Anthony Andrews has a piece on Jane Elliott “the American schoolmarm who would rid us of our racism” in The Observer. Eliot is paid by (presumably institutionally racist) corporations to teach diversity. She encounters some problems in the UK with an exercise:
Elliott tells me it’s “really difficult to get people of colour to play the role of the oppressor during the exercise. It takes a long time and a lot of work to get them to act white”. It’s a curious comment from someone who is supposedly an enemy of racial stereotyping, not least because, as I remind her, the two who refuse to “act white” are in fact white. “Uh-huh, well that doesn’t usually happen. And how many white brown-eyed didn’t walk out?” she asks, as if the fact that some white people stayed was testament to their willingness to play the oppressor.
“Racism is racism wherever you find it. White ignorance is the problem, and we white folks have now managed to export that problem all over the world.”
She’s reluctant to agree at first when I say that the situation has improved. After all, no one could imagine an African-American president 40 years ago. “But we didn’t have the technology we have today,” she retorts, “or the man of that calibre who was used to using the technology. We don’t make history, history makes us.”
If ever there was an argument in favour of accepting the status quo, and therefore against all that she is doing, then that must surely be it. Eventually she relents and agrees that there has been progress and, what’s more, that she thinks it will continue.
“For one thing,” she says, “the main thing, white people are rapidly losing their numerical majority in the United States of America. And so people of colour are going to be the people in positions in power in the future. White people are finally beginning to realise that. Some of them are scared to death.”
There’s a fierce, even admirable, relish in her words, but also the nagging suspicion that she’s more excited by white fear than she is by black success.
Nagging suspicion? Oh, come on. Without wishing to come across as a reactionary conservative stick-in-the-mud, I find this whole all whites are racist guilt trip, well, kind of racist.
What position of power have I ever personally held over non-white people, except by distant economic mechanisms that non-white neighbours and friends are also party to (and which are not primarily race-based, but due to the inequalities in economic systems)?
I’d say none.
Perhaps I am racist and don’t know it, but the thought never crosses my mind to treat non-whites any differently from anybody else. Is there really a part of my brain subconsciously ensuring I give less opportunities to non-whites I work with?
After battling the concept of original sin for 2000 years, we now have to contend with this sort of essentialist tripe?
Isn’t this whole identity politics playing into the hands of racists, by focusing on race rather than treating individuals as the people they are?
Isn’t it time we grew up?