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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
I'm a white male, and recently I was working with a young Chinese man (race isn't important but its important to this story), and he asked me about my background. I told him my background was Scottish and Russian, the two extreme sides of white.
His reply

"oh, so you're nothing then?".

It gave me pause, the fellow is the sort of guy who doesn't mitigate his mouth well but it still got me wondering. Russian and Scottish are both very storied cultures with amazing histories of their own.



Was his comment racist?

Edit: The guy is probably about 21, and came to Canada fairly young. He may even have been born here, I'll ask him next time I get a chance for clarification.
 

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it was ignorant

i wouldve been interested in knowing what he meant by nothing

i know some people group caucasian people under the umbrella of white when that can include a wide gradient of distinctly different cultures ..i once dated a girl who was macedonian but everyone just called her white and completely wrote off her unique heritage

..im black though so i have very low expectations when it comes race related friction in conversations
 

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I believe his comment was ignorant, but I don't believe it was racist or discriminatory.

I'm speaking from a Western, North American, visibly white perspective. I don't believe there is such a thing as "reverse racism" or that you can be racist towards people who are white. Racism is about political power over, and historically white people have held those positions of power (speaking in broad terms here because I know some folks who are visibly white are not, and do not identify that way). An institutionalized pattern of discrimination based on beliefs and assumptions about a group of people based on race is racism, and these institutionalized patterns make it culturally acceptable to treat people in discriminatory ways based on valueless characteristics. This has not happened to white people on any kind of large scale but continues to happen to many people of colour. Racism is created by prejudice+discrimination+power; power that people of colour haven't typically held. People of colour lack a system of institutionalized support to protect them when they discriminate against white people. You need to take the historical context and power structures into account when considering racism.

I can see this is NOT what you're talking about, but it's been my experience that when white people complain of being treated "wrong" because of their "race" (I say "race" because whiteness is certainly considered the default norm) it's usually because their own white privileges are being challenged.
 

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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
The universe doesn't make people white and then throw in a little Mrs Dash for color. We are all people.

I should note that I am Canadian so my racial experience differs profoundly from those in the United States.

The following argument is equal parts devil's advocate, and genuine concerns.

The fact that you consider white to be the default norm, despite being a minority ethnically on a global scale and even approaching on the North American scale now, supports my position that the viewpoint on white people is a political one not one rooted in real understandings.

There is no such thing as reverse racism because racism is racism. If you consider being Asian, or Black, or any other color to be a race, you therefore must consider being white to be a race. Its logical consistency. If you cherry pick where you use that logic based on the strength it gives you in the argument at hand then you don't really care about racial equality, just advantages. Not having a specific color pigment to my skin doesn't make me part of a homogenous group. It also doesn't tie me to people who share that lighter skin tone just because we share that skin tone. I acknowledge that some groups of people, who happen to be white, are very advantaged and privileged in their positions. I am not one of them, and if you wish to challenge their position of privilege I will support that assault because I too think it is unfair and invalid. I just wish every assault on them was not also for some reason an assault on me. There are similar imbalances of power throughout the world in many nations, and the groups with those advantages differ widely in race. Those power groups share more in common with the powerful white than I do.

I'm sorry but racism is not about political power, it is about a kind of thinking. It is about dismissing concerns or arguments based on someones race. It is about type casting people based on their race regardless of what that race is. Logical consistency demands it, otherwise we are just doomed to repeat our mistakes over and over again.

Political racism is what you are talking about and I agree with your definition there, but making the institutionalized argument is weak in its own right. I could argue that there is institutionalized racism against white people simply because we are not treated as a race where others are institutionally, yet we are lumped together politically. An argument of convenience is a lie. To say everyone here gets their own group, oh except white people you all stand over there, is by definition discrimination based on the color of my skin. I have very little in common with other white people whose backgrounds, and cultural traditions, and economic position, vary profoundly from my own. To say that white people as a race have an indefensible position because other white people are in power is itself racism, it is defining the position of an enormously disparate group of people based on the positions of a handful of people who share their color.

Argument finished.

I will say I agree with you though, I don't think the kid who said that to me was being racist, just profoundly ignorant. But that ignorance comes from a societal viewpoint about white people, and race, that is still based in ignorance. I'm not white, I'm Scottish and Russian, and as different from other white people as they are from any other race. I am not a default position, I am not vanilla.

I want to live in a world where the color of other peoples skin doesn't matter, and I strive to live in that world. It is simply frustrating that I must face a double standard where I choose not to notice their skin tone, but they are free to notice mine.
 

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i wouldve been interested in knowing what he meant by nothing
Me too. That, to me, sounds more like a confused/ignorant response than a racist one.

Edit: Background seems like what is important to this story, @Mountainshepherd . Is English his native language? Where was he raised, under what culture, and how deeply does it influence his thinking?
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I believe he came to Canada fairly young, he tried to talk to me about early Pokemon which suggests he's been here at least 10 years and he's probably about 21.
 

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It's not that mind-boggling. I constantly refer to myself as "nothing". Let's see. I was born in Hong Kong, raised in China (two very distinct cultures, I assure you, though outsiders might think we look the same), and educated as an American. I'm not really sure what I am and I can't give a shit about that anyway. It doesn't matter. My unique experiences made me- me. Short of giving extremely cliched answers like "I'm a citizen of the world" or a shitty one like "I'm me", I'll just say: I'm from nowhere in particular.
 

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It's not that mind-boggling. I constantly refer to myself as "nothing". Let's see. I was born in Hong Kong, raised in China (two very distinct cultures, I assure you, though outsiders might think we look the same), and educated as an American. I'm not really sure what I am and I can't give a shit about that anyway. It doesn't matter. My unique experiences made me- me. Short of giving extremely cliched answers like "I'm a citizen of the world" or a shitty one like "I'm me", I'll just say: I'm from nowhere in particular.
This doesn't make you nothing.

Here, I'll restate:

Nothing is a judgement that (maybe inadvertently, in this case, but truly) reaches a lot deeper than simply race. By what standard can you legitimately call a person nothing, especially if you don't know a fair share about their individual life and mind?
 

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This doesn't make you nothing.

Here, I'll restate:

Nothing is a judgement that (maybe inadvertently, in this case, but truly) reaches a lot deeper than simply race. By what standard can you legitimately call a person nothing, especially if you don't know a fair share about their individual life and mind?
It doesn't make me nothing. It's just what I say. I'm just offering one interpretation. Especially if he's a young CHINESE man, there are certain idiosyncracies to the language you're not understanding if you don't know Chinese. I bet if he said that in Chinese he would've said: 什么都不是. Especially if he's not very proficient in English, he could have translated that to be "nothing", but in Chinese the connotation is actually "nothing/nowhere in particular". Non-native speakers frequently use many direct translation that completely destroys the connotation and as a result sounds slightly odd, an to say someone is "nothing" in English is actually idiomatic to English. Even if you say the exact same thing in Chinese, it would not have been nearly as insulting. There is no such noun as "nothing" in Chinese- it's almost always translated into a short phrase (there are several that work, but I'm going to stick to a common one). If you say "I have nothing" in Chinese, you would direct- translate that into "I anything no have", which is more appropriately "I don't have anything". Surely you can perceive the difference in connotation, even in translation, between "not anything" and "nothing".
 

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I bet if he said that in Chinese he would've said: 什么都不是. Especially if he's not very proficient in English, he could have translated that to be "nothing", but in Chinese the connotation is actually "nothing/nowhere in particular". Non-native speakers frequently use many direct translation that completely destroys the connotation and as a result sounds slightly odd.
That does make sense.

I wasn't aware that phrase had a connotation. I probably need to hone my Chinese skills by..you know, talking to actual Chinese people.. >_>
 

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Discussion Starter #13
That's an intriguing possibility. He seems to speak English well though, and has a general flippancy which leans me towards poor judgement rather than language barrier.

