I Guess It's Too Much to Ask…

…that white people who take offense to Barack Obama's "typical white person" comment stop to question whether they have themselves been intimidated by black men who pass them in the street and if they've ever personally used any racial or ethnic stereotypes that would make a person of color cringe—and that, if they haven't, they take a "if the shoe doesn't fit, don't wear it" approach.

Like I've said a nonillion times or so, without rigorous self-examination, we're all racists (and sexists and homophobes…) by default, by virtue of our socialization in a culture steeped with negative stereotypes. One of my closest college mates is a black man who used as an example of internalized racism his own stiffening spine when he saw another black man coming toward him on an otherwise deserted street—even as he knew how deeply irrational and unfair it was. I've never been a nervous street-meeter—I tend walk with my head up and smile and say hi to everyone—but it's not like I didn't and don't have other internalized shit. The question is not whether we have biases; we all do. The question is whether we leave them unexamined.

So, yeah. To suggest that a typical white person has some sort of racist biases doesn't strike me as particularly controversial.

That said, such sweeping generalizations are dangerous because most people don't like to think that they have unexamined biases or—Maude forbid!—unexamined privilege. I have to be really careful when I'm talking about institutionalized sexism not to say "men" (or even "the typical man") but "lots of men" or "men who haven't thought about this issue" or something that makes abundantly clear my acknowledgement that I am not tarring an entire group with the same brush.

So Obama's got to be careful about broad generalities when he talks about race, even if what he's saying is true. "Typical white person" isn't a phrase that's in any way suggestive of racial harmony to a casual white listener. Especially because if the phrase "typical black person" has ever passed their lips or danced across their thoughts, it probably wasn't because they were feeling generous.

They're not words associated with kinship and unity. Not typically.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus