WaterCoolerConvos

‘Hyper-Racialism’: Where White Privilege Meets White-Guilt-Paranoia

janet-leigh-shower-scene-from-psychoIt seems the quickest way to see a white person in America clam up is by mentioning the obvious. I have done this many times without meaning to. What did I do? Well, I just started talking about the color of my own skin. You see, it’s brown. I just so happen to be a black woman. This fact – though normal to me – seems to send white folks into a tizzy whenever I talk about it. I have termed this issue “hyper-racialism.” And, it just so happens to be colorblindness’ ugly, disfigured cousin.

What is Colorblindness?

Colorblindness is a unicorn. It is a figment of our collective imaginations like dragons and fat free milk. It is the assertion – mainly by whites – that it is possible to be ‘blind’ to the color of one’s own skin – and anyone else’s. Somehow, by simply ignoring skin color altogether, colorblind and post-racial zealots believe that all racial animus will be assuaged. Not so.

As Aamer Rahman has noted, race and racism are intrinsically linked to history. Racial genocide is in our blood. As long as we have history books, old people with memories, and our own functioning cortexes, we will have racial animus, awareness, and shame. To be actively colorblind is to be self-inducingly ignorant.

And who wants to be ignorant?

This is the equivalent of closing your eyes when you see someone’s broken arm. Simply shutting it out doesn’t make it go away. And, it does nothing to help the person who has the broken limb. All it does is make you look like a jerk for being insensitive, in-compassionate, and too immature to handle the situation like an adult.

Where Privilege Meets White-Guilt-Paranoia

What’s worst about this new trend in racial ignorance is the forced conformity which ensues. In many respects, folks who adopt this theology of impotence and ineptitude in dealing with race expect everyone around them to do the exact same thing. Regardless of how others feel about themselves, colorblind people assert that everyone has to be blind to color – even people of color. Now, how the heck does that work?

“You’re black?”

“Yes.”

“No you’re not. I can’t see your race.”

“Umm…”

See, that makes no sense.

It helps the white person not feel responsible for whatever the black person has experienced or is experiencing because of institutional racism – which permeates every single fiber of this country’s existence. But, it burdens the person of color with the onus of handling the race conversation rather than the person struggling to acknowledge that race is a real thing.

You see, white people are white. They don’t have a color. So, being colorblind is pretty easy for them. When looking in the mirror or washing their hands, they don’t have to worry about color staring back at them. They also don’t have to think about the atrocities committed towards people of color every single day. They don’t have to know why we have Black History Month, who Jordan Russell Davis was, or why we commemorate the March on Washington. And, if they are heterosexual, they don’t have to think about gay rights. And, if they are cis – meaning they identify with the gender they were assigned at birth – they don’t have to consider life as a trans woman or man.

This I-Don’t-Have-to-Consider-That-Because-I-Am-Not-Affected-By-It Phenomenon is the functional basis for white privilege.

So, when someone like me then brings up race, it sends these folks into a tailspin. Let’s walk through an example.

One day at work I was discussing the movie ‘Avatar.’ Having seen it several times at that point, I was excited about it. I loved it. I was in a small circle of people whom I discussed things with all the time from politics to pop culture.

One young lady, who I often ate lunch with, mentioned that she hated the idea. When I asked her why, she said, “They looked like Thundercats. And, they were blue.” I laughed at her, not with her, because I thought that was probably one of the most asinine responses I had heard for disliking the groundbreaking film.

I replied, “Well, I’m brown. Does that mean I look like poop?” Then I chuckled to myself.

Silence.

The entire circle of about six white people looked like I had just called them the KKK. Everyone got the “back away slowly” look on their faces as I stood there confused. “Woah Jenn,” one guy said with an awkward grin. Then I realized what was happening. I had played the…wait for it…race card. I had acknowledged the color of my skin that everyone already saw – though in a completely harmless way – and made everyone in the circle feel like their first name was Jim and their last name was Crow.

The sudden feelings of guilt and paranoia they experienced likely came from not knowing what the heck to say next. And, from being too afraid to touch the conversation further.

Hello hyper-racialism. You’re ugly.

What Can We Do to Fix It?

Honestly, this is a white people problem. Like traditional white guilt (usually rekindled when movies like ’12 Years a Slave’ come out) and white tears (typically induced by white mistakes like blackface Halloween costumes), I’m not here for owning this issue.

I have and always will be an advocate for educating people – hence my job title. But, it isn’t for people of color to have to teach white people anything about race relations. And, people of color shouldn’t be expected to do so. I shouldn’t be deemed a mean girl if I don’t like people touching my afro. Why? Because my hair isn’t a science exhibit. And, no person of color should have to explain what they eat, how they cook it, and what it tastes like. Why? Because this isn’t National Geographic. People of color have a right to live outside of white people’s guilt bubble.

I say we just exist. The best thing we can do to move past this psychotropic drug of colorblindness is to confront race head-on.

