Canadians tolerate white racism against blacks, even in Toronto.

Reactions to racism not as strong as we think, study finds:

While most people believe they would not tolerate a racist act, a new study from Canadian and U.S. researchers found test subjects in an experiment reacted with indifference when exposed to one.

Researchers in Toronto recruited 120 non-black York University students for what they said was a psychology study. Half of the students were each put in a room with two actors — one white and one black — posing as other participants.

The black actor then left the room to retrieve a cellphone, lightly bumping the other actor on the way out. The white actor then responded in one of three ways, saying nothing, saying the phrase “I hate when black people do that” or uttering an offensive racial slur.

When the black actor returned, study participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire rating their emotional mood and then were asked to choose a partner for what they thought was the actual test.

The researchers found that in cases where the white actor made a racist comment, participants did not speak out, did not report any emotional distress and actually chose the white actor as a partner more often than the black actor.

These results stood in stark contrast to a second group of respondents who were asked who they would choose as a partner after having the situation described to them. These respondents overwhelmingly chose not to work with the white actor when a racist statement was uttered.

(Emphasis mine. Note that the second group is a randomly-separated control group, which is why the comparison is valid.)

Canadians are generally more liberal than Americans. Torontonians are generally more left-wing than the average Canadian. University students are generally more left-wing than people who are not university students. However, these university students from Toronto, Canada prefer to partner up with a white person after she/he made a racist remark.

Of course, this particular demographic is not more prone to tolerating racism than other groups. However, Canada is not a anti-racist sanctuary like many Canadians like to believe, and neither is Toronto. Racism is still a problem in Toronto, Canada, and merely stating that you are against racism is not enough.

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.

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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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Science is not the oppressor.

Some anti-oppressive thinkers distrust powerful institutions, and end up distrusting the scientific institution and even scientific knowledge itself. However, scientific knowledge and scientific practise are not inherently oppressive. The oppressions that appear to come from science actually come from the upper-class white male domination of scientific disciplines.

Science is not the enemy; the practise of science is a productive method for understanding ourselves and our world. When some scientific studies overgeneralize and/or neglect certain groups of people, the problem is bad science, not science.

One of the serious problems with the lack of diversity in the practise within certain knowledge domains is that some important aspects of reality are not even considered, leading the researchers to overgeneralize and draw incorrect conclusions. This problem comes from the fact that scientific practise is a social activity, subject to the biases and prejudices of the scientists. In contrast, the scientific methods of gathering empirical data to refute hypotheses, and using statistical methods to determine statistical significance, are perfectly sound.

It is illogical to assume without reason that the results of a given scientific study (especially one that you do not particularly like) must be false. There is no contradiction between truth and justice. Anti-oppressive thinkers should not be afraid of science.

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Fallacy: Making moral judgements about ethnic minorities based on the actions of foreigners.

If you condemn people of ethnicity P who live in your country based on the actions of foreigners of ethnicity P living in a different country, your reasoning is illogical. At a basic level, this is fallacious because

  • If individual x has property P and individual y also has property P, one cannot conclude that x = y.
  • If individual x has property P and individual y also has property P, one cannot conclude that if x has some property Q, y also has property Q.

In the ethnicity example, if a foreigner x of ethnicity P in a different country participates in action Q that is morally questionable, one cannot condemn a minority y in your country for action Q simply because that individual is also of ethnicity P.

For example, if a Muslim in a Western country complains that her rights were violated by the state, it is illogical to argue that this individual is being hypocritical because the laws in Saudi Arabia are worse in terms of human rights violations. Here, the individual y who complained about the violation is not necessary the person x who carried out a human rights violation, even though both x and y have property P, being Muslim. Furthermore, it is not the case that if some w has property P and property Q, all z who have property P also have property Q.

At a second level, this reasoning is fallacious because it assumes that minorities of ethnicity P in countries like the United States and Canada are representative of people of ethnicity P living in countries where ethnicity P is the majority. This is often not the case, as those who choose to immigrate to a Western country tend to be sympathetic towards Western values, and may even be escaping persecution from their original country. Cuban Americans on average tend to be anti-communist despite or perhaps because of the fact that Cuba is a communist country. Iranian Americans on average tend to be actively against Muslim fundamentalism despite or because of Iran having a Muslim fundamentalist government. Making generalizations about ethnic minorities based on foreigners living in a different country is simply ignorant, and often ironic.

At a third level, this reasoning is racist because it assumes that Canadian-born Canadians and American-born Americans of Asian, Middle Eastern, or Latino descent are somehow “the same as” or interchangeable with foreigners. This is known as the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype. For example, the tastes, culture, and politics of a fourth-generation American of Asian descent are often inferred from the tastes, culture, and politics of her ancestral country instead of her native country and country of origin, the United States. On the other hand, the tastes, culture, and politics of a second-generation American of Western European descent are assumed to be American. The perception of foreignness when it comes to native-born North Americans of Asian, Middle Eastern, or Latino descent is almost always a result of racial prejudices rather than the “culture” manifested by these individuals.

Related webpages:

  • Asian Americans and the Perpetual Foreigner Syndrome by Frank H. Wu – An analysis and history of the perpetual foreigner syndrome as it relates to Asian Americans, explaining why it is racist and making references to “color-blindness”, color-consciousness, and the reality of participating in racial discrimination without being mindful of it.
  • “Asking Permission” by X. Dean Lim – Humourous video about equating “Asian” with “foreign”. Rather than the reverse situation shown in this thought experiment, in practise, there are more situations where an Asian American is alone and under the scrutiny of the white American majority, so social pressure usually works against him.
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