Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Tyrone Forman wrote a wonderful article* examining the discursive strategies white college students use to distance themselves from racism, while still blaming people of color for their own disadvantage or being, straightforwardly, racist. Among other strategies, they noted that these students would often preface their comments with the phrase “I am not a racist but…”
We’ve documented this strategy before with a series of PostSecret confessions and we certainly saw it used by UCLA’s Alexandra Wallace in her famous anti-Asian rant. Now Karen alerted me to a new blog collecting instances of this type of language on Facebook, titled simply I’m Not Racist But… It’s pretty stunning what often follows. Here are some examples (trigger warning for, um, some seriously racist talk):
That was just a selection from the first two pages. They are lots more. In a similar vein, you might visit our post about racist tweets and updates after the tsunami hit Japan.
* Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo & Tyrone A. Forman. 2000. ‘I am not a racist but…’: Mapping White college students’ racial ideology in the USA. Discourse and Society 11, 1: 50-85.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Andie — May 30, 2011
... as they say, if you find yourself saying "I'm not racist (sexist, homophobic etc) but.." then you may want to just stop yourself right there.
Rachel @ Last Res0rt — May 30, 2011
Tangent: There's such a thing as "American food"? Unless you're referring to the general American "impulse" to load everything in fat and sugar...
Eneya — May 30, 2011
I can't stop laughing when I read about "there will be no American food left".
Sorry, it's just too funny to miss. :)
stinkfoot — May 30, 2011
"does that sound righht to u, a america without hamburgers? of course not! so vote republican"
It has to be said: some people are just dumb.
Kutsuwamushi — May 30, 2011
It's like they understand the stigma of being labeled a racist, but they have no idea what racism actually is. The most important thing to them is being avoided being called a word, not avoiding being racist. Depressing.
I wish there was someone replying to all these saying "No, that actually is racist."
Boner Killer — May 30, 2011
I can barely contain the rage I feel - all of these people have SO much hate. This is disgusting. I see there are countless groups named this on facebook and I guess on Tumblr, too. Disgusting!!
a — May 30, 2011
man trigger warnings are obnoxious when you use them every other post. what is the premise here? that people saying racist things will trigger some kind of horrible flashback and scar your readers permanently? that your readers aren't mature enough to control their emotions and deal with the world? stop crying wolf over every piece of objectionable material you post.
Joe — May 30, 2011
I often wonder what these people think actually does qualify as racist. Like, is it necessary to be a registered member of a hate group to count as racist? Do they think they're not racist because they don't spend every moment of the day hating other races? I guess they don't feel that racial hatred/unease defines their character, so they can't be racists.
Wasn't there a post here once about how the most constructive way to address comments like these it to say "What you just said is racist," rather than "You are a racist."
akhila — May 30, 2011
Wow, as someone else said these students realize that there's something wrong with being racist so they don't want to be labeled as racist... but they don't realize what they are saying is BLATANTLY racist. Sigh. So ridiculous.
KD — May 30, 2011
While I'm not going to defend anything these people have written, these types of ignorant statements are fairly common among a diverse array of age groups, genders, orientations, etc. I'm having a hard time trying to understand how singling out white college students for this type of behavior is any less offensive than the statements they've made.
How about we take a look at the discursive strategies employed by many social scientists to disguise their seething hatred of white men and western culture as a body of knowledge.
Philip Cohen — May 30, 2011
"I am not a racist. against every form of racism and segregation, every form of discrimination." --Malcolm ("No 'but...'") X
Philip Cohen — May 30, 2011
"I am not a racist. I am against every form of racism and segregation, every form of discrimination." --Malcolm ("No 'but...'") X
syd — May 30, 2011
LOL at the idea that this is something unique to college students. Lisa, Eduardo, Tyrone....they didn't make it up spontaneously, they got it from YOUR generation. The white people alive today in their middle and later years KNOW racism is wrong, but are so deeply entrenched in the idea that they, as white Americans, deserve everything, and if nonwhites have more than voting laws on their side, they're having what they deserve taken away. They saw that in the Civil Rights and Black Power eras, racists were punished, and they lost their fight. However, racism was never explained to them, and they were raised and reared by people who undeniably WERE racists. They pick up the same racist ideals, but preface it because superficially, they learned "racism is bad." And, lo and behold, they teach it to their kids, who are now about old enough to teach it to THEIR kids. This is a problem that, even if we remove racism from the equation, seems to be pretty pervasive: middle aged and older people pointing out what the younger generation is doing wrong, without realizing that they are the ones who TAUGHT the younger generation wrong. Well, now it's too late, they're adults. Hopefully some of them will realize the errors of their ways from other life experiences (because parenting and pre-collegiate teaching never taught them crap), but most of them won't. And it's never going to hurt THEM. It's going to hurt us "bad-driving blacks" and "burrito stand-owning Mexicans" and "loud-talking library Asians." You've taught them that the 60s were the end of racism and racism is all burning crosses in white sheets, and so they bring racism back into fashion in full force, yet can't understand why nonwhite people complain about racism.
