The Question of Multiculturalism

multiculturalismThe United States has always been a nation of many cultures and groups of people, who all contribute to make it the unique nation it is. However, as the diversity of cultures has increased and spread in the past several years, views on the matter have become more one-sided. Also in recent years, other Western nations have moved in a similar direction towards a multicultural society.

Reactions of citizens to these once homogeneous places now housing various groups of people from different cultures and places, has been mixed. Some people see this movement as a large step towards the future, a world that is truly one, where superficial barriers of language, culture, and ethnicity can be broken down.

Others believe that multiculturalism is a concept that sounds nice in theory but has not worked, and will not work well in practice. They think that artificially placing disparate groups in one place will only cause conflict, cultural clash, and competition over whose way of life will prevail. In addition, those whose history and roots derive solely from one nation fear that their own cultural practices will be lost as people converge to create one multicultural society.

My own views on this matter are conflicted; I can see where those who stand strongly on either side of the spectrum are coming from. There is no reason the U.S., Germany or any other Western nation should be reserved solely for those “true” people –Americans, Germans, or others whose families have resided in those areas for centuries. Immigrants can and do add positively to the areas in which they emigrate, contributing new perspectives and bringing their own talents, as well as becoming productive citizens. At the same time, I think the manner and rate in which some nations have gone about creating a multicultural society has been haphazard and unsustainable. New groups should be integrated, rather than thrust into a new nation where they may not have the background or skills to become successful. Without proper integration some groups risk becoming the fringe of a society, always remaining outsiders and disadvantaged, which would have negative effects for all. I also believe that societies which embrace multiculturalism could incorporate new cultures without doing away completely with their current way of life.

What are your thoughts on multiculturalism in Western nations, its pros and cons?

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The Black Best Friend

black-best-friend-clueless

Clueless‘ Cher with her Black Best Friend Dionne

The Black Best Friend (BBF) is a figure common in Western literature and, particularly, film and television. The BBF is often a nondescript, unremarkable character who serves as a sidekick, accomplice, or colleague to the main characters who are the focus of the story.

The Black Best Friend’s purpose is thought to be to create diversity and inclusion, and be more reflective of the ethnic make-up of many Western societies. This is supported by the fact that the BBF doesn’t have to be black; the Asian Best Friend or the Hispanic Best Friend is also shown. Whatever their specific ethnic background, the BBF is always the only non-white character or one of few in a larger cast, and always plays a supporting role to white star of the piece.

Creating Contrast

While the apparent reason for the inclusion of the BBF in popular culture is to create diversity and inclusion, just by being present the BBF highlights the difference between themselves and the main characters. In a crowd of all-white characters, the BBF seems like the odd one out and is more noticeable as a result. The most glaring characteristic of Black Best Friends, however, are their lack of character development.

indian-best-friendBland or Typical

The BBF, being merely an accent to the main character, lacks any true personality. Often the character’s background and interests are simply excluded from the story, or given little attention. In these cases the character is made to be as similar to the main character as possible — other than their physical appearance, they are portrayed as “just like everyone else”.

Other times the character is a walking, talking stereotype of their racial or ethnic group. Thus the Black Best Friend is often bossy or uses improper English, the Hispanic Sidekick is sassy and has an accent, and the Asian Friend is good with math or electronics and socially awkward.

The Black Best Friend or Nothing?

From one view, the Black Best Friend and related figures highlight the lack of interest and thought of creators of popular culture in characters who don’t fit the majority population. On the other hand, at the very least, with the BBF there is some representation of non-white groups — it is a start. The alternative for the present seems to be to completely exclude minority groups from popular culture.

So is the Black Best Friend better than nothing at all? If the Black Best Friend ever evolves to become a whole, not-so-stereotypical character with their own thoughts and interests other than serving a secondary role to the main character, that could come to be the case.

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.

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“People of Color” — Meaning What?

people-of-color

“People of Color”, sometimes abbreviated with the acronym PoC,  is a catch-all term for all non-white people or people not of predominantly European ancestry.  More significantly, people of color is often used to allude to a sense of unity and shared experience between non-white persons in majority white, discriminatory societies.

People of Color is a generally acceptable term among people of all backgrounds, but does anyone ever stop to think about its true meaning and implications? The term never caught on with me because, for several reasons, “People of Color” as a description of all non-white people seems not only shallow, but misleading and useless as a concept:

1. “People of Color” describes a unity and shared experience that does not exist

In order to be considered a “person of color”, one simply needs to be perceived as any race/ethnicity but white. Thus, “people of color” is actually a vast and varied group of people, many of which have no true connection to each other. In other words, non-white people are not a monolithic group of people who identify with each other for the mere fact that they are not seen as white.

