Anti-racism is not human relations programming.

White people often associate antiracism training with learning about and respecting the differences between white and non-white cultures, between Western culture and non-Western cultures. The goal behind this “cultural sensitivity” training is to ensure that white people do not unintentionally offend people of colour. I will refer to this type of training as human relations programming.

Essentially, for whites, the purpose of human relations programming is to minimize the possibility that people of colour would file a racial discrimination complaint against the company, or on the societal level, its purpose is to prevent a racial revolt or “race war”. Sometimes, a white person who feels guilty about racism attempts to be antiracist by being extra-nice to people of colour. In other cases, a white person who realizes that she did something racist to a person of colour will try to ameliorate the transgression by, again, being extra-nice. If the white person and the person of colour become on friendly terms, the white person may perceive that her racial transgression has been forgiven. If the white person believes that her racial transgression has been forgiven, it usually relieves her of her guilt and restores her self-identity as a “good person”.

However, the problem with this model is that racism is more than cultural misunderstandings between whites and non-whites; racism is more than just acts that offend people of colour. Racism is inequality, inequity, and injustice that are built into our society which values whites over non-whites. Racism is not “subjective”; it is “objective”. That is, racism is not perception; it is reality. There are real inconsistencies between how society treats whites and non-whites, and these inconsistencies are due to conscious and unconscious in-group/out-group categorization.

Racism is not just about personal relationship problems between white and non-white individuals due to racial differences. Racism is systemic. The problem is not difference; it is inequality. The solution to the problem is not to accept differences; the solution to the problem is to eliminate inequality.

White people use human relations programming to protect themselves from racial anger.

Some white people’s focus on and preoccupation with human relations programming appears to indicate a deep-seated, subconscious fear of an oncoming “race war”, in which people of colour will eventually revolt violently in response to centuries of white oppression. For white people who conflate antiracism with human relations programming, the worst outcome of systemic racial oppression is racial violence. In other words, white people who focus on human relations programming are concerned (subconsciously) with their own safety as a racial group, and their goal is to maintain social order. The current social order, of course, is the status quo that upholds white supremacy. Thus, to focus on human relations programming is to protect the white supremacist system from being overthrown, to placate people of colour with kind words and prevent them from rebelling.

White people’s conflation of antiracism with human relations programming explains why liberal/left-wing white people admire white people who speak about racism against people of colour, yet disapprove of people of colour who speak about racism against people of colour. A white person who speaks out against racism is seen by whites as placating people of colour and telling people of colour what they want to hear. If the goal is to prevent the “race war” scenario, then human relations programming works towards that goal, and a white antiracist symbolizes peace. However, a person of colour who speaks out against racism is seen by whites as antithetical to the human-relations-programming interpretation of antiracism, since this person of colour may incite other people of colour to riot and ignite the “race war” itself. Hence, white people generally perceive the person of colour who brings up racism as being “racist” and as a symbol of disharmony.

Here are two examples of whites who think that antiracism is human relations programming.

KellyDiane, a white person, made this comment about racial activism:

[R]acial activists preach unity, right? The unity of all people, hopefully.

Already, KellyDiane’s use of the word ‘unity’ indicates her misunderstanding of antiracism. Racial unity is not sufficient for racial equity. A social system can be unified and functioning well, but this does not indicate anything about equality. For example, a patriarchal family system with strict gender roles may be unified, and the men and women may be happy with their assigned roles (insofar as the women do not collectively revolt), but this does not mean that the women are not being undervalued and abused. Again, if white people focus on racial unity over racial justice, it suggests that they are more concerned with preventing racial violence (which would cause whites to suffer) than eliminating racism. Justice, not unity, is the real goal of antiracism.

Macon D, a white person who identifies as an antiracist, and the author of the blog Stuff White People Do, made this comment:

Learning about race seems to require some generalization. I think this is especially true if a white person wants to stop saying things to POC, or doing things to them, that are racist.