For the record, I hear this line a lot more from middle aged, middle class people than college students (and I hear it plenty from college students).
shykate — May 30, 2011
Also for your viewing pleasure/anger: http://notsexistbut.tumblr.com/
Alisha — May 30, 2011
Chorda — May 30, 2011
There seems to have been some confusion in the comments here because of your intro about Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Tyrone Forman's article, Lisa. It looks like people have conflated the observations about white college students and assumed the Tumblr is also about such a group.
The Tumblr is not exclusively about white college students. There are people of diverse ages and education levels represented, of diverse ethnic background. It is primarily whites against POC, but I have also seen POC making comments about their own ethnic groups or other marginalized people, as well as against whites. There is no specific "slant" to the Tumblr. It's simply a collection of people denying racism while also making biased remarks, regardless of their own background. I have seen posts from people across the globe, representing many different ethnic groups.
In the United States, the racism of whites is more damaging because of institutionalized racism. White privilege enables people to blind themselves to the extent of this. This is why white privilege and the racism of whites is so frequently discussed. It's not the only form of bias, however. There is unfortunately a lot of strife against different marginalized groups, as well as internalized hate. The Tumblr simply reports statements made on Facebook. It's not trying to single out any one group.
Jane — May 30, 2011
Most Social Scientists are "White men"
ds — May 30, 2011
I'm not racist, but white people often are racists that excuse their racism starting their phrases with "I'm not racist but...".
Jenn93 — May 30, 2011
Holy hell! "I'm not racist or anything, but I have a terribly hurtful opinion that completely fits the definition of racism."
Some people are really dumb.
your name — May 30, 2011
Yes racism=discrimination+power white people can be victims of racism but the enjoy so much privilege that it more than mitigates it. 6_6
Katherine — May 31, 2011
"I'm not a racist but" translates to "I am not the most racist person I know".
Jo — May 31, 2011
Why do folk have problems with trigger warnings but not pedestrian crossing signs? "If you use that pedestrian crossing sign outside EVERY school, its meaning will become diluted and invalid..." Fact is, and I'm hating on myself for using that phrase, fact is, we all have different experiences, but it becomes easier to identify triggers as racist, homophobic, mysogygnistic - that don't mean we're overusing the trigger sign. It means the triggers are being overused.
Yrro — May 31, 2011
I think it actually points to an interesting problem in discourse - being labelled racist is (rightly) stigmatizing, but it's just as much of a stigma no matter how far you take it. It doesn't matter if they complain about asian people "talking funny" or if they refuse to hire asians - the label applied to them and the stigma that goes along with it is the same.
The "I'm not racist, but.." label seems to exist when people have racist opinions, but they don't personally think that they impact how they actually treat people - they don't think that minority groups shouldn't have equal rights, or vote, or be able to live where they want. They might not even want to actually offend the people, and they may know several individual people that they get along with well...
So... it's still wrong... it's still racist... but should we really look at those people the same way we do someone who acts on those opinions? ie, ignore everything else they ever have to say, because obviously they're just a stupid racist (this seems to be a common theme with politicians, at least).
Is everyone who has some racist opinions "a racist"? ... essentially they're constructing multiple levels of badness where we are not recognizing more than one.
Bill Angel — May 31, 2011
Would this statement also fit?
(Sept 21, 2010) – Speaking to reporters in New York Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed he was anti-Zionist, but “not anti-Semitic.”
Sisi — May 31, 2011
I don't want to sound like a total racist or anything... but it seems that white people cannot spell, or use punctuation.
