“Racism” = Bad?
As I’ve traveled the world the last 7 years, I’ve encountered a ton of “racism” directed towards me. In Uganda I was the only white man to ever stay the night at a rural school. I stayed for months and was routinely mocked and laughed at for my whiteness, told white people speak like birds, etc. This was standard at breakfast, lunch and dinner–at a table full of Catholic nuns.
In Thailand white people go by the name of a funny fruit which is quite commonly used as a pejorative. In Chile I learned that women from the United States share the same name as a crude sex act.
There are many in the United States who would call none of this “racism” because it is being directed at white people. Those same people would be quick to label as “racist” any expression that could be taken by a member of a minority ethnic group as the least bit offensive.
But the non-stop belly laughs I shared with my Ugandan sisters over many months and more than a thousand meals together came from largely from our racial teasing and stereo-typing. We mocked and laughed the superficial things that could otherwise have kept us separate. Our racial teasing brought us far closer together than they ever get to other whites, with whom they’d never share their true opinions for fear of offending, and far closer together than I would have gotten to them if I’d tried hard to never offend them.
I find the same thing among many of my African American, Mexican and South American friends–especially but not exclusively the males (like the older male characters in the barber shop in Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino who connect by calling each other the worst of racial insults)–that this kind of teasing brings us closer together… but of course, certain personality types, cultures and individuals don’t get this at all and are only offended.
Of course some joking is actually intended to insult and offend. It’s not about the content, the words–it’s a matter of context, of my heart, of my intention. In my experience sometimes the best tool to bring down walls and create connection is teasing and humor–ESPECIALLY the kind that could be labeled “racist” in the country of my birth.
In my experience shaming people and ways of expression as “racist” does nothing to create compassion or a more beautiful world. It may shut some people up some of the time, but it does nothing for creating real understanding, compassion, connection, etc.
Humor, on the other hand, has transformed me and broken down my walls of bias time and time again. As has the Honor Work I facilitate. As DNA testing does for many people:
Those who shame everyone as being racist are shaming other races just like the so-called “racists” they claim to be fighting. It’s all shaming. It’s all writing people off, separating them, making them out to be less than you. Those who use the term “racist” in a serious, better-than, shaming way to shut others down and exclude others are often in my view, the most “racist” of all.