How to Discuss Race With Black People: FAQ Part 1 — Beginner


So. You’re a white person looking to hop into a discussion about race with black people. This can be tricky. You’ve got something you want to say and you feel it’s really relevant. Well if productive conversation is your goal (and even if it isn’t) you might want to read the following so you don’t look too silly / uninformed / racist / trollish.


As an added bonus, you can avoid annoying the black people who answer these questions a billion times a day and just can’t explain the whole thing to one more person.


There are some things you just can’t Google, because it’s not so much a matter of mere facts or language as it is of context. So here’s some context.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:


Q: ISN’T EVERYBODY RACIST?
A: No. Everybody is biased. When black people speak of Racism (denoted henceforth with capital “R”) we are speaking not of the dictionary view of racism which indicates nothing more than a simple biased view of another. We are speaking of the ability to translate those biases into a dominant socio-political force that negatively affects the race as a whole. We are speaking SYSTEMATIC Racism. Individual little-r racism does exist, but we’re almost never talking about that. We’re talking big R.


TL;DR — Racism = Bias + Power/Dominance


Q: ISN’T #BLACKLIVESMATTER RACIST? SHOULDN’T IT BE #ALLIVESMATTER?
A: No. The hashtag is a response to the sentiment, overwhelming nationally that black lives DON’T matter. While the vast majority of those behind the hashtag are sympathetic to injustice suffered by any, the systematic prejudices toward blacks in America and the history of those prejudices is starkly different than those suffered by other minorities in America, so making a statement specific to blacks is not denying the worth of other lives.


TL;DR — No. It’s #BlackLivesMatter not #OnlyBlackLivesMatter


Q: WHY DO PEOPLE SAY I SAID/DID SOMETHING RACIST? I LIKE BLACK PEOPLE!
A: You can have racist thoughts or ideas or even actions without being “A Racist”. Really the difference between a Racist and someone who did/said/believed something racist is that the former, when confronted with their racist act, stands by it, while the latter seeks to re-evaluate the offending deed. Liking black people does not keep one from Racist ideas or acts. Much is unintentional or sub-conscious.


TL;DR — Your black friends are not a racism vaccine.


Q: DON’T I HAVE A RIGHT TO BE MAD WHEN SOMEONE ACCUSES ME OF RACISM?
A: Sure. You have the right, but that doesn’t mean it’s productive. More often than not, when a person points out something racist you did, it is in an attempt to help you identify and reject it. Taking it as a condemnation of you as a person is counterproductive. See it instead as a learning opportunity.


TL:DR — Yes. But you could just listen instead.


Q: ISN’T IT RACIST TO TELL ME MY OPINION ISN’T NECESSARY/WANTED BECAUSE I’M WHITE?
A: No. See, despite the fact that you may be a brilliant and thoughtful and downright wonderful person, a core aspect of any black discussion on race is that black ideas and speech have historically required white validation. Whites as a group have dominated all public discourse in America for centuries. By and large, white people still feel the need to put in their two cents instead of listening. Often the best contribution you can make is listening and hearing.


TL;DR — No. Its just not about you right now, and that’s ok.


Q: AREN’T THINGS THAT ARE DESIGNED TO ONLY HELP BLACK PEOPLE RACIST FOR NOT HELPING WHITES?
A: No. American society is by default a system that gives preferential treatment to its white citizens. This preferential treatment is quite reasonably experienced by whites as baseline, or normal. A change in the balance, to a white person, may seem like an injustice, when it is in fact simply a small correction toward equity.

TL;DR — You already HAD half the cake. You don’t get half of what’s left too.


Q: ISN’T IT UNFAIR TO BLAME ALL BLACK PROBLEMS ON WHITE PEOPLE?
A: Inaccurate? Certainly. Unfair? Not really. This is generally a straw man argument. Black people, despite media and political portrayal are quite capable and familiar with personal responsibility. However, white supremacy in America is pervasive and affects the lives of black people at literally every stage of life. This makes it an inextricable factor in black lives. While the vast majority of black people do not believe that “Whitey” is to blame for every bad thing that goes wrong, the pervasiveness gives credence to the fractional minority of us who do.

TL;DR — No. Calm down. Nobody’s really doing that.


Q: I’M NOT IN THE KLAN! WHY DO PEOPLE SAY I BENEFIT FROM WHITE SUPREMACY?
A: While White Supremacists are the loud obnoxious ones who yell “nigger” a lot, they represent an extreme of the white supremacy spectrum. White supremacy is a blanket term for the normality of whiteness, the claim to rightful privilege, the marginalization of other groups. The subtle end is of the spectrum is this. As a white person, would it occur to you to send a birthday card with only black people on it to your mother? If not realize that mass produced “black” greeting cards are relatively new. You benefit in myriad ways (not necessarily financial) from white supremacy.

TL;DR — Because you do. You dont have to like the Klan to benefit from being white.

Q: CAN I SAY THE N-WORD?
A: You should probably ask why this is important to you.

TL;DR — No.

Read more in Part 2