Yes, we have problems with racism and racial inequality all over the world. Yet, fighting racism with prejudices and by trying to segregate society is no solution to the problem.
I was quite surprised when I saw that the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture had published a chart about “white traits”. It lists traits typical for the “white culture” of America. Of course, the idea to create such a chart was a bad idea. The Smithsonian museum has already apologized to the public and removed the graphic from their website.
But let’s take a look at the chart below:
This chart is supposed to give us an overview of white culture in the United States. It lists some traits which are often regarded as positive, like for example:
- Objective, rational, and linear thinking
- Respect authority
- Plan for future
- Be polite
- Hard work is key to success
But it is also filled with prejudices against white people, like for example:
- Women’s beauty based on blonde, thin – “Barbie”
- Steak and potatoes – “bland is best”
- Wealth = worth
- Aggressiveness and extroversion
- Don’t show emotion
Not only are most of these prejudices wrong but they also don’t have anything to do with your ethnicity. In every society, there are extroverted and introverted people. Every society has people that are very emotional while some hold back their emotions a little more. This is because every individual is unique. White people are no homogenous mass.
Neither does every white person love only thin girls with blonde hairs. White people also don’t have steak and potatoes for every meal. And no, not all our food is bland. The cuisine of white people is one of the most beloved and recognized ones all over the world.
Also, the claim that the nuclear family is a typical trait of white culture sounds alien to me. The nuclear family consisting of a mother, father, and a few children is the norm almost all over the world. The reason is simple. It takes two parents to make a child. And if their relationship or marriage is stable, then that is perfect. Isn’t that the ideal? Two parents that can take care of the child.
I guess I don’t have to explain every point on this chart to clarify the basic concept behind it. It reinforces prejudices and portrays white and black people as being inherently different. This is not what is going to solve any problems.
To fight hate with counter-hate is a bad idea
Yet, even though this chart was removed from the Website of the Smithsonian museum, they still explain to us on their website that:
Apparently, we white people all suffer from internalized racism. This is another prejudice that doesn’t really help any discussion. Defaming a group is no good way to gain sympathy and straight-up counter racism.
It’s sad that the message had to be delivered in that way because part of the statement is also true. We must interrupt racism when we see it. We must ensure that everyone gets similar chances and opportunities in our society.
Counter-racism is not a valid tool to solve racial inequalities
I was very shocked to see that there is another organization called “Showing up for Racial Justice” that also uses stereotypes and counter-racism as a way to radicalize people. The organization claims that certain “white” characteristics exist that are harmful to society.
“The characteristics listed below are damaging because they are used as norms and standards without being pro-actively named or chosen by the group. They are damaging because they promote white supremacy thinking. They are damaging to both people of color and to white people.”
Listed among the characteristics of “white supremacy culture” that are harmful to society are, for example:
Objectivity – the belief that there is such a thing as being objective and the belief that emotions should not play a role in decision making. Instead of being objective, we should realize that everybody has a world view and that everybody’s world view affects the way they understand things.
Well, there’s nothing wrong with differing world views. Neither is there anything wrong with being objective. The Cambridge dictionary defines objectivity as “the quality of being able to make a decision or judgment in a fair way that is not influenced by personal feelings or beliefs”. If at all, we have problems with too little objectivity nowadays. Racism is a symptom of being very subjective and making decisions and choices out of irrational feelings or fears – the opposite of objectivity.
Individualism – people believe that they are responsible for solving problems alone and are not comfortable working as part of a team. People should instead be evaluated based on their ability to delegate others and on their ability to work as part of a team.
Needless to say, whoever wrote this doesn’t understand the term individualism. According to the Cambridge dictionary, individualism is “the idea that freedom of thought and action for each person is the most important quality of a society, rather than shared effort and responsibility”. Individualism doesn’t mean that people aren’t comfortable working as a team. It means that every person has the right to live his or her life according to his or her personal preferences without being pressured by society into a certain role.
Isn’t that what people of color want too? Not being pressured into a certain role by society because of their skin color. As far as I know, people of color want to be judged by their individual character and not only be recognized as part of a larger group. Individualism is the freedom to be who you really are without negative judgment by society.
Only one right way – the belief there is one right way to do things. We should accept that there are many ways to get to the same goal.
Well, this is a hard pill to swallow. If “white culture” stands for one thing then it is diversity. Most Western countries where predominately white people live are democracies that allow for free speech and open discussions. White people also developed modern science which is basically an open discussion about what is right and what is wrong. There is no “one way is right” approach and belief among the white majority. Almost all decisions in the Western world today are a compromise of differing ideas and ideals.
A new discussion is being held in Germany
Even though the situation in Germany is completely different from the one in the US, the Black Lives Matter movement has started a new discussion about racism in Germany. This discussion is an important one. There are still issues in Germany to be worked on. However, the term racism is often grossly misunderstood by many activists.
The German Federal Agency for Civic Education has published an article informing about daily racism in Germany. The intent of the article is very noble. However, the discussion of what racism is is absurd.
“Die Mehrheitsgesellschaft entscheidet, was “normal” ist – und hinterfragt diese Normalität in der Regel nicht. Sie hält eine historisch gewachsene, (weiße) Normalität aufrecht.“
The majority of the society decides what is “normal” – and usually doesn’t question this normality. It maintains a historically grown, (white) normality.
Well, Germany is a predominantly white society so it is obvious that Germans live in a society that has been founded and built upon “white” values. It is also quite obvious that the majority of Germans that grew up in Germany regard their culture as the norm. Why should the majority of Germans regard its mainstream culture as unnormal?
What is normal in Germany might not be the norm in Africa, the Middle East, or China. If a German lives in Saudia Arabia he is not the norm there either. And there is nothing wrong with that. It’s ok to be unnormal.
The term normality means nothing else than the state of being normal, usual, typical, or expected. For Muslims, it is not normal to eat pork or drink alcohol. So if a Christian travels to a predominantly Muslim country, he or she is unnormal if he or she decides to drink a glass of wine with dinner.
Until today, the majority of Germans are members of the white ethnicity. So it is no wonder that the stereotypes and attitudes of the white majority are regarded as the norm in Germany. That doesn’t mean that everything besides the norm is inherently bad or inferior. To be “normal” has nothing to do with being good or bad. It is no judgment.
“In der Frage “Wo kommst du her?”, drückt sich beispielhaft der tägliche Rassismus aus, mit dem es Schwarze Menschen, Menschen of Color und Menschen mit Migrationsgeschichte in Deutschland häufig zu tun haben. Und das, obwohl wir als People of Color hier (mehr oder weniger) zuhause sind oder unseren zentralen Lebensmittelpunkt haben – und das seit Generationen.”
“Where do you come from?” is an exemplary expression of the daily racism with which black people, people of color, and people with a history of migration in Germany are often confronted. And this despite the fact that we as People of Color are (more or less) at home here or have our center of life here – for generations.
Yes, the person asking you that question might assume that you have migrated to Germany from a different country. However, the question is not meant in a negative way. Neither does it show racism. That is called small talk. Besides that, the question “Where are you from” is not exclusively used for people of color. It is quite common to ask anyone you’ve newly met where they are from in Germany!
Overinterperting the words of other people has never done any good. Instead, the example given here is a prejudice against the majority of the German population: “If they ask me where I am from they must be racist and think I don’t belong here”.
Some Germans might think like that but is that really universally true? I don’t think so. It’s a prejudice.
We should all be aware of racism in our daily lives. Yet we shouldn’t search for racism in things that are not racist. Racism is the marginalization and/or oppression of people of color. It’s a serious offense that shouldn’t be countered with hate or even more racism and prejudice from the other side.