Race shouldn’t define people
Neil Joseph | Monday, October 26, 2015
Over the past few months, we’ve seen race relations in our country come under heavy scrutiny. From the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, to Baltimore, Maryland, our country has been plagued by conflict caused by racial discord. Because of this, many commentators, columnists and activists have commented on the deeper problems that seem to have caused our nationwide racial tension. Out of this, ideas such as “white privilege” and movements such as “Black Lives Matter” have divided our country. Some believe that movements and ideas such as these are irrelevant, wrong and unnecessary. Others think that these people are blind, ignorant and unwilling to listen.
Many people may think that as a brown kid from Columbus, Ohio, I have no place in talking about Black Lives Matter or the concept of white privilege. And that may be true. My experiences, however, have given me a unique perspective on the race debate that permeates throughout our country. I’m not black, so I don’t entirely feel the same feelings that many black people around our country have felt this past year. At the same time, I’m not white, so I don’t personally understand what emotions are elicited for a majority of our country when talking about race relations. But I’ve had my own experiences, seen what people think and learned about what others feel about an issue that challenges their identity.
For me, the use of the words “white privilege” puts the wrong name on a concept that I’ve seen and experienced to be true. The words “white privilege” connote a tangible and real advantage that a person gets from the color of their skin. In today’s day and age, I don’t find this to be true. Today, being white is no longer a direct advantage for getting a job, getting into a school or many other things (aside from a few ignorant examples that will always persist). This, however, does not mean that our nation is totally colorblind or perfect when it comes to race relations.
For me, the concept of “white privilege” is better described in a different way. There isn’t a perfect phrase or word to describe it, but there is an inherent benefit for someone to be white: they do not have classifications, definitions and stereotypes placed upon them. In my experiences, my skin color and my background has put preconceived notions into people’s heads. Most people assume that because I’m Indian, I’m defined by brains, a desire to be a doctor and my ability to spell words. Although this may not seem to be a horrible stereotype (people probably overestimate my brains and ability to spell), it reveals part of the reason why race relations in our country seem to be so bad. There is more to me than what many people assume because of the color of my skin, and I want people to learn these things without expecting me to act in a certain way.
These assumptions that I’ve experienced are what the heart of racial dialogue todays aims to get to. I honestly believe that most people who talk about the concept of white privilege aren’t blaming anyone, because no one’s status at birth is their own fault. People who comment on race should be largely seeking to eliminate the widely held assumptions about different groups based on their classifications. Again, this doesn’t imply that merely white people hold these assumptions (I find myself doing it) or that they are some way at fault. Rather, dialogue about race should be about acknowledging the fact that some people benefit or are hurt because of the classifications that are placed upon them, and that we need to change this.
At their core, movements such as Black Lives Matter seek to eliminate the largely unconscious assumptions that society and people as a whole place upon certain groups. People don’t think about the way that stereotypes and classifications impact their worldview, out of no fault of their own. A person’s upbringing, experiences and interactions have the greatest impact on the way they look at others. The only way to counter this is to approach each new person with an open mind and a rejection of preconceived notions. This isn’t color blind, but stereotype blind. It extends to race, but also to many other things. People are defined by their race, gender, part of the country, income status and so much more. Once we stop letting all of these things (especially race) inform our feelings about a person before we get to know them, then we will begin to make progress in improving race relations in our country. People can’t control their status at birth — so we must classify them by what they can control.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.