with posting about this case.
For now, I want to tell you about two really thought provoking posts I read. Both with opposing views on whether it was okay to show pictures of Trayvon Martin’s murdered body. Before reading them, I didn’t think about whether it was a good idea or not. I just thought, I can never look at those pictures. This trial hits to close to home for me and seeing those pictures is not something I believe I could handle emotionally.
None the less, after reading both views, I definitely side more with one of them.
But…please read them both. Read them both and decide for yourself. Really think about the situation. I think great points were made on both sides.
What do you think?