Why I don’t get to say I’m not a racist.


I’m all for self-identification. People figuring out who they are and who they want to be? People finding words to describe things about themselves in ways that finally make sense, damnit? Finding out about these words and identifications and learning more about the different ways that people can be, can live their lives, can feel and think? The ways in which this adds so much richness to all of our understandings of ourselves, each other, and the very human world we live in? Awesome. Really, incredibly, fantastically awesome.

I get to say that I am many, many things. And I get to say that I am not many other things. And by doing so, I get to make more sense of who I am and what that means.

But I don’t get to say that I’m not a racist. Or ableist, or transphobic, or classist, or even sexist or homo/biphobic, or anything like that. You don’t get to say the same about yourself, either. And the reason for this is not just because of the inevitable immediate consequences of a phrase like “I’m not a racist, but..”. While that would be a good reason itself, there’s a more important one.

Being any of those things isn’t about me. It’s about the effects of my actions on others. Replace any of the above words with ‘asshole’, or your favourite non-specific insult of choice, and this will start to make sense. I can say that I’m not an asshole all that I want, but if people perceive my actions as assholish? If I consistently do things which can be defined as assholish? I’m an asshole. Because being an asshole isn’t about me, it’s about how my actions impact on others.

So I don’t get to say that I’m not a racist, or any other thing like that. Because being not-a-racist- or any equivalent for other categories- has nothing to do with what I feel myself to be, or how I identify. It isn’t about me. It’s not a box I can put myself into. It’s the constantly changing sum of the stuff that I do, and what that does to the people around me.

Oh, and I think there’s a rule on the internets that whenever these sort of things are mentioned, the mentioner gets to link to Jay Smooth. So here you go, for your not particularly tangentially related viewing pleasure:

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6 thoughts on “Why I don’t get to say I’m not a racist.

  1. 🙂

    I usually use anti-racist as a self-identification of purpose, with an awareness that I fail at doing anti-racism effectively on a probably daily basis, both through action and inaction but try to be open to challenge and also spend time on scrutinising my own behaviour. The one time it ever makes sense challenging the idea that something is *’ist or *’phobic that I can think of is cases where the meaning of specific things in specific contexts has been interpreted differently and as such it may form a part of arguing for alternative perspectives on things.

    • I like anti-racist for pretty much the same kind of reasons. It’s a doing, as opposed to a being. I don’t just get ti sit back and be complacent about being an anti-racist, I have to actually get off my ass and act, as best I can, in an anti-racist way. With the knowledge that it’s never going to be perfect, I’m going to screw up, and that’s an integral part of it all.
      I agree with you on the second point as well, that there is a space for challenging definitions of certain things as *ist or *phobic. When I’m in a position of privilege in a certain area, I tend to be very very wary of getting into those conversations. However, as a veteran of feminist and queer discussions, I think it doesn’t just make sense to challenge the meanings of *isms and *phobias, it’s an integral and necessary part of the projects as a whole. Absolutely. Definitely. Hell yeah. Dear sweet spaghetti monster, yes*.

      Also, thanks for the use of asterisks there! I was wondering how I could go about talking about many many areas of oppression in a non-clunky way. Asterisks are made of convenient.

  2. Firstly, thank you for the food for thought – also, thank you for that video 🙂

    Really, though, racism is a prejudice against any person of a different “race”, (which I don’t believe is a real thing) and prejudice is a tendency to judge people based on first impressions instead of personal observations over time. I believe most people are ethnocentric, or ethnophobic, depending on the direction (and I’m pretty sure I made up that second word…do I mean to say xenophobic?).

    I would like to say that I honestly know that I am not racist – I DO, however, have distaste and dislike for people of certain cultures. Right or wrong, I do have a tendency to disapprove of the “hip-hop”/”gangsta” sub cultures, and it doesn’t matter if the person is male, female, descent of Caucasian, African, Eurasian, Asian, native american, Mediterranean, or my own brother. If I see a Lincoln Navigator with black tinted windows and polished chrome spinning wheels playing rap music through a custom sound system that makes my chest thump sitting two cars behind, I quickly develop strong negative feelings towards that person. I don’t even need to see them. I don’t know what label is applied to me as a result of this, but I tell people “I don’t have a problem with black people, I hate any asshole who listens to that crap in a car like that; they’re probably a drug dealer anyway!”

    The mention of homophobia also piqued my interest – phobias are psychological disorders and while they might result in outward behaviours that could affect others, they don’t always, and the diagnosis is not dependent upon such variables. Most homophobic men are relatively insecure in their own masculinity and sexuality, but those too are unnecessary for diagnosis. I know that I am not homophobic because I do not feel any discomfort when spending time with, going out in public with, or being alone with homosexuals. I know myself to be heterosexual, and I am not really affected if/when people come to other conclusions. As a point of fact, I do not use derogatory terminology regarding homosexuals *unless* I am addressing them personally as a friend and we’re having a laugh. In those cases, I might make off comments, tongue-in-cheek type things about home decorating, being a woman in a relationship, or make reverse jokes about dropping soap in the shower in a locker room. As long as they know my words aren’t malicious then I’m equally comfortable saying those things.

    Perhaps these attitudes have evolved from my interactions within the (relatively) small community of Jewish people with whom I relate and belong (I am Jewish, as a point of fact). My friends and I, growing up, would make comments (often in public to create discomfort for people who didn’t understand) such as informing a mate that I disapproved of someone nearby, and asked if they could hit the person with their bag of Jew-gold (because we were teased as Jews, being accused of carrying around gold, being flammable because we’re made of money, etc etc.).

    Defense mechanism or not, this is how I grew up, and as a result, I relate quite well to other minorities, but I still cannot stomach minority cultures that value vanity, appearance, intimidation, and “bling” to determine who deserves respect.

    I do not hate people for being part of cultures, really, but more-so I hate people individually for their own personal stupidity. This idea and understanding has helped me immensely to better understand who I am, though, so I feel that I have benefited in that way, whereas you concede that you cannot in good consciousness do the same for yourself.

    Am I cheating?

    • So what you’re saying is that you’re not racist or homophobic, you just associate certain characteristics with people based on inborn characteristics, and make sweeping judgments about entire cultures.
      Welcome to the wonderful world of I’m not a racist, but….

      • “homophobic” implies fear (phobia). I have no fear of homos. Only spiders (regardless of the spider’s sexual orientation).

        where as racist says an inherent inferiority or superiority based on racial (I’ll take that to mean ethnic) differences – I don’t make decisions based on ethnicity, but culture. I say that I hate niggers. By that I DO NOT mean African American peoples, I mean any moron who is obnoxious, listening to loud crappy music, has flashy (half fake) jewelry, and wastes money.
        Keep in mind that there are two types of black people 🙂

        As for the link you provided, I think I am intelligent enough to defer all such idiocy to generalized societal perceptions, and unburden myself of it. Of course there are other types of idiocy of which I am full, but that I most likely completely unrelated to this discussion.

        • Sorry, chicken. Homophobia does not necessarily denote fear of homosexuals. Unless you think that you’re more of an authority than, say, Merriam Webster? Or, you know, every single definition that google cares to give you.

          Also, using the n-word on my blog is entirely unacceptable. You’re banned from further comments.

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