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"Detour-Spotting" challenges every single excuse we collectively have for not resolving racism in America. Jona Olsson has done a great job of laying out issue after issue of these commonly used reasons our conversation about race gets derailed every time we attempt it.

I think it's important to note that as we look at this list, at least some of the time, the problems we are encountering here aren't intentional. Even determined anti-racists can fall into the traps of the sociological and psychological elements that serve to guard egos and protect feelings and to support the system as it is. We have to remember not to personalize the issues we discuss (especially white anti-racists who seek to help) because that doesn't allow us to properly examine them, to look at what they do and how they do it, and won't permit us to bring them to an end, which, I hope we agree, is the whole reason for doing this.

Today, we have a surprisingly (possibly alarmingly) popular one:

12) Innocence By Association

“I’m not racist, because... I have Vietnamese friends, or my lover is Black, or I marched with Dr. King.”

Reality Check and Consequence

(Perhaps, if every white person who says they marched with Dr. King actually had, the current situation would look different!)

This detour into denial wrongly equates personal interactions with people of color, no matter how intimate they may be, with anti-racism. There is an assumption that our personal associations free us magically from our racist conditioning.


Perception counts for a lot. But it's the gap between what we think we see and what someone else is observing that causes rifts and misunderstandings which can lead to serious problems.

What is a friend, anyway? We seem to have varying definitions of that word too. Friends on Facebook or right here at LiveJournal are different from your schoolmate who has been a part of your life since kindergarten. And are your co-workers people you would call friends?

Here's the thing. It's great when people of different backgrounds can co-exist and can even behave in a civil, polite or, can I say it, friendly way towards each other. But just because you eat meals together, are fans of the same sports team or even like the very same music, doesn't mean there is a complete understanding of that other person, their life experiences and what meaning some random comment can have for them that may seem innocuous or unimportant to you.

We touched on being "Politically Correct" previously, but this is another good time to mention it. Political correctness is a way for people to admit they don't know everything there is to know about a subject, a person, a group of people, a portion of the population, and you won't say anything negative because you don't really know or understand that person's position, their struggles, what they have to deal with on a day to day basis.

To turn this briefly into a "sexism" discussion just as an example, a woman, simply going from point A to point B in public, encounters a man who looks at her and says something like: "Smile! It'll make you look better!"

That comment, in and of itself, may not be offensive. But it does not take into account a lot of factors that the speaker has no way of knowing. Maybe the woman is thinking about where she has to go, is mentally preparing for something and is focusing. Maybe she has just suffered a serious problem of some kind and is trying to maintain her emotions. Maybe she has been harassed in a more unacceptable way earlier in her walk by someone intending to be controlling or lewd. The point is, the speaker, looking for some sort of recognition, and wanting to see something pleasant for himself, is not thinking at all about the other person.

But, the idea is to think about that other person before you make some comment. Of course, that would mean you believe thinking about that other person suggests they are worthy of thought and not just someone who is there for your pleasure or benefit, your hatred or abuse.

Life is already a challenge for everyone. We don't need to add weight to someone else's load by being thoughtless about the language we use or the actions we take.

One of the ultimate "White Privilege" issues surfaces when the question of using The "N" Word comes along.

The "N" Word has it's own place in American lore. There really isn't another word like it. Nothing can evoke history, cause a controversy or create an immediate reaction like a white person using The "N" Word against a black person.

Just like racism itself, there is no word that a black person can say to a white person that would create any similar visceral reaction, or carry the centuries of abuse, the litany of anger and the elements of oppression attached to that word, meaning that there is no way for a white person to know and understand what those feelings are and how they might manifest because of their use of that word.

One way to reduce the heat that some in the black community had chosen was to use that word, or the variation of it, among themselves. In that sense, it is a method of tamping down the intended meaning and to give it another, kinder meaning. It's a method of reducing the power and "taking back" the word. Redefining, self-directing, and improving: all part of the way to help get past the word and use it in a positive way.

White people have observed this usage, in popular culture, in music and film, and maybe first hand, at a high school or a shopping mall and some might wonder why they can't use the word also.

But, of course, just because you are connected in some way with a person of color, doesn't mean you magically are no longer racist. Racism is a very complicated and complex state to dwell in, and it takes much longer to unlearn bad behaviors than it took to adopt them growing up. It's especially challenging when you realize that many white people don't understand what racism actually is, don't really care to learn what it is, don't get how harmful it is, don't think twice about how harmful it might be, and then they add insult to injury by making a bad comment. But hey. It was just a joke. We're still friends, right? I'll buy the next round of fried chicken and watermelon.

Innocence, at least when it comes to racism, is earned, not given.


Previous thinkposts in this series:

1. Day One - I'm Colorblind
2. Day Two - Bootstrap Theory
3. Day Three - Reverse Racism
4. Day Four - Blame The Victim
5. Day Five - The White Knight
6. Day Six - Lighten Up
7. Day Seven - Don't Blame Me
8. Day Eight - BWAME
9. Day Nine - We Have Overcome
10. Day Ten - The End Run
11. Day Eleven - Due Process

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