Racism Is Not White

Posted on December 30, 2012

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A White image of African-Americans.

Racism is characteristically a function of colonialism.  Thus racism was olive-skinned during the long era of Greek colonialism in the Eastern Mediterranean.  It was the colour of the Japanese during the era of Japanese expansionism into Korea and China.  It was Aryan during the era of Nazi Germany.  It is pale-skinned here and now in North America, but that has nothing to do with the Whiteness of White people, or any other characteristic of theirs except their historical indulgence in colonialism.

That is because racism is about power and the uses and abuses of that power.

It is a function of power because only the powerful have the ability to direct the social discourse.

Are you aware of a large body of cowboy and Indian movies which treats Indians as real people and White people as nameless, marauding savages?  Are you aware of a whiteface tradition originating with African-Americans which depicts White people as ridiculous, ape-like buffoons?  On the other hand can you think of racist depictions of Japanese, Mexicans and Chinese, and would you be able to identify them as such from your own experience?

A White image of Aboriginal people.

A White image of Aboriginal people.

Racial stereotyping is a privilege of the elite.  In North America that elite has historically been White and male.  Prehistorically it was probably something else, but that is not the issue we are dealing with here and now.

Understand that when we are talking about racism, we are not talking about cultural and national rivalries.  Racism exploits these rivalries, but it does so to maintain power, and to support an agenda of power.

Racism didn’t create slavery in the USA, economic advantage did.  It was to the economic advantage of United States citizens (who happened to originate in Europe) to enslave Africans.  But since they like all of us exist in a moral universe, the enslavement of one group by another needed an excuse.  That excuse was racism, the basic doctrine that one group is inferior to another group because of the inherited and inescapable characteristics of the respective groups.

A White image of Mexicans.

A White image of Mexicans.

Thus racism in the United States claimed that Europeans were more rational than other groups.  This permitted them to enslave Africans because they were allegedly lower on the scale of humanity than Whites, mere brutes who could be legitimately—according to this doctrine—turned to the use of White people like cattle or horses were.  This permitted the European colonizers to steal Aboriginal land under the doctrine of terra nullius—empty land—because the land was empty of civilization.  The 500 distinct Aboriginal nations that the colonizers lumped under the name Indians were dismissed as savages, and a 1000 racist Hollywood movies “proved” their case.

A White image of the Japanese.

A White image of the Japanese.

Racism is only one of the tools that the power elite uses to maintain its position.  Sexism keeps women out of power and position as efficiently as racism keeps oppressed groups out of the power structure.  There are occasional women in power, just as there are occasional members of oppressed groups in power, but that is a function of the fact that oppressed groups (and genders) fight back.

But it is far too early to declare a win.  Not all of those who rise in the power structure are there to challenge it.  Some are there merely to join it.  And an occasional victory doesn’t mean the war is over, not when most of the victories still go to the other side.

White males are still the best off in North American society.  Aboriginal males are currently, and have been my whole life, the worst off in Canadian society.

And the difference between the two is the reason that I will never shut up about racism.  Racism is not about culture or skin colour, but it can advantage certain cultures and skin colours.  We shouldn’t be surprised that people of those colours, and belonging to advantaged groups, would like to believe (and convince the rest of us) that it’s all about “ancient racial enmities.”

But it isn’t.  Racism has never been.  It’s about power and advantage and hanging on to that power and advantage.  That’s all it’s about.  All understanding of racism flows from that insight.

The rest is self-serving myth flowing ultimately from people who don’t want their power or privilege challenged.

I know it makes some people uncomfortable.  I know some people dislike me for it and prefer I shut up about it.  But I will continue to challenge racism so long as it maintains the ability to damage and destroy people’s lives.

It damages Aboriginal lives everyday in Canada.  It fills Canada’s prisons.  It steals Aboriginal children from their parents.  It powers the systematic oppression of Aboriginal people by the government of Stephen Harper.  Ergo, I’m not going to be going silent on the topic anytime soon.