Things You Need To Understand #7

That which does not affect you, you often do not see or understand

In other words, if you are White, 99% of the time Racism doesn’t affect you. Therefore, you may not see nor understand Racism when it happens.

If you are a Man, 99% of the time Sexism doesn’t affect you. Therefore, you may not grok Sexist behavior when it occurs nor will you always see Sexism when it is plain to others.

This goes for any -ist or -ism or -phobia you can think of. This goes for you, even if you’re a minority, when it concerns people who are not like you.

What does not affect you personally often will not impact on your consciousness unless you’ve trained yourself to see and understand.

Therefore, the next time you feel yourself declaring something “not racist” or “not sexist” or “not offensive”, think about whether you feel that way because you’re not the one on the receiving end of racist, sexist, or offensive behavior/words/actions/images.

22 comments to Things You Need To Understand #7

  • I know what you’re saying here, since so many White folks and men (and even some people of color and women) are SO quick to make oppression “invisible,” but I would suggest that this tendency itself is an effect of institutionalized oppression. They’re ignorant of it and don’t recognize their own ignorance. Such blatant ignorance threatens the warp and woof of the democratic fabric of our nation and, indeed, the whole world (that is, to the extent that there is a democratic fabric or could be one, if we were not so committed to maintaining the ignorance).

    Still, I know who you’re talking to here. Hopefully, your last sentence will get through.

  • Or, more cynically, it affects you in a manner you consider positive, so you’re less likely to want to assign connotatively negative categories like “racist” or “sexist” to it.

  • Andrew

    ABW, I fear that this makes so much sense it will only confused some people :P

  • I’ve written this and my supervisor has counselled me to put more sociological information into a segment which I will make into a presentation paper. So, I want to focus more on the race issue as well as the violence of poverty. Suggestions are welcome and can be directed to me here: scratchy888

    at iprimus dot com dot au

  • There’s also an interesting form of cognitive dissonance where one is willing to adopt the presumed behavior of a minority without acknowledging that doing so while denegrating it is racist.

    It’s very disturbing to see. It’s even more disturbing to point it out and have people do the internet equivelant of a shrug and a blank look.

  • ABW,

    The person you’re talking to right now is a waste of your energy. There are very few people that I’ve ever given up on, but he’s one of them. He’s simply too wedded to his own wack-ass agenda (that class matters and race doesn’t, and that racism = acknowledging that race matters) and he isn’t willing to listen to or learn from other viewpoints, though he’s great at feigning that willingness. He will never understand because he does not wish to understand. Spend your efforts on those who are worthy of them.

    And I’m here at Wiscon; where the heck are you?

  • My brother and In have this conversation regulary. Caucasians fundamentally do not comprehend racism.

  • Missprofe,

    I believe white people are capable of comprehending it if they’re willing to, and if they put in the effort to do so. But a lot of the people who claim to be willing, lack that corresponding willingness to put in effort. What I’ve had to learn is to identify these people, who aren’t willing to put their money where their mouths are, and stop wasting time on them. Not only do they spin your wheels uselessly, they can make you too cynical and weary to talk to the ones who genuinely are willing.

  • bridgett

    Sara beat me to this observation. Racism always affects me as a white person. It generally confers great advantages on me, makes my observations more credible, and so forth. So I think you’re letting whites off far too easy not to demand some acknowledgment that we’re never operating on race-neutral terrain because we live in an exquisitely race-determined society. Being able to believe that “most of the time, racism isn’t affecting me” is part of the privilege you’re seeking to critique, I think.

    (Back to shutting the fuck up and listening.)

  • Ditto to what Bridget says.

  • Carrie

    “…Therefore, you may not see nor understand Racism when it happens.”

    True. I have black friends who have reported being threatened with jail for running a stop sign and I’m like WTF?! That’s uncalled for and there is lots of racism where the police are concerned.

  • Yeah – it does affect you if you’re white. You’re just trained not to think so, or to consider the effects positive. Some of the effects are in fact to your advantage, this being what racism is *for*. It has negative effects for white people as well but they are trained not to see these as effects of racism.

  • Carrie

    Racism hurts us all, no matter who the racism is directed at.

  • Adam Sheehan


    The elephant that I see standing in the middle of the room on this thread is this: “Can a white person train him/her self to see and understand racism?”

    I believe the answer is Yes…up to a point.

    It takes a concentrated effort, much study and interaction with others.

    All the best…


  • abw

    Exactly. People not experiencing something, even sometimes when they once experienced/are experiencing hardship are quick to try to minimize somebody else’s experience when it pertains to predjudice,bias,or mistreatment. They also feel a need to believe they have a right to speak for the person perceived as a target. This post is definitely on point.

  • Jose Baars


    I’m a white Dutch man and living in the Netherlands. 5 years ago I met a black woman from the UK, and we are since 4 years happily married. My parents have lived in Indonesia in the 1950′s. When I introduced her to my parents their reactions were interesting. My father, who had at that time only half a year to live, was very concerned about her: ‘Don’t you ever get discriminated? I know how that feels from when I was living in Indonesia’. My mother asked my wife to be: ‘When are you going back?’. At the time me and my wife didn’t know what to think of it, but later I realized both my parents were still hurting from the experience 40 years after the fact, and I didn’t even know. I don’t think I will ever fully understand.

  • laughingyouth

    True, but not always. Some people can feel what other feels even if it doesn’t affect them. We should not forget about them (hopefully they are there actually !)

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