White people think they know all about you from reading a book.

Sometimes a white person says something about people of colour that is untrue, and when you correct her, the white person will insist that she is right because she read it in a book.

You know that it is untrue because you do not (or somebody you know does not) fit into that generalization; thus, it is inaccurate to say that people of colour have that property, without qualifiers. For some reason, the white person believes that the written word should override the lived experiences of people of colour, even when that book is a fictional portrayal of, a study of, or an interpretation of our lived experiences.

Note that to give priority to one’s lived experience over a book in this case is not a case of anti-intellectualism. (However, it is probably often dismissed as anti-intellectualism by the white person, because of the assumption that people of colour are against book learnin’ and are opposed to something because it comes from a book.) Instead, disproving a universal claim by using one counterexample is an application of predicate logic.

To disprove the claim, “All X have property P,” all you need to do is to show, “There exists an X without property P.”

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Feynman gets the wrong idea upon seeing a beautiful Japanese woman.

In Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, chapter Would You Solve the Dirac Equation?, Feynman recounts his first stay at a Japanese hotel in the early 1950s:

I pushed open the doors and admired the lovely garden, and sat down at the table to do a little work.

I wasn’t there more than fifteen or twenty minutes when something caught my eye. I looked up, out towards the garden, and I saw, sitting at the entrance to the door, draped in the corner, a very beautiful young Japanese woman, in a most lovely outfit.

I had read a lot about the customs of Japan, and I had an idea of why she was sent to my room. I thought, “This might be very interesting!”

She knew a little English. “Would you rike to see the garden?” she asked.

I put on the shoes that went with the yukata I was wearing, and we went out into the garden. She took my arm and showed me everything.

It turned out that because she knew a little English, the hotel manager thought I would like her to show me the garden — that’s all it was. I was a bit disappointed, of course, but this was a meeting of cultures, and I knew it was easy to get the wrong idea.

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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.


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