Socially acceptable racism

Insults based on skin color and superficial features ought to be universally condemned. People’s albedo is not an indicator of their character. Still, there’s never a shortage of stupidity and hostility, so people keep doing it. The best we can hope for is that reasonable-minded people will verbally slap them down for it. Among people I care to spend time with, this usually happens.

There’s a disturbing pattern I’ve noticed, though, where people sometimes get away with skin tone-based insults among people who’d usually never let such a thing go by. The common factor is that the ones being insulted are “white.” Bizarrely, the people making the insults usually are too. At the ConChord filk convention, a blithering (light-skinned) idiot whom I won’t name told me libertarians are “privileged white boys.” Others were around to hear it. I immediately broke off the conversation, but I didn’t hear of her taking any other heat for it. I’m pretty sure one person gave her a stern talk in private, though.

Since then I’ve seen similar things, even by people in the filk community, who should be above physiology-based insults. Just recently I saw a post by someone I haven’t met, but who’s associated with filk, where she said that she would not say to a certain person, “Dude, you are so white” and “So white. So cis-straight-able-bodied-UMC-male white. Wow, I bet you’re Christian, too.”

In a comment, I gave her an out, saying it’s OK if unreasonable things pop into your head as long as you know better than to say them. She just dug herself in deeper, claiming her deductions from the person’s skin color were logical. She didn’t seem to think there was any reason not to say those things beyond the obvious consequences to her. I don’t know how much light she reflects, and it doesn’t matter. The problem is the failure of the light bulb inside. There were lots of comments taking her side on other things she wrote, even making pious liberal statements, but none of them addressed the racial insult either positively or negatively. That’s the real problem: not the existence of isolated bozos, but the willingness of people in the community to approve them by selective silence.

To put things in perspective, hostility to the light-skinned is a tiny problem in the US compared to hostility to the dark-skinned. People who hate dark skin don’t read this blog, though. Anyone who even fantasized addressing someone with “So black. So gay-crippled-female black. Wow, I bet you’re Muslim too” in the presence of any of you would be left as an unidentifiable smear on the Internet pavement. But when you say either one, you endorse the other. If you can use the color of people’s skin as a measure of the content of their character, then it all comes down to personal color preference.

In today’s America, being insulted for having a dark skin often carries the pain of humiliation. Being insulted as a “privileged white boy” gave me only the pain of proximity to a jerk. The problem is that one jerk gives encouragement and fuel to another, and if you give a pass to one, you give a pass to all.

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2 Responses to “Socially acceptable racism”

  1. Eyal Mozes Says:


    I would also note that our current administration is working to make skin-tone-based insults acceptable in politics as well. See for example these recent comments by Arne Duncan.

    • Gary McGath Says:

      Duncan seems to be saying that only suburban white people care about the quality of their kids’ education. The article doesn’t say what the “similar things” he’s said before are, unfortunately.

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