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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Redefining racism: The woes of being white

    Only white people can be racist. Such is the battle cry of a generation of anti-racist activists and theorists – a slogan that will go down in history as one of the most counterproductive arguments ever made.

    Last semester, the University of Delaware halted a controversial residence hall program that required students to learn that only whites can be, and all whites are, racist. Far from fostering consciousness about racism, the program merely engendered confusion and frustration.

    Statements like this become less offensive when you learn that “”racist”” is not used to mean “”prejudiced,”” but rather something like “”benefiting from a power structure which systematically oppresses nonwhites.”” This redefinition of racism has its roots in the writings of theorists like Dr. Delmo Della Dora, who said that racism is “”power plus privilege.””

    Irrespective of the meaning of the statement, using the obviously tainted word “”racist”” to describe an entire group of individuals typifies the shock-and-awe tactics which the anti-racist movement resorts to now.

    This meme has even spread to our own campus – last month, you might have noticed the Jim Crow law-centric posters around several residence halls which boldly proclaimed “”White People Only.”” The posters’ purpose was to encourage whites to reflect on the extent to which racism still exists. The outcome, as you can imagine, was quite different. Students were confused and enraged by the signs, and they were torn down and replaced quite frequently.

    This reveals the central problem with the modern anti-racist movement: Legitimate, convincing argumentation gets shoveled under a pile of bizarre rhetoric, shock tactics and strange terminology. The movement’s goal is to encourage individuals, especially whites, to think about racial inequality, how it affects them and how they can fight it. But the strategies employed by the movement are likely to scare away white people or push them into a false sense of victimization.

    Paradoxically, the movement’s tactics actually contribute to the rise of “”oppressed white person syndrome.”” You probably know the symptoms of this disease: a white person, usually male, complaining about the fact that there are all-black fraternities, clothing brands that cater to minorities, racial affirmative action, special words like “”nigger”” which white people don’t get to use and that there are no equivalents for white people. (Now he can add “”and now everyone assumes I’m racist, too!”” to his laundry list of objections.)

    There is a cure for this illness: an explanation that these institutions exist for a variety of legitimate reasons, such as counteracting widespread systematic discrimination against minorities and allowing them to compete on an equal footing with others in light of this. It’s probably good to remind sufferers of this disease that whites don’t really have a right to piss and moan about discrimination in this country.

    Simple, clear arguments like this work wonders.

    Instead the movement focuses on concepts like “”white privilege,”” a catch-all term for special benefits we white people enjoy simply by virtue of being white and living in this country. We get to be surrounded by people who look like us; the legal system doesn’t work against us; and we aren’t identified first and foremost by the color of our skin.

    The problem with this notion is that it is employed in a counterintuitive fashion. White privilege can also refer to a multitude of advantages that are not shared by all whites. I grew up in a Vietnamese-dominated neighborhood in Westminster, Calif., just north of Little Saigon, and my mother had to fight tooth-and-nail to climb the financial ladder. Consequently, there are a bevy of “”standard”” white advantages that I didn’t enjoy.

    I’m willing to admit that I benefit from white privilege, and most white people should agree that they do, too. But white privilege isn’t binary; there are varying degrees of it, and assuming that all whites benefit from it in the same fashion is sheer prejudice. If you’re feeling coy, you might even call it racist.

    For all their faults, the anti-racist movement’s arguments do contain nuggets of truth, as well as a nougaty center of good intentions. Racism does continue to exist in a country where all people are presumed to have equal rights.

    But the ongoing challenge of the movement is to present this fact in a way that draws whites into the discussion rather than pissing them off or trying to invoke white guilt. It’s not obvious to me how to do this – someone cleverer than me will have to think about it – but the current program is quickly making the anti-racist movement irrelevant, which is shameful because it is so necessary.

    Taylor Kessinger is a junior majoring in math, philosophy and physics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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