Today in my Men & Masculinities course we discussed racism.
People who are white are often viewed as not having race or without race. People who are white don’t need to think about race because it’s not really something that they are constantly confronted with as a part of their identity and where they fit in to the world. For me, the discussion about race is much more a practice in listening.
This has been a tough thing to learn because, like so many others, privilege has difficult for me to understand. When you don’t fit into a particular group of people, you don’t know what it’s like to be them. There are also lots of intersections here (overlapping categories) like if you are a black man (race + gender) or a black gay man (race, + sexuality + gender.) These different parts of a person will alter the lived experiences that they have.
Writing about racism can be as difficult as talking about racism. For me, the biggest problem I have is the language. Just reading over what I wrote up there, here are some words/phrases I pulled out:
- difficult conversation
- privilege is difficult to understand
- lived experiences
When I talk about race I found the language difficult because:
a. Not everyone learns this language and it can be difficult to communicate if you’re not using the same words in the same way.
b. I often feel that I am being “radical” when I start using this language and people will start to perceive me a certain way and won’t want to listen to what I’m saying. If I say racism they might think “yeah I like black people” and push the conversation aside because they think that there is nothing else to hear. They aren’t racist, not them, and the conversation is uncomfortable to have.
The problem is that:
a. There is no good time to talk about racism
b. There may be no safe space to talk about racism
c. It is difficult to grow up in America without being racist.
Point c. reflects that idea that we learn certain ways of thinking about people that are racist. It does not mean that we are bad people or go out of our way to prevent others from being equal. It means that we are a part of a system that is larger than us that continues to oppress people of color. This can be difficult to understand if you are white or if you have not experienced that oppression.
An example of this system might be someone saying: they just need to work harder. The opportunities are all the same. This is backed in racist mentalities. That black families don’t work hard enough. That they are given all the same opportunities. That they get the same help and support growing up. That they start on the same page as their white-family counterpart. It doesn’t mean you are racist. It means that you don’t see the real experiences that many families have. You are unable to see it because that was not your experience and you see what you are able to see.
We discuss race with masculinity because of these intersections. Some people believe you can’t talk about gender and the experiences of men without also talking about race and sexuality. You can’t consider the experience of a gay man to be the same as a straight man, for instance. There are also different types of masculinity, and different men from different parts of the world are judged by different standards.
It can be hard to talk about race when (back to point b.) you feel that you cannot safely talk about race. It might be helpful to find a friend that you feel comfortable with who you can ask questions with. Just asking about their experiences and how they navigate the world and the unique pressures of being them. It’s not necessarily about “getting it” but it’s about appreciating the humanity of different peoples experiences. In that, we can develop a clearer perspective of gender and sexuality.