Anti-racist terminology is not pedantic. The systematicity of racism is visceral, and your skepticism derives from your ethnocentric worldview.

Some individuals believe that the terminology used to discuss racism beyond personal experiences is unnecessarily pedantic and elitist. There are at least two plausible explanations of the reasoning behind this sentiment. One possibility is that the individual in question does not understand the systemic problem of racism, and believes that racism is something that is done by only crazed individuals. This first possibility will be discussed in this post.

An individual who thinks that racism is merely individual acts of hatred by mentally-ill white individuals does not understand that racism is systemic and pervasive. Racism is not exclusive to the political right and political conservatives, and hatred (explicit or implicit) against a racial group x is not necessary for holding racist beliefs about racial group x. Political liberals and even the political left may harbour racist beliefs that are based on misconceptions* about others’ lack of competence rather than hatred. Even people of colour of any political orientation may be racist against their own racial group and other racialized groups because they have internalized the racist belief system that permeates our culture.

If an individual does not understand the systemic problem of racism and believes that racism is about random acts of hatred committed by crazed white individuals, then it is reasonable to infer that she also thinks that terms like ‘systemic racism’, ‘internalized racism’, ‘racialized’, ‘microaggression’, and ‘microinsults’ have nothing to do with reality and are academic posturing. If she does not directly experience systemic racism, internalized racism, racialization, microaggression, and microinsults, then she would probably believe that these are merely theoretical constructs invented by academics in ivory towers. If this individual believes that to use such terms is to complicate things, then she likely has a very simplistic and superficial understanding of how racism works. If an individual does not experience microinsults herself and thinks that the idea of ‘microinsults’ is meaningless academese, then she is merely projecting her own detachment and opaqueness with respect to racism on to the term itself.

That something is ‘complex’ or ‘elusive’ to white people does not mean that it is universally complex and elusive to all humans. There can exist things that are experienced at a very basic level of perception by one group of people, yet not be recognized by another group due to the other’s lack of experience or lack of conceptual background. For example, East Asian cultures generally perceive umami or xiānwèi as a basic taste, but most Westerners would have to expend cognitive effort to taste it as ‘umami’. Moreover, the type of Westerners who would use the word ‘umami’ tend to be more educated than the general population, but this does not indicate that the concept of ‘umami’ itself is elitist and academic.

Ultimately, if an individual feels that terms like ‘systemic racism’, ‘internalized racism’, ‘racialized’, ‘microaggression’, and ‘microinsults’ have empty referents, it is a manifestation of her aloofness, not the academic’s.


* White liberals and white leftists may travel to ‘Africa’ or another geographical region and expect that they can help non-whites, assuming that the problem is lack of ingenuity on the part of non-whites. Often, these self-styled ‘philanthropists’ assume that they are competent enough to solve other people’s problems without researching the situation or without having any working experience in such projects. They assume that poverty in developing countries is about lack of resources and ignore Western complicity, because they would like to maintain their self-perception as white saviours.


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How Whites benefit from fighting White privilege #1: Self-Esteem

A White person may benefit from fighting White privilege, because if she accepts the existence of White privilege, she will develop a healthier self-esteem.

High self-esteem is not always healthy self-esteem.

High self-esteem is not the same thing as healthy self-esteem, according to psychology research from the University of Georgia. Those with “fragile” high self-esteem are more likely to be verbally defensive compared to those with “secure” high self-esteem.

According to the news release, people with fragile high self-esteem:

  • compensate for their self-doubts by engaging in exaggerated tendencies to defend, protect and enhance their feelings of self-worth
  • are verbally defensive; they lash out at others when their opinions, beliefs, statements or values are threatened
  • feel that potential threats are more threatening and work harder to counteract these threats

This behaviour differs from individuals with “secure” high self-esteem:

On the other hand, individuals with secure high self-esteem appear to accept themselves “warts and all,” and, feeling less threatened, they are less likely to be defensive by blaming others or providing excuses when they speak about past transgressions or threatening experiences.

One reason the study’s findings are important, Kernis said, is that it shows that greater verbal defensiveness relates to lower psychological well-being and life satisfaction.

What does this have to do with Whites and White privilege?

Defensive Whites have a fragile high racial self-esteem.

The study is not about race, but the idea of distinguishing between “secure” high self-esteem and “fragile” high self-esteem can be applied to Whites’ view of themselves. Whites with secure high racial self-esteem can accept themselves “warts and all” and can accept that society confers privilege on them due to their skin colour, while Whites with fragile high racial self-esteem will “lash out” at the mere possibility that our society is not a meritocracy.

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