Inside Higher Ed has linked to a blogpost today on how to evaluate racism. This is only a slight mischaracterization. Here’s the section that interests me. GMP, “Tenured female prof at a large public research university,” writes,
I don’t have the right to comment on whether something is racist or not, but I do have the right to comment on whether something is sexist or not.
And writes again,
because I am not a racial minority, I completely allow that I am not qualified to talk about whether something is racially insensitive or not.
I call bullshit. In fact, I call massive, massive bullshit.
Here’s Audre Lorde from a much-cited essay:
[A]s Adrienne Rich pointed out in a recent talk, white feminists have educated themselves about such an enormous amount . . . how come you haven’t also educated yourselves about Black women and the differences between us – white and Black – when it is key to our survival as a movement?
Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women – in the face of tremendous resistance – as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought. (“The Master’s Tools will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”)
The claim that someone who is not a racial minority cannot evaluate racism is a too-convenient alibi that makes the detection of racism into a minority affair. To ask a racial minority to examine whether or not something is racist, to refuse, in fact, to put yourself on the line for calling out something as racist, is massively, massively unfair. Because it is to return those minoritized through race to the experience of that minoritization: to ask them to risk hurt in the name of some experience-based empiricism.
I’ve written this before, but it’s worth repeating: to describe something as racist, to describe an experience as racist, is to name, inadequately, a deep, persistent hurting, to try to capture, inadequately, how it feels to be deemed less than. It is to risk ridicule, disavowal, and the ever-condescending “maybe it’s all in your head.” It is to risk something.
But racist acts are not nebulous. They are not fantasies. They are not beyond the reach and grasp of education. You don’t need to be a racial minority to “get” when racism has happened. You need to be educated, as Lorde writes. You need to learn how to apply that education. I am distressed that an educator would ever claim the most banal, experience-based disavowal possible: I’m not a racial minority so I cannot speak about racism.
I call bullshit.
Because being anti-racist ain’t got nothing to do with the color of your skin.