Can’t you at least TRY to see past your white privilege?

11 04 2009

I’ve been reading the comments on the Tufts Daily article covering the recent bias incident at Tufts and some of the comments are incredibly ignorant and infuriating. For example:

“If the KSA had simply defended themselves, and not injured the freshmen, they would have a real case”?! So the freshmen’s racist remarks are irrelevant then? Besides, the KSA students repeatedly asked the freshman to stop and he ignored their requests. Furthermore, the freshman physically assaulted and injured the KSA members – from the email that circulated:

At this point, he began to physically harass the dancers, spitting at one member and shoving another one of the guys. An altercation ensued during which the freshman ripped two shirts and inflicted minor cuts to a member’s forehead.

The KSA only pinned him to the floor and put him in a headlock to restrain him – they had been responding nonviolently but because the freshman escalated his verbal and physical attacks, they resorted to force. During this whole time, the freshman’s girlfriend and friend were just watching. Talk about passive bystanding and simply bearing witness to but failing to proactively try to end racism and violence.

Another commenter wrote:

Not to stir up shit, but this would all play out differently if the kid was dropping the N word instead of chinks. The entire campus would be in an uproar not because black students have shorter tempers, but because everyone, black and non-black students alike, is conditioned to react with uproar at anyone using the word. Racism against asians is almost more acceptable because there aren’t as many history lessons taught about it. I dare anyone to deny this.

Racism is racism. It doesn’t matter which racial group is the target of the racist comment or act. It’s not fair, purposeful, or relevant to try to trump one racial group’s oppression over another racial group’s oppression. Oppression cannot be compared, so it is incorrect, impossible and useless to declare that Asians experience more racism, or that black people experience more racism, etc. People of color are socially positioned in a way that otherizes us from white people and stigmatizes us as less than. Racism thrives by not only making oppressed racial groups internalize racism but by pitting different racial groups against each other. Doing so means that you are making a concession to the status quo and reinforces white privilege. Ranking which racial groups experience more racism detracts away from the fact that the smallest amount of racism or oppression of any kind is problematic and unacceptable.

In light of last week’s “Stuff Tufts People Like” column that angryblkfeminist covered well and this blatantly racist bias incident, I have overheard people casually talking about how the cultural centers at Tufts are being “reversely racist”, how everyone’s making a big deal out of nothing about the KSA’s experience, and it seems like some Tufts people haven’t done their homework. So here is the basic 101.

Racism is still alive and well in society, even at Tufts. Racism is about power. To be racist, you have to be powerful or privileged in some way and be prejudiced. A person of color can be prejudiced to another person of color, or another person who is different than them in some way (this is not acceptable either, but it’s called being prejudiced or discriminatory, not being racist). Prejudice based on skin color + having cultural, social, political, economic power or being enfranchised in ways that others aren’t = Racist.

This brings us to our next point – there is no such thing as reverse racism. As WomanistMusings writes:

The term reverse racism necessarily implies that racism is something that should only be geared towards people of color. Another 101 fact, racism equals privilege and power therefore, it is not possible for a person of color to be racist. We may have individual prejudices but racism is an impossibility. I would furthermore point out to you that calling someone a “reverse racist” is nothing more than a silencing technique.

People of color are unjustly disenfranchised based on their skin color, and therefore lack certain power and privileges. Since racism entails existing with privilege and power, and being prejudice based on skin color, people of color are simply not in a position where they can be racist. This does not mean that we can’t be prejudiced or discriminatory (we shouldn’t – no one should because this just further institutionalizes and legitimizes racism), but it’s false to call a person of color who says a prejudiced or discriminatory remark racist. By nature of being a person of color, it’s just impossible to be racist, and therefore reverse racism does not exist.

Furthermore:

The history with white men is obvious. They continue to be the most over privileged group of people of all time. Though they complain about reverse racism citing a perceived loss of privilege, it is clear that they still run the world. Like marionettes we dance to their tune, while they sell the lie that they have the moral right and superiority to lead.