Anonymous — May 31, 2011
Peace, I read and rereade these comments and what I'm going to do is say what a lot of people are afraid to say or admit. I grew up in Baltimore in the early late fifties and sixties. It was extremely racist. Actually it is still the same except some people have changed their opinions of blacks or wehites. I personally don't believe we have accomplished enough in the areas that need attention. I personally still have alot of hatred for certain types of White people after they identify themselves. See I am not dazzled by material accomplishments of black folk,that was and is not where the basis of our problems lay. It always has been real equality and always will be. Until we do some things in that area it still is a game. White people trying hard not to be identifyed as a rascist and Blacks doing the same. These issues have not been dealt with. People still feel the same. Most of us don't no why we hate each other but we do. There is to much evidence to support my claim. We go thru to much trying to prove that we are not rascist while the cameras are on . Yet those conversations when the cameras are off is the one. Change ? What ? Where we can live or shop or go to school? We are worst off now than before because most of you are so afraid of what people will think about what you really feel you are becoming even more cowards. I said it. Peace.
Mickey Lee — May 31, 2011
I forget to place my name
Michelle — May 31, 2011
It's interesting that those making the comments have appalling grammar...
Terrie — May 31, 2011
Every time I hear "I'm not racist (or sexist or whateverist), but..." I immediately finish the sentence with "I'm about to say something really stupid and offensive."
Sociology and the “real world” « Memoirs of a SLACer — May 31, 2011
[...] world” of business. Similarly, somebody may justify a racist statement by noting that it is grounded in “real world” interaction with members of the racial group in question. In each case, individuals privilege their own [...]
LadyNews » Blog Archive » MOAR LINKS - Information in bite-sized pieces for the feeble ladybrain — May 31, 2011
[...] Sociological Images (a great site in general): I’m not racist, but… , which catalogues some instances of [...]
jill — May 31, 2011
I think those comments are AMAAZZZZZZZIng and TRUE
why is truth racism
more black men committ crimes than white men
More asians are in car accidents than american caucasians
why is fact racist??
they are not
so sick of this BS
Hatred V: Counterintelligence « Unamusement Park — June 5, 2011
[...] Wednesday evening, the battle had spread to the nearby town of I’m-Not-Racist-But, where the 2-DMB 4-WRDs were reinforced by the Progressive Race-Apologists, E Company (ProRApE). [...]
Unamusement Park » Blog Archive » Hatred V: counterintelligence — July 6, 2011
[...] understand it. Nevertheless, I may have sparked some critical thinking in other commenters. SISOU: d: then the majority of arrests for drugs charges should BE WHITES!!!!! but it is not.. proving [...]
EAnonym — July 31, 2011
I don't think criticizing other races (even if you insult them) is a big deal at all, I would qualify it as a morally neutral action.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourselves why you overreact so much to "racism"?
Michael Madsen — September 3, 2011
Then there is the opposite. "Reverse" Racism, people call it, but it isn't. It is racism. I have been called cra cker so many times, yet I have never said anything offensive to any race. Plus, I was told that I deserved being called names and insulted because "My family had enslaved Africans." This is untrue. My family was in Denmark until about a decade after the civil war.
Dollvomit — November 29, 2011
i wud rathur live in a ameriku without hamburgurs than a kuntree of illiteruts
Taylor — March 21, 2012
I see this crap all the time, and it fills me with rage. It's just too bad you never hear about the non-racist white people (because we do exist). I just hope no one is getting stereotypes about white people from these articles.
Michael Coombs — March 31, 2012
My solution to this is to say racist things, and then when someone says "you're a racist", I say "yes, I am".
perlawolf — November 3, 2012
I literally had a conversation with someone who said. "I hate ignorant people and 75% of blacks don't even have a high school diploma which is why I don't like them. " After letting them know that statement was the most ignorant thing I had ever heard. I had to walk away. I never fight with people but this time made an exception.
Machine of Death — June 3, 2013
I think this is interesting. People who in real life claim they are moral and "not racist" are so willing to say, online, that x race and x ethnicity piss them off for [stupid reason.]
I just think it's interesting.
I have been cut off in traffic by cars filled with young black men blasting rap music maybe twice in my life. By racist logic, that would mean that ALL black men are thugs who cannot drive. By my logic, I found four people who need to turn down the music and focus on the road.
All these "not racist" people usually meet one or two really bad people, who cannot drive or steal or who speak to them like they are trash then proceed to use that to justify hatred of a whole race. Instead of just saying that they met horrible people, they think they now have a right to become the horrible people and treat others like garbage.
Dustin Wagner — June 3, 2013
Its obvious that there are major, deep, and very destructive social problems in America when you read comment threads like this.