When It Comes to the Debate on Racism, Both Liberals and Conservatives Get it Wrong

I have to confess, I absolutely loathe talking about racism. Not because it’s not a topic that needs to be discussed, but because most people really don’t want to have an honest conversation about it. What most people want to do nowadays is simply prove that the other side is wrong. It’s not really about reaching an amicable solution to a problem, it’s about “winning the argument.”

The fact of the matter is, neither liberals or conservatives get it right. The real root of why we don’t get over these racial hurdles lies, at least in my opinion, in how we approach these discussions. A lot of the racism I see isn’t based off skin color, but cultural differences. And we create these cultural differences between ourselves.

Though I’ve never really understood people who talk about their “race’s culture.” When you define yourself specifically by your race, you’re instantly making race the primary factor leading all discussions. When someone says to me, “You’re white, you don’t get black culture” I really have no idea what that means. Aren’t we all humans? Am I not supposed “to get” another human being because they have a different skin color than I do? Isn’t the moment we began to separate ourselves “by our culture” the very moment we begin to separate ourselves into different groups? And the truth is, once we begin to separate ourselves, then there’s no hope for true unity.

I have African-American family members. We all share common interests in music, movies, sports, jokes and television shows. We agree on some issues and disagree on others. Am I not supposed to “get them” just because they’re a different skin color than me? Or what about the African-Americans I know who don’t get the so-called “black culture” either? Some of the African-Americans I know have indeed faced racism – from other African-Americans who have bashed them for “acting too white” or for being “sellouts.” What the hell does that even mean?

I define my culture as an American human – that’s it. I judge people by their actions, not the color of their skin. Good people and bad people alike come in all colors. No behavior, either good or bad, is mutually exclusive to just one race.

Besides, who defines this “culture”? Aren’t black people from Nigeria and Liberia coming from a different culture than a black person born in Mississippi or New York? Isn’t a white person born in Ireland going to have a different culture than one born in Texas? So how is “culture” based on race?

How can we ever even begin to think about coming together as human beings if we’re starting the conversation off by saying “you don’t get my culture” or “your culture is the problem”? Those kinds of statements establish an instant foundation of “we are not all the same.” But isn’t treating each other equally about feeling as if we’re all a part of the same culture? And if so, how can we ever get to that point if we continue dividing ourselves by this supposed “culture”?

Oh, I know, I’m saying this because I suffer from “white privilege.” Yes, liberals, I just love that new catchy phrase you folks are using. I’m white so that instantly dismisses anything I have to say about racism. Because nothing says “let’s have an honest discussion about race so that we can try to bring people together” quite like telling an entire race to sit down and shut up.

But when it comes right down to it, we need to be talking about how to come together as human beings. Not black human beings or white human beings, but just human beings. Though we’ll never do that as long as we continue to segregate ourselves by our own race. The reality is, race is a human-made concoction. If you took a blind person who had never seen colors and asked them to define race, they couldn’t do it. Race is completely based on our own labels we’ve placed upon ourselves and other people.

And as long as we continue to define ourselves by our skin color, we’ll never be able to come together as what we really are – just human beings.

Am I right? Wrong? Hit me up on Twitter or Facebook and let me know, because this is the conversation I think we need to be having as opposed to the petty bickering I usually see play out in these debates.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


Facebook comments

  • “Besides, who defines this “culture”? Aren’t black people from Nigeria and Liberia coming from a different culture than a black person born in Mississippi or New York? Isn’t a white person born in Ireland going to have a different culture than one born in Texas? So how is “culture” based on race?”

    White Supremacy defines it. Please don’t act like we’re not a part of that system and then tell black people they’re inferior for claiming black culture. Very uncouth.

    • DavidD

      Part of what system?
      Did this system just drop from the sky or does it have an economic base to it.
      Liberal guilt politics are a poor tool best fitted for people who want to take on the sins of the world on their backs and then preach to us so they can gain power.
      There is a better way.

      • First of all, I’m not liberal and I have no use for guilt politics, nor for those who cannot think outside of guilt politics. This isn’t about guilt but about identifying reality. We know that race and class are social constructs and both predicated on wealth and power domination – but Marxists would never say that class isn’t a reality, right? That would be foolish and a waste of time and space. So why White Marxists (and White Liberals, and White Moderates) deny the reality of the construct of race and how it is used and understood by White and People of Color? The only ones trying to deny the reality of the construct of class in the US are those who benefit from it and do not want an analysis of it to upend their system.

