In what ways are you racist?

By: | Post date: December 7, 2016 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Culture

Sicut alicubi dixit medicus bonus Habibus Magnus: Confiteor.

[As the good doctor Habib the Great has put it elsewhere: “I Confess”]

[Hey, it’s not my fault Habib chose to quote the Catholic Mass in Latin.]


You know, Habib le toubib, I’ve been expecting a question like this for maybe a month or two. Since I started interacting non-trivially with both yourself and your brother from another mother, Jeremy Markeith Thompson.

[Is that an instance of racism? I suspect that would be overusing the term, but you tell me.]

It’s been an interesting thread to see, with people lining up to admit that they are all too human—and on occasion, that they are overcompensating and rejecting their ingroup instead of their outgroup.

Riaan Engelbrecht, to my exasperation, has actually summarised quite well what I was about to say here, in his comment to the alicubi answer:

You nailed it, Habib. My emotions are rarely politically correct (warning for the Andrew Weill lightening bolt to strike…).

However, you can train your mind to teach your mouth to shut up long enough to be nice, be reasonable. Sometimes, during this short respite, I have been able to stop and think. Putting myself in the other person’s shoes emotionally has taught me that there is another side to the story.

I have initial emotional reactions that count as prejudice. I am aware of them, and I keep my goddamn mouth shut when I do become aware of them, because not being judgemental is a core part of who I seek to be.

The emotional reactions are, for the most part, fear of the unfamiliar. They are real, and they dissipate soon enough—as I become more familiar.

When I first arrived back in Australia (age 12), I stared at the 7–11 store owner next door, who was Korean. First time I’d seen an Asian; Tasmania was quite whitebread, and so was Crete. If you stare at Asians in Australia though, you’re not going to get anything else done in your day: they have similar numbers to Blacks in the US. Similarly, I used to stare at Somalis when they first started becoming part of the Australian fabric a decade ago. I don’t stare as much now, because they are becoming more familiar.

There’ll be a little bit of media feeding into my fears. I know I was somewhat anxious when accosted by a black panhandler in Memphis, or walked past groups of drunk Aboriginal young men in Darwin. But I don’t know that I’d be much more comfortable with drunk white young men, or white panhandlers.

(And I did end up making an attempt at banter with the panhandler, at least—earning me a “Where y’all from? Australia? Love that place! Crocodile Hunter! Dollar, please.”)

The primordial Other I was brought up to define myself against, that I catch myself fearing the most, is Turks for Greece, and Aboriginals for Australia. I’ve felt awkward when introduced to Aboriginals in Australia; I’ve kept my mouth shut, and soon enough ended up in friendly discussion with them. By contrast, I was positively giddy on my playdate with a Turkish guy a couple of weeks ago (and Quora truly helped me with that in advance)—which is progress against what I would have felt like 30 years ago. But yeah, there’s been a little bit of work needed for me to get over any blockers.

The only other thing I can think of is that I suspect I don’t find non-Caucasians physically attractive in the same proportions that I do Caucasians. That’s explicable as a familiarity thing: I don’t particularly go for blondes either—though for some reason, redheads fascinate me. But the list of non-Caucasians I do find physically attractive, I hasten to add, is certainly non-zero.

Jeremy, you can ask me specifics later… 🙂

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