We just keep being fully black, brown, red, yellow, beige, and everything in between because God has given us a right to be so. Let the white-guilt-paranoia chips fall where they may.

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Jenn M. Jackson

Co-Founder/Editor-in-Chief
Jenn M. Jackson is one half of the Water Cooler Convos team. She is a native of Oakland, CA, resided in sunny SoCal for a decade, and now lives in the Chicago suburbs. Bringing the bourgie and good measure of the nerdy, she fearlessly writes about politics, pop culture, and whatever other topics in black America have firmly planted a bee in her bonnet.

Comments

comments

  • Amanda S

    Wow. “White people are white. They don’t have a color.” That’s ridiculous, poor pale people don’t count when it comes to human rights, race or heritage. There are so many different types of “white” people. I’m sure descendants of Irish, Scottish, Swedish, German and so on don’t feel this white guilt like you think they do. Yet they get categorized in with the nuts like the kkk and other extremist. White people, white people, white people, white people…they are all the same, all racist. All of them clam up when yoy bring up race because they know in their hearts they are terrible, evil beings and everything is all their fault. White people know things that happened far before they were born are their fault and they must pay for the actions of others. So keep throwing it in their face, keeping bringing it up evey chance you get. Remind them that effort to change the past and move foward as a world full of loving human beings is just wrong. Bait jokes and conversations so they can treat you like any other person and joke back. That is the perfect way to show just how racist they are. How stupid could it be to try to acknowledge and respect some ones race and culture without it effecting your opinion of them as a person. Stupid white people. When will they all learn the only racist people on the planet are the pale, colorless, heartless, ignorant ones.

  • Sarah

    What was your friend’s issue with Avatar? I didn’t notice anything weird. I don’t mind a chance to watch it again though. I thought it was good, too. I like Thundercats even though I never really watched them as a kid (maybe because it was one of the shows I wasn’t allowed to watch then).

    But this is such a huge problem. People can say they’re “colorblind”, but then–through thoughtlessness or not thinking at all–most of the people in a movie, book or video game will be light-skinned. Yeah, some might be German or British or what have you, but still, why not some dark skinned people, like from or of India or Afghanistan or Africa? Or people from Canada or Ireland or the U.S. but they’re Moroccan or Iraqi or Indian? I’m part (small part) American Indian but I just look Caucasian because my great-great Grandma was American Indian and genetics are complicated. The rest of me is European even though I’m primarily just American.

    I have started reading books by Ursula le Guin, and in her Earthsea series, most of the citizens of her country have medium to dark skin, and the people with light skin (I think she meant Caucasian/white type people, but it’s fantasy and in the past) are of a backward culture, and I thought, “Wow! That’s actually true in real life!”. I took into consideration the things colonists did when they went to other countries. Conquered them and proceeded to make slaves and do crazy religious things. That behavior is human nature but it is completely backward and horrible. Just like I realized, “Yeah, my people are messed up”, it’s necessary to start thinking like that if things are going to change and get better so people don’t do bad things anymore. I did feel sad and guilty; I always have because I didn’t understand why people were being treated so badly, but even if bad things are in my nature I don’t have to go along with it. I didn’t understand as a kid why others were treated badly because of skin color or being a woman or gay and I still don’t (not on a fairness level anyway–as an adult I grudgingly know it’s because humans are afraid of different). With le Guin saying what she did I got another sweeping reality check. It was good for me to understand why there is still a huge problem in the U.S., and all over the world.

    Heroes in books and video games tend to be light skinned. I’ve noticed, and have started to wonder: “Is this because of me? Is this what I’m asking for? I keep buying them, so do people think it’s all the audience wants?” Ursula le Guin said that a strong white dragon slayer was always the hero, but never anyone who was dark skinned, or a woman (damsels in distress). She had her main character a non-white person, and most of the others were that way, too. I was mind blown. She wrote the books during a time where civil rights were still struggling (1964). Many portrayals of her main character had him whitewashed, and in subsequent appearances, like for the Earthsea TV series. Most people in the animation were white even though the producers said they were colorblind. Ok then. I thought that was awful, and just a dumb thing to do. I was angry. When I was little and using a coloring book I would use different crayons to make people have different skin (and hair) because I thought having just one type of person was boring (it’s also dangerous to be all the same, and unrealistic). In my city, there are mostly white people (with unknown genetics), but new people are moving to town for college and they aren’t the same as me. I hear in the future the population won’t be predominantly white and I’m looking forward to that. I want to see lots of different people around. It’ll be nice.

    I really rambled but I’ve noticed this too, and I’m worried. It’s good to talk about it, despite the difficulties. It may just take time but it’s always good to take time to talk about issues like this more. It’ll help people understand.

  • Rambow

    They clammed up because your comment came off as defensive about color. You made the leap from blue computer generated aliens to your brown skin looking like poo. I think even a black dude sitting at the table would be like, “what the fuck?”. Next time try to stay on topic instead of making it about you, and maybe you’ll have a better lunch.