Race and racism are difficult subjects. In any conversation about it, there will be questions. Hard questions to ask. And answer. But we can’t avoid them. Because the more questions we ask – the more we understand why race is a social construct and racism is intolerable.
Here’s five questions about race and racism that we get asked the most.
1. Why can black people use the n-word and Asian people tell racist Asian jokes but it’s offensive when white people do the same?
Wherever there is an imbalance of power based on race, there is racism.
The n-word, or any derogatory racist jokes, were created to degrade people from a certain racial group. When people use certain languages or make stereotypical jokes about their own group, there is no imbalance of power. But when a dominant group does it to another race, it involves an imbalance of power between the ‘privileged’ group and the ‘disadvantaged’ group, hence it is racism.
2. Is racism and racial discrimination the same thing?
Racism and racial discrimination, though related, are not the same thing.
Racism is a belief that one racial group is superior to others. Racism can be explicit, such as racial jokes, slurs and hate crimes, or implicit, such as deeply rooted attitudes, values and stereotypical beliefs.
Racial discrimination is the ILLEGAL expression of racism. It includes any action, intentional or not, that has the effect of isolating people based on their race and subjecting them to unequal treatment because of it.
For example, if you think people of colour are not as competent as white people, it’s racism. If you refuse to hire someone because of their race, it’s racial discrimination.
3. You don’t know my situation; how can you say I have white privilege?
You don’t have to be well-off to have benefited from white privilege.
White privilege refers to the (often invisible) individual and systemic advantages that protect white people against discrimination related to their ethnicity and race.
It can be applying for a loan or a job without your race potentially working against you. It can be being pulled over by a police officer without having to fear for your life.
White privilege does not imply that white people have not or cannot experience challenges in life; it means that challenges that a white person has faced or may face are not related to the colour of their skin.
4. Can’t people of colour be racist?
It depends on who you ask.
For some scholars, the answer is no. That’s because they define racism as a structural system that benefits white people and disadvantages non-white people. Therefore, people of colour can’t be racist because they don’t have the institutional power to oppress others.
For others, everyone can be racist. We all have the power to resist racist policies and powers, so if we don’t do it, we are contributing to racism. For example, a person of colour can be racist if he/she works for an institution that supports systemic racism.
5. I don’t say racist stuff, so I can’t be racist… right?
There is a big difference between being non-racist and being anti-racist.
“Non-racist” is simply not being racist.
“Anti-racist” is working against racist systems and policies.
According to Ibram X. Kendi, the author of “How to be an Antiracist”, the opposite of being a racist is not being a nonracist, but an antiracist.
Being nonracist, which is solely not doing anything racist, is not enough – because doing nothing contributes to racism. It is not a middle ground between racist and antiracist. If we don’t confront racial inequalities, we are supporting racism.
If you have other questions about race and racism, please let us know! We’ll do our best to answer them. By educating ourselves – and others whenever possible – we can be one step closer to creating an understanding, equal and inclusive society.