I was telling my sister about two separate series of interactions I've had recently with people I have known for a number of years. I had a lot of trouble with both of these interactions, because what these people wrote to me was really offensive, and I just wasn't sure what I should write in response. On the one hand, I like these people and respect them (they are older than me). On the other hand, I don't want to be around the kind of stuff they were saying, and I really don't want to inflict anyone who holds those sorts of attitudes on anyone else I know. I'd be embarrassed, and I'd feel responsible.
Because of the age issue, and because they are my friends and therefore on the spectrum (one of them recognizes this; the other denies it, ans is a big chunk of why I've been increasing the separation between us over time), I have been uncertain how much I can reasonably expect them to be aware that what they are saying is Really, Really Bad and They Should Know Better. Sure, they grew up around this sort of thing, but it's not okay anymore.
My sister wisely pointed out to me that, in general, people don't _know_ they are racists. I hate to be the one to break it to people that that's what they are doing -- it rarely goes well -- but I thought I'd google the question "do racists know they are racist" and see what turned up. Maybe someone else had a really good breakdown and I could have that in my repertoire should this situation arise again in the future.http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/papers/langofracism2.html
And while I'm at it, I'll include the particular trigger issues that came up in the two recent interactions.
(1) Don't blame Muslisms or Islamic culture for displaying very, very typical human behaviors. It's not a them thing. It's an everyone thing. Ditto for immigrants or any other group. And _really_ don't go around arguing that Islam is an unusually violent religion/culture/wtf. Seriously, that just makes you look awful.
(2) Seeing labels in other languages than the one you expect _is_ confusing. Don't say that you perceive it as an assault. Especially if the labels are in the hardware store, where they are there to make it so people can do their job. We don't have an official language in this country, and being a Citizen of the United States is not about what language we speak. It's about shared cultural values like freedom of _speech_.
(3) Taking a small sample of experience and generalizing it to cover a large group of possibilities is something we all do. Doesn't make it right, especially if the effect contributes to the oppression of people for something they had nothing to do with, whether that's mockery, added expense, difficulty accessing resources, or whatever. Just because that generalization makes our lives easier _does not justify it_. The opposite of true. People's feelings about our lazy over-generalizations (such as the one I recently made about a couple of medium sized towns in the Northeast) _are important_, far more important than any technical, numerical validity of the generalization. This is not the same as saying We Should Never Generalize. I'm saying that we need to be sensitive to how we do it and respond to feedback about when we got it wrong.
(4) Occupying a position of privilege and benefiting from that position of privilege can make a person very fearful of being accused of occupying a position of privilege and benefiting from that position of privilege -- if the world treats me better because I'm rich, smart, white, whatever, then someone coming along and pointing out the injustice of the world treating rich, smart, white people better could make me defensive, angry, fearful of losing this position that I have.
But it doesn't have to. I can recognize that I have a position of privilege, and still work towards a world in which I do not have that position of relative privilege. I can recognize that I benefit from that privilege and embrace the value that privilege is Wrong. It may be a little sticky getting from OMG, I'm about to lose something to, well, it's kind of wrong that other people don't have this thing that I have. But it's a really good place to get to.
When I have friends who don't want to go to that place, I wonder about how long that friendship is going to survive my bluntness and lack of social skills. Because let me just be real clear here: bluntness and lack of social skills are my core deficit.
And while I'm at it:http://www.derailingfordummies.com/
ETA: After discussion with my sister, I'm going to add a couple more things.
If you defend George Zimmerman, I'm going to decide you're racist.
_The Bell Curve_ is racist. It's great and very dangerous propaganda, in that it's hard even for intelligent people to perceive its racism, if you don't have enough life experience or maturity. But it's still racist.