What do we really mean when we say ‘racist’? According to the dictionary, a racist is a person who believes their racial group is superior or that another racial group is inferior. There is no list of actions, words or feelings in that definition. That’s it. And yet, when I discuss race on here, I inevitably get comments that focus almost completely on actions. White-face is a prime example. There have been movies in the past decade where black men have worn makeup to look white. If black face and red face is racist, isn’t white face the same?
If we stick to the definition of racism, white face is only racist if the action is born out of one race thinking it is superior to the other. Black face is racist not because the action itself is racist, but because of the history and symbolism behind it. African Americans weren’t given those parts in movies because the white racial group thought themselves superior. More often than not, white people in black face would perform as a racial caricature of African Americans. Essentially, black face was a way to reinforce the racist idea that white people were superior to black people.
So why can’t white people put on black face now? I think most would argue it comes down to history. There is a history of pain and anger connected to the practice so that it is still viewed as racist. Technically, if a person puts on black face with no intention to symbolize that African Americans are inferior, I don’t think that single action would be racist. But, because of this history and because racism is far from dead, it will be seen as wrong. We, as a society, lack the ability to see that and not associate it with the racism it symbolized for so long. The fact is, white face doesn’t have that sort of history in America. Now, that doesn’t make it right, but I’m hesitant to call it racist. I have to ask, does it fit the definition of racism? Is the action being taken to show the inferiority of the white race? Does the action have a deep rooted history of such stigma? I’d have to say no. Again, that doesn’t make it right, but certainly it’s not racist.
It’s like the term ‘cracker,’ which is sometimes used as a derogatory term towards white people. Why is it okay to say that word but not the N-word or what I usually called the 3-letter-F-word (a derogatory term for homosexuals). I only have my experience to go off of, but I have never heard the word cracker used to viciously prevent a white person from sitting in a restaurant, use a bathroom or buy a home. I’ve never seen a side that says “No Crackers Allowed” as if to say white people are below all people who may enter that establishment. Again, does that make use of the term right? Not at all. But I wonder if we can really call it racist if it’s not commonly used as a way to show superiority over white people.
More importantly, I wonder if these arguments do more harm than good to the very important issue of race. It makes me think of the blog I wrote last week on Men’s Rights Activists. While most MRAs seem concerned with issues that are little more than non-issues, there are very serious issues out there negatively affecting men. It’s not right and they deserve notice. And yet, those discussions and crushed to silence. Somewhere, there is a man suffering from undiagnosed depression because he can’t show his feelings, he can’t cry and he can’t seek help due to societal pressures telling him all those actions will emasculate him. I have never seen an MRA discuss that problem, but boy can they rant on about how women are ruining the economy by having jobs and falsely accusing men of rape.
In the same way, I know there are issues involving racism – against white people and other groups – that go unnoticed because we’re too distracted about the word cracker. A while back, I wrote a post about whether we needed white civil rights organizations. I didn’t hear very many compelling arguments, but I did hear a few. What happens when, in an area of the United States where white people are a minority, white high school students are commonly beat up and assaulted because of their race? What happens when a qualified, hard working white person can’t get a job because affirmative action has gotten out of control in their industry?
It seems to me we are living in an interesting time. As a society, we are standing on a sort of precipice of racism. While each individual experience may be different, in general white people still have it better in this world. Legally, all the laws say the races are equal, but that doesn’t stop people from having a different opinion. The truth of the matter is, there’s a bit of racism all around. While we are now seeing issues pop up where it’s possible there is racism against white people, racism against other racial groups has not disappeared. Just recently, three young people of Middle Eastern decent were shot in what some are calling hate crime.
I think we’d be lying to ourselves if we claim there isn’t a bit of resentment among racial groups who have historically been the target of violent racism. The human race has this eye-for-an-eye nature and I don’t think it’s crazy for some to fear that the built of resentment will someday manifest in racism against their own racial group. Is that really our destiny, to repeat the same mistakes of the past against white people? Is it possible for us, as a society, to work towards true racial equality without having to make historically offending races ‘pay’ for the sins of their ancestors? Where do we go from here?
Photo Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo