Is It Racist or Racially Insensitive? A Thread.
(Slide One: Is it racist or racially insensitive? A thread-
(1) Racial insensitivity-
This is the not-totally-racist-but-still-not-great category. Racially insensitive remarks are out of touch and maybe uncomfortable, but not malicious. I experience this more than prejudice and discrimination combined.
This term covers a lot. In this thread, I’m referring specifically to attitudes and beliefs of racial superiority and inferiority. I’m talking about race-based prejudice, discrimination, or hatred being communicated at the individual level.
(3) The root problems-
As I’m describing it, racism is a problem of hatred. Racial insensitivity is a problem of disconnect or apathy. I feel that “racism” is not the most accurate label if there is no prejudice, discrimination, or hatred.
(4) For example-
When I’m randomly asked, “What percentage Black are you?” is it racist? It’s a flippant question, but it doesn’t express inferiority or malice. Potentially uncomfortable? Yes. But harmful? No. So it doesn’t seem fitting to call that racism.
(5) How they’re the same-
Racism and racial insensitivity are related issues. Where racial insensitivity is the norm, racism may be seen as more permissible. We should approach racism and racial insensitivity with proper attention to the core issues.
(6) How they differ-
Racism stems from hatred and aggression. Insensitivity stems from a lack of awareness and disconnect. These are different problems and should be met with different solutions. Hate and apathy are related, but opposites.
(7) The response-
If hatred is holding tightly to contempt, apathy is holding to nothing at all. When someone is wielding hate, the goal is for them to lay it down. When someone is apathetic, the goal is for them to take up compassion.
(8) Why the distinction-
When I only had the hard category of racist or not, every uncomfortable exchange felt like a product of hate. Once I realized how many things are a product of cultural disconnect rather than hate, it was a relief! And my new approach was so much more effective.
It has been incredibly helpful for me to ask myself, “Is this racist or is it racially insensitive? Is this hate or apathy?” And I respond accordingly.
Have you ever had a moment of unintentional racial insensitivity? What did you learn from the interaction? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us in a comment below.
-Your Friends at Undoing Racism