Question & Answer: Race

race-question-answerEvery now and then, the topic of race and racism comes up in discussion. Like religion, politics, and war, race is one of those “taboo” subjects, but also one that gets people talking. Sometimes the topic is introduced when someone haphazardly makes reference to race or ethnicity in an unrelated discussion. Other times it is purposely made the topic of discussion. Either way, people want to know — what is the big deal about race?

In years as a blogger and commenter in the blogosphere, I’ve found that many of the same questions and comments come up about race and racism. Given this I’d like to dedicate some time to answering a few of these common questions about race in the United States and the world. This will be my first question and answer post, using a compilation of questions I’ve been asked or seen asked in discussions about race. Feel free to add your own questions, comments, and answers below:

Question: Why are non-white people so defensive about race?

Answer: What I have found is that how defensive a person perceives others to be about race is proportional to how likely they are to make offensive remarks related to race. That is, the more likely a person is to think and act in ways that could be seen as racist, the more likely they are to view others as being defensive about race.

On another note, it is only natural to be more aware of prejudice that affects us, whatever the issue. While when something does not affect us, we may ignore it or not even notice. Simply put, non-white groups speak up to prejudiced comments and behavior because few others will.

Question: How am I supposed to know if something I said or did could be seen as racist? I don’t have a lot of experience with people outside of my race; I don’t know if something could be offensive.

Answer: You’re not expect to know — it is expected that you’ll make a few slip-ups on racial issues. However, you are expected to learn from these mistakes and recognize that they are mistakes and why; not excuse them away or put the blame those who called attention to it. That is, if you’re mostly tolerant and unbigoted.

Comment: Race is only as important as you make it.

Answer: True and untrue.

multi-racialFor some, especially those of substantial non-European ancestry, race can not be avoided. Several, like myself, were raised colorblind and never taught to give any special regard to their race or the race of others. Yet living in a world where race touches upon even the smallest of things, we quickly found out that such a view is unrealistic.

In my experience, a person can only afford to ignore race when their race is considered the default, average, or norm, as it is in homogeneous countries. In most mixed Western societies, this privilege is usually only the case for those who are considered white. For others, the reality is quite different. Race becomes a real aspect of life, though it doesn’t have to be the most important one.

Comment: I don’t have a problem with interracial relationships. I just would never be in one.

Answer: If you really had no problem with interracial relationships you’d never say you wouldn’t be in one.

Question: Why do mixed people with white ancestry identify more with their black or Asian side — aren’t they proud of their white heritage?

Answer: This question should really be, “Why are mixed people with white ancestry identified as black or Asian?” Phrasing the question that way answers itself — people tend to identify how they are identified and how they are grouped.

Most people have a need to affiliate themselves with something and unless a person’s white ancestry is so obvious that they would be grouped in with other white individuals, they will most likely identify with their non-white side. It has nothing to do with not being proud of their white ancestry — most will gladly discuss this, when asked.

Comment: It makes me uncomfortable when you/people talk about race.

Answer: It makes me uncomfortable to talk about race.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I wish race was not an issue — I wish I never had to deal with it, talk about it. I wish a person’s race or racial features were considered when they are considered as a person; I wish I never came upon blatantly bigoted views. I wish.

Countless times I’ve had to change my favorable view of someone upon finding out their bigoted views. Tension is created with friends and acquaintances when their carelessly prejudiced comments and actions are called out. All of this is as uncomfortable for me as it is for others. But all of it is necessary.

Question: When will non-white people stop making an issue out of race?

Answer: When in America, and the world, race is no longer an issue.

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15 thoughts on “Question & Answer: Race

  1. Love your post! Race is truly a subject that people often avoid. It shouldn’t matter but when you are confronted on a daily bases, indirectly or directly, it matters. You can always brush it off and be silent it, but being silent ..well u know where that gets you.

  2. Ok, I have a question: why are white people so defensive about race? (I am not being sarcastic – I swear, the only people I’ve encountered online who are defensive about race are whites).

    This is a good post, btw. I’ll think of some more questions if I have them. Interestingly, I’m planning on writing a post about white writers who are scared of writing about minorities. In my experience, this fear doesn’t come from being scared of not doing the group in question justice – is a fear of not being called racist.

    At first (when this issue emerged at that male blogger’s site), I thought it’s an oversimplification and exaggeration. But the more people I meet, the more I realize that whites DO care about not being called a racist. They care a lot. You can say they’d do anything not to be called a racist. (Which in their mind is a code word for a bad person).

    However, it doesn’t mean they’d do anything not to BE racist. They just don’t want to be called one.

