Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What You Did Was Racist

Via: Jump Off The Bridge

I think that this video makes an excellent point.  The language that we use to call out racism can be just as important as  the racist act or symbol itself.  If the purpose of the conversation is to let someone know that their deeds, or language was racist, calling them a racist may actually be counter productive to your goal.  If we take the time to focus on the specifics of the action, or language then this forces them to deal with the issue at hand.

When he pointed out  that when celebrities are called out for racist behaviour their first point of defense is to provide character witnesses who are  quick to claim that the individual in question is not a racist, it struck a resounding bell with me.  Suddenly whether or not the person in question is a racist becomes the focus of the conversation, rather than the behaviour or language that was problematic in the first place.

As a committed anti-racist, language is very important to me, and I believe that this video can point the way on how to engage effectively as an anti-racist.  The point of calling someone out is getting them to acknowledge that their speech or behaviour was problematic, and if we immediately put them on the defensive, the tone of the conversation will be corrupted, and despite our best intentions nothing will be gained from the engagement.  It is important that when we engage with others that we do so critically while making sure that the conversation remains on point.  Racism ends one productive conversation at a time.


3 comments:

Danny said...

I'm feeling what that man is talking about and after I read it I began to think about it in the broad scale in terms of any debate or discourse.

This highlights that fact when confronting someone with a differing opinion you have to remember to speak against their stated opinions (nonthing wrong with questioning their opinion but avoid guessing or trying to tell them what their opinion is), their actual arguments, and their actions. Once

In the online world alone this would save a lot of headaches in forums and chats. Many of the flame wars, arguments, and other nonsense start when a conversation changes from "What they did/said." to "What they are/aren't."

Jack Valentine said...

It's a good start, but it's really dangerous to think we are entitled to call people out. It's dangerous to think we can change people. It's dangerous to think we're absolutely right.

I'm pretty sure my constructivist paradigm is a good way to look at things and most of the shit going on in this society is full of isms, and I would love to call that shit out whenever possible.

So I agree with the video man that we should talk about actions rather than identities, but I would add that instead of saying "what you did was racist" we should say "I think what you did was racist, and here's why..." If they can't appreciate that then they are not ready to change anyway (also allowing for the possibility that we are wrong).

Little prods is all you can give. Push too hard (which is usually hard at all) and you will only polarize.

Renee said...

@Jack
"I think what you did was racist, and here's why..." If they can't appreciate that then they are not ready to change anyway

An even finer distinction which I must say that I agree with 100%. Carefully chosen language can go along way to fostering conversation. It is essential that we find ways to effectively engage in this issue if we are ever to end the social imbalance that currently exists.