It’s easy to call things racist. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 let everyone but the Chinese immigrate to the US. RACIST! The recent law in Arizona encourages racial profiling. RACIST! There aren’t enough Asian Americans on TV. RACIST!
And while it’s true, racism exists, its not always a useful word. “Racism” doesn’t tell us about people’s motivations (especially now, people don’t say they’re racist. They say they’re protecting their country, or livelihood, or looking at the facts. Simply calling someone racist doesn’t fix their prejudices). And it doesn’t tell us how to solve the problem. In fact, naming something or someone as racist often keeps the problem from being solved, because people then spend all their efforts trying to prove that they’re not racist.
When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time trying to convince my peers that oppression and inequality (racial and otherwise) existed and affected our lives. I haven’t changed my mind about that. But I’m realizing now what a small step that is. I used to think that getting people to recognize racism was the answer, but its so much more complicated than that. If it were simple, someone would have solved it already.
Is it possible to talk about people’s motivations and how to solve problems without the word “racism”? If it closes off avenues of conversation, rather than opening them, is it possible? It seems a bit like trying to solve algebra without identifying the variables, but if a step like that were possible, would we have more allies?