For the overwhelming majority of white people, if racism is completely eliminated, the ideal situation is symbolized by the image of people of all colours holding hands in peace. The worst-case outcome of racism, for most white people, is a “race war”. However, unlike institutional and systemic racism against people of colour, only the “race war” scenario would directly hurt white people. That is, when white ‘antiracists’ focus on preventing racial conflict over correcting racial inequity, they are acting selfishly to protect their racial group.
In reality, the image of a racism-free utopia should not be associated with peace. The image of a racism-free utopia should be associated with equity. Peace is better than war, but true antiracist efforts should not give priority to peace over equity. Sometimes conflict and confrontation* are necessary to bring about equity.
White people usually give priority to racial peace over racial equity.
This distinction is important, because white people often give higher priority to maintaining peace between whites and non-whites, over resolving inequity between whites and non-whites. When white people do this, they work towards maintaining social order at the expense of confronting racial inequity, and the current social order privileges whites.
White conservatives often say that talking about racism is itself racist, since talking about racism creates negativity between whites and non-whites, they allege. The assumption behind this line of thought is that racism is racial conflict instead of racial inequity.
White liberals generally agree that racial slurs are very racist and are unacceptable, but they may argue that certain types of acts—like cultural appropriation or asking Asians, “Where are you from?”—are not “real racism” and that calling such acts “racist” is an insult to real victims of racism. Again, these white people are more concerned with preserving peace between whites and non-whites than examining and fixing racial inequity. These white people have a lower tolerance of racism than white conservatives, but they tolerate some level of racism because zero tolerance would be unattainable and a constant source of conflict, according to their line of thought. Realistically, if avoiding racial conflict is in the equation of combatting racism, then this equation tolerates some racial inequity.
White ‘antiracists’ may accept that white privilege exists and that racism is not limited to the actions of white conservatives. However, some of these white ‘antiracists’ are more concerned with having controlled conversations about race than confronting the possibility that a white ‘antiracist’ can be racist in more than a ‘trivial’ way.
Recently, some white commenters and fans of the blog Stuff White People Do (authored by white guy Macon D) accused a black man, an Asian woman, and a white woman (Nquest, Restructure, and jw, respectively) of being “trolls”. Restructure (me) replied to one of the white commenters named White Trash Academic with the following:
What makes you think that people in this thread are trolling, other than that we disagree with Macon D? There is some history to our concerns about Macon D. Sometimes white liberals regurgitate textual learning about racism and white privilege, but then later on, act in ways that show non-understanding of white privilege and racism when dealing with people of colour.
Being concerned with how academic knowledge translates to practical application is hardly “trolling”. Acknowledging that racism and white privilege exist is only the first step. Consciously acknowledging this is much easier than realizing what kind of unconscious assumptions one has about people of colour, which are revealed in the way one frames discussions about race.
White Trash Academic told Restructure to look up the definition of “concern troll”. Here is the definition:
- In an argument (usually a political debate), a concern troll is someone who is on one side of the discussion, but pretends to be a supporter of the other side with “concerns”. The idea behind this is that your opponents will take your arguments more seriously if they think you’re an ally. Concern trolls who use fake identities are sometimes known as sockpuppets.
- A person who posts on a blog thread, in the guise of “concern,” to disrupt dialogue or undermine morale by pointing out that posters and/or the site may be getting themselves in trouble, usually with an authority or power. They point out problems that don’t really exist. The intent is to derail, stifle, control, the dialogue. It is viewed as insincere and condescending.
Astonishingly, these white ‘antiracists’ believe that disrupting a white-controlled conversation about anti-racism amounts to disrupting anti-racism itself. According the “concern troll” interpretation of our behaviour, the problems we point out are “not real problems” and we are the ones trying to derail, stifle, and control the white antiracist’s dialogue. This interpretation of reality is seriously flawed, because preserving the white antiracist’s dialogue is not more important than examining how that very dialogue can be racist. When white ‘antiracists’ act as if they have the authority to separate so-called ‘important issues’ from ‘trivial issues’, they are the ones who are controlling the dialogue, stifling the dissent of people of colour, and derailing the antiracist movement that should be led by people of colour. People of colour cannot ‘hijack’ an antiracist thread from white antiracists, because white antiracists should not direct an antiracist conversation in the first place.
This irony was taken to a new level when White Trash Academic left a comment on an excellent post at Womanist Musings about white people dismissing and discounting the ideas of people of colour and derailing the conversations started by people of colour:
On white feminist blogs it’s tone, on non-feminist blogs discussions of race get derailed by focusing on problems with “how the discussion was framed.” WTF?
White Trash Academic’s mentioning of “how the discussion was framed” was an allusion to Restructure’s comment that contained the phrase “in the way one frames discussions about race” (mentioned above). However, Restructure is a person of colour, and White Trash Academic is white . Renee’s post at Womanist Musings is about people with white privilege dismissing and silencing people of colour. Restructure cannot be exercising white privilege over White Trash Academic, because Restructure lacks white privilege while White Trash Academic has it. Only a severe form of self-delusion could make somebody read Renee’s post and then “identify” with the experience because she, as a white person, felt victimized by a person of colour controlling the conversation.
White ‘antiracists’ are still white people. Although they are more racially aware than mainstream white liberals, many of them still value racial peace over racial equity.
Some white ‘antiracists’ may think that they can achieve both racial peace and racial equity, that the two goals are yoked together. For example, when I suggested (for the second time) to Macon D (the white author of the Stuff White People Do blog) that he make the transition from “human relations programming” to “social justice activism”, he replied:
Your two terms, “Human relations programming –> Social justice activism,” are not the only forms of anti-racist work out there, and the two categories are not mutually exclusive either. You’re pretty dictatorial about what people doing anti-racist activism should and shouldn’t be concentrating their efforts on.
Firstly, the imagery that Macon D conjures up is bizarre. I, a person of colour, am a “dictator” that is restricting the individual freedom of the white antiracist activist, Macon D. Although I cannot be a spokesperson for people of colour other than myself, white people should not expect that antiracism should allow for their individual self-expression. Antiracism is not a hobby for people of colour, and hence, it should not be a hobby for white people, either.
Secondly, although the categories of “human relations programming” and “social justice activism” are not mutually exclusive, the former frames racism as racial conflict, while the latter acknowledges that racism is about inequity. The categories are not mutually exclusive, but white society is structured in such a way that not only privileges human relations programming over social justice activism, but uses it to suppress social justice activism.
Antiracists should concentrate their efforts on resolving racial inequity over resolving racial conflict, because spending time on resolving racial conflict distracts from, and often adds to, the real problem of racism.
* Here, “conflict” and “confrontation” usually mean anything that could make any white person upset.