Stop Being “Shocked” by “Isms”

By Love Isn’t Enough Co-Editor Tami; Originally published at What Tami Said.

I’ve been following online coverage of the idiot UCLA student (Reportedly one Amanda Wallace) who posted a racist video to You Tube lamenting the existence of Asian students in the university library. It was an ugly, ignorant and utterly unaware display of privilege and race bias, complete with attempts to mimic Asian languages.

I’m not posting the video on my site. The fool that created it has gotten enough attention. Trust me: It was pretty much utterly mundane racism of the variety people of color encounter all the time. I went to college in the late 80s/early 90s and I encountered many of the same attitudes from fellow students on my Midwestern campus. The only difference was that You Tube didn’t exist. If Wallace’s video is merely garden variety racist assholery, why then are so many folks referring to the video as “shocking”?On Jezebel, in a post titled “College Girl’s Unbelievably Racist Video Rant,” Anna North says, “That Wallace (or whoever she is) thought nothing of sharing her racist views with the world via YouTube is a little shocking…” UCLA’s The Daily Bruin, in an article about violent, sexist and racist response to the video, called that “far more shocking” than the video itself.

Across the pond, and regarding a far more serious issue, a 2010 New Statesman article reports the “shocking racial inequality” revealed by the report, How Fair is Britain.

“Shocking” may simply be a benign word choice–an editorial decision designed to spice up a headline. I use a fair amount of hyperbole here. I understand. But it’s not just in the media that I hear about the “shocking” nature of racism. I hear it from regular folk, too. A friend (a white woman) who did some Democratic political canvassing here in our red state was genuinely taken aback at the level of naked racism she encountered. I wasn’t and I told her so.

Words have meaning. And I think the repeated framing of modern racism and other “isms” as surprising reflects a mainstream belief that these things really don’t exist anymore.

I also suspect that some people play up their shock at injustice as an attempted signal that they do not share bigoted views. “I am just so shocked that California Prop 8 passed!” means “See, I love gays and lesbians and can’t even wrap my head around the notion that other folks may discriminate against them.” I get wanting to separate yourself from hatred. But please–STOP. It makes me itch, particularly every time someone claims surprise at racial injustice to me–a black woman.

I get that few understand “isms” like marginalized people. For instance, a woman who has climbed her way to the top of the corporate ladder has a unique understanding of modern sexism in the workplace that a man may not. But, for God’s sake pay attention! You needn’t be victim to oppression to know it exists. I submit that if you are truly shocked in the face of racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia and other injustices, then you are as big a problem as the perpetrators of same. Because people who persist in being unaware of “isms” create an environment where ridiculous people like Amanda Wallace and, more importantly, people with far greater power and influence can conduct their bigotry unchallenged.

Photo credit: cobalta

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