So how could you possibly be a victim of racism?
By: Joel Gardner, Executive Director - Whitewashed USA
This article is about how both white and black folks can avoid escalating racial tensions by using self-reflection instead of judgment on others.
This is a hard topic, not because it might offend someone (I suppose I will be disappointed if it doesn’t), but because it’s complicated. The concept that someone can be the victim of something this bad without there being a perpetrator seems impossible, and let me be clear that racism and racial bias is a very real problem in this country, but sometimes one person’s experience can collide with someone else’s in a way that is injurious, without there being bad intent.
"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity"
- Robert Heinlein
A recent example of this is an article on elev8.com entitled - Watermelon Smoothies & Lessons in Race where the writer, a person of color, had an experience that left her feeling victimized by a racial stereotype when a coworker assumed she was drinking a watermelon smoothie. Through the comments below the article it becomes apparent that the coworker who was from Korea was likely making the assumption because that was a common flavor of smoothie in her own culture and not because of racial insensitivity. We cannot assume to know the actual intent behind the comment, but we can discuss the impact of making those assumptions, and ways to change situations like this for the better.
I have a problem with labels and judgments being applied to people. Whether it’s white folks being calling racist and bigoted, or black folks accused of playing the race card or playing the victim. Either way, when we make these accusations we are assuming that we see the entire soul of another person and can encapsulate that soul in a simple title. Unless you have this power (and you probably don’t), then you should stop guessing or assuming motives.
Being “racist” is a motivation it’s an internal doctrine that can drive someone’s actions to discriminate against someone else on the basis of ethnicity. I am not saying there is no such thing as racism, because I have met it, and its ugly baby hatred, and I am not interested in having dinner with either one. But to give someone a label, any label, is always oversimplifying who they are. It is also clairvoyant because you are reading someone else’s thoughts and motives to pass that judgment.
On the other side of this insult chain is the accusation of “playing the victim”. Playing the victim, by my definition is claiming that your power was taken from you forcefully by someone else, or sometimes by everyone around you, when in fact you had the power but did not know how or chose not to use it for whatever reason. There is such a thing as victimization, manipulation and other very unfair things in this world, people who experience this, have truly been robbed and need support to heal. People do sometimes get into the rut of passing blame and responsibility to others, but again this accusation assumes someone else’s thoughts and motives in order to pass judgment. At best this can only make us feel more smug about not being kind to those around us, this is not productive.
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent"
- Eleanor Roosevelt
The key to key to navigating these social land mines is to stop yelling insults over the fence and do some real introspection. We need to be asking ourselves “Am I being racially insensitive?” or “Am I feeling victimized unnecessarily?” when we do this we stop the escalation and create growth and power within ourselves. That positive pattern is continued when we ask ourselves “What can I learn from this person, and how can I improve this situation?” when we start thinking about positive internal things we can change, instead of negative external things we cannot, it empowers everyone involved.