  3. Very good post.

    Race does matter, and I am leery of anyone who claims that it doesn’t. i am especially annoyed by the non-blacks, and even many blacks, who feel that the election of Obama as President ushered in a “post-racial” society where race is no longer an issue. Many non-blacks will claim that they are not racist because they voted for Obama, LOL.

    Alee: “Most people have a need to affiliate themselves with something and unless a person’s white ancestry is so obvious that they would be grouped in with other white individuals, they will most likely identify with their non-white side. It has nothing to do with not being proud of their white ancestry — most will gladly discuss this, when asked.”

    I agree. But it is not just whites who are racist against mixed race individuals. I am half East Indian and I have always identified as black because black people accept me as black. I have nothing against Indians and I am not ashamed that some of my ancestors came from India. But Indians as a group are not accepting of people who have black ancestry, although they do seem to accept mixing with non-blacks. My experience is that if you look black, you will be seen as black, even if you choose to identify as mixed.

  4. “Comment: I don’t have a problem with interracial relationships. I just would never be in one.
    Answer: If you really had no problem with interracial relationships you’d never say you wouldn’t be in one.”

    I don’t fully agree with this one. It is possible for a person to not be racist but still not be physically attracted to people of a particular race or ethnicity. On the other hand, I also believe that a racist can be attracted to someone outside their race and even have a relationship with such a person, just as many heterosexual men are misogynists yet still have relationships with women. I keep this in mind when dating interracially. I know that there are many white men who are willing to date and sleep with BW but would never consider marrying one because of their deeply held racist beliefs against BW and black people in general.

    I myself am not attracted to black men and so I would never want to be in a relationship with a black man, even though I am black. Does that mean I am racist against BM? I don’t think so.

  5. I do think it’s possible to be racist and attracted to people of other races. However, I do think it’s also racist to say you’re not attracted to people of a certain race. It makes it seem like all people of a certain race are the same. I’m sure you can always find attractive individuals of a certain race you’re not attracted to.

  6. Hi Deshilia. 🙂

    Glad you like the post.

    “Race is truly a subject that people often avoid. It shouldn’t matter but when you are confronted on a daily bases, indirectly or directly, it matters. You can always brush it off and be silent it, but being silent ..well u know where that gets you.”

    Yes. It has to be called out. Even the smallest thing. Sometimes I feel as though I’m the “bad” one because if someone says something off about race, I’ll call them out on it. So people feel as if I don’t like them and/or I’m just a race warrior, but it’s nothing personal. I do the same with other sorts of biases, like sexism.

  7. Mira,

    “Ok, I have a question: why are white people so defensive about race?”

    Lol!

    I think they are defensive because they know that historically, Europeans’ have attempted to dominate and oppress other people, and historically they have been the ones with the advantage. So they feel defensive when the topic of race comes up because it’s likely that in a discussion about racism, their people (which they take as themselves) will be blamed/accused/the ones at fault. They fear being called racist.

    Another aspect that I think is important is that they don’t realize and/or don’t care about their biases toward Eurocentric ideals. But when race is brought up, they are forced to analyze or admit these biases, and they don’t want to do that. They want to believe their thoughts and actions are just standard, and not racialized. It upsets the privilege they usually have to ignore race.

    A third thing is that they just don’t know about race. I’d say a lot haven’t a clue about what to say or do about race, and they feel hopeless when the topic comes up. They think that people are expecting something of them, but they can’t give it, and they don’t think racial problems can really be solved.

    Finally, race is not a polite topic, in their view. It makes people uncomfortable. White Americans are very concerned with propriety and not rocking the boat. Everything has to be said or done in an indirect way. So saying, like I am, “whites this/blacks that” or discussing racism is not okay.

    “This is a good post, btw. I’ll think of some more questions if I have them.”

    Thanks and please do. Anyone who has a question should ask!

    “I’m planning on writing a post about white writers who are scared of writing about minorities. In my experience, this fear doesn’t come from being scared of not doing the group in question justice – is a fear of not being called racist.

    However, it doesn’t mean they’d do anything not to BE racist. They just don’t want to be called one.”

    Yes, a million times.

    The fear is not about not being racist. Anyway, I don’t think the average white American believes that they are racist, because they associate racism with blatant cruelty, hate, or violence. Even when a non-white person says that something they said or did was racist, they still don’t believe it was. They believe the person is being defensive and overly sensitive and there was basically nothing prejudiced about what they said or did.

    They see many of their bigoted views as truth, but they know that in the view of non-whites these views might be seen as racist. But being called a racist is sooo bad, so they try to avoid being called this, by doing things like avoiding talking about race with non-whites.

  8. Ann,

    “I agree. But it is not just whites who are racist against mixed race individuals.”

