Stentor says that since racism is an objective rather than subjective phenomenon, majority-race people should accept minorities’ judgments in assessing whether they engage in racism.
If you (as a white person, at least) bring out the standard “I’m not a racist” line, that pretty much means you are one. And I don’t mean that just in the sense that everyone in our society is at least a little bit racist. If you think that you have the authority and ability to make a definite statement about your own racism, that implies that you think racism is wholly subjective, making the question about you rather than about the people of other races who are affected by your actions.
Of course, the obvious problem with that is that minorities aren’t always right. Jews, at least those who get heard in the media, scream at everyone who’s even neutral on the I/P conflict that he’s an anti-Semite. Being an oppressed minority doesn’t always make one right. The gentiles I know who think American foreign policy should be less pro-Likud – Amanda and Tyler come to mind – dismiss claims of anti-Semitism, and rightly so. They’d be right to dismiss those claims even if they didn’t have people like me or Lindsay or Ezra to point to, since after all, there exist blacks who support anti-black racism, too.
Usually, the left responds by creating a distinction between oppressed groups – women, black people, Native Americans, Hispanics – and groups that are not oppressed. That conveniently gets rid of radical Christians who believe the entire world hates them, as well as of Jews who totalize the I/P conflict. The problem is that this distinction tends to be based more on soundbites rather than on who really is oppressed, leading to e.g. silence on grave racism practiced in socialist countries. As I noted on Debitage,
Stentor, the problem with applying the “racism is objective” standard to things like mascots is that you have to make a determination of which groups are oppressed and which aren’t. You can sometimes do it by consensus, but it gets short-circuited a lot. The Western left took 20 years to get disillusioned about Zionism; in the 1940s and 50s it trumpeted Israel’s socialism and Jewish nationalism, regardless of how many Arabs Israel was oppressing.
At the same time, just asking people makes no sense. For what it’s worth, conservative Christians feel oppressed, too. And Jews themselves tend not to appreciate being written out of the coalition of the oppressed; that’s why you have large numbers of neoconservatives who think anyone who believes Palestinians should have rights is anti-Semitic. Having written things that made people call me self-loathing and that would have made them call me anti-Semitic if my name were Jackson rather than Levy, I can sympathize with the majority-race person who gets trapped by ridiculous demands of solidarity.
On a somewhat related note, please remind me to write about how exactly Zionism got booted out of the coalition of the oppressed. The simplest explanation – the Six Day War turned Israel from a small country in hostile territory to an occupying power – is gravely wrong.
At any rate, another problem with refusing to argue, “I’m not a racist because…” is that people’s judgment varies. One black person might read my posts on race and conclude I’m an arrogant white person who thinks he knows what’s best for black people. Another might read them and conclude I’m friendly to black Americans’ civil rights. Who do I believe, then?
This is especially relevant to the issue Stentor is generalizing from, native American mascots. My own position is that it’s a non-issue. I don’t think my university has one, nor do I care, but if it were put to a vote of all students, I’d oppose a native mascot mostly on tackiness grounds. I reserve the right to choose which issues I care about, and symbolic issues tend to round up the bottom of my list; I care more about wage gaps and educational gaps than about mascots.
It’s entirely possible that in fact most native Americans care about mascots more, though I highly doubt it. But even if I’m wrong, I’m not obliged to think what most native Americans think. Again, use the Jew test: not only do the most visible Jews in the US media tend to think unconditionally supporting Israel is more important than fighting anti-Semitic bigotry in the US, but also 65% of Jews in Connecticut voted for Lieberman in 2006, suggesting his hawkishness appeals to them. And still I’ll defend anyone who says it’s idiotic for conservative American Jews to totalize Israel and ignore domestic Dominionism; I would even if I didn’t have a name that provided a trump card against accusations of anti-Semitism.