Kemeticism’s race problem
This is probably going to be a series of posts. Think of this one as Racism 101, primarily focused on black experiences since that’s what comes up most in context. I encourage you to seek out the voices of people of color as well, rather than just listening to me, a white person.
There are people within Kemeticism that I respect and like, an uncommon thing indeed considering it’s hard to find respect and like in the same package. But it’s come to my attention that these people sometimes don’t understand one of the biggest issues that dogs the community, that of racism and appropriation. This is often not the fault of the individual, but a lack of education (a privilege), segregated upbringing (still in effect in many parts of the U.S.) and a sense of dismay at receiving abusive comments from Afrocentrists.
However, it is important that we correct this misinformation and ignorance. Because I’m a graduate student working closely with these concepts, I figured that perhaps I could distill the academic language around these matters in to something more accessible, so that we can all engage in Ma’at. (Note: I practice what might be termed modern day Ma’at, which has more to do with things like reducing cruelty, fighting for equality, speaking up against injustice and so forth. I realize that, arguably, this is not what Ma’at meant or how it was practiced in AE. I believe that the gods grow and evolve with the times and with us, so that’s the perspective I will be writing from. If that’s not your cup of milk, no hard feelings).
Another note: I will be talking about U.S. constructions of race and racism primarily, though certain concepts (such as white privilege) are more or less universal thanks to a global tradition of white colonization and genocide.
The first things white people generally stumble over when unpacking the issue of race is the fact that racism is still an active force in the world, that this racism is mostly not evident to people who are classified as white. Further, that being perceived as a white person confers privileges that the white person in question does nothing to earn. These privileges are automatic and have nothing to do with the white person’s individuality or experiences. They simply exist, conferred by a white supremacist world.
Some examples are: as a white person in a position to buy a house, I will be shown properties a person of color will not. As a white person, my intentions will be perceived as good by default (i.e. if I go to unlock my bike it will be assumed I own it, while a black person is assumed to be stealing). As a white person, I will have no problem accessing any space I want, and the odds are I won’t be penalized for doing so. As a white person, if I have to call the cops the overwhelming likelihood is that I will be treated with respect and won’t have to worry about being shot. As a white person, if I happen to speak well, it won’t be treated like an anomaly. As a white person, I am never called on to be the representative for my entire race. As a white person I have the luxury of not thinking about race. There are many more examples, but I encourage you to go out there and read more on this issue so I don’t overwhelm this post with long lists.
Often I hear white people protest at this stage in one of the following ways “I grew up dirt poor. I don’t have white privilege.” Or “I worked for everything I have, ergo I do not have privilege.” And “I have <insert problems here> so how can you say I have privilege?”
Let’s break these down. Intersectionality is, in my mind, one of the most important concepts people can learn. Imagine you are standing at the intersection of several roads. Each of these roads represents a privilege (white, able, middle or upper class, cisgender, straight etc) or an oppression (living below the poverty line, being of color, disabled, transgender etc). Almost everyone has some of each, and how they influence and alter one another is what makes for individual experience. So, in short, if you are poor that is a different intersection from race. You can easily be poor (an oppression) and yet benefit from your white privilege.
This works for everything. I’ll use myself as an example:
College educated, and I was raised by college educated parents.
White (yes even though I am Irish. I’ll get in to that later on)
Age between 18 and 60
Disabled, both visible and invisible disabilities. Disabilities acquired later in life and at birth.
Living below the poverty line.
These are not exhaustive lists, but hopefully they illustrate the point well enough. In this way, I may experience discrimination for being disabled, but I do not have to deal with the complications that being disabled and black would bring.
As to white privilege being invisible to most white people, this is an outgrowth of a socialization process that rewards us for turning a blind eye to inequality. As Peggy McIntosh states in her oft quoted essay White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack, “I was taught to see racism as individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance upon my group” and …[I have been conditioned into oblivion about its existence” (1989).
(Note: I have a copy of this entire article if anyone wants it. Just comment below with your email and I’ll send it over)
Usually at this point, white people feel a high level of defensiveness. Since we’ve been conditioned to see racism as obvious acts of cruelty (cross burning, lynching, no coloreds allowed), we naturally protest. But I am not cruel, we shout. I’m a good person. I would never act in a racist manner. The problem with this is thinking of racism as something only bad or mean people do. While you would probably never commit such lurid acts of hate and intolerance, it’s a guarantee that you participate in racist systems. This does not make you a bad person, if once you identify the issues you then work to dismantle it. No one chooses their privileges, but we can choose what we do about them.
It’s helpful here to introduce the concept of microaggressions. If I take a cheese grater to your hand, the first swipe might only irritate you. The second would be painful but bearable. But a hundred times? Two hundred? That is the harmful power of the microaggression. These are often unspoken, subtle ways of informing someone that they are in the out group. White people touching black people’s hair, and often without even asking, as if black people should not expect basic body autonomy. Having to fill out forms that don’t adequately define or recognize you. Hearing racist jokes that you’re expected to smile along with. White people who think the N word is no different from any other insult and won’t correct their speech even when told otherwise. White people making fun of your name and being more likely to deny you a job if it happens to differ from WASP naming conventions. White people making fun of jewelry or other pieces of clothing that relate to your ethnicity or racial experience.The assumption that you have an obligation to educate white people about your racial experience at a moment’s notice. And so on. This is part of the kind of racism that is the most insidious, because to people who have never experienced it, it often goes unnoticed and unremarked on.
This is a strange example, but have any of you ever been a cashier? You know how when an item won’t scan and the customer invariably says “hehe guess it’s free” ? How annoying is that the fortieth time? And each customer thinks they’re being unique and funny, and it’s not even referencing something as serious as racism.
I hope this post has helped. I will get in to more stuff specific to Kemeticism in the next post. Remember, recognizing racism and how you benefit is not about making you feel guilty. White guilt is useless. Rather, it is a call to action, a wake up call to people who benefit from white supremacist systems so we can collaborate and dismantle unearned privilege. Rather than making you defensive, think of this goal as a good thing. There are costs to white privilege that I believe we should all stop paying. More on that later too!