If someone was to say Black people kill White people, I’m not getting pissed or offended by the statement because, it’s true! Black people kill White people. No qualifier is necessary. When we say “White people are racists”, non-White writers shouldn’t have to provide White people de…
First of all, if you ever read one of my articles and see the phrase “black people kill white people” within of a sentence or paragraph that doesn’t include a healthy amount of qualification, you SHOULD call me out for doing so in a response. Arguably you should call me out for racism but at the very least for extremely imprecise writing that lends itself far too readily to misinterpretation.
Second, I would like to think the point of articles about racism is to have a dialogue about race. We need to be talking about race. For one thing, it’s a social construct, not a biological one. For another, it’s a social construct with a very problematic history as well as present. I frankly fail to understand why anyone writing on the topic of race would invite a segment of their readership not to comment on their articles given the impact racism has had and continues to have. Yes, many of the comments might be repetitive. However, that hardly means the concerns raised in these comments should be dismissed. The more people that hold an incorrect view the more persistence and patience required to address it. Alternatively, if you’re hearing something over and over again it could signal the argument people are responding to has some serious flaws that need to be addressed.
That brings me to my final point. From my perspective at least, the reason you are increasingly hearing some version of “not all white people” is the list of what qualifies as an example of actual or potential racist behavior keeps getting longer and longer. This means it also reflects the actions of a much broader segment of the population. That list arguably now includes behaviors that are universal to all human individuals and groups, begging the question why is behavior not racist when exhibited by most/all other groups but evidence of racism when it’s exhibited by white people? Universal human behaviors, even unattractive or ambiguous ones, can’t be motivated solely/primarily by racism when they occur in one group but just innocent universal human behaviors when they occur elsewhere in the population. We have a name for that: it’s stereotyping.
The inclusion in your article of the terms “implicit bias” and “micro-aggression” demonstrate the problem with talking about racism in such overly broad terms. The Ohio State University Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity defines implicit bias as follows: Also known as implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. (Emphasis added)
Using the above definition, it’s safe to say there isn’t a single person on the planet that doesn’t exhibit implicit biases. Indeed, I accept that we all have them. It’s just that because we all possess them we can’t take our criticism of others for having them too far. If every slight received from a white person is described as racism whereas it’s just considered impolite or rude when received from fellow blacks or other people of color, you shouldn’t be surprised if white people increasingly start to post comments that take some exception to that.
The term “microaggression” is also problematic. This opening paragraph from a Psychology Today post on the topic is worth quoting in full:
A microaggression is a subtle, often unintentional, form of prejudice. Rather than an overt declaration of racism or sexism, a microaggression often takes the shape of an offhanded comment, an inadvertently painful joke, or a pointed insult. For example, a white manager might comment that an Asian American employee speaks English well. A white student might ask where an Indian American student is from. A white woman may cross the street when she sees an African American man walking toward her at night. The white individual may not have intended to offend the person of color, but the comment still reminds the person of color that they are not fully accepted or trusted in their community. Experiencing microaggressions on a daily basis can be deeply stressful. The experience can also be unsettling, because the marginalized person may struggle to understand if the comment was intentional and how to respond. (Emphasis added)
It is precisely because many of these examples can be completely innocent, even consciously intended as polite overtures to the person on the receiving end, that many feel the increasing need (myself included) to respond to some articles on racism that rely heavily upon these types of behaviors to make their case. That response may come across as simply “not all white people are racists” but it’s actually far more nuanced than that. Maybe I’m asking the Indian American where they are from because they still have an accent that indicates they are a recent arrival. As a white newcomer to Canada, I can tell you my accent has led many people to ask me where I’m from. Or perhaps they don’t have an accent and I’m simply asking them where they are from as a means of getting a conversation started so I can get to know them a bit better. How is telling white people living in a nation of immigrants they should only engage in small talk about where others are from with other white people not actually reinforcing the very prejudices and resulting segregation we are trying to overcome? Maybe it isn’t but I haven’t heard a good argument yet explaining how using overly broad, “subtle”, “unconscious” universal behaviors as evidence of racism doesn’t actually have the potential to heighten or perpetuate racism instead of overcoming it.
If we define everything as actually or potentially racist — if we assume a woman is crossing the street because she saw a black man coming down the sidewalk when the explanation could be she really had something on the other side to get to, or we assume the new Indian-American co-worker is being asked “where are you from?” because he’s Indian-American and not because he’s new to the office, then how can we logically make the argument that it’s wrong to assume the motives of black people when they make certain comments or engage in certain behaviors? If someone writes articles assuming the “innocent” and “unconscious” behaviors of a certain group of people are evidence of racism, they shouldn’t be surprised if they increasingly hear back from them “but not all of us are racist.”