And yet, if I’m reading your post right, you offer no guidelines for proper forms of generalization by whites about the racial experiences of people of color. If, for instance, one POC does not like it when a white person says this or that to them (e.g., “My, you’re so articulate!”), and then another member of that non-white racial group also doesn’t like that, and then another also doesn’t like it, shouldn’t the white person realize, at some point, that members of that non-white racial group don’t like it when white people say that thing to them? If so, that realization seems to require generalization, doesn’t it?

So I’m wondering, where and how do you think a white person CAN effectively generalize about POC, based on what POC say or write? (And of course, the goal of such learning, via informed generalization, is anti-racist: the cessation of racist behavior.)

Macon D’s absurd idea that that the racial experiences of people of colour can be generalized is highly problematic, and is discussed elsewhere. However, another serious problem with his comment is that he believes that ‘racism’ is defined as white behaviour that non-whites do not like. Macon D believes that racism can be explained in terms of the supposed collective social preferences of non-white people, whereas in actuality, racism is racial inequity. If a white person tries to ‘compliment’ a non-white person by calling her ‘articulate’, the problem is not that the white person is insensitive towards the non-white person’s cultural preferences. The problem is that the white person assumes that the non-white person is less intelligent and less educated because of her race. This is called ‘racism’.

This white person thinks that white antiracism is positive, and that black antiracism is negative.

A very interesting incident occurred recently on the blog Stuff White People Say, which I contribute to along with jwbe (white) and Nquest (black). A white reader and fan of Macon D’s Stuff White People Do—named gypsy rose—left comments on our blog, accusing us of being “clueless”, of having “a problem with macon d himself, for whatever reason, rather than with what he writes”, and telling us that we need to “get over it” and “get positive”. Along with calling us “trolls”, gypsy rose complained that we did not acknowledge in writing that Macon D’s post (forget the whiteness of the bomb) was “good”. After Nquest asked gypsy rose if she/he wanted a cookie from us to give to Macon D, Nquest posted a link to his comment on the forget the whiteness of the bomb post which acknowledged that Macon D’s post was good. Gypsy rose replied:

You call that a positive comment? You are such a troll.

This was the actual comment by Nquest that gypsy rose found negative, or at least non-positive and trollish (Macon D’s words in italics):

Because the Japanese were “non-white,” dropping The Bomb on them wasn’t as morally troubling as it could’ve been.

I guess that explains the unparalleled sympathy and affection for (the apparent ruling class of Jews in Israel and) the “150 nukes” state of Israel.

Logically, there is nothing about Nquest’s comment that is negative towards Macon D as a person or trollish in the context of the Stuff White People Do blog. However, I laughed at gypsy rose’s suggestion that Nquest’s comment was negative, and I replied:

Let me guess, you think that it was a “negative” comment because Nquest, who is black, is saying something negative about whites. If Macon D made the same point about whites, you would make sure we saw it so that we could acknowledge what a good (white) antiracist he is.

In other words, gypsy rose perceives Nquest’s comment about white racism as trollish and negative simply because Nquest is black. For gypsy rose, a black person that adds to and builds upon a white person’s thoughts on white racism is a “troll” and needs to “get positive”. If we accept the hypothesis that white people generally perceive people of colour speaking about racism as hindering the white-perceived goal of antiracism, i.e., racial unity and maintaining social order, then we have a framework for understanding gypsy rose’s double standards. Gypsy rose perceives Macon D and his blog as “good”, and she/he perceives Nquest as a “troll”, because she/he believes implicitly that a white person who speaks about racism is productive, and that a black person who speaks about racism is destructive.

Conclusion

When white people implement antiracism as human relations programming, it is self-serving and seeks to protect white people from the real or perceived anger of people of colour. White people need to learn that antiracism is not about “them”; it is not about white safety and protecting current society. However, very few white people who perceive themselves as ‘antiracists’ would be willing to risk a revolution that destroys the social hierarchy that is in place today, the social hierarchy which confers safety and privilege upon white bodies, and which whites want, subconsciously, to protect.


