Random AsidesSkepticism

Bad Chart Thursday: Grinding the Axes of Privilege–Racism Edition

Spring is in the air, and the smell of racial privilege is all around, like the sweet, sweet smell of a field of flowers.

Fertilized with shit.

And without the flowers.

This past week alone has given us such gems as “Why I’ll Never Apologize for My White Male Privilege”, written, I believe, by Richie Rich, with help from his plucky butler. Sarah responded to this in “No One Wants You to Apologize for Your White Male Privilege!” and received commenting gold in return.

Also this past week, Rebecca wrote about the American Atheists’ tweet that produced enough face palms to populate a large tropical island.

Needless to say, we’ve had quite the discussion about racism in the Skepchick backchannel. For example, did you know that wearing blackface is not at all racist if your black friends say they’re okay with it? And apparently, Heina has informed me, according to the same guy, Idiocracy can’t be racist because it has a black president. Who knew? So unless we elect another black president, Americans have only two more years to be racist without it actually being racist. Get to racisting, people!

Then Dr Rubidium shared this AMAZING NEWS from LA Times Science.


Apparently, you need only two Asian people to validate stereotypes. Dr Rubidium has informed me, however, that you need at least three black people, so I hope our blackface friend is meeting his black-friends quota.

Now I know everyone is getting so, so sick of the P word. If the concept of privilege is new to you, check out John Scalzi’s “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is,” or google Privilege 101 and Intersecting Axes of Privilege.

I’m not going to go into the 101 here because I’d like to instead focus in on what I’ve learned about how white people especially can get away with saying and doing just about anything without it being racist. (Finally, someone’s writing something for the white people, right?) Here are my top ten tips:

1. You are not being racist if at least two friends of color approve. We already know that if you gain approval (or at least no complaints, which equals approval, right?) from at least two people (three if black) of the race you are commenting on/joking about/imitating/lumping together/treating as Other or invisible, you are not being racist. Bonus points if you are not their boss or co-worker, in-law, or in another position where it would be awkward for them to tell you what they really think, or if you aren’t so consistently racist that they don’t even bother.

Corollary: You can’t be racist if you’ve dated or married a person of color.

I realize that the people you know form a ridiculously small sample size of the population in question. This works primarily because who you personally know defines broad concepts that affect millions of people. I’m not sure how people even defined racism before you were born. It probably didn’t exist.

2. If you start your sentences with “I’m not racist, but, . . .” then you can’t possibly be saying something racist. Why else would people even say this? Granted, people don’t preface a sentence that way if they don’t have some idea that what they’re about to say is, indeed, racist. Usually this sentence means it’s justified racism in the speaker’s view. So technically, the sentence should be “I’m not racist, but I have some racist opinions because [reasons that only hold water if you are already interpreting your experiences and facts through a racially biased lens].”

3. It’s especially not racist if you genuinely didn’t mean it to be racist. We’ve already established that the definition of racism revolves around you, so if you don’t mean something to be racist, it isn’t. Don’t waste any time considering the possibility that you are a product of a society where racism is so ingrained that it seems normal and not even racist. Don’t bother trying to understand the perspective of how people of color experience this same society and how your words and actions can inadvertently reflect this racism. All that matters is that if you genuinely didn’t mean to be racist, you shouldn’t be made to feel bad about what you said or did.

When it comes to racism, your feelings, fellow white person, are what matter. Your being criticized is far more hurtful than the death by a thousand racist cuts that people of color often experience.

4. It’s not racist if it’s positive, as in the LA Times tweet above. Racism isn’t about dehumanizing people by treating them as a group that is all the same and Other. Nah. Racism is just about hurting people’s feelings with negativity, which is also why #1 works–some of your best friends aren’t thin-skinned. They can take a joke, amirite? If their feelings aren’t hurt, it’s not racist. In fact, we all should probably check our statements with the friends of blackface guy since they specifically appear to determine what is or isn’t racist.

