I was sitting in the kitchen at my husband’s friend’s house drinking tea at a last visit, saying goodbye before we moved to another country. He (the friend) said, “where there are black people, there you’ll find prostitution, drug use, assault, and illegal gun sales.” I was immediately infuriated, but I didn’t say anything. I don’t really know this person, he’s one of my husband’s best friends, and it was their last meeting in a long time, possibly ever. Just not the time to get into a discussion on racism, for me to lecture them and react angrily like I wanted to. Also, he provided entertainment at our wedding for free. I had to stifle my emotions and shove them down. The only thing I managed to slip in in that conversation, which was mostly between them, was, “if it bothers you to live near them, you’re going to be bothered anywhere. It doesn’t bother me.” (The conversation was about where we would live.)
But that night I couldn’t sleep. I had so many thoughts I wanted to express, to tell him how wrong he was and how unfair he was being and to shame him by proving that racism is the result of a psychological desire to consider yourself better than someone else. But it was too late. So I’m turning to this blog.
What is racism? I used to think that racism was ignorance. Uneducated people who don’t know any better just let themselves assume the worst about others, because it feels good and “to be on the safe side”. (They don’t know anything about the people they are judging, so they choose a negative judgement just in case.) But these are not ignorant people. They are young, educated people, both of whom have been to the United States and observed life there, including black people. My husband didn’t say anything at the time, but I was just as mad at him because I know he feels the same way. Both these young men are Russian, and Russians are racist. Wait a minute, how can I say that? Am I not judging them prematurely, being a hypocrite? I had to figure that out, too. And I did.
Here is what I came up with in the arguments in my head in the following few days:
First of all, racism is a deep part of Russian culture. It’s fascinating to me to see the contrast of young, smart, educated and well-traveled people being racist anyway because it’s part of their culture. It has all sorts of implications about how deeply one’s culture affects one’s mentalities and view of the world. To say “Russians are racist” is not a judgement, because it’s a fact. It’s not that they choose to be racist, they are trained to think that way from birth. (But they fail to rise above it, too. More on that later.) To say a trait is an element of one’s culture is not racism. For example, Filipinos have a strong culture of not smelling and controlling personal body odor, whereas in other cultures smelling is permitted. Those aren’t racist statements, because they are overall cultural observations.
To say “Americans are fat,” isn’t racism either, because it’s based on fact. To say “all Americans are fat” would be ridiculous because it’s not true. To say “where there are Americans, there are fat people” would be not necessarily true, however likely. But “Americans” are not a race. I believe my husband’s friend’s statement was connected to the color of people’s skin and although he didn’t say it, he implied that they themselves cause and perpetrate these problems, because they are intrinsically a bad people.
If I had started to argue with him, he would have said, “Of course there are exceptions, but…” But what? But most of them are bad. So, a non-criminal black person is the exception to the rule? That’s just crap.
I don’t know statistics, but I would not have tried to argue with him by saying “that’s not true.” Yes, African American communities often suffer from a lot of problems, but these problems have more to do with socio-economic status than with skin tone. When are Russians going to realize that a person’s actions depend not on the “group” that person belongs to, but on the person? To think otherwise is just not logical. That sort of logic is … not logic at all. Not to mention wrong, tacky, primitive and sinful.
A person born in a poor neighborhood or country with limited resources and opportunities is more likely to turn to illegal activities. And why do African Americans suffer from under-privileged socio-economic status? Partly because they are denied opportunities by people in positions of power. Because of racism. It’s a vicious cycle.
So, although he didn’t say anything that is not true, his thinking is all wrong. For example, I could say, “where there are white people, there you’ll find…” and list lots of problems. I could say “Russians,” for that matter! Russian society is plagued with many problems, including alcoholism, drug addiction and selling, prostitution, violent crime such as robbery and assault, hate crimes, high instance of auto collisions (due to alcoholism and stupidity), corruption, domestic abuse, smoking, high instance of cancer and other health problems, due to smoking and not protecting themselves from the sun, lack of resources for the abused, lack of accommodations for the disabled, functional illiteracy, poverty … and racism! And often, human rights violations! Can I say these things about Russian populations in the US? Yes, with the exception of human rights violations, but how should I know? Maybe they’re engaged in human trafficking here in the US, for all I know.
I have yet to meet a Russian who is not racist. (And I have lived there many years and had all sorts of relationships with friends, colleagues, teachers, etc.) They don’t think of themselves as racist, either. They think of themselves as realists, acknowledging the facts. It’s like crazy people don’t know they’re crazy. There’s no sense talking to them. They’ll never see it your way.