White antiracists appropriate the words of people of colour to advance their thesis.

When most people imagine a world without racism, they imagine a world that looks very similar to our current world. Indeed, most people think that racism no longer exists today in “post-racial” America or “multicultural” Canada.

However, in a world without racism, people of colour would not be concentrated in subservient positions, and white people would not dominate positions of power. It is not the case that people of colour (e.g., Asians) are serving food to white people because they enjoy being servants, nor it is part of their “culture” to be in the food industry; it is an sign of social inequality that white people are not serving food to people of colour in the same proportion. It is not the case that women of colour are taking care of white children because they are naturally nurturant and self-sacrificial; it is a sign of social inequality that white people are not nannies of children of colour in the same proportion.

Basically, it is not the case that people of colour are underrepresented in the knowledge industry because they could care less about the written word and have a genetic preference for the spoken word. The written words of people of colour are being eschewed because of racism.

This means that antiracist communities should not recreate this same hierarchy in which whites are authorities over people of colour. It is not the job of the white antiracist to extract the words of people of colour, “translate” them into his own words, and “interpret” them within his own framework to advance his thesis. When the white antiracist assumes that the words of a person of colour need to be paraphrased by a white person to count as human understanding about race and racism, it is a reproduction of white supremacy. The words of people of colour are not flora and fauna that need to be recorded and interpreted by a human observer. When people of colour write about race and racism, they are the human observers. White antiracists should not treat the words of people of colour as “raw data” that require intellectual processing.

Unfortunately, too many white antiracists cannot comprehend this.

Related links:


Why I dislike a particular white antiracist blogger

we dont need another anti-racism 101 by Mai’a at guerrilla mama medicine:

and so in my experience, folks can learn all the theory, all the right words, all of it and yet act fundamentally the same, live out the same patterns of thoughts, still hold the same fucked-up priorities. and yet spout all of the anti-racist rhetoric.


in that they are able to say things like: i realize that such and such is a function of racism and then they continue to do the same fucking thing that they just acknowledged was racist.

this happens all the time. like. all. the. time.

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Stuff POC do: restrain ourselves

When I checked Stuff White People Do and saw a post originally titled, “Stuff White People Do: Laugh at Asian English”, I felt racism fatigue, and responded with a half-hearted and uninspired, “I am offended at your post,” followed with a description. I fully expected to be accused of looking for racism again by some commenter in a comment that closely followed mine, which has become almost a tradition at Stuff White People Do. (Sometimes this commenter is Macon D himself.)

Unsurprisingly, I was accused of “looking for something to pounce on Macon for” by a commenter named “haley” half an hour later. Surprisingly, however, the normally-defensive Macon D took my complaint seriously and tried to think of alternative ways of phrasing the title. In the end, Macon D actually took my suggestion seriously and changed the post’s title to “Stuff White People Do: Laugh at “Engrish”.”*

I’m not entirely sure what happened, but perhaps my uncharacteristic comment, which left me vulnerable to the accusation of oversensitivity, didn’t trigger a defensive reaction on the part of Macon D.

Normally, I almost never criticize racism with “I am offended” or “I take offense”, because when racism is framed as “something that offends people”, then accusations of racism are portrayed as “political correctness” catering to the hypersensitivities of minorities who supposedly always force the majority to accommodate them. Even when I almost never use the terms “offense”, “offended”, or “offensive”, people have told me that I was oversensitive about racism, that I need to grow up, that I cannot always break down and cry every time someone is not sensitive to my feelings.

The people who say these things appear to think that racism occurs rarely, and that when a non-white person complains about allegedly “trivial” instances of racism, it means that she is like a young child who hasn’t yet learned that not everyone in the world is obligated to be nice to her. In reality, however, I have experienced racial microaggressions since childhood, and I am well aware that the world is not a safe space for people of colour with respect to race. I point out racism not because I’m noticing it for the first time, but because I want to bring it to the attention of others who have grown up shielded from the daily realities that people of colour have to endure. I point out racism because I want to point out injustice, not because I am some selfish oversensitive child who wants the world to revolve around me and my feelings.

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Understanding racism requires recognizing faulty logic.

Truth is fundamental to justice, and the ability to reason is critical to discovering truth. One (white) anti-racist, Macon D, has severe deficits in the fundamentals of reasoning, and consequently, he has difficulties in understanding racism and implementing anti-racist thinking. Because of his ignorance of logic, Macon D continues to systematically ignore criticisms by people of colour and remains convinced of his intellectual and anti-racist integrity. Macon D uses circular reasoning, he believes that the Law of Non-Contradiction does not apply to him, and he is influenced by the Appeal to Belief.

Truth is fundamental to justice.

