Celtic Riverside – The Online Journal of James Keenan

On Racism and Sexism Today

Here’s the thing about racism and sexism – humans do not deal well in nuance. We deal in generalities to make life easier for us. We simplify everywhere that we can. We create general rules for life that we know are not universally true, but they capture most of the cases.
In some cases, those generalities overstep. We learn that members of group X (or, more specifically, people *we* think, based on a visual assessment, belong to group X) should have certain qualities. Those qualities might even be true for the vast majority of members of group X. “Blue people wear hats.” Not all of them, but perhaps 97% of blue people do prefer to wear hats.
Here’s what happens.
It begins innocently enough. “Blue people wear hats.” Then one sees a blue person not wearing a hat. “Where’s your hat?” one says to the blue person. “I don’t like them,” the blue person responds. “But blue people wear hats,” one retorts.
The correlation, accurate or not, between a person who belongs to the group and some characteristic is so strong that people begin to enforce that expectation on every member of the group. Real members of the group are this thing. “Real blue people wear hats.”
It becomes ingrained in THEIR culture. Blue people begin chastising one another for not wearing hats. They will abuse that 3% for letting down the side.
This is the origin of things like #ToxicMasculinity
Society enforces an expectation that all members of a group must exhibit some characteristic or behaviour, whether that characteristic is deemed good or bad.
Now, one will hear things like “It’s impossible to be racist against white people” or “it’s impossible to be sexist against men.” One also hears the contrary argument, though in the same vein, that one shouldn’t use a term like #Patriarchy because it assigns blame to one group
The reason those things exist is because one time, long ago, one of the groups dominated all of the others. White people were paramount to all others in society, men existed above women and the LGBTQ+.
White people were more successful than others. Men were more successful than others. The characteristics and behaviours associated with white and associated with men equalled success in society. We built our institutions and structures around those ideas. As time progressed, we saw more calls for equality from members of the other groups. Slowly, society yielded, grudgingly, to various ones. This generally does not come in the form of opening standards so much as opening definitions.
In the 18th century white meant Anglo-Saxon. It didn’t mean Irish, Italian, Greek, Slavic….”whiteness” slowly conceded to allow these other cultures into the umbrella of whiteness. We defined it in terms of their ability to overcome and assimilate. Most of the people who were still not white struggled because of their unwillingness to pay the price, to do the work and overcome as the others had done > that was the line anyway.
A favourite defence among white supremacists is to point to Asians as even smarter and more hardworking than whites to reinforce, “They aren’t racist. There’s just a natural inequity among the races that we must acknowledge.”
But the truth is that it’s the enforcement of these generalities. If you are a blue person, you wear a hat. Non-blue people will throw out derogatory terms like “hat-wearer” because they know it will likely strike a chord with you. Even if they don’t hate blue people, in that moment of wanting to inflict maximum damage with their words they will go to the most inflammatory thing about the person’s sense of identity they can to induce hurt.
Non-blue people who wear hats might be chastised for wearing hats and exhibiting “blue tendencies.” Blue people aren’t the historically dominant group – it’s a practise in failure to exemplify their tendencies after all.
Blue people who choose not to wear hats will be just as torn apart for trying not to be blue to get ahead. In fact, it may even be worse among fellow blue people who see it as selling out the group to achieve something personal.
To use a gender example, the woman who displays assertiveness. Assertive is a male characteristic. Assertive is a successful characteristic. Many women who are assertive are deemed “aggressive” or “bitchy” because, implicitly, “women are not assertive.” Those are the sorts of subtle rules that we enforce in our everyday behaviours and in the way we’ve built our institutions. Many of the interactions are not blatantly racist or sexist. They are subtle, nuanced, and seemingly innocuous.
Every single person on this planet does it. The misogynist in the Klan hood? Obviously. The SJW feminist whose entire life involves the pursuit of equality? Also him. We simplify life through general rules and reinforce racial and sexist expectations.

Some are merely worse or more overt than others.

The thing whites and men in particular need to understand is that in most cultures this system of oppression long served to benefit us.

The equality marches and social justice efforts are not to punish whites or men. Whites and men are also afflicted by these expectations. #ToxicMasculinity hurts men just as it does women. #Patriarchy hurts men as well as women.
The reason the terminology is male-oriented is that these things have also long contributed to male success in society, whereas women and LGBTQ+ folks have had to overcome it. That’s #Privilege. White people have found success in it. Minorities have had to overcome it.
It’s even acknowledge in our language. White people. People of colour. White is the norm and anyone who is not white is defined accordingly. Hetero is the norm, and anyone who is not hetero is defined accordingly. We think of an American and the idea that is supposed to come to mind is a white man or woman who is heterosexual. That doesn’t mean one HATES anyone else, but they aren’t the norm and get treated as such in these little ways all the time.
What we are working to overcome are those expectations, to bring them to the consciousness enough that we can at least challenge and override them. This is the precise opposite of #IdentityPolitics. We specifically do NOT want people treated according to group.
People should be treated as individuals, as many opponents of SJWs often say. The very issue at hand is that we do not treat people as individuals. We treat them as members of groups and, far worse and with malice, have unjust expectations of what those memberships mean.

The whole idea is to move beyond that as a society and treat people on the merits of their individual character. That is not happening, we are not remotely close to that yet. We want to believe we are, but we are failing.

That is the heart of racism and sexism today.

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