You don’t need a white friend to show you’re not racist.

Many white people feel that white people are stereotyped as racists and are victims of racial prejudice. Consequently, many whites assume that non-white people will be racially prejudiced against whites on the basis of their skin colour, assuming that they are racist because they are white.

Of course, most people of colour who were raised in white-majority societies are aware of this, and some of us make extraordinary efforts to make white friends and parade them around to make ourselves appear “not racist”, or at least not racially prejudiced against ‘whitey’. What makes the stereotype that non-whites are racially prejudiced against whites so resilient is that it fits nicely into the stereotype that non-white people always stick together and self-segregate.

If I am Chinese and I have a Korean friend, whites may still perceive me as an Asian who refuses to integrate with the rest of society. If I am Chinese and I have a black friend, but no white friend, whites may perceive me as an angry person of colour by association with black people. If I have a white friend, however, whites would think that my white friend is very tolerant to have a friend of colour. Additionally, whites would not be able to accuse me of not integrating and of being racially threatening.

The pressure to fit in with society is very strong, but we should not make excuses for our white friends’ and white acquaintances’ racist behaviour to keep up our appearances. This is not as easy as it sounds, as we often weigh the pros and cons of pointing out racism and the risk of confirming another racial stereotype, the stereotype of the angry or militant minority. What makes it even more difficult is that some of us second-guess ourselves and wonder if we really are racist against whites. Some of us conjure up in our minds our white friends to convince ourselves that we are not racially prejudiced, and that we are not entrenched in some kind of alleged racial subjectivity that is specific to people of colour.

If you admit to yourself that your white friend did something racist, it does not imply that you are a militant minority. If she is your only white friend, admitting that she did something racist does not imply that you hate all white people. Having a white friend is not a litmus test for sanity. Focus on the action, not the person, and not your self image.

Many white people worry that people of colour may stereotype white people as having stereotypes about people of colour. Many people of colour worry that whites may stereotype people of colour as having stereotypes about whites stereotyping people of colour. We worry about being stereotyped, because we are.

4 Responses to “You don’t need a white friend to show you’re not racist.”

  1. Nathan Says:

    Love your post!

    “Many white people worry that people of colour may stereotype white people as having stereotypes about people of colour. Many people of colour worry that whites may stereotype people of colour as having stereotypes about whites stereotyping people of colour. We worry about being stereotyped, because we are.”

    You know, I was once on a rollercoaster that felt a lot like reading those lines…

  2. Lxy Says:

    I believe that allowing what White people think to influence one’s choice of friends in the first place only reinforces White racial dominance. It is completely self-defeating.

    This issue seems to be related to what has been called the Wheel of Tyranny–a term coined by Junot Diaz that describes a situation in which “communities of colour circle constantly around a hub that is white folks, while never communicating with each other.”

    http://www.racialicious.com/2008/08/01/in-defense-of-russell-peters-are-racial-stereotypes-ever-funny/

    In other words, to break free from this “wheel of tyranny” one must displace White people from a position of political, social, and moral centrality–and not worry about what they think.

    To borrow a term from Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, this is an important step in what can be called “decolonizing the mind.”

    “Many white people feel that white people are stereotyped as racists and are victims of racial prejudice. Consequently, many whites assume that non-white people will be racially prejudiced against whites on the basis of their skin colour, assuming that they are racist because they are white.

    Of course, most people of colour who were raised in white-majority societies are aware of this, and some of us make extraordinary efforts to make white friends and parade them around to make ourselves appear “not racist”, or at least not racially prejudiced against ‘whitey’. What makes the stereotype that non-whites are racially prejudiced against whites so resilient is that it fits nicely into the stereotype that non-white people always stick together and self-segregate.”

    A point I would make here is that the very definition of racism itself and this meme of “White people as victims of racial prejudice” are increasingly being used for the most cynical and manipulative purpose: to deny the reality of White Supremacy and dominance by casting Whites as “racial victims.”

    Indeed, the mainstream definition of racism often erases issues of White institutional power and makes a false moral equivalence between White racial prejudice against minorities and minority prejudice vs. Whites. It’s not the same.

    These issues were addressed in a recent Hyphen blog post.

    http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/blog/2009/03/ben-hwang-over-at-8asians.html

    Another interesting thing is the very nature of White racial identity itself.

    People like Noel Ignatiev have argued that White identity is fundamentally based on upholding White racial privilege. As such, Whiteness is not “just another identity,” but rather one that is *designed* to promote racist inequality and hierarchy.

    http://racetraitor.org/abolishthepoint.html

    This is an idea that many putative anti-racists do not want to touch, as they uncritically accept the limited Civil Rights vocabulary of race(i.e. “segregationism,” “stereotypes,” “discrimination,” “Can’t We All Just Get Along?”)

    Essentially, the dominant racial politics in the USA (and possibly Canada?) is this integrationist Civil Rights paradigm.

    What has been forgotten down the Orwellian memory hole, however, is that the Civil Rights movement was politically challenged by a more radical and militant vision, as embodied by the Black Power movement as well as similar trends in the Chicano, Asian American, and Native communities.

    These movements were not talking about “integrating into the system.” They were talking about bringing this system to an end and replacing it with an egalitarian society. Moreover, they made political connections between the struggles of racial minorities in the USA/West and Third World decolonization struggles against the West like the Vietnam War.

    In a word, they were about revolution.

  3. Restructure! Says:

    Great comment, Lxy. I really do appreciate the info and links. I never made the connection between the idea of anti-racism as “racial harmony” back to the Civil Rights paradigm.

    There are revolutionary parts of the Race Traitor article that I really like, but there are also stupid white-privileged things, like “What makes you think I’m white?” and how the white author thinks of himself as a “reverse oreo”. If you want to abolish race, stop using racist food metaphors that categorize behaviour by race.

  4. thordaddy Says:

    The idea of “white supremacy” needs further articulation by those that proffer it as the dominating paradigm.

    Is “white supremacy” a real thing thereby correlating well with societal inequality between whites and blacks?

    Or, is “white supremacy” simply a mass delusion held by “white” people thereby calling into question its ability to “oppress” and “subjugate” black people?

    What do you think Restructure?


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