Every 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.
For 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.