Corollary: Telling someone they are not like other people of their race is a compliment and therefore not at all racist. Unless those other people are around. Then it’s racist. Totally depends on the context YOU personally find yourself in, not the words themselves or how other people interpret it.

Corollary 2: It’s especially not racist if you make a point of mentioning the race of a person who did something well or was helpful to you except when they’re white. I mean, that’s practically special treatment!

5. It’s not racist if science.

Corollary: It’s not racist if statistics.

Just don’t dig too deeply into the studies to find bias and poor study design, especially in sample selection and controlling for other factors, or you might find that these facts aren’t exactly facts, because once you know this, your options for being racist without actually being racist might be severely self-limited.

6. It’s not racist if you don’t see color. If you completely ignore racism and pretend it doesn’t exist and believe you are treating all people exactly the same, you can pretty much do or say whatever you want. All the racism in the world, in our society, and its effects magically disappear the moment you personally ignore race. You define reality by acting it into existence. You ARE The Secret.

7. Nothing you say is racist if you studied a race-related subject: anthropology, Chicano studies, Asian American history, Arabic literature, or any number of areas that can make you feel invincible to prejudice and therefore perhaps less careful about noticing it in yourself and more prone to rationalizing how THIS CAN’T BE BECAUSE I DON’T INTEND TO BE RACIST (see #3).

8. Being or having been poor or suffered any hardship is a Get Out of Racism free card for life. If you know what it’s like to suffer hardship, then you totally know what it’s like to deal with racism, because all hardship is pretty much the same thing. And if you learned to deal with your problems and even managed to eventually flourish, then everyone else can. You’re a walking infomercial testimonial. Go you!

Because let’s face it, everyone is exactly the same–except all the differences and the advantages and help you did have that people of color often don’t but that you don’t notice because they just seemed normal to you and you certainly didn’t feel like you had any advantages when you were struggling. But other than that, all the same.

9. When people of color are racist, that makes it okay for you to be racist. This is especially true if this person is famous so you can link that shit all over your Facebook and have temporary free rein to agree and embellish on your agreement in racist ways that aren’t actually racist because you’re just agreeing with this person, who can’t be racist because they aren’t white.

10. REVERSE RACISM. When all else fails and you’re still being called out for your racist words or behavior, remember to turn the tables and point out the problem of racism against white people. People will get so frustrated with trying to explain to you why reverse racism doesn’t exist that they will be sidetracked from your original comment.

Here are these easy-to-follow tips in chart form:

Axes of Racism

If people are still calling you racist after you try these quick and easy tips, then maybe consider that possibly you could be maybe just a little bit racist. Considering it’s pretty much impossible to live in a society with systemic racial bias without being racist to some degree, perhaps, just maybe, you’re not the one shining exception to the rule. But you tell me. It’s all about you anyway.

Melanie Mallon

Melanie is a freelance editor and writer living in a small town outside Minneapolis with her husband, two kids, dog, and two cats. When not making fun of bad charts or running the Uncensorship Project, she spends her time wrangling commas, making colon jokes, and putting out random dumpster fires. You can find her on Twitter as @MelMall, on Facebook, and on Instagram.

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  1. #4 is so on point. For example, model minority stereotypes are “positive” but cause so much pressure and so many assumptions, reducing individuals to nothing more than what they’re supposed to live up to.

  2. Melanie Mallon,

    Great addition to the bad chart Thursday line up. I was wondering if and when you’d tackle the “my racism is not racism because” excuses bigotry. Unfortunately one of your links is not working. Specifically the “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.” I click on it, and it tells me the page doesn’t exist.

  3. Can we add being descended from a fictional Cherokee aristocrat? A princess, mayhap? You’d be surprised at how many anti-NDN racists use that one. (Meanwhile, one of my Facebook friends represents the Cherokee freedmen in their suit wrt: disenrollment.)

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