There were a lot of things that got me in trouble when I was growing up; drawing on the wall, running across the street without looking both ways, accidentally washing my uncle’s car with Comet. But the real trouble got started if and when I tried to pin something I did on someone else. “But I didn’t start the fight, he did!” or “Everyone else was doing the same thing!” were the sorts of things that, once said, would turn a month’s grounding into a whipping. I learned my lesson very quickly: Own up to your own mistakes because no one is to blame except yourself.
But since coming to college, I have come to suspect that my parents have stolen from me one of the greatest things about being a minority in America: Being able to escape any personal responsibility, all in the name of race.
Racism has totally been marginalized by the Boy Who Cried “Racist, Neo-Fascist, White Supremist, Elitist Segregationist.” So many -ists!
When someone (who is not racist) happens to be on one side of a racially divisive issue and gets called a racist, people in general tend to desensitize themselves to the term.* When someone – not racist – suggests that a cultural critique of another society might be in order and then gets called a racist (or Orientalist, cultural imperialist or any other such euphemism for racist), the entire concept of racism gets diluted. When someone (non-racist) criticizes Jesse Jackson for being a corrupt person (as compared to “a corrupt black person, just like the rest of them,” which would be racist) and then gets pegged as a bigot, real race issues gets dumped into the pot with all the Boy Who Cried Racism cases, and no one takes race issues seriously anymore.
When people exhaust their efforts calling Madeline Albright a racist, they negate the focus on real racial bigotry coming from the likes of Dick “apartheid ain’t so bad” Cheney.
This all hit me a while back when I was having a conversation about racial issues. The discussion was about how people of different ethnic/religious backgrounds tend to get treated differently; from the conversation being had, I felt a serious, implicit sense of racism involved in the conclusions my fellow conversationers were arriving at. On the tip of my tongue was that issue of race, but I nipped that in the bud. Why? Why did I hesitate to call racism where I perceived it?
I did so because I know that the company that that puts me in is sorry company indeed. And this distresses me because I know – every minority knows – that race issues are alive and well in this country. Racism exists, but it’s been pushed way off the scale of rationality and now is taken with the same seriousness as Danny Bonaduce’s lucrative acting career.**
It doesn’t seem like it’s going to change – it certainly hasn’t in the four years I’ve been here. So maybe I should just join in the game, flip the ceremonial bird to all that “personal responsibility” hogwash that my parents tried to pass off and dive head first into racial demagoguery. Using race (whenever, wherever) is like playing a game of poker with a stack of aces sitting on your lap – you may have cheated, but damn it feels good to win!
The funny thing is that the people with those hidden aces don’t even think they are cheating – they honestly believe that trumping every conversation with “Your point is useless because you are racist” is valid, even though it is usually not valid. And the kicker is this: The other players at the table know about the hidden aces, watch it happen and are either cowed into allowing it or are convinced that it is acceptable for one player to have hidden aces. They don’t even think it is cheating!
So why should I take the moral high ground? Why should I challenge myself to perform when I can instead blame melanin (mine) for everything bad that happens?
It is easy, of course. Because of the fact that I am not white, screaming, crying or bemoaning race (depending on the situation) is seen as acceptable. It’s become popular for minorities to decide that every critique, every political stance, every action and every reaction is explicitly tied to and caused by race. Of course it is easy – that is why the racial technique has converted so many otherwise intelligent minorities into a sobbing puddle of escapists (rhymes with racists).
But I will not succumb to the ease of using race as my excuse because, above all things, I am proud of standing on my own feet and demanding to be taken seriously as a human being – who happens to be brown. Beyond that, however, is the fact that I refuse to throw race around as if it is meaningless because all minorities who do so, along with all majorities who allow it, are cheapening the real instances of racism that occur.
Racial escapism may be the latest rage, but it is a fad that comes with a high cost. When people blame their personal failures on their race, they are not only clouding real race issues, but they are also demeaning their own racial heritage. To be taken seriously, people need to face up to this fact: Bad things happen to everyone; it’s not always because of color.
* Dan Horning, for example, is not a racist.
** If you don’t get the sarcasm, you are a racist.
Manish Raiji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.