Look at our professors at Tufts – most of them are heterosexual white men.  Who are the authors of the textbooks and scholarly journals/articles that we have to read?  Mostly heterosexual white men as well.  The means of knowledge production and transmission tends to be dominated by white men.  They are the ones who largely manufacture and maintain our social realities.

To all the heterosexual white men out there who claim that the KSA bias incident is “no big deal”, that “angry Asians” are just unnecessarily involving the whole school for no reason, that the 6 centers at Tufts are exclusionist and segregationist, etc., will it hurt you to see past your white privilege just for one second and recognize that people of color have been and still are second class citizens and that white people have unfairly earned privileges that grant them power where others lack it?  For all the people who ask “well, what about us white people?”, well, what about you?! Not everything has to always be about you, even though it usually is.


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6 responses

11 04 2009
angryblkfeminist

Well said! I hate the “reverse racism” line that white people who fail to acknowledge their privilege constantly throw out. It’s kinda funny how this happened not even a week after Will’s column. How can someone really say that we don’t need those centers, those safe spaces? The bias incident isn’t just about Asians; it has to do with all marginalized people on campus!

And that stupid comment about KSA and how they wouldn’t have hurt the guy if they only defended themselves. Um, haven’t there been MURDERS justified in the name of self-defense? People can get hurt even if they don’t instigate and they are merely defending themselves. And as you said, it doesn’t negate the face that that freshman SAID THOSE SLURS. I refuse to believe that he only use obscenities and that the KSA banded together to make up those slurs. He did it. He needs to be punished accordingly.

I also want to say I am really interested to see how this whole even is played out. I think it’d be interesting to compare how it’ll be handled and how the perpetrator will be punished in this case as opposed to a sexual assault case. I think it’s something we all should keep in mind…

12 04 2009
Jezzabel

I agree, this was a great analysis of racism. Sometimes it is hard to believe how white privilege can make it impossible to empathize with others. Also, there is no way the incident was made up in any way. Two of my friends were doing homework in the Lewis common room and witnessed the whole thing. The freshman also shouted “Heil Hitler” as he was leaving.

12 04 2009
feministfeera

I also can’t stand the “reverse racism” bullshit; it’s the same excuse for why so many privileged people are against affirmative action.

In hierarchical systems, there’s this idea that stems from the dominant group that a society free of the hierachy would mean that their lives wouldn’t change, and that all people will be treated exactly the same. But the idea itself assumes that the dominant group shouldn’t lose any privilege, and that there’s no need to level the playing field.

But we HAVE to level the playing field. And so what is called “reverse racism” is simply removing privilege. In the case of this bias incident, it means revealing the privilege that this white freshman has and making it clear that to discipline him harshly is the APPROPRIATE action–we are removing his privilege, not discriminating against him because he is white.

12 04 2009
Lorraine E.

I agree with what you said about “reverse racism” being a term used by racist white people to hide their racism, but:

If racism only means prejudice based on skin color perpetrated by members of a dominant group, then what is the correct term for prejudice based on skin color perpetrated by members of a minority group?

12 04 2009
feminist2

People of color who express prejudice based on skin color is being prejudiced or discriminatory. They are missing the power and privilege to be racist.

“Racism is about power. To be racist, you have to be powerful or privileged in some way and be prejudiced. A person of color can be prejudiced to another person of color, or another person who is different than them in some way (this is not acceptable either, but it’s called being prejudiced or discriminatory, not being racist).”

17 04 2009
Jason

“Not to stir up shit, but this would all play out differently if the kid was dropping the N word instead of chinks. The entire campus would be in an uproar not because black students have shorter tempers, but because everyone, black and non-black students alike, is conditioned to react with uproar at anyone using the word. Racism against asians is almost more acceptable because there aren’t as many history lessons taught about it. I dare anyone to deny this.”
Actually, I think this commenter made a valid point- s/he’s not saying that racial discrimination against the KSA was in any way okay, but that people are making less of a deal out of it than if “the N word” was used. It seems to me that s/he was trying to point out that racism to different racial groups IS treated differently- even if it shouldn’t be.

Also. Wow. Such things throw into light cultural differences, I guess. “Reverse racism” is geniunely an issue here- because “standard” racism barely is at all. I tend to forget how different America can be.

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