My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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Considering racism…

I should first clarify. I went to a talk this evening which was supposed to be about breaking down the language of racism. Unfortunately, the conversation degraded into attacks on all levels. But i want to bring up a few points that i am trying to resolve. The propositions and comments in italics were statements made by the black activists.

People of color cannot be racist. As far as i understand things, racism emerges when the color of one’s skin becomes a way of controlling them through power instilled by the social hierarchy of race and color. I believe that there is a social hierarchy of race, with white/Euro folk on top (this is true worldwide) and black/African folk on the lowest tier. Yellow/Asian and brown/Latina This hierarchy has been defined and maintained by those in power, primarily the white folk. I believe that the black community has no power to control these definitions or hierarchy, but i also feel as though those in the middle of the hierarchy have the ability to define and control other folks based on race. For example, in Asian or Indian contexts i feel as though there is a racist society without the control of white folk, based on certain people of color controlling other people of color who they feel are “lesser.” Wouldn’t this be racism? I do feel as though people of color can be prejudiced, but this is different. In order to be racist, you have to have power afforded by your race and then use that power to control people who are socially viewed as less racially valuable.

The goal of white supremacy is for the worldwide minority to maintain power so as continue to exist biologically since white + color = color. Until there is racial equality, sexual relations between people of color and white folk should not exist and can only be viewed as a form of white supremacy, whereby the white individual is exerting power and control. Certainly, there is a power differential in interracial relationships, but there is a power differential in almost all relationships. Under this belief, sexual relations between men and women should be abolished. (Why? Because there is a sexual power differential instilled and maintained by the patriarchy. The patriarchy doesn’t exist.) If the goal of white supremacy is to biologically maintain the existence of whiteness, the child born through an interracial relation is only breaking down that imbalance. Historically, people of color have been the sexual servents of whites, and are frequently now. But this idea minimizes any possibility of agency and individualism. To say that a white individual is committing the supreme act of white supremacy by engaging in a relationship with a person of color is an act of prejudice.

Seeing as the racial systems in place currently are maintained by such a small fraction of the population, it is the primary systematic oppression that we should be concerned with. Just as i believe that anti-homophobia initiatives cannot be enacted without consideration of race, class, gender identity, sex, etc., i don’t believe that racism will end if it is done outside of recognition of all forms of oppression. To say that one oppression is more harmful than another only fragments the oppressed, allowing those in control to maintain power. Just as second-wave feminism failed due to racist beliefs, i believe that civils rights cannot be achieved without consideration of sexism.

Now, with a few thoughts on paper, i am trying to imagine how one can effectively incorporate different forms of oppression together in order to overcome them systematically. Obviously, the local answer is the most obvious – eliminate all personal actions that maintain or encourage prejudice. More importantly, call people on their prejudices and help them understand why that is so. That’s another thought…

Racism is the white folks’ problem. As a result, only white folks can eliminate racism. As a black man, i spend my entire life trying to explain to white folk why their actions are racist and i am tired of doing so; it is not my problem. I think that its dangerous to give up on people or to not educate people. This is true for all forms of oppression. Certainly, the oppressed do not have the power to change the system, but they do have localized power to help those in power understand what problems exist and why. I frequently hear people who are oppressed say that it is not their responsibility to educate, and in part i agree. But i also feel that if we are truly interested in ending oppression, that the oppressed will help the powerful understand and the powerful will try to understand. Giving up does not help anything and just creates a deeper divide.

With this in mind, i am constantly wondering what it takes to be an ally – how does one engage in proactive anti-white-supremacy, anti-heterosexism, anti-sexism, anti-classism?

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7 comments to Considering racism…

  • Natalie Rodrigues

    i am doing coursework on racism and i would like to know if you could send me something or tell me what you think of racism because i need to know from two points of views. than-you so much. please contact me on my e-mail address.

  • Counter-Racism.com is having its First Annual Counter-Racist Science Project Contest!

    Information can be found at http://www.counter-racism.com/projects/ .

    The deadline for entry submission will be 11:55PM Wednesday
    October 15, 2003. Judging will promptly occur and will cease October 31, 2003. The winnier of the $200.00 prize money will be announced November 3, 2003.

    There is a question and answer forum located on the Counter-Racism Discussion Board under Counter-Racism Science Project. All qualified submissions will follow the scientific process and produce counter-racist code in the form of something that is said and/or something that is done that will neutralize what is said and/or done by the white people who choose to practice white supremacy (racism) for the purpose of replacing the SYSTEM of white supremacy (racism) with a SYSTEM of justice so all people can live in peace.

    Good Luck and Happy Countering Racism (White Supremacy)!

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