On the surface it sounds like a silly question. But we live in an era when every single racialized thing gets labeled as “racist,” so I think the question is worth posing here. As a matter of fact, I’ve had this conversation with more people than I care to count, so perhaps the next time it comes up I will simply forward them the link to this post (feel free to do the same).
Just so we’re all on the same page, here’s what I think: Black people cannot be racist, particularly in places where we are the minority.
I can feel the eye rolling now, so let me explain.
Can we be prejudiced? Sure. Can we hold backwards views about race and ethnicity? Definitely. Can we sometimes say offensive ish that hurts someone’s feelings? Sadly, yes.
But when it comes to who can and cannot be “racist” (especially in America), we are dealing with something way deeper than calling someone a honkey because they smudged your Puma.
In short: Prejudice + Power = Racism.
Unfortunately some do not subscribe to this definition and see racism as any ol’ slanderous thing based on race. Hence the uptick in White folks feeling they are victims of racism despite the fact that our entire system—from the justice department to the financial sector—is set up in their favor.
Moreover, some cannot possibly admit (or grasp) that nearly 150 years after the end of slavery, America still functions on a system of white supremacy—yes, even with a Black man in the White House—that benefits White folks at every turn. But I digress.
I once again found myself in a conversation about why I believe Black folks cannot be racist after E! presenter, Alicia Quarles, came under fire for asking Mindy Kaling what type of men she preferred to date during a red carpet interview at Vanity Fair’s Oscar party.
The 11-second conversation seen ‘round the web went something like this:
Quarles: “Who’s your type?”
Kaling: “What’s my type?….uh, good looking.”
Quarles: “Okay, so any color?”
Kaling: Laughs. “Yeah”
Quarles: “Girl, kiss some Black men on that show.”
Kaling: “Oh, I have and I will. It’s something people can look forward to.”
While the conversation was admittedly awkward, Quarles was immediately slammed on social media and several blogs (uh, including Black ones—solidarity is for who?) for being racist and sexist for asking about Mindy’s type and suggesting she kiss Black men.
Oh the horror!
But here’s the part many people missed in their haste to drop the R-word. Kaling began the chat by saying that most people at the Oscars think, “That’s that girl from that show where she kisses all the white men,” when they see her, so Quarles’ question about Kaling’s real life “type” wasn’t so far fetched in the context of the conversation.
Moreover, Kaling’s show has been roundly criticized by those who wonder why—despite the fact that she’s Indian-America—all of her love interests have been White guys. It’s clearly something the showrunner is concerned about or she wouldn’t have brought kissing white men in the first place, no?
Progressive political blog, PolicyMic, called Quarles’ question “ridiculous,” writing, “The word ‘cringe’ does not begin to describe the latest in the unfortunate racially and sexually charged conversation around the über-talented and gorgeous comedian Mindy Kaling.”
Yeah, they tried it.
We can agree that Quarles could have asked Kaling, who is the writer and producer of her own show, more substantive questions. However, there was nothing racist about their exchange or Quarles’ questions.
Their brief conversation further illustrates the problematic nature of our knee-jerk reaction to label everything we don’t like that remotely deals with race as racist. It’s the same line of thinking that gives Glen Beck the balls to demand President Obama’s birth certificate and insinuate he is an outsider, while simultaneously claiming the President (who’s biracial) is racist against White people. It’s also the same gall that allows Tea Partiers to call Obama the “Food Stamp President,” scream about wanting their country back (umm, from who?), and co-sign Ted Nugent’s nutso rants about Mr. Obama being a “subhuman mongrel,” while claiming their movement isn’t about race, but rather government overreach.
Listen, everything is not racist.
And if we continue to call things racist when they are just mildly offensive, the word will loose all meaning and we’ll be too distracted getting aggravated over every commercial, celebrity, and tweet that we won’t be able to recognize, call out, and fight against truly damaging things when they occur.
Then again, maybe that’s the point.