“People of Color” have diverse backgrounds. An Asian-American man may not see any similarity between himself and a Mexican immigrant. Further, their life experiences likely have been very different. Who can say that their experience and views on race are anything alike? Or that they don’t relate more to people who are not “of color”? Being “of color” doesn’t create a certain destiny.

2. “People of Color” ignores racial complexities

Implicit in the phrase “people of color” is the joint experience of racial discrimination faced by non-white people in majority white societies. But what exactly is the experience of discrimination and who faces it?

Fact: Racism and discrimination have never been equal opportunity. In general, non-white people are affected by discrimination in different ways and to different extents. This is well-documented, but when all non-white people are lumped together under “people of color” this crucial fact goes unnoticed or is determined to be irrelevant.

In addition, racism doesn’t merely consist of whites discriminating against non-whites. Non-white people can and do discriminate against each other. “People of color” depicts a sense of alliance between non-whites which doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

3. “People of Color” creates whiteness as a central factor of life

To use the phrase “people of color” you must necessarily see (lack of) whiteness as a determining factor in a person’s life, mindset, and fate. If it weren’t then why would the term be used to differentiate whites from non-whites? Most people who often use the term “People of Color” would disagree with the idea of whiteness as a key factor in life, so why use it?

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Jill Scott is a Bigot or How to Misunderstand Racism

jill-scottBigotry and racism, they’re easy to understand, right?

A bigot is a person who is partial to their own group or way of thinking and intolerant of others. A racist is someone who believes that a person’s race is the primary deciding factor in their character, capabilities, and worth.

Sounds simple, yet it’s not.

Musicians and recent White House guests Jill Scott and Common have come under harsh criticism for comments they made in past interviews and songs. Both artists were personally invited by First Lady Michelle Obama to perform at the White House’s Poetry Night in early May 2011. And both artists have been called racists and bigots for their comments about interracial dating and marriage, particularly those involving black men and white women in the United States.

The criticisms of their comments, while well-meant, offer a perfect opportunity to show how racism and bigotry can be easily and boldly misunderstood when a person lacks proper background knowledge and experience.

First, the comments. Jill Scott comments in the April 2010 issue of Essence Magazine:

My new friend is handsome, African-American, intelligent and seemingly wealthy…I admit when I saw his wedding ring, I privately hoped. But something in me just knew he didn’t marry a sister. Although my guess hit the mark, when my friend told me his wife was indeed Caucasian, I felt my spirit…wince. I didn’t immediately understand it.’

And Common’s comments in an interview with Touch Magazine in 2005:

I don’t think there’s anything the matter with somebody loving somebody from another race but it’s almost like a stereotype that if you’ve got dreadlocks you go out with a white girl. I just feel like, as black men, we do have to be aware that every time we step out with some woman it’s setting an example for our daughters and it’s also representing something for our mothers. If you can’t really love your own, how can you really love others?

“My whole thing is that black women have been so put down – whether it’s due to the oppression of a white government or we [black men] putting our own women down. When dudes say they only gonna focus on white girls, to me, it’s like a slap in a black girl’s face. I still feel like because I’m an artist and I say certain things, I have a responsibility to let people know what I mean.”

Then, the criticism. Conservative blogger and journalist Patrick Courrielche’s response is typical:

“If [Jill Scott’s] words were put in the mouth of a Caucasian, the viewpoint would reek of bigotry.

Should Jill Scott and Common be uninvited to the White House Poetry event? At this point, probably not… But the First Lady should ask that Common and Jill Scott renounce their statements, and use the opportunity to help the black community see that many of their icons are big contributors to the racial divide that they so obviously abhor.”

What is wrong with the response of Patrick Courrielche and others? They assume that black Americans and white Americans are in equal positions in American society. That similar statements made by black and white people somehow have the same basic meaning and origin.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Overused Terms (2): Sellout

black-woman-white-man-swedenNote: This is part 2 of a series on overused terms

Racial sellout is a term applied to a person who is disloyal to their racial background and history in order to gain economically or socially. The racial sellout can be a person whose political or personal beliefs, or way of acting and thinking differ from the majority of their race, or one who denies their racial heritage. The racial sellout can also be a person who dates or marries outside of their ascribed racial group.

In the case of the interracially involved person, the term is often applied to a non-white woman dating or married to a white man. Presumptions are made about the person’s motive for dating a person of another background. These assumptions include the person dating or marrying for social or economic advancement, the person discounting their racial background, and the person desiring a partner who is not of their race. When examined closely, these notions don’t hold up to scrutiny:

1. Interracial marriage equals economic and social gain

Economics

It is assumed that interracial marriage, particularly that of a white person to a non-white person, brings financial gain to the non-white partner. This is not so, according to studies on the subject. Interracial marriages, especially interracial marriages involving a non-white woman, most commonly take place between people of similar income levels. Research has shown that as a person’s socioeconomic level increases, their likelihood of dating or marrying interracially also increases. This suggests that greater income should be seen as a result, at best, of interracial marriage, and not a cause of it.