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11 Responses to “Anti-racism is not human relations programming.”

  1. jwbe Says:

    great post

  2. EVD Says:

    Thank you so much for the ingroup/outgroup definitions. I was trying to find a way to describe the treatment I’ve been getting at work, where a white male coworker has basically coerced the people in my department (they’re all white) to ostrasize me (I’m black). Of course, the HR department is turning a blind eye, and doesn’t want to address this issue.

  3. Restructure! Says:

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Remember, the HR department works for the company.

  4. White people think that ‘racism’ means racial conflict. « Restructure! Says:

    […] Anti-racism is not human relations programming. […]

  5. Nquest Says:

    Interesting post. At first I questioned the “race war” concept but, as you made the case for it as a motivator… simply, I would be hard-pressed to dispute it. When you contrasted KellyDiane’s “unity” offering with the core issues of equity and justice your point became crystal clear.

    I’ve always postulated Whites who respond as you described where motivated by a not-so-subconscious desire to maintain the WHITE SUPREMACY status quo. Surely a “race war” or even a rejuvenated civil rights movement is a threat to that. So I find your idea interesting and compelling.

    I can’t count the number of times Whites of all stripes have attempted to distract or confuse POC’s explicit quest for equity and justice by inserting something else as POC’s goal. It’s a cynical production. I say that because it’s a dubious, paternalistic act.

    Like KellyDiane, the “thenydouche” character who posted on SWPS, ironically raised the specter of the blog’s title as being “divisive” (when his blog’s title and content is all about the angry white male’s indiscriminate racial angst dubbed “indignant”) because, of course, we POC value “unity” (i.e. the state of not being divide) above all else or that’s what our gracious White friends tell us we value… and how much. Indeed, its the very idea that we POC don’t use the language of love, “unity” and longsuffering that’s so offensive.

    We’re supposed to patiently endure oppression and White intransigence, century after century, and pretend like piecemeal change and cosmetic gestures are acceptable. In Macon’s case, his gross misunderstanding and, indeed, his very problematic racial/racist views — not to mention his intellectual dishonesty — were to be ignored or discounted because of his professed “antiracism.” Which presents another interesting twist:

    In the U.S., now matter how “good” the fight against racism people like Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton have waged, now matter how “right” a person like Rev. Wright was to speak out against racism… none of them are given the “white treatment” RedCatBiker and Gypsy Rose gave Macon where the idea that Macon means well makes him beyond repute.

    With the reverends as examples, it’s easy to see how “the white-perceived goal of antiracism” is this curious-dubious goal of “racial unity.” In fact, it was Macon’s intellectual dishonesty regarding how he viewed Rev. Wright that began the “racial disunity” between the two of us (Macon and I).

    Macon used loaded terms like “racially charged” and “strikingly unfamiliar” to describe Rev. Wright’s infamous comments (infamous because of how the media portrayed them) but could explain why those terms were appropriate or what made what Wright said so “strikingly unfamiliar.” That was supposed to be another one of those self-evident things, the same way Macon felt the idea of White Privilege was self-evident and, therefore, exempt from rigorous truth-proof tests.

    Little did I know that Macon had previously rushed to label Rev. Wright’s comments as “racist” but, as is his pattern, changed the word (to “racially charged”, a distinction without a difference until proven otherwise, IMO) after a poster questioned him about it.

