Category Archives: Social Issues

In a Racialized Society, Everyone is Racist

Since we all grew up in a racialized society, we all have racist ways of thinking. I’m not saying we are all white supremacists, but we have all lived in a society that considers white to be the standard and others to be substandard, in so many different ways. This has a very negative affect on the lives of people who are not white, while it is almost invisible to people who are white. 

This means that as white people, we have to understand that we don’t fully understand this issue, and we have to be humble enough to admit that, and try to learn more before we make assumptions like “these people don’t love the country” or “these people are just looking for a hand out”.

If you try to open your ears and eyes to the experiences of people of colour around you, you will likely be shocked and amazed at the ways that society works differently for them, and you will then, hopefully, understand why they are protesting, and support the cause rather than denigrating it as unpatriotic, or unnecessary.

How to respond to “if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you won’t be stopped in the first place.”

The whole point of the protests is that Black people *do* get stopped by police for doing nothing wrong. And when they do get stopped, regardless of whether they have done anything wrong or not, they tend to get treated with more brutality, and tend to be subject to extrajudicial killing by the police more than white people.

This movement is not trying to say that all police officers are bad. It is trying to say that there is room for improvement IN THE SYSTEM, because society teaches us that Black people are bad, evil, violent, etc. So, when a police officer is scared, and I agree that it is a dangerous job, so they are likely to be put in situations where they are scared, they are more likely to pull the trigger on a Black person BECAUSE OF THAT UNDERLYING FEAR THAT SOCIETY HAS TAUGHT THEM (US) TO HAVE of the scary Black people, and especially Black men.

So, if you put any one of us into the same position of making a decision at a split second, probably most of us will feel more threatened by a Black man than we will by a white man. That is not because we are all racist in the “white supremacist” sense of the world. It is because we are all born into a racist society that bakes in our racist thinking from the start. Therefore, I am racist, you are racist, and police officers are racist. 

The issue is that being a police officer in this context means that you have to be very, very, very aware of your societally-inculcated biases so that you do not let your innate fear of Black people cause you to cause them a disproportionate amount of harm. And that is hard to do, because it is hard to make good, calculated decisions based on rational thinking when you are scared.

So, when people say “all lives matter” or “just don’t do anything bad and the problem goes away”, it is clear that they cannot see the full picture. You have to take a step back from the individuals involved and look at the problem from a societal level. 

This movement isn’t about changing the behaviour of a few ultra-racist (in the sense of white supremacist) police officers. White-supremacy-brand racism is a problem, but that is not what this is all about.  This is about a bigger-picture level of bias that is built into society, and that has a disproportionately bad impact on Black people.

So, we shouldn’t take individual offense at this movement. And neither should police officers. We need to use a societal lens to see this problem for what it is, and to try to fix it.

It’s All of Us

I had lunch with one of my mentors yesterday. She has worked in education for her whole career and is soon to retire.

She grew up in Ibaraki and then went to Tokyo for university. She was originally planning to find a job in Tokyo after she graduated. However, she was not able to because companies at that time (the 1980s) would not hire single women who didn’t live at home with their parents because there was a perception that they “couldn’t be trusted”.

She says that only two women who were in her class made it all the way through their working life to retirement. All the others ended up quitting after they got married or had children (which was perceived as the “right thing” for women to do). Or they left the profession for other reasons.

When she was in her 40s, she noticed that there were almost no women who became vice principals or principals. At that time (and maybe now too?), you had to get recommended by your principal in order to be allowed to study to become a principal. Only one person could be recommended per school per year. And because all of the principals were men, they almost always recommended other men.

Luckily, one of the principals that she worked for noticed her abilities and recommended her for principalship. She went on to become the head of a very prestigious school, and she made it even more successful.

There is so much wasted talent in Japan. There are so many intelligent and powerful women who are never given their chance to shine. I think this is true in almost all countries right now, but Japan is particularly behind in this regard.

There are people who believe that women have all the same opportunities as men and that women can get to the same positions as men as long as they try hard enough. This opinion is often held by men as they cannot see the invisible hand of society holding women back while men stride ahead.

This is one example of how various human-created systems in society work against the interests of a whole section of that society, and therefore against the better interests of the society as a whole.

Our society is built on sexist principles. The thinking — which has no basis in reality — is that men have the right characteristics for leadership, men therefore make better leaders, and so men should be in charge. This is just a line of thinking. It is not a physical barrier, but it might as well be, because it is really hard to push past it.

And not only men think this way, but also women. Women and men are both raised in the same society, based on the same principles, so women end up thinking that they are not as good at leading, so they probably shouldn’t even try to become a leader.

Notice that I am not accusing any one person of being sexist. Yes, there are super sexist people out there, and they are certainly part of the problem, but the bigger problem is that WE ALL think in sexist ways. And when I say we