I read way too many internet comments, so I see that many people believe that if we just stop “race baiting” and talking about race, it will disappear.
In case you were confused, racist shit keeps happening because people, usually white (but not always), keep denying it and repressing it, NOT because people keep talking about it.
For example, my friend Sarah was visiting her brother-in-law at Sherwin Williams today, and was shocked and appalled to find this paint sample color:
PLANTATION BROWN, Y’ALL.
Part of the reason systemic anti-black racism is still so deeply ingrained in our society, is because people often have a complete and utter lack of awareness that leads them to believe that certain things like this paint splotch (or Benedict Cumberbatch apologizing after referring to black people as “colored,” or the supreme whiteness of the Oscars or Grammys or whatever) are not racist, offensive, and should not be challenged in any way.
I’ve realized there are certain things that are always seen as “in bounds” in the Offensiveness Department – one such thing being the Holocaust.
For example, I can say with like, 98% certainty, that there is no paint splotch called “Holocaust Gray”.
Why is that?
Well for one, the vast majority of the Holocaust’s victims were technically white. The victims of slavery and Jim Crow were black. And while this may not consciously be the reason why we consistently understand the badness of one, but not the other, it is certainly still the reason. I mean, face it, we’re not great at sympathizing with black victims of violence.
Implicit racial bias is an insidious monster.
For two, when discussing genocide and horrors of the past in schools, for example, the Holocaust is something taught in a very black and white (no pun intended) manner (i.e., Nazis = bad evil devils, their victims = their victims).
This cannot (always) be said for the way we learn about slavery and racism in schools, and how we talk about it in society. As this article from Vox notes about a recent report on lynching during Jim Crow,
“The New York Times’ coverage of a new report on lynchings in American history in a piece published today failed to mention the race of the people who were responsible for these acts.”
Herein lies an example of passive voice being used to protect white people, the perpetrators of racial terrorism and violence, thereby absolving them of wrongdoing. As usual, intent is irrelevant to me; regardless of the conscious intent of the NYT author(s), the impact is still the same.
Have you ever read a factual report about the Holocaust in which we don’t name the perpetrators?
I definitely haven’t.
We, as a society, make the Nazis (and often, unfairly, the Germans) take responsibility for the massive crime that was the Holocaust. But we don’t always do that with Slavery and Jim Crow.
As hard as we may try, Slavery is not something Americans can escape. It is our history. So when I see shit like this paint name, I recognize that there are people who would gladly defend the name of that paint sample. However, remember that our society is not a vacuum – we don’t exist in a space where “plantation” for some reason does not evoke American Slavery, regardless that this word has history prior to and following the institution of Slavery. Just like with the words “plantation” and “slavery,” the word “holocaust” (little h) was a word in use before the (big h) Holocaust, but has since been inextricable from Hitler’s regime.
The point here is not to say that Slavery was worse than the Holocaust; they were both awful human atrocities committed for no reason. The point is that we tend to recognize just how bad the Holocaust was, but are unwilling or unable to always do the same with anti-black racism.