Systemic racism FAQ

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Following her recent interview alongside Francis van den Brink about their experience as campus columnists, Keerthi Sridharan answers the comments placed on both the English and Dutch versions of the article. With a dash of irony.

It’s all love, y’all. Q&A time, part II. Context, for those unaware.

“[Some critique of whiteness] is actually very racist of you.”
In (improv) comedy, there’s a concept called “punching up”, which is making fun of the oppressors, the people in power, and the systemically advantaged. Punching down is making fun of people who are already oppressed and discriminated against. When doing comedy, you want to punch up, and avoid punching down. Racism works the same way. White people have never been systemically oppressed for their whiteness, and racism is a systemic force, so even if I say something prejudiced or discriminatory against white people (which is different from a critique), chances are it won’t contribute to a net lowering of your quality of life. Chin up, buttercup.

“Postmodernists (like you) tend to mark anyone who is not actively trying to dismantle the (racist) establishment as racist.”
I cannot believe you fell headfirst into the point and still missed it. Yes, the establishment is racist and disproportionately supports white people and discriminates against people of color. We should dismantle that. Anyone who doesn’t feel the need to see it dismantled is probably benefitting from it in some way or another, and believes that their benefits are more important than the lives of the people being oppressed. This makes that person… racist. A+!

“This issue can only be solved by starting a discussion and trying to listen to others.”
Sorry, which “others” do you want me to listen to? The airport security guard who groped me to “make sure” I didn’t have anything in my pockets? The woman who clutched her purse closer to her as soon as I walked into the train carriage? The professor who called me “Curtain” for an entire semester because she couldn’t be bothered to learn my name? Oh, you didn’t mean any of those people. Oh, you meant I should listen to the commenter who got so upset at a decontextualized quote that he forgot to direct any of his rage at the author who chose to publish it? I don’t think I’m gonna hear anything new. Discussion is something I’m constantly seeking out: nuance isn’t just valuable, it’s necessary. But debating whether or not I face discrimination isn’t the same thing as intersectional queer theory book club. Musing on the real-life accounts of the experiences of people of color as if they’re a math problem that needs to be “solved”, instead of a sign that change needs to happen -- it just doesn’t hit the same as intersectional queer theory book club (in case the subliminal messaging wasn’t clear: does anyone want to join my book club?)

"This person is attacking me for something I can't change, and drawing conclusions about me from something I didn't choose!"
Oh, damn. How does it feel? I'm asking because every person of color has felt that way before, only those attacks tend to be acts of physical violence or defamations of credibility, all based on race. When your first reaction to being told that you have unconscious racist biases is self-defense, anger, and denial, you're making the situation all about yourself, taking the "accusation" as an attack on your moral character instead of taking it as an opportunity to self-reflect. Call it CRT, call it reductive, call it close-minded -- none of those hide the fact that you haven't taken a second to look inwards. I know that you know that racism is bad, and that you don't want to be a bad person. Cool! You're not. You’ve just been raised in a society that encourages you to see people of color as lesser (so have I -- we all have. Internalized racism is also very real). You might not think you do that, but it's a phenomenon that presents itself in gut reactions, intuitive calls, split-second decisions.

Finally, an “unaddressed” postscript:
I promise you no one is unaware of your opinion, or of opinions like yours. You speak of a “progressive bubble” like it’s a bad thing, rather than a place where marginalized communities can uplift and protect each other. Do you think “liberal snowflakes” have the opinions that they do because they’re unaware of your thoughts on these issues? What a curious thing, too, for you to say you’ll always stand up for my right to write whatever I want, when months ago you claimed that someone with an opinion like mine didn’t deserve to be a columnist. So: lovely offer, but I think we’d have trouble drinking coffee through a mask, and that’s not even in the top ten reasons why I’m gonna pass on this one.

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