Talking about race: The dangerous H-word

A white woman writing an article about problematic discussions of race is problematic on its own terms.  I am a part of the very problem I am condemning. Know that I do not believe this article absolves me of my part in the racist status quo. Nor is this article meant to demonize all white people. An institution can only exist with the consent of those who live within it, but no one has to consent. We are only at fault if we don’t fight the hate within ourselves and in those around us.

While Lawrentians do discuss race frequently, whether in casual conversation or at events like the MLK Day brunch discussion, tactless and insulting rhetoric is also depressingly common. By no means are all Lawrentians guilty of this, but those who are seem to be acting out of ignorance rather than malice.

One such argument comes across as a lovely sentiment. Someone (almost always a white male) ) will say that their race is “human” or that they just see everyone else as another human. This would be wonderful if it actually had any resemblance to real-world race relations. Unfortunately, humanity has a long way to go before equal treatment is a reality.

Saying we’re all just human is a cheap escape from the racism debate. It suggests the speaker is uncomfortable talking about his or her race, or race in general. If you’re white, say you’re white. No one in our society is post-racial. We all identify each other by skin color, whether we want to or not. Denying this is useless at best and harmful at worst.

Moreover, ignoring different skin colors contributes to the problem. Saying “we’re all humans” to the question of race casts humanity as a homogenous gray mass. We associate skin color with race, but that does not make skin color problematic. The way we treat skin color is problematic.

Skin color also contributes to how society shapes a person. Someone who grows up with the protection of white privilege has very different experiences than someone without that privilege. Sweeping those experiences beneath a generic stamp of “human” takes away who that person is and undermines the suffering they’ve endured. This rhetoric pretends racism doesn’t exist, thereby betraying just how sheltered the speaker is.

Being white does not exclude someone from meaningful discussions of racism. However, discussing racism without any first hand experiences of it is difficult. As a white person, I question whether I should even be writing this article in the first place. Is it ethical for me to write on a subject I can see, but not experience? YES-that’s what having an opinion is

To fight racism, white people must be involved, but white people lack firsthand knowledge of racism.  (While discrimination against white people does exist, it doesn’t carry the same social and historical implications as discrimination against people of color.) then don’t say white people lack the experience completely… No matter what your race, always listen to the experiences your friends of other races have with racism. Everyone has a different background and different stories.

“Human” fails to be a descriptive enough term for our species. Broad racial categories suffer from the same problem. “Black” in no way summarizes everyone who identifies as black. Lawrence alone contains so many people with hugely different backgrounds. Race can never explain who a person is, but tossing aside someone’s race to seem more accepting is disrespectful. We must accept people and their differences. Accepting peoplesomeone despite despite their differences isn’t accepting at all.

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