In the last week, there’s been a lot of discussion in the media regarding what it means to be racist vs. “not racist” vs. “anti-racist.” Being racist has an obvious meaning: it means that you believe that certain groups of a certain skin color/from another country that’s different than yours are higher or lower than you on the socially constructed totem pole of life. Then, there’s people who are simply “not racist.” These are people who do not consciously harbor racist ideas or white supremacism in the front of their mind, but when threatened or upset, they weaponize race… or, they just do not do anything actively to combat racism. That means that they do not speak up against race-based injustices. They do not speak out when their friends or family make disparaging remarks against a certain race/skin color/nation. They passive accept it and move on. And these people are a huge problem, as Martin Luther King, Jr., once said. Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel, and many other activists have spoken out about this. Desmond Tutu famously said, “If you are neutral in the face of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” The people who claim to “not take a side,” be “impartial,” or “moderate,” — these are the people who allow oppression and injustice to continue. And they are a huge, huge problem.
Then, there are anti-racists – people who genuinely want a society where people can be seen and treated equally regardless of skin color or country of origin. People who identify this way actively engage with people who are consciously or subconsciously racist or “not racist” in an attempt to educate, to build empathy with those who may not fully understand. I think I first was conscious about this term when I saw Ibram X. Kendi speak on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah about his book How to Be an Antiracist. I’m about to start reading it since I’m nearly off the e-library hold list.
Being an anti-racist is exhausting beyond belief. It can build bridges, but it can also destroy them. It’s no wonder that so many people cut off “friends,” family members, extended family members, in light of Donald Trump winning the 2016 election. In my own life, it’s been infuriating and painful to have discussions about race with my own family, whether it’s my parents, my cousin, or my uncle/aunt. When they’ve made comments about black people being ‘thugs,’ about Latinos being “lazy,” or about how mainland Chinese people are “animals,” who are deceptive and cannot be trusted (even though my family actually is Chinese and my grandparents are originally from there…), I’ve selectively chosen times to argue against them, but it’s always to no avail. We argue, yell, and maybe I am biased saying this, but it’s mostly irrational on their side. An aunt has tauntingly said to me that I am short-sighted, that “I know who you voted for in 2008 and 2016, and you were wrong to do it.” I try to state facts, statistics, map the history of Chinese people in America vs. black Americans, and it’s no use. They don’t want to listen. They write me off as being “brainwashed by liberal media” and insist that one day, when I have reached a certain tax bracket, I will become a Republican and “see the world for what it really is.”
It feels hopeless. It makes me feel like I’m fighting for the sake of fighting… perhaps even to make myself feel better that I’m at least attempting to “do the right thing.” So, is it really more for the cause or is it for me and my self-righteousness? I don’t know — maybe a combination of both?
Anyone who thinks racism is not a problem in today’s world clearly has such massive privilege to the point that their privilege has blinded them and drained them of even a drop of empathy.