He asked me what am I, and he replied to my answer that it was nothing. He was looking for my race as a topic of conversation as he lead it on that topic after.
 

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Maybe it was meant to be a joke or something, the two extreme sides of white kind of even each other out. Like plus one minus one equals zero.

And saying white people can't be victims of racism is one of the most stupid things I've ever heard.
 

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The universe doesn't make people white and then throw in a little Mrs Dash for color. We are all people.

I should note that I am Canadian so my racial experience differs profoundly from those in the United States.
I agree - in reality and biologically speaking, there is no significant difference between people of different races. However in societal and cultural terms, there's a vast difference.

The fact that you consider white to be the default norm, despite being a minority ethnically on a global scale and even approaching on the North American scale now, supports my position that the viewpoint on white people is a political one not one rooted in real understandings.
I agree, it is a political one. I don't consider white to be the default norm in reality but most of mainstream, western society does (I am also Canadian) even if they never implicitly state it.

There is no such thing as reverse racism because racism is racism. If you consider being Asian, or Black, or any other color to be a race, you therefore must consider being white to be a race. Its logical consistency...Not having a specific color pigment to my skin doesn't make me part of a homogenous group. It also doesn't tie me to people who share that lighter skin tone just because we share that skin tone. I acknowledge that some groups of people, who happen to be white, are very advantaged and privileged in their positions. I am not one of them, and if you wish to challenge their position of privilege I will support that assault because I too think it is unfair and invalid. I just wish every assault on them was not also for some reason an assault on me.
The reason I do not consider white to be a race the same way I consider people of colour (be it asian, south american, aboriginal, black, middle eastern, etc) is because it does not have the same historical and political connotations tied to it. You're speaking in very black and white terms without giving any value to an extremely troubling world history. Yes, technically speaking "white" is a race - but it has traditionally been seen as "normal", "better than", and having "power over".

Just to make sure I understand, are you saying that just because you are white doesn't mean you should be lumped in with other white people who are advantaged and privileged - and should therefore not have to be included in their grouping when they're being called out about power and privilege?

I think people have a misunderstanding of what privilege means - admitting you have privilege isn't a bad thing. It's just the reality for most of us. Some of the ways I'm privileged even though i wish I wasn't:
-visibly white privileged, for example, I don't have to worry that other people will think I got my job because of my race
-visibly heterosexual (despite not identifying as hetero) privileged, I can kiss my male partner in public and be reasonably sure I won't be a target of violence because of it
-middle class privilege, I was able to live rent free with my parents until I was in my early twenties
-two-parent stable household privilege, I grew up with a lot of emotional, financial, and mental health support
-able-bodied privileged (despite having an invisible disability), I don't have to consider how I will get to, from, and inside most places because I can do so with relatively little difficulty
-university educated privileged, I can be reasonably sure I won't be judged on a lack of "legitimate" education
-full time job privileged, I can live without a budget and not have to worry about my every day expenses
-cisgender privileged, I can be reasonably sure no one will ever ask me if I'm a "real" woman because they find my gender too ambiguous.

Is it completely disgusting that I'm afforded all this privilege simply because of where/when/who i was born to? Yes. Do I still experience privilege because of these things. Yes. Admitting privilege is a really important step in acknowledging some of the inequalities in our society. Admitting you have privilege doesn't make you a bad person. It makes you informed and aware of what you can do to change things.

Here's a link to some of the ways many of us are white privileged, myself included. This doesn't mean I approve of or even want this extra privilege, but because of the society and culture we live in, it's automatically been placed on me - sometimes just from how I look alone. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh

There are similar imbalances of power throughout the world in many nations, and the groups with those advantages differ widely in race. Those power groups share more in common with the powerful white than I do.
I agree - in reality, this is what the world is really like. Abilities aren't tied to race (or other factors), but the perception is (even for many people who say they don't believe this) that it is. The perception is all white people have more power, and all aboriginal people are dirty, lazy drunks. It's not true, but it's what gets passed on and on. That's what racism is - but like I say below, I think we're working from two different definitions of racism.

