How did we get to this contentious destination where allegations of racism and bigotry are everywhere? It seems almost everyone is accused of racism or bigotry. People are on pins and needles afraid to speak to or about one another. Conversations decrease to an almost paranoid whisper when identifying a racial minority.
General confusion abounds over exactly what is considered racist or bigoted speech. No one is given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to race, and the mere slip of a tongue can cause a cascading domino effect that can jeopardize your reputation, family, or career. One white mother discovered talking about her racial epiphany (When God Sends Your White Daughter a Black Husband) on a religious blog was devastating. She was harshly criticized on social media by both liberals and white supremacists.
What was her sin? Publicly acknowledging she, a Christian, had subconsciously held and subsequently rejected racial bias, AND daring to make recommendations to other biased parents on how to change their paradigms. Her discovery and admission of a previously unknown bias should’ve been celebrated as gaining an important ally that can potentially reach a group (middle-aged white Christians) that may not readily agree that bias or prejudice exists; it was not. The scorn, indignation, and ridicule she received for trying to improve race relations by publicly reaching out to people in comparable situations was counterproductive and discourages racial self reflection and discovery.
There are genuine racists actively attempting to corrupt our values with their hate mongering. While some proudly claim the racist label, others try to hide or rebrand themselves with “White Nationalist” or “Alt-Right” designations because they believe these names are less offensive. This writing does not pertain to those individuals. This post addresses fair minded and moral people’s actions that have been erroneously categorized as racist. It is also a reminder to people of color (POC) that race etiquette is not innate, and certain words or actions should not be called racist simply because they concern a POC or mention someone or something associated with a race.
Self discovery, repentance, and growth in the racial arena should be celebrated. These individuals are often born into and raised in a society where racism is subconscious and ubiquitous, yet when they finally “get it” about race… they are berated. This is counterproductive. It’s similar to growing up immersed in a religion, then consciously rejecting it as an adult upon finding it contrary to your beliefs. These people are now empathetic allies and should be embraced as such because history has shown that similar individuals stood with and defended oppressed people - sometimes with their lives. From white abolitionists participating in the Underground Railroad with blacks, to Oskar Schindler’s purchased protection of Jews during the Holocaust, to white Christians and Jews marching in the 60s with African Americans for civil rights, cultivating racial alliances improves the odds of eradicating racism and bigotry. There are many fair-minded good people who have said or done the following, and although the following can be viewed as race related, they are NOT necessarily racist.
1. Wearing braids/dreadlocks if you aren’t African American ( e.g. Kardashian/Jenner ladies)
2. Being a White Rapper (Iggy Azalea's “Fancy” won Top Rap Song, but she was vilified)
3. Asking Asian Americans where they are from (perhaps rude/intrusive, but probably more curious)
4. Appearing in a video with black twerking dancers (Taylor Swift was unfairly criticized for this)
5. Halloween costumes with sombreros, afros, chopsticks, bow & arrows, bamboo hats
6. Not liking rap (some of the lyrics are undeniably vulgar, violent, misogynistic, and insulting)
7. Supporting the police (although there are certainly bad ones, most are good)
8. Saying “Sup Ese, Bro, Dude” (clumsy attempt to be cool or make someone feel welcome)
9. Placing Black, Asian, Hispanic, Native Americans in ads - but not where you want them (perspective)
10. Mixing up movie titles (Hidden Figures / Fences…innocent mistakes happen - Jenna Bush-Hager)
11. Opposing Illegal Immigration (many feel immigration should occur by the laws established)
12. Joking about your Black wife and biracial kids (White Atlanta Hawks’ GM ill-advised attempt at humor)
13. Criticizing President Obama’s policies (someone can genuinely disagree with policy)
14. Voting for Donald Trump (many overlooked faults & voted party line or voted change)
15. Not supporting Black Lives Matter (BLM) (some are concerned about tactics)
16. Biracial people wanting to identify as biracial and not solely as the “minority” parent’s race
17. POC not receiving an Oscar nomination or winning a music award (subjectivity)
18. Questioning Mike Brown’s actions prior to his death (good people can legitimately disagree)
19. Twerking while white (Miley Cyrus was ridiculed for it - it’s a dance like Macarena or Gingham Style)
20. Criticizing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Palestinian policies (some are concerned about settlements)
21. Not knowing which pronoun for Bruce/Kaitlyn Jenner (not race, but was known as male decathlete)
These are not automatically racist or bigoted, and it is counterproductive to say they are. Americans are a diverse group, and sometimes there will be misunderstandings because intent is not easily understood. Sometimes a costume is just a costume without ulterior racist motives. The fierce friendly fire from liberals is driving away decent people and providing an opening to bigots. The majority of Americans are good people who are eager to try new fads regardless of where they originate, for example: dabbing, rapping, new sayings (bae, turnt, on fleek, slay), and dances: twerking, Gangnam style, macarena). Our different racial and cultural contributions provide many opportunities to sample our melting pot, but groups should not “claim and exclude” others because something originated within ,or is typically represented by, their group. We are Americans, and this insistence of “ours” versus “theirs” plays into the hands of racists who accuse people of over reacting with cries of unsubstantiated racism.
The resentment created by the racist labeling of certain dances, song styles, or costumes contributes to racial animosity among those who did not intend offense. This inadvertently aids racists in their attempts. In addition to increasing racial tension, there would be a huge loss to society if the following individuals had been excluded from their endeavors because they were the wrong race: Misty Copeland (ballet), Yao Ming (basketball), Sam Smith (R&B), Oscar De La Hoya (boxing), Leontyne Price (opera), Eminem (rap), Tiger Woods (golf), Larry Bird (basketball), Serena and Venus, Williams (tennis), Manu Ginobili (basketball), and Apolo Ohno (speed skating).
Demonizing faux pas or maligning benign attempts at social fads is detrimental to improved relations. In our current racial/religious/social climate, there will be many legitimate racists spewing venom. It is best to save the “racist” label for those who are truly deserving of such a vile title.