We cannot name ourselves without Othering ourselves in the White Gaze.

In Bad Romance: Feminism and women of colour make an unhappy pair, Sana Saeed writes:

“Women of colour” beautifully illustrates the exact problem I discovered with feminism, as a woman who did not fit the mainstream criteria for being just a Woman. As a “woman of colour,” I am not just a Woman. I am a woman with a little something extra; there is a difference struck between women like me and white women. There is no Woman. There are no Women. There are two groups: women and “women of colour.” This tidily, and unfortunately, translates into the “us” and “them” categorization.

Because this distinction is made and has been proudly appropriated by “women of colour” without much criticism, this presumption that the white woman’s identity is a sort of “foundational” identity for all women is prevalent within feminism.

According to Loretta Ross, however, the term “women of color” was coined in 1977 among some black and other “minority” women in Washington, DC as “a solidarity definition, a commitment to work in collaboration with other oppressed women of color who have been ‘minoritized’.” Ross says, “Unfortunately, so many times, people of color hear the term ‘people of color’ from other white people that [PoCs} think white people created it instead of understanding that we self-named ourselves.”

However, regardless of its history, Sana makes a salient point: the term “woman of colour” suggests “a woman with a little something extra”, which implies that whiteness is the default.

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“Political Correctness” is a reactionary term against the loss of privilege.

Excerpted from Whitey Don’t see that: The rising recognition of ‘white privilege’ in Western academia (PDF) by Momoko Price at The Ubyssey, November 2006:

Laurence Berg, Canada Research Chair for Human Rights, Diversity and Identity, disagrees with the
idea that PC language and policies are oppressive. Why? Because he doesn’t really believe that PC policies existed in the first place.

“What [they]’re calling the ‘PC movement’ I would call a social movement by marginalised people and the people who support them,” he said. “[A movement] to use language that’s more correct—not ‘politically correct’—that more accurately represents reality.”

Berg is referring to a way of thinking that many of us students were too young to catch the first time around. For us, the term ‘politically correct’ survived the 90s, but the term ‘human rights backlash’ did not. Will Hutton, former editor-in-chief for the UK publication the Observer, described in his column how the term ‘PC’ was never really a political stance at all, contrary to popular belief. It was actually perceived by many as a right-wing tactic to dismiss—or backlash against—left-leaning social change. Mock the trivial aspects of human rights politics, like its changing language, and you’ll succeed in obscuring the issue altogether.

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“Black or white”, “East or West” are not racially or culturally exhaustive.

Black (#000000) and white (#FFFFFF) are opposite colours, because they have opposite RGB values. As these colour names have been used as labels for racial categories, sometimes Americans make the mistake of thinking that black people and white people are opposite races, or that “black or white” is a racially inclusive term.

Although the United States’ history of slavery may be the origin of the false black-or-white racial dichotomy, the mapping of these racial labels on to colour analogues reinforces the notion that “black or white” is racially exhaustive.

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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.