Ding! bellAfter reading this post (by Magniloquence, via Starfish, thanks to both) I actually worked out what it was that was *really* bugging me about the Great Lowri Turner Debate (see this post).

To recap – Lowri Turner, who had just had a new baby daughter of mixed race by her now ex-husband, wrote a couple of articles in which she discussed her feelings about the fact that her daughter was of mixed race. Some of what she said came across as fairly crass. But on the whole, I felt, she was trying to talk about and think about how her daughter’s heritage was and/or should be relevant to their lives – and I thought, however clumsily she may have approached the subject, that it was a good thing for her to be talking about. (I also thought that the criticims of her were particularly harsh and that this was because reactions to her were exacerbated by the general tendency we seem to have of hating on anyone we perceive to be a bad mother – but that’s another story.)

Lots of people saw things differently. Some just thought that she was being racist, end of. Some thought that it was not proper for her to speak of her daughter’s race, or her feelings about her daughter’s race, particularly not in the way that she did. Some felt that for her to (be allowed to) speak publicly about her noncolourblindness in some way validated, or at least appeared to validate, racism. Many felt that it all reflected badly on her not just as a human being but more particularly as a mother, because they felt that it showed she did not love or respect her daughter as a person, or at least not as much as she would have done if her daughter had been white.

Because I’ve just found Magniloquence and got a Clue, I want to write a little in the post about the race angle – which is on reflection (ding-ding!) as much what bugged me about the responses to Turner’s articles as even the bad-mother angle.

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The first thing I want to say is that most white people are racist. Me too.

I don’t say that as the beginning of an apologist defence of racism, but only as a recognition of the simple fact that most white people are to a degree racist (whether they like or admit it or not). This is for the same reason that most people are sexist – we are raised that way.

The second thing I want to say is that I recognise that for many white people the above is going to be unpalatable. The word “racist” is loaded (like “bigot“, I guess) because we all KNOW that being a racist is a bad thing. Nobody wants to get called out on being racist because we all KNOW that racism is evil.

However.

Knowing that racism is a bad thing is not the same as exorcising racism from our brains. You can be walking down the street at night, you can see a couple of young black men coming toward you, you can feel nervous, and then you can catch yourself doing it and you can ask yourself whether you would have reacted in the same way if they had been white men… You see a woman in a hijab, shopping in the Authentic! World! Food! aisle at Asda, and you assume she is foreign born, submissive, probably doesn’t speak much English, and then you can catch yourself doing it and you can ask yourself why you make these assumptions about people even you know it is racist and stupid… Such things happen even though you wish they wouldn’t.

So where does that leave us?

We don’t necessarily condemn all men as human beings just because most of them are trained to think in sexist stereotypes and/or to be male supremacist in outlook. We criticise their attitudes and the social structures that led to them having those attitudes, but we don’t necessarily blame them for it – especially not if they recognise their privilege and accept that this is something they need to work on. We hate the sexism, but (usually try to) understand and forgive the sexist, choosing to analyse why he or she turned out that way rather than screaming SEXIST PIG!, feeling that we have struck a blow for the feminist movement, and going back to our separatist commune.

Similarly, I hope – and I recognise my interest in hoping this – we can avoid condemning all white people as human beings just because most of us are trained to think in racist stereotypes and/or to have a white supremacist mindset. Those stereotypes and mindsets certainly need to be exposed and criticised and the social structures that lead to and perpetuate those views must also be examined. But, I hope, we can also – while condemning the racism and insisting that white people recognise their privilege and work on unlearning their taught racism – try to forgive and understand the racist, choosing to analyse why a white person turns out that way rather than screaming RACIST PIG!, feeling that we have struck a blow for anti-racism, claiming a special white-lady badge and then going back to our daily lives.

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So here we are.

The first step towards eradicating racist attitudes is – obviously – to recognise them for what they are. Admit to them, even if only privately. Admit to them, even though it hurts. Even though it is embarrassing, and humbling, and it makes you feel like a shit.

But I am a beginner at this. So, as Magniloquence asks, what if I screw up? What if, like Lowri Turner did, I say something in the midst of stumbling around that is seriously offensive, stupid, rude and/or actually just proves I’m even more racist than I already think I probably am?

Well, then that would make me a shit. I would have to re-evaluate myself. I might even have to say sorry.

But at least if I give someone the opportunity to point this out, I have the opportunity to learn from it. At least if I keep thinking things through, keep educating myself, keep analysing it all, I have the chance to get a Ding! moment and realise what I messed up, and how, and why. At least, if we are talking about it, we are not brushing it under the carpet and pretending that everything is fine.

This all takes a surprising amount of courage.

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