October 01, 2015
1) What are your feelings about the N-word and the idea of reclaiming an epithet historically used to oppress African-Americans? Should the word be banned altogether, and if so, is this an effective anti-racist strategy?
The N-word debate tends to obscure the conversation we should be having about race relations. A lot of times, people focus on the word as if it is some kind of absolute rule, where we have seen that if one word is banned, people just shift to other racially coded words, like Canadian or Reggin. It is better to attack the racist intent behind the word. For example, with the Michael Kramer controversy – he was on stage openly screaming about lynching and sticking forks in people. And yet, when the controversy was reported, the only thing that was focused on was the N-word. Not the horribly racist things that were said, but just the word.
I highly doubt any word can be banned. I am not a fan of the word, but people have different ideas around language and reclamation. But what’s more important to understand is that banning the word isn’t going to make racism go away.
2) How would you respond to the argument that comedians and rappers use the N-word all the time, so why should non-blacks be held to a different standard? Should white people be allowed to use this word as a term of endearment for each other and/or friends of color?
I am always a bit confused at this logic. I don’t really understand why a white person would want to use the N-word. It’s not their word. It would be like me trying to use an anti-gay slur. No one ever denigrated me or my ancestors with that word. It’s a word I can use to hurt people, but means nothing to me as far as reclaiming. It just doesn’t make logical sense. How is your life enriched because you can now use an epithet?
What people do with their friends is their business, but words have meanings and connotations. So I can use vulgar language out in public – just because I mean it in an ironic way, it doesn’t mean that the people around me won’t have problems with the language I use. You can say a racist slur out in public – just don’t be surprised if people think you are racist.
3) How would you respond to a non-black person who tells a person of color, “Slavery ended long ago. You just need to get over it!”
Blacks have been enslaved in this country as early as 1654. (The country wasn’t even created officially until 1776, that’s how long this has been going on.) After slavery ended, Jim Crow laws took its place. Those laws were only officially repealed in 1965. And throughout that whole time period, blacks were being discriminated against, murdered, and had their legal property seized by bands of white citizens intent on keeping the social order. We’re about forty years away from there now, about two generations. Have we really managed to undo 400 years of history treating blacks as subhuman in forty years?
4) How would you respond to a white person who says, “I can’t be racist; I’m married to/date/work closely with a person of color?”
You cannot cure yourself of racism by sleeping with a person of color. Racism doesn’t work that way. Carmen Van Kerckhove published a piece in 2006 called “I can’t be racist, I have interracial sex!” which is a round up of the people who tried to use this claim to pretend that their actions weren’t racist.
June 2005: Barry Bonds defends himself against allegations of racism by using his white wife as evidence that he doesn’t hate white people
December 2005: Officer Andrew “Drew” Cohen of the San Francisco police department was disciplined for producing an in-house video that was full of racist and sexist stereotypes. His response?”I’m a liberal Berkeley Jew with two biracial children” and therefore “the notion I’m racist is ridiculous.
A woman named Barbara Harris in Oregon is head of Project Prevention, a foundation that offers $300 to drug users willing to be sterilized or use long-term birth control. Critics have called the program a form of modern-day eugenics. Her response? “My critics say I’m a racist,” said Harris, who is white. “Well, my husband’s black, my six boys are biracial and I’m ‘Mom’ to four African American kids. I’m the only white face in my household,” she said.
A man named Phillip Grant, who has been charged with the murder of a white woman. Grant confessed to the murder on tape, claiming he was afraid of white people and that he hated them. During the trial, his defense lawyer attempted to prove that his client was not racist by introducing in court evidence that Grant had a sexual relationship with another white woman: Evidence of the relationship “would belie the truth of any pattern of racism,” according to the lawyer.
You can’t cure a disease by taking one aspirin. You can’t cure yourself of racism by having one lover/spouse/coworker/friend of color. You can’t even cure yourself by having three! It is a conscious, life long process.
4) How would you define anti-racist work, and list three or four steps that people can take to begin this process?
Anti-racist work is really a combination of things.
The most important thing is to challenege your thinking. A lot of the terms and ideas that are considered standard in non-white communtities might be new to you and you may be confused. Keep reading, and keep listening – eventually, the ideas discussed and the positions taken will become clear to you.
Read and listen to media aimed at the communities of color in your area. What is being published in the neighborhood gazette? Tune in to TV One’s coverage of the election. Listen to progressive radio shows, like NPR’s News and Notes. You might find a completely different perspective on an issue that you are familiar with. Read
Understand that you are a small part of a very large system. Racism takes a lot of forms in the United States. Sometimes it is something easy to understand, like hate speech or individual actions. Sometimes, it is something much more complicated to understand, like systemic racism.
Remember that stopping racism starts with you. Sometimes, ending racism seems like such a large problem, it is easy to get overwhelmed. It is okay to focus on things you can control. Challenge your own thinking. Challenge your family. Read books written about race. We can all be a part of shaping a better world, even if it is a simple as learning something new and sharing that knowledge with one other friend. There are small steps we all can take.
5) Can you cite resources for those interested in learning more about the anti-racist movement?
There are many different ways to get involved.
Carmen Van Kerckhove runs New Demographic, the parent company to Racialicious, which is a training company that spares you the misery of diversity training and focuses on the real issues behind race and racism. Reading our Core Beliefs is a good start.
There’s the blog I edit, Racialicious, which is a blog that focuses on the intersection of race and pop culture.
There’s also Anti-Racist Parent, a blog for parents committed to raising children with an anti-racist outlook, and Race in the Workplace, a blog that explores how race and racism influence our working lives. You could also listen to the Addicted to Race podcast, which now has 95 episodes and 7 premium episodes, which are hour long conversations about race and race relations.
And there are many other bloggers that do an amazing job discussing race and race relations:
Alas, a Blog (A discussion of race and progressive issues with a focus on white perspectives and ally action)
VivirLatino (A blog exploring issues impacting Latinos in the US)
Sepia Mutiny (A group blog examining the world through a South Asian lens)
Stereohyped ( A black interest blog)
Angry Asian Man (A blog tracking Asian-Americans in the media)
Race Wire (The Colorlines Magazine Blog)
The Blog and the Bullet (a round up of anti-racist reading)
Global Voices Online – Racism (a round up of articles about racism from bloggers across the globe)
The Sanctuary (a civil rights blog focusing on meaningful immigration reform)
And there are thousands more. There are also local community groups that discuss race. It’s really a matter of just figuring out where the conversations are.