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Sunday, January 20, 2013

How NOT to Fight Discrimination

I started a novel a while back, and that's been eating up most of my time today.  So here's an old half-finished idea I dug out and polished off.

So I know I’ve already made some posts about discrimination, but a while back a member of the gnu atheists group on facebook posted this link (  I started reading through the list, and for the most part it seemed rather reasonable.  There were a couple of things that I would agree are in fact shitty things to do and related to racism, but are more “exacerbating” or “covering up” than plain racism.  But then I hit this little gem (emphasis not added):

Being a person of color prejudiced/bigoted/discriminatory towards other people of color or white people, but without power or privilege = NOT racist (it’s still not a good thing, but it’s not “racism” because in no way does it take away the oppressiveness of whiteness or suddenly give people of color privilege in whiteness-dominated countries)

At this point, I was thoroughly confused. In fact, I commented in response to the link: “So wait, the word "racist" here is not being used to mean ‘treating someone differently on the basis of their race.’?”  And the answer was no, that’s not what it’s being used to mean.  In fact, on the same site, I managed to locate this (

Now there are several issues with that image and the subsequent explanation. I’m not against people redefining words in ways which help them better express themselves.  But when you get right down to it, the definition presented here does not lead to the conclusions presented.  To see this, consider another item from the “What’s Racist, What’s Not” list.

The existence of people of color in those countries (where whites are a minority) that are prejudiced/bigoted/discriminatory against white people = NOT racist (it’s still not a good thing, but it’s not “racism” because in no way does it take away the oppressiveness of whiteness or suddenly give people of color privilege in whiteness-dominated countries)

Now wait just a dogone minute here.  Didn’t STFU racist define racism as power + prejudice?  It seems to me that if “those countries” have an overwhelmingly non-white power structure, then there could very well be non-whites being racist (as used by STFU racist) within those countries. Now you’re telling me that racism = power + prejudice + affects western society?

Now at first I thought that people were confusing privilege with power, or perhaps assuming that power comes with and only with privilege (which is easily refuted by noting that Barak Obama has substantially more power than most any other American, despite lacking white privilege).  But even if we replace “power” with “privilege,” the above list item still doesn’t make sense.  Do white people really have all that much privilege in China, or in the Congo?  If there are countries in which people of color are seen as superior, then there are countries where people of color can be racist.  But STFU racist seems intent on using “racism” in a way that can only be applied to white people, whatever the situation.

Of course if this was just one random blogger making this weird shift of terminology, I wouldn’t care.  But this kind of thing is disturbingly common.  And not just in the context of racism, but also in the context of sexism (though interestingly enough, I don’t know of anything similar in the LGBT movement).  Now many have told me that it only looks ridiculous to me because I’m sitting on the privileged side of the fence.  And I might have been able to buy that if it weren’t for the fact that any and all attempts to translate this kind of terminology into the context of religion, where I am on the unprivileged side of the fence, also sets off my bullshit meter.

So here’s the deal.  If you want me as a champion in your crusade against racism, sexism, heteronormity, or any other social ill, you’ve got to use consistent standards.  If you recruit me to fight racism, then I’m going to speak out against America’s lack of social mobility, which has maintained black poverty for over a century.  And I’ll give a verbal thrashing to people who complain about ‘those darn Mexicans stealing our jobs.’  But I will also make a stink about the NAACP handing out scholarships that white people aren’t even allowed to apply for.  If you recruit me to fight religion, then I’m going to complain when religious people make blatantly fallacious arguments for their gods’ existence.  But I’ll also point out the flaws I spot in atheists’ arguments.  And if you recruit me for your war on sexism, then I’ll be perfectly comfortable telling Republicans to stop slut-shaming.  But I will also insist that we rework the ‘Violence Against Women Act’ in a way that does not falsely insinuate that all domestic violence victims are women (protip, they’re not).  Because I am not down with this kind of hard discrimination, whatever direction it takes.

PS: I am also not joining in any attempt to 'reclaim' a word in a way that reserves its use only for select groups of people.  If as an atheist I decide to start referring to myself as a 'heathen,' then I will not get pissed off at theists who refer to me as a heathen.  (More specifically, I will not get pissed of at the use of the word itself.  I may still get pissed off at the use of the word in a derogotory fashion, but that is anger towards the derogatory fashion, which would happen with whatever word they chose.)

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