Racism is more than just obvious manifestations of racial hatred, such as the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and the political right. Racism includes systemic racism, and implicit biases and assumptions that permeate and uphold our way of life. Understanding racism requires critical thinking skills to question what society teaches us, and it requires metacognitive skills to monitor and self-examine our own biases and assumptions. To understand racism, it is not sufficient to concentrate on activating good feelings within ourselves towards people of colour. Most racist thoughts are not hateful thoughts towards people of colour. Most racist thoughts are preconceived ideas built into a faulty worldview that Western society assumes to be true.

In other words, challenging racism is more than just philanthropy. Challenging racism—and challenging injustice in general—is part of a larger, epistemological project to find unadulterated truth.

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White people assume that non-Western cultures are less civilized.

White people were aware of non-white societies for centuries, and needed to a way to organize this knowledge in relation to themselves. One way white people have historically organized this knowledge was to assume that non-Western societies were inferior and Western societies were superior, and that non-white people were “savages” and white people were “civilized”. White people assumed that societies “progressed” from “savage” to “civilized”, from heathen to Christian, from non-Western to Western. White people believed that African cultures and Native American cultures were “primitive” and that given enough time, these cultures would “advance” to look very much like white, Western societies.

Most white people today still hold the same views implicitly, in that even most white liberals consider non-Western cultures “ancient” and “traditional”. The assumption behind this way of thinking is that non-Western cultures are stuck in the past, and that Western societies live in the present. When white people organize Western and non-Western cultures on a timeline by placing non-Western cultures in the past and Western society in the present, they are assuming that societies “progress” unilinearly from non-Western to Western. That is, to view non-Western cultures as “ancient” and “traditional” is to view Western society as the most culturally advanced and the most evolved. Most white people think that to “Westernize” is same as to “modernize” and improve.

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White people like writing as ‘experts’ on non-white cultures.

Stuff White People Like’s #20 Being an expert on YOUR culture is about pretentious white liberals and leftists who consider themselves “experts” on non-white cultures. Unfortunately, whites who self-identify as “antiracist” may still write as “experts” on non-white cultures, and believe that such writings are “antiracist”. At least one white antiracist believes that he has direct access to the mental states of non-white people, as well as unique insights about non-white cultures.

How psychologists accessed the thoughts of others

One problem within the history of psychology has been the problem of how a psychologist can access the mental processes of other individuals. Originally, psychologists used introspection, i.e., they asked subjects to self-report their own mental processes. However, during the behavioral revolution in psychology, introspection as a method of psychological investigation was considered unreliable and unscientific.* During the behavioral revolution in psychology, mainstream psychologists studied only human behaviour and considered the concept of “mental processes” as extraneous and irrelevant. After the behavioral revolution in psychology was the cognitive revolution, however, and now psychologists are interested in mental processes again, in addition to behaviour. However, psychologists use more advanced experimental methods to investigate mental processes, and they generally consider introspection unreliable as “direct access” to human thought.

Basically, accessing the thoughts of another individual, and drawing conclusions about what she is thinking and how she thinks, is a non-trivial task. Although it is already ignorant for a person to make psychological observations about another person without any background in psychology, it is both profoundly ignorant and oppressive for a person to make psychological observations about an entire race of people.

When this person is white, and this white person is making psychological observations about non-white people in general, it an instance of racism. Such a situation would be a continuation of the white-supremacist assumption that white people are more objective than non-white people, and know better about non-white people than non-white people know about themselves. That is, under this white-supremacist framework, the white person’s assessment of the non-white person’s mind is given higher priority and more validity than the non-white person’s assessment of her own mind or mental state. (Although a person’s introspection is still unreliable, a person interpreting another person’s introspection adds another layer of unreliability.) If a white person believes that he has obvious and direct access to the mind of a non-white person, he is under the assumption that he is objective, omniscient, and completely free of any cognitive biases that human beings have.

How anthropologists studied the cultures of others

The fields of cultural anthropology and social anthropology study human culture and human society, respectively. Socio-cultural anthropology has a history of racism, as it originated from European colonialism and the colonial project of managing and pacifying non-white societies (usually colonies or potential colonies).

In early socio-cultural anthropology, white intellectuals made generalizations about non-white cultures and societies using what is now referred to as “armchair anthropology”. Basically, these white people sat around in armchairs—literally or figuratively—and theorized about non-white people based on the personal anecdotes and travel diaries of white explorers, white traders, white Christian missionaries, and white colonial officials. The white intellectuals who “studied” non-white cultures and societies never visited the places or met the people that they studied, relying on the ostensibly “objective” reports of the white observers who did. When social anthropologist James George Frazer was asked if he had met any of the non-white people he had studied, he replied, “God forbid!”

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White people think that ‘racism’ means racial conflict.

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.

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