Social

Interracial marriage and dating does not change a person’s racial or ethnic status, or any social factors that may come along with it. If a marriage includes a non-white person and a white partner, any children they have will not have the racial status of the white parent, but more likely be perceived as closer to the non-white parent.

indian-woman-white-manAs a result of their perceived racial status remaining unchanged, the interracially married person will also likely incur social stigma for marrying outside of their race. Stigma such as being presumed a racial sellout.

2. The interracially involved person discounts their racial background

The term sellout implies that a person is trading in their racial heritage for gain. But being interracially married does not mean that a person has to disregard their own background. In fact, an interracially married person may be closely involved with their cultural background and people of their ascribed race and have a strong sense of ethnic pride. They may bring this awareness to their marriage and any children they may have. Historically, several leaders against racial discrimination have been interracially married. Their marriages did not diminish their attention to pressing racial matters.

3. The interracially involved person desired a partner who was not of their race

As always, before assumptions are made, the reality that a person may sincerely love a person of another race; without ulterior motives or racial self-loathing must be acknowledged. Despite the racial inequalities throughout many societies in the past and present, some people don’t view race as a factor or see beyond it when choosing potential partners.

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Yet Another Interracial Online Dating Study

race-online-dating-mouseIn the fall of 2009, dating website OKCupid published a semi-controversial study on racial preference in online dating. Now, another group ventures to provide insight on the way race impacts online dating in the United States. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley conducted a study analyzing stated preferences and online dating patterns. The study has yet to be published but has some results available in a university press release. It concludes that the United States hasn’t yet reached a post-racial era. Which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

The study, following the method of OKCupid, considered the online preferences of more than one million subscribers to a mainstream online dating service. Each subscriber stated a dating preference: for someone of their own race, for someone outside of their race, or for someone of any race. The researchers’ focus was on the racial preferences of blacks and whites, with secondary concern given to other racial and ethnic groups.

So who was the most willing to online date outside of their race? The study found that young, black, and male daters were the most likely to state they had no preference and were open to dating women of any race.

Women were most likely to state some sort of preference, as were whites and older people. But what was more interesting was that even the white men and women who claimed to have no preference had initiating and response patterns which indicated preference for other whites.

white-race-preference-datingWhite men and women were more likely to contact whites than they were to contact other groups. Upwards of 80 percent of whites who stated “no preference” contacted whites. On the other extreme, around 5 percent of these “no preference” whites had any contact with black daters. The numbers were even more imbalanced when it came to initiating contact. While the percentage of messages sent by whites to others whites was the same as the number who had any contact with whites, only 3 percent of contacts sent by whites were to black subscribers. However, blacks, especially black women, also initiated contact with those of their own race more than they initiated contact with whites.

The lead researcher, psychologist Greg Mendelsohn, offers a simplistic theory for why blacks were more likely to contact whites than the reverse: social gain. He says that blacks may be trying to move up in social status by intermarrying with whites. He neglects to mention that there may be some self-selection involved — blacks on a mainstream dating website may be more open to dating interracially than blacks on majority black dating websites. That wouldn’t be the case with whites who make up the majority on dating websites. Depending on the percentages of each race involved, ratios must also be taken into account.

The UC Berkeley study is scheduled to be released in the near future. Until then, a more thorough analysis of the methods and results will have to wait.

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Overused Terms (1): Self-Hating

self-hatred

Note: This is part 1 of a series on overused terms

Self-hating, or self-hatred, is a disliking of oneself and/or one’s ethnic or racial group.  The term is often used in a belittling manner to describe non-white people in interracial relationships, including those who date exclusively or mainly outside of their race. The basis for this charge is the idea that the person in an interracial relationship wishes to escape their race or ethnicity by uniting with their partner.

In accusing a person in an interracial relationship or marriage of self-hatred, several assumptions are made. These assumptions are made without knowing if they are fitting of the situation:

1. The accused person has a strong sense of racial or ethnic identity

In accusing an interracial dater of self-hatred, the accuser assumes that the person has a sense of themselves as a member of a particular racial or ethnic group. This is a faulty assumption.

Although many non-white groups living in majority white countries are aware of their racial status, this is not always the case. Some non-white people do not consider themselves to be essentially different, or do not consider this difference to be important to their sense of self and identity. How can someone loathe themselves due to their race if they don’t identify with their race?

asian-woman-self-hatred2. The accused person identifies with the opposite gender of their race

Accusers consider the two genders of a racial or ethnic group to be inherently the same or similar. But the person in an interracial relationship may not view the situation the same way, even if they have a strong sense of racial identity. For example, a black man may see himself as essentially different from a black woman. He may like or love everything about himself yet dislike everything about the opposite gender of his race. He wouldn’t be a self-hater because it’s not himself he loathes, but the opposite sex of his group.