If you cherry pick where you use that logic based on the strength it gives you in the argument at hand then you don't really care about racial equality, just advantages.
I didn't really understand what you meant by this statement - If I "choose" to not consider whiteness a race (in regards to racism) I only care about advantages? Advantages for who...

It seems we're working from two different definitions of racism. Racism as I have seen it defined in a community and "ivory tower" perspective, is not simply about race (being the colour of your skin) - it is about socio-cultural historical oppression and I don't think you can have a very informed or realistic discussion without taking those things into account.

I'm sorry but racism is not about political power, it is about a kind of thinking. It is about dismissing concerns or arguments based on someones race. It is about type casting people based on their race regardless of what that race is. Logical consistency demands it, otherwise we are just doomed to repeat our mistakes over and over again.
Could you clarify what you mean in bold? I was unclear what mistakes you refer to.

Political racism is what you are talking about and I agree with your definition there, but making the institutionalized argument is weak in its own right. I could argue that there is institutionalized racism against white people simply because we are not treated as a race where others are institutionally, yet we are lumped together politically. An argument of convenience is a lie. To say everyone here gets their own group, oh except white people you all stand over there, is by definition discrimination based on the color of my skin. I have very little in common with other white people whose backgrounds, and cultural traditions, and economic position, vary profoundly from my own. To say that white people as a race have an indefensible position because other white people are in power is itself racism, it is defining the position of an enormously disparate group of people based on the positions of a handful of people who share their color.
I think the fact you say we're not treated as a race institutionally while others are says it all - we are not treated as a race because we are seen as "normal", the default. Politically, people do lump all white folks, or all black folks, or all aboriginal folks together - the difference is two out of three of those groups have a long historical and cultural context or oppression and assimilation that created racism. There is no "affirmative action for white folks" because there doesn't need to be (although Affirmative action has other issues and it's not something that's used in Canada...) - those kind of programs began because people of colour were being discriminated against based on their race, while white people were being privileged, because of their race.

To say that because there aren't those kind of programs for white people, it's racist, is really just another way for white people to take back power they feel they've lost because there was an attempt to "level the playing field". These types of programs don't exist for white people because they're not needed. You can look at a myriad of studies and historical context as evidence of this.

There are however, programs for low income people (of any race), for disabled people, for aboriginal women (and many many more things) - because again, these people have been disproportionately discriminated and dismissed as not being able to do the same things "regular" people can.

I am not a default position, I am not vanilla.
And no one should be considered so, but the fact is, many people will see you that way. Hence the problem with racism and privilege - people who have privilege are barely able to admit they actually have it, let alone figure out ways to counter this imbalance in power. And until that happens, racism and discrimination will continue to be perpetuated.

I want to live in a world where the color of other peoples skin doesn't matter, and I strive to live in that world. It is simply frustrating that I must face a double standard where I choose not to notice their skin tone, but they are free to notice mine.
This would be a lovely world to live in, but now there's so much historical context to consider that we can't just suddenly say "race is irrelivent" because it erases the struggles, oppression, and issues many people are still dealing with today (for example, Aboriginal people and residential schools - this is something that is still affecting very many people today and it's not something that happened a hundred years ago, the last school only closed in 1996). You can't ignore a history and culture that is still dealing with many of the problems it created.

Rather than trying to become "colourblind", we need to hear and respect what people are saying instead of pretending that our history has made no difference. Biologically, black, white, aboriginal - we're all essentially the same. Culturally, we are often coming from very different places.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Are you aware that the disparate people's of the British Isles have been invaded numerous times by numerous other cultures throughout history? They have also been enslaved, serfed, killed, raped, and culturally destroyed on more than one occasion. English is such a flexible language in part because it has been captured and destroyed and reformed so often by many different cultures. We know absolutely nothing about what a druid really was or the culture of those islands pre-christianity because that culture was destroyed by another group. One part of my background is from that destroyed culture, there is an entire cultural heritage that is lost to me, the origin of my own people, because another group desired to wipe out their viewpoint. It was religious persecution but it was persecution none the less.

