Culturism, not Racism

07Apr08

I’ve been thinking about Racism for the last few years. A common refrain I hear that condemns racism is that “people shouldn’t be judged because their skin is a different color.”

I want to talk about racism. This is a VERY touchy subject. So please understand, dear reader, that I’m trying to explain what I think is an interesting aspect and cause of “racism.” I think racism is different than we thought it was, and here’s why.

I’ve thought about this, and I think “racial discrimination” is more often what I’ll call “culture discrimination”. I think someone is discriminated against more often based on their culture: the way they talk, accents, idioms, dress, hair, their pop culture knowledge, customs, etc, rather than on their actual skin color.

I think that when people discriminate against someone, it’s more based on those cultural things, and secondarily on skin color.

For example, although Tiger Woods is African American, he seems “White”. He talks with a “white” accent, and dresses in a “white” style, he plays a “white” sport. I don’t mean that I think golf is a white sport, or certain ways of talking are white – I don’t think like this at all. Rather, I think Tiger’s culture seems to align more with the (dominant) “white” culture, more than with what is commonly stereotyped as the “black” culture.

I think because of this, he receives less racial discrimination than does an individual who ascribes to the black culture. Think of other black people who you feel like are “white.” SNL had a skit called the “racial draft” where Tiger and others were drafted into different races. This illustrates the fact that often we, as humans, look at the outside of a person, and specifically at their culture, over their skin color.

Also, I have a personal example. I had an “african american” friend Chris in middle school. He would hang-out with me and a predominantly “white culture” group of friends. There weren’t a lot of black students in my school in San Diego. He was one of the guys, and talked and acted like us. But when we got to highschool he became friends with a group of black guys that all hung-out together, sat on the other side of the quad, and he acted different. He started talking and dressing and acting different, more in-line with the “black” culture, and we didn’t hang-out as much. When we did see each other, it felt awkward.

I picked-up two black guys the other day. I was driving south toward Atlanta, they were walking on the side of the freeway. They needed a ride to Atlanta (about 40 miles past my house). As we were driving down, it felt a little uncomfortable. They spoke differently than me, sometimes I couldn’t understand what they were saying because of their accent (I’m also a little hard of hearing), which made conversation awkward.

Well, I have more to say about this maybe, and more examples perhaps for the future. I’m not trying to be racist, I just think I’ve noticed that I feel awkward with some black people and not with others, and with some hispanic people and not with others, based on how they talk, dress, act. Therefore, I feel that racism is not based on skin color as much as it is on how different someone’s culture is from my own. I feel we don’t recognize this enough in the conversation.

What do you think? Is racism more about cultural discrimination, than skin color? Examples?

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6 Responses to “Culturism, not Racism”

  1. interesting take on this subject

  2. 2 jessephillips

    I hope I wasn’t offensive to you – I can’t tell from your comment. I feel that there is a huge cultural aspect to racism that is not being discussed, that should be. I really believe it’s a misnomer or red herring to say that racism is simply judging people by the color of their skin. I feel that if we explored the culture side more, we could potentially develop a more full understanding of the problem and therefore address it more holistically and effectively.

    What do you think?

  3. Let the conversation continue!! 🙂

  4. Cool,

    I hypothesize that the differences between “White” and “African American” cultures are largely the reason for “racism” in this country. What do you think of the idea that folks like Tiger Woods and Barak Obama have an easier time (receive less racism?) in White circles because they talk and dress “White”? I apologize if this is offensive, I certainly don’t mean it to be.

  5. People tend to tolerate others if they dress or talk like them.
    How would whites react if Tiger couldn’t play golf or if Barack was just a janitor?

  6. Oooh, good point. Probably not as favorably.

    Here’s where I’m coming from: I find that it’s easier for me to interact with African Americans who dress and talk like me (my friend Asher). For me, it feels more comfortable. It was more difficult with Emerson – who I lived with for a while. Although we interact, it’s less comfortable, not as natural, I feel like I have to talk different.

    Similarly, with my asian friends when I was in college. The very-asian guys and groups were difficult for me to feel comfortable in – I felt like an outsider. But with my asian friends that talked like me and had similar (outward) culture, it was easier, more comfortable and natural.

    So I propose that this cultural difference factor plays a large role in racism. Does this ring true to you at all? What do you think?


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