3. Interracial dating allows a person to escape their race

Interracial relationships may not provide a way to leave your race behind. Instead, interracially dating can cause a person to become more aware of their race. It can be hard to ignore the stares, disapproval, shock, curiosity, and of course, the accusations of self-hatred. As far as race goes, it would be easier to be in an intraracial relationship — ideas about race would be less of an issue.

4. The accused person sought out a partner of a different race

Above all, many of those in interracial relationships or marriages did not set out to be in one. While there are certainly those who looked for a partner of a particular race (or not of a particular race), many more did not. They simply found someone they loved and were compatible with and did not allow race to become a barrier to establishing a lasting relationship.

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The Multiracial Movement and Anti-Black Racism

biracial-black-motherThe American multiracial movement is a social and political campaign to encourage recognition of the multi-ethnic background of racially mixed people. A primary focus of the movement is the large-scale acceptance of the mixed heritage of individuals of black and white parentage, or African and European parentage, who have been historically classified simply as “black” due to the legal and later social One Drop Rule.

The multiracial movement claims to be a crusade for racial progress in the United States by promoting the acceptance of and creating communities for mixed race individuals. But is the movement, in its focus on ending the One Drop Rule, encouraging anti-black prejudice? Informal aspects of the movement suggest that it is not as tolerant and beneficial as it claims.

Minimizing black/African heritage

Mixed race advocates and their supporters attempt to reduce the black or African ancestry of people of black and white parentage. Comparisons are made between mixed race individuals and those of “pure” African descent to show the “striking” difference in phenotype. Within the informal movement, a social hierarchy is created amongst mixed people — those with the least African ancestry (as judged by appearance) on top and those with the most on the bottom.

Reverse one drop rule

Some advocates of the multi-racial movement categorize not only those of directly mixed parentage as multiracial, but anyone who share outward traits with mixed individuals. This results in a reverse One Drop Rule — anyone who is suspected of being mixed due to appearance is labeled as such, whether they are or not. This is done to separate mixed individuals from “true” blacks; mixed race people can not be recognized as mixed if there are blacks with a similar appearance.

“White is right” and blame blacks

Supporters of the movement claim that mixed people have been marginalized and denied their true identities. However, these same people view white-identified mixed individuals as inspiration. If the multiracial movement’s goal is to encourage a mixed identity, it should be opposed to mixed people identifying and being seen as white. Since the most vocal supporters are not opposed to this, it suggests that the movement is not so much about supporting mixed heritage, but lessening black heritage.

Multi-racial advocates blame black Americans for past and current lack of mixed race identity in the United States. But these supporters rarely mention the role that white Americans had to play in this; whites historically proposed and upheld the One Drop Rule and continue to view most individuals of black and white ancestry as simply black. Mixed race advocates failure to acknowledge this fact again suggests that the minimization of black identity is a most important goal.

The multiracial movement is a campaign that began with positive intentions, but with methods that hinder its goals. Acknowledgment of the multi-racial parentage of mixed individuals should be just that, and not the disregard and resentment of one part of their heritage.

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White Men Don’t Like Black Women? Says Who?

black-woman-white-man

Note: Some may take offense to this post. My goal with this post is to be honest.

That white men don’t desire black women as romantic partners is a concept accepted –in fact, promoted– by many black Americans, without questioning. Ask a random black person in the United States what they think of relationships involving black women and white men and you’re likely to get responses which lead back to this theory; the theory that white men simply aren’t attracted to black women.

As a black woman who has been in relationships with men from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds, and whose current partner is white, I was at first puzzled by these statements. Besides that I was completely unaware that as a woman of African descent I was supposed to be considered undesirable to men I was regularly involved with, two aspects of this phenomenon impressed upon me. (1) It wasn’t only racist whites who were encouraging the notion that white men aren’t attracted to black women, but blacks; even black women and (2) not only did blacks believe this idea, but they forcefully try to convince anyone who disagrees that their belief is the set in stone truth.

But why? Why are blacks spending so much time advocating this idea? I’ve analyzed this phenomenon and have concluded that its basis lies in three major areas:

  • Internalization of Eurocentric Beauty Standards
  • Black Women as Competition
  • Control of Black Women and Black Women as the Backbone of the “Black Community”

Internalization of Eurocentric Beauty Standards

Among racially aware blacks there is much talk that standards of beauty are heavily centered on a European appearance; that this is one of the main reasons why white men aren’t attracted to women of African descent. But what is less mentioned is the extent to which blacks themselves have internalized these standards.

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