Neither of the cultural legacies were Christian nations with Christian practices, that was brought upon them by forces on the outside who forbid our beliefs and practices.

The argument that culturally white people haven't been uprooted, or haven't had their heritage torn from them is historically quite incorrect.
 

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Are you aware that the disparate people's of the British Isles have been invaded numerous times by numerous other cultures throughout history? They have also been enslaved, serfed, killed, raped, and culturally destroyed on more than one occasion. English is such a flexible language in part because it has been captured and destroyed and reformed so often by many different cultures. We know absolutely nothing about what a druid really was or the culture of those islands pre-christianity because that culture was destroyed by another group. One part of my background is from that destroyed culture, there is an entire cultural heritage that is lost to me, the origin of my own people, because another group desired to wipe out their viewpoint. It was religious persecution but it was persecution none the less.

Neither of the cultural legacies were Christian nations with Christian practices, that was brought upon them by forces on the outside who forbid our beliefs and practices.

The argument that culturally white people haven't been uprooted, or haven't had their heritage torn from them is historically quite incorrect.
Yes, but again, that was not based on race (meaning skin colour) and isn't relevant to a discussion on racism.

I never said white people haven't been uprooted, or haven't had their heritage torn from them and I did not imply any such thing above.

Have bad things happened to white people and white cultural groups? Yes. The difference with what we're discussing and the example you just gave is that in issues with race it has historically been white people who have practiced power over other racial groups and this practice has become ingrained as normal and natural.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Now you're drawing lines in the sand, cultural oppression is the crux of the argument against racism.

I am aware you didn't say it, but the weight your giving certain arguments becomes imbalanced because you are ignoring that fact.

I also disagree with you "because they're not needed statement", you really can't say that you really don't know the facts well enough to do so. Advantage to any group in imbalance will perpetuate imbalance. Help all in a certain situation, not all with a certain color.
 

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*6 pops in*

I'm in the "it's not racist, just ignorant" camp. It's more of a reflection that people see whites (even whites themselves) as culturally homogenous when they are not combined with white being the "default" race in North America.
 

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Now you're drawing lines in the sand, cultural oppression is the crux of the argument against racism.

I am aware you didn't say it, but the weight your giving certain arguments becomes imbalanced because you are ignoring that fact.

I also disagree with you "because they're not needed statement", you really can't say that you really don't know the facts well enough to do so. Advantage to any group in imbalance will perpetuate imbalance. Help all in a certain situation, not all with a certain color.
I would really really appreciate it if you would go back and respond to my post the way I respond to yours, so I can be clear about what it is you have an issue with.

From what I understood, we are discussing racism, that being, oppression of a group due to the colour of their skin. I have not been discussing cultural discrimination. I separate the two because I believe they are two very different things.

The reason I say your example doesn't apply to our discussion is because I am talking about colour of skin. I cannot think of a single example where a dominant group of people of colour had power over an oppressed group of white people. There are many examples of the reverse.

Although in your example, you're speaking of two culturally distinct groups, I am speaking of two groups culturally distinct groups with different skin colour.

I say "it's not needed" because there is no substantive study citing a need for affirmative action for white people, or that white people are disproportionately discriminated out of jobs or homes, etc, or that they suffer racial discrimination. If you have seen evidence of this that isn't anecdotal I'd be more than happy to read it, honestly. White people DO suffer from discrimination but it's not for the colour of their skin except in rare cases (not on a systemic societal basis), and if a person of colour does discriminate a white person for being white, it doesn't hold the same cultural power as when a white person makes a racial slur to a person of colour - historically and still in many ways, the white people have implied power over people of colour.

I'm not saying people of colour never do bad things, or can't oppress, or can't have power over others - the same as white people can be extremely oppressed in many different ways either than race - I'm just saying when we're talking about racism, in a very real, sociological way that has many years of studies to back it up, people of colour as a group have not had the same power as white people as a group.
 
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