  6. jwbe Says:

    Macon on his blog in a comment towards me, asking him about his “untraining”:

    Examples? Of untraining? Those abound on this blog, you can find them here if you look. And if you use your own imagination as well, I’m sure you can think of many ways in which a person who has unlearned particular racist thoughts and behaviors could act differently, in both daily interactions, and in ways that counteract institutional racism more broadly (institutions, after all, consist of the people who run them). Think of hiring situations; teaching practices at all age levels; judicial decisions; police behavior; parenting; service work of all kinds; etc. I could go on, but I think what I’m saying must be clear.
    http://stuffwhitepeopledo.blogspot.com/2008/09/allow-reality-to-overcome-their.html?showComment=1221339780000#c3443286232260244083

    He is perhaps a perfect example for an “anti-racist” of this kind of “happily shaking hands” [of course the “non-white way” [/sarcasm] ] with each other and all will be fine (for whites).
    What won’t change with that is the power relationship. Already the form of democracy in America makes it impossible for alternative parties to gain political power. At the end, Republicans and Democrats don’t differ so much and they can’t be challenged by a third party. Both parties are definitely pro-white parties and pro-capitalism parties with little or no inclination also to change their foreign politics.
    Already the term (white) anti-racist/anti-racism is misleading. “Of course” whites are against racism and the fans of Macon show this on his blog. Finding the “real racists” who blatantly act racist and then making fun out of them or having a chance to look down on them. This only shows to me how confused or so a white mind can be when one racist makes fun out of the other racist and both of them believe they are anti-racist.

    Without changing a system which also impacts people around the world in a negative way, so-called anti-racism can’t work because it is already this system itself which keeps European/white nations on the top of also the economical power and therefore they are in the position to dictate the rules. All other nations have to compete and the leading nations have many ways trying to prevent other nations from succeding, subsidies are only one example which ruin domestic markets in non-European/American markets.
    Racism has nothing to do with not knowing or with differences, it’s a political power-system for a small rich elite which wants to exploit the world and makes the majority of humans on planet earth powerless.

  7. Nquest Says:

    He is perhaps a perfect example for an “anti-racist” of this kind of “happily shaking hands”… with each other and all will be fine (for whites).

    JWBE, I was going to make the same point you seem to be making. When we use the different standards Restructure highlighted and ask whether Macon’s stated “anti-racist labor” (his term) portrays a racism=human-relations vs. racism=inequity/injustice perspective.

    Think of the most contentious threads:

    “get used to blackness”
    racism=human-relations or racism=inequity/injustice?

    “believe others consider them trustworthy”
    racism=human-relations or racism=inequity/injustice?

    express amazement when non-white people see them as “white”
    racism=human-relations or racism=inequity/injustice?

  8. Restructure! Says:

    Nquest,

    Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. Okanagan also said something at SWPS that resonated with my feelings:

    I am new to the blogosphere, and I don’t have a website, but I wanted to thank you for this site. I have been visiting SWPD and so much of what he is saying hurts me, angers me, disgusts me. He just doesn’t get it, his comments section is so prideful. He does not hesitate to make generalizations about “Indians” (his term) either – in his “Steal from People” post and comments. Trivializing and exoticizing and simplifying FN people and providing guidelines for other liberal white people like him so as not to offend us. I know this is off topic (sort of), but he is generalizing about “stuff” he does not understand beyond a surface level and I just had to thank you for taking the time and energy to create this safe space to challenge his internalized domination.

    Of course, for me, I think of it as, “Trivializing and exoticizing and simplifying people of colour and providing guidelines for other liberal white people like him so as not to offend us.”

  9. White people like writing as ‘experts’ on non-white cultures. « Restructure! Says:

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  11. ADDO EVANS Says:

    I THINK ANTI-RACISM IS THEREFORE NOT A HUMAN RELATION PROGRAM BECAUSE DSPITE OF THE FACT THAT WE HAVE DIFFERENT COLOUR DON’T MEAN THAT NOLY THE WHITES ARE HUMAN BEINGS . WE ARE ALL HUMAN BEINGS BECAUSE WE TALK, SEE, HEAR,EAT AND DO EVERY THING AS THE WHITES DO.
    I THEREFORE CONCLUDE THAT THIS ACT MUST BE ABOLISHED.


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