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How Not To Be Called A Racist: Several Easy Pointers From Sally Quinn

You know what? God bless The Awl. I do not have the patience to read the entire Internet (I just have a Google alert set up for words like “sexism!” And the phrase “more women than men,” because typically when that phrase shows up it is gonna be good) but they do, and they find things there, and typically those things are pretty special.

Like, for example, this! In which noted white person Sally Quinn promises “The Ugly, Honest Truth About Race In America.” Hurrah! A white person is here to tell us what is up! And she makes it through several entire paragraphs before landing on this:

What nobody will say publicly, for fear of being called a racist


Now: here is how this works. Let’s say there is a brutal system of privilege – really, pick your brutal system! I’m going to say Race, today – that continually privileges the experiences, comforts, and lives of some people (let’s say, White People!) over others. Let’s say that these privileges are so very intrinsic to the way we live that most people have trouble even recognizing that they exist. Let’s say, thirdly, that there has been continual pushback, over the course of centuries, on the behalf of folks who have noticed that the privilege exists, and have been working to identify and analyze the dynamics of it. And let’s say, finally, that we live in the Year of Our Lord 2009, and this business has been going on for at least a couple hundred years and the progress we have made is: now, when someone is being a racist, you can say that. Even though you will probably be called “angry” and a “fringe-dweller” and be marginalized for your godless Communist views, at least you can say the word “racist” because people have some vague idea as to what it means.

What does this mean? It means, of course, that we have GONE TOO FAR! The forces of PC censorship are upon us, suppressing our rights! Or, at least, they are suppressing our rights if we are privileged people; if we are not, our rights are being suppressed in many other creative ways. For example, we could be Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who was arrested in his own home and then got angry and then was penalized and blamed for not “cooperating.” But, whatever! Back to the White People! Who, like Sally Quinn, WILL NOT BE SILENCED about the Gates thing. The fact that you might get called a racist for being all racist-like is sheer tyranny, and she will not put up with it. And so she, like many before her, has cast herself as a fearless truth-teller, willing to point out that there are things people simply will not say for fear of being called racist. Such as racist things! Or:

[Gates] is notorious, especially among many of his colleagues (black and white) at Harvard, for being short-tempered and arrogant. I have had personal dealings with him in which his behavior was not honorable.

WOW. We have “short-tempered,” we have “arrogant,” we have various unspecified sources who don’t like him, we have various unspecified incidents in which Sally Quinn, Noted White Person and Non-Racist, was not pleased with him… can we work the word “uppity” into this sentence, Sally? No? Okay, then. Good try.

Gosh, we’ve certainly learned a lot from Sally Quinn today about not being called racists! Let’s run down the list:

1. DON’T POSIT “BEING CALLED OUT FOR YOUR RACISM” AS WORSE THAN ACTUALLY BEING THE TARGET OF RACISM. It makes you look like a total whiner! And also, a racist.
2. DON’T SAY THAT THE TEXTBOOK RACIST THING WE ARE TALKING ABOUT WAS PROBABLY THE BLACK DUDE’S FAULT. If possible, you should also try not to supply vague anecdotal data about how nobody likes him because of how “arrogant” he is! This is because it is racist, and people might say so.

My goodness! So much information! And in such a short space, too. Are there any other common blunders that may result in being called racist that you would like to share, Sally?

in response to the Gates & Crowley incident, many of my white friends and colleagues have been discussing reverse discrimination.



  1. Anonymous wrote:

    I just read the comments and I'd just like to say to all the Deluded White Folks out there who seem intent on saying that white people invented everything of importance.

    For instance, ENJOYING ZERO, whitey? YOU'RE WELCOME!

    Monday, August 3, 2009 at 11:01 am | Permalink
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    Here is a lesson in which I firmly believe, and one which has served me well:

    If someone is afraid they will be called racist if they say something, it is very probably because it is a [i]racist thing to say[/i]. Just a thought.

    And thank god we're at a point where concern about racism is actually able to be voiced–I know there have been times when I've thoughtlessly put my foot in it [thankfully, not nearly as often as there might've been], and I'm glad I hang out around people cool enough to point out when I am being, y'know, a PRIVILEGE-BLINDED ASSHOLE. Because otherwise, how do you learn?


    Monday, August 3, 2009 at 11:05 am | Permalink
  3. Phira wrote:

    Well, as you MIGHT know, being perceived as arrogant means that you totally deserve it when bad things happen to you! LULZ.

    "What nobody will say publicly, for fear of being called a racist …"

    Probably because those things ARE RACIST.

    I know that because I'm white, I'm never going to understand fully what it's like to be a person of color. But it's imperative that I make whatever attempt I can to try to understand, to be respectful, and to do what I can to call out other people on racism. And it's not because I'm afraid of being labeled "racist." It's because it's (no, seriously) the right thing to do.