    Oh, yes, certainly not. I’m just addressing questions that mostly whites asked me. There sure are many Indians, for example, but none has ever asked me this. 🙂

    “My experience is that if you look black, you will be seen as black, even if you choose to identify as mixed.”

    Yes, that’s just the root of the matter. It’s not much more complicated than that.

    “I don’t fully agree with this one. It is possible for a person to not be racist but still not be physically attracted to people of a particular race or ethnicity.”

    Yes — I am not saying they are racist (and I’m not saying they aren’t…). I think, for example, a person could have a problem with interracial relationships and not want to be in one, yet not be racist, e.g. Jill Scott. I’m saying that someone does personally have a problem with interracial relationships if they say they would never be in one. Why wouldn’t you be open to it, if you have no problem with it?

    I do think however, that strict racial preferences are informed by a racist society. You can’t separate the two.

    “On the other hand, I also believe that a racist can be attracted to someone outside their race and even have a relationship with such a person”

    I agree. I actually think it’s not uncommon for a person in an interracial relationship to be racist and these racist tendencies could inform their decision to be in one. I somewhat covered that in the post on the increase in interracial marriage.

    “I myself am not attracted to black men and so I would never want to be in a relationship with a black man, even though I am black. Does that mean I am racist against BM?”

    Yes!

    Lol, just kidding. But you’re black (i.e., black-identified 🙂 ), so you don’t even count re: this situation because that would not be considered interracial.

    I think I’m just weird because every time I think I have any type of preference, I remember some hot guy that is completely outside of it and that theory gets blown to bits. I think I might have an ideal physical type –the type that will draw my attention 99 percent of the time– but I can be attracted to people outside of that type.

  9. Firstly, I was born and raised and I live in Cape Town in South Africa. The CAPITAL of Racism. Here in S.A, it’s extremely hard to avoid and ignore race because we face it on daily basis.

    I know that we choose what we want to hear or see or take offense too e.t.c, but here in South Africa…..there are many reasons that makes you believe that racesims is still well and kicking and this is from Black people or White and Coloured people virsa, versa.

    I personally believe that in order to heal, things must be said(It’s like being in a relationship with someone and there’s a lot of unsaid stuff(and this is done to avoid confrontation) and they keep on growing and growing and once confrontation shows up, it can make or brake the relationship)

    I’m glad that our Comedians here are speaking about RACISM quite a lot and they seem to be braking the ice.

    But, honestly speaking though..I sometimes find myself angry especially, whilst watching movies like Sarafina(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105316/), Bopha! (www.imdb.com/title/tt0106464/), Higher Learning (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113305/), just to name a few…..It makes me angry that White people did really put us through a lot of SHIT!!!! I may not be affected by race just like my parents did but I am and my kids will be affected…..

    That is why, I stay away from Films like that, because they make me really emotional and they make me loathe White people(at that present moment)….and it’s unfair to go around hating all white people because of a group of ancient chauvinistic, ignorant and stupid racist people.

    I can assure you that Black people from where I come from, they have a heart e.g. Nelson Mandela, he is a good representative of what typical black people from where I come from are made of……We are very friendly for no reason, we have a good heart and we are very forgiving(and that maybe seen as our short-coming)….I don’t mean to point fingers here and start up fire…..but I’m getting this out of my Chest. Also what pisses me off, is the old generation of those very racist people who killed and tortured black people, they are still not ashamed of their racist actions and they are still pushing that racist envelope…because they see black people as inferior to them!!! “Who the hell, died and left you in charge?” How can you kill your fellow manm because you think they are less wothy?

    I’m going to be honest with you, I do find some white people attractive but the only problem is our backgrounds…..I can have a nice casual conversation with White people and we can takle a lot of things in a conversation but that is limited because we come from two different worlds and that is gradually changing here in South Africa but at a steady pace…..

    Ultimately, I don’t hate White people….and I believe that to some degree, we are all racist or have racist thoughs(We may not voice them, or act on our racist thoughts) but they are there…because the world we live in is so MESSED UP. We belittle others, so we can stay in power ….it’s like either you are the vicitim or the victimiser.

  10. “However, I do think it’s also racist to say you’re not attracted to people of a certain race. It makes it seem like all people of a certain race are the same. I’m sure you can always find attractive individuals of a certain race you’re not attracted to.”

    I disagree.