      • DavidD

        i have no problem with stating that white supremacy is very prevelant in the white working classes.That is self evident.
        My point is that you can deal with it on a personal petit bourgeiose level as indicated by the white skin privilege line and be divisive or deal with it on a working class basis and strive for unity.
        Every time working class white people go off into rascism they cut their own economic throat.

    • Devon Hackwell

      No one, as far as I could see, even hinted at you or any other race being inferior… Except you. Is that the stigma you wish to stick to ‘black’ culture or whatever faction you associate with? In my personal opinion, the one sure fire way to ensure your ‘inferiority’ status is to call it that. And yet once again, aren’t white people from Ireland, Britain etc? Is that not a different culture than that that you so deem dominant in America? Without a doubt there is racism, but I question the depth and negative intention in the human heart. No man MEANS to be evil. We simply make misinformed mistakes. What keeps you and I from making the same mistakes in retribution and perceived equivalency?

  • Chris Cano

    The thing is that while liberals and conservatives do both get things wrong, they tend to get them wrong in different ways, and this article contains views that I often see black writers specifically criticizing liberals for.

    Certainly, a recent immigrant from Nigeria or Liberia comes from a different culture than a black person born and raised in America, but “black culture” isn’t a meaningless term just because it doesn’t reflect the background of all black people. Words in general are imprecise things, and any term falls apart if you scrutinize it closely enough.

    What’s important to understand is that there are many damaging things that are commonly experienced by black people in white-dominated societies, and have been for a long, long time. Being assumed to be unintelligent and lazy. Getting harassed by cops who view them as suspicious for doing things the cops wouldn’t bat an eye at a white person doing. Having most people of their race in fiction falling into a small number of stock character archetypes that are based on stereotypes of black people as a whole.

    There’s many elements to “black culture”, but one aspect of it is that it’s something that has developed within a section of society that has had to deal with these things for generations. It’s distrust and disdain for a system that has abandoned them. It’s telling young black people to put themselves first, because they can’t expect help from others. It’s anger at those who take part in the system, and feeling betrayed by black people who embrace it.

    Sometimes these attitudes can lead to problems themselves (and many black people are critical of them), but the point is that they didn’t arise in a vacuum. The problem with saying that people should be ‘colour-blind’, using statements like “I judge people by their actions, not the color of their skin”, is that it minimizes the very real differences between black and white experiences.

    People *shouldn’t* be judged on the colour of their skin, but the fact of the matter is that people *are*. The way that black people are perceived by society, and the way society continually teaches them to perceive themselves, shapes their experiences. To most black people in our society, race *is* a part of their identity (just not the *only* part), and it’s a part of their identity in a way it isn’t for white people, because our society teaches us to see white as the default race. There’s no idea of “whiteness” that we’re forced to shape our self-image in conformance or opposition to; we have the luxury of just seeing ourselves as people.

    Liberals are perfectly on board with criticizing economic “equality” when it means treating poor people and rich people the exact same way. When it comes to race, though, liberals all too frequently end up thinking that “just treat everybody equally” is the solution. In reality, they’re just making the same mistake that they call out conservatives for making when it comes to economics. Equality is a goal, not a strategy.

    The concept of “white privilege” isn’t supposed to mean that white people aren’t allowed to have opinions or take part in discussions of racism at all. What we should take away from it, as white people, is that we don’t have the personal experience with racism that a black person has. We can still take part in the discussion around racism, but we shouldn’t be at the center of it, and we first need to take the time to familiarize ourselves with what black voices are saying.

  • DavidD

    The white skin privilege line is not new.It was used by peti bourgeoise opportunists liberals in the early 70’s to get what they want and is used now for the same reason.
    The primary goal is to court a constituency that will keep you in personal power by dividing people up against each other.
    If someone is against you then you trot out the accusation just like you would holler witch at Salem to shut your opposition down.
    It is a piss poor political divisive tactic that has more to do with personal power than policy.
    White supremacy among white working class people is a fact.It is something that must be dealt with because the whites are cutting their economic throats when they indulge themselves in it.
    The GOP went down the road in exploiting everthing they can to divide as many people they can a long time ago.Race,sex,xenophobia.faux populist tea party,religion are all gist for the mill and if you feed into that then you might as well be sending them a check every month.
    They have evolved into a fanatical base operation that thrives on chaos,low voter turnout from nihilistic propaganda and general corruption.
    The only thing the common people,those of us who have to workfor wages to survive is numbers.
    To use those numbers we have to have unity of purpose to address the problem of economic inequality that leads to political inequality .