    Monday, August 3, 2009 at 11:35 am | Permalink
  4. snobographer wrote:

    I'm just gobsmacked about a white person claiming to lay down the cold hard truth about race and racism as if she's in a position to do so. But I suppose I'm racist against white people for finding that insanely inappropriate. After all, "reverse-racism" is the worstest racism there is!!!

    Monday, August 3, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  5. Spatula wrote:

    I just love the phrase "I and my white colleagues have been discussing reverse discrimination". Cause god forbid you try discussing regular-issue discrimination with your black colleagues. Might actually learn something.


    Monday, August 3, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Permalink
  6. Anonymous wrote:

    I move to strike "reverse distrimination" from the popular lexicon. There's something really messed up about people who speak from a position of priviledge anyway needing to create a special category of discrimination for themselves. It's like "if people of less/no priviledge are treated poorly because of their skin/gender/orientation/beliefs, well, that's all the same, but if I, white/male/rich person is being treated poorly, we must talk about it as an entirely different category of poor treatment."

    Monday, August 3, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Permalink
  7. Katherine wrote:

    Great post! Did you know it was International Blog against Racism Week last week? Lots of great anti-racist resources to be found there, and from the previous years' posts as well.

    Monday, August 3, 2009 at 2:53 pm | Permalink
  8. molecularshyness wrote:

    in regards to so-called "reverse discrimination", I think Stephen Colbert said it best when he unpacked the term. He said it was "reverse discrimination" because it was going opposite of the direction it's supposed to go.

    I wonder why that's so hard for some white people to understand. The term obviously makes no sense outside of a completely racist ideology, since there is no implicit race in the term racism. And yet –


    Monday, August 3, 2009 at 3:50 pm | Permalink
  9. CaitieCat wrote:

    I actually like "reverse discrimination", only because of what it says to me about what people who use the world really do think about racism in the world.

    See…why is it "reverse"? Why is it only when it happens to white people that it's "reverse"?

    Because deep down, they know damn well that they're discriminating first – hence the "reverse", when it unexpectedly comes back at them! Every time someone uses it, they're acknowledging that they are themselves discriminating – or why wouldn't they just say "we're being discriminated against", like anyone else who really is being discriminated against does?

    It's like showing up with a Nazi t-shirt. When someone says the word, it's a nice big sign for us to recognize that we're dealing with someone who's really, at their core, okay with their own discrimination and -isms.

    And no, I don't think using it "ironically" makes it okay, before some edgy comedian comes along to give us an edgy, dark set about how a white guy can't get a break, amirite?

    Monday, August 3, 2009 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  10. Roxie wrote:

    Dear Most White Folk,
    Please stop talking about racism as if you've had to live on the losing side of it–ever in the history of the USA.

    How about you ACTUALLY LISTEN to the ppl who have. They live it! I think that's pretty expert.

    Monday, August 3, 2009 at 6:17 pm | Permalink
  11. Anonymous wrote:

    I still can't believe people, apparently educated people, actually use the term reverse racism. There is no such thing. Racism occurs when people with power oppress people without power. Dr. Gates is a man of privilege, but he is still a black man first. Hence, he does not belong to the group in power in this country (that's white people, for those of you playing at home). Why are old white guys so willing to accept victimhood when all they do is complain that everyone else does? I guess that's what my dad means when he says "Do as I say, not as I do."
    Margaret (white girl)

    Monday, August 3, 2009 at 10:58 pm | Permalink
  12. Anonymous wrote:

    @Roxie But if POC don't provide ten documented examples, with signed affidavits by white people who support them, of how racism has affected their life, how are we supposed to believe they're actual experts on racism?

    (I'm being sarcastic! I actually agree with you! A whole lot! Just, omg, some people actually feel that way, so I felt the need to make clear that I was just being sarcastic.)

    Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 6:13 am | Permalink
  13. Raddad wrote:

    I (a man!) just had a very male-conditioned image about you. You wield your sarcasm with the same fearless assertiveness that the Jedi in Star Wars (I-III) wielded their lightsabers (they run into crowds of enemies and just keep swinging and running). Like the Jedi, you are on the side of Good(!), so you always pick the right targets.
    Go Sady!

    Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 7:09 am | Permalink
  14. mr_subjunctive wrote:

    I will take reverse discrimination seriously when people start talking about the horrible injustice that is reverse-reverse-discrimination.

    (If I'm parsing it correctly, reverse-reverse discrimination would be when a qualified and competent PoC is passed over for a job because they are neither an unqualified white person nor an unqualified PoC. Does that sound right to everybody?)

    Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 9:19 am | Permalink