    We need to careful about labeling legitimate preferences as “racist”. Attractiveness and physical attraction are not the same thing. One can find a person attractive without being attracted to said person. It has nothing to do with believing that all people of a particular race are the same (in terms of attitude, behavior, intelligence, etc). Not finding people of another race attractive is no big deal; it does not have to carry any feelings of hatred or superiority with it. No different than if a person does not like vanilla ice cream. Or does not like the color red. If a person likes blond hair, pale skin and blue eyes, why should said person have to force him or herself to be attracted to someone with dark skin and dark eyes. It is simply what the person likes.

    Now if I disrespect, discriminate against (for employment etc) or harm someone simply because of race, then that is racist and wrong. But as far as what physical features turn me on and the kind of man that I want to have a romantic relationship with, I have a right to exclude anyone for any reason and not be made to feel guilty about it. I don’t need to go looking for people outside of what I like and convince myself that they will turn me on if i give them the chance.

    That’s like telling a gay person that he can certainly find members of the opposite sex attractive if he is open-minded enough. Gay people don’t think members of the opposite sex are ugly, they are just not attracted to them.

    I am simply not attracted to black men even though I see attractive black men all the time. For me, looking at a black man is like looking at a beautiful woman. I can see and appreciate their beauty, but I don’t have any romantic or sexual fantasies/feelings about them.

  11. “Yes!

    Lol, just kidding. But you’re black (i.e., black-identified 🙂 ), so you don’t even count re: this situation because that would not be considered interracial. ”

    You know, I have been called racist by black people because I am not attracted to black men. I guess in their minds, my preference for white men is a type of racism.

  12. The point is that not all black (white, etc.) men are the same so how can you say you’re not attracted to any of them?

    And it’s not the same as sexual orientation. At least in part, sex is a biological fact (so you’re attracted to one and not the others or perhaps you’re attracted to all of them or none of them) but race isn’t. So I don’t think it’s possible to say you’re not attracted to any members of X race.

  13. Hi mkhululie,

    Funny you mention Higher Learning because I was going to post about that instead of this post, but I thought no one really cared about the film…Heh, maybe I was wrong. I might have to publish my thoughts on that one, since I’ve seen it a few times.

    “That is why, I stay away from Films like that, because they make me really emotional and they make me loathe White people.”

    Yes, I think it’s important to remain a little detached. If you immerse yourself in racist thoughts every day, it becomes harder and harder to keep your personal feelings out of the equation and harder for you not to let these things affect the way you view other people.

    “I’m going to be honest with you, I do find some white people attractive but the only problem is our backgrounds…I can have a nice casual conversation with White people and we can takle a lot of things in a conversation but that is limited because we come from two different worlds”

    I’ve heard the same from black and white Americans alike — there is a cultural boundary. Although I do think both groups have way more in common than they think they do.

    I didn’t know it was still so bad racially in South Africa…sounds like America! Lol.

    “I believe that to some degree, we are all racist or have racist thoughs…because the world we live in is so MESSED UP.”

    I somewhat agree…it’s hard to be completely neutral in a racist society. But I think a lot of non-whites are racist towards others like them.

  14. Ann,

    “You know, I have been called racist by black people because I am not attracted to black men. I guess in their minds, my preference for white men is a type of racism.”

    It could be, depending on why you’re not attracted to black men and are attracted to white men. I wouldn’t assume it was, just based on knowing that however.

    But I think that in a racist society, racial preferences are heavily influenced by racism. This is why, racial preferences, much more than other preferences, are seen as discrimination.

    I do think that there are people who are genuinely usually not attracted to certain features that are more common to a racial/ethnic group. These people would have this preference regardless of historical and current prejudices, because it’s inherent. You seem like one of them. (A lot of these people are usually not attracted to certain features, but they could be, if they were attracted to a person as a whole. We always have to remember that it’s only a true preference if it’s preferred. If it’s not preferred, but required, then it’s a requirement.)

    However, some so-called racial preferences, when you dig a little deeper, are rooted in racism. For example, one guy said he prefers demure, thin women so he is not attracted to black women because they are loud and fat. Clearly this is a racist preference because you’re using a person’s race to define who they are, and discriminating against them.

    Some say that dating and relationships are a personal matter and people should date whoever they want, and not date whoever they want. I agree, date who you want; a racist person dating someone not of their “preference” would be a disaster anyhow. But that doesn’t mean others have to not call a racist preference a racist preference, so the person can spare themselves the incurable heartache of being called racist.

  15. http://washington.cbslocal.com/2012/12/13/espns-parker-rgiii-is-a-cornball-brother-due-to-white-fiancee-possible-republican-leanings/

    Interesting article. I think RG3 is right to not define himself by his color, but even if he doesn’t use it others will to define who he is in their eyes. This pigeonholing isn’t only done by people of another race. He defines who he is not, who he is in a relationship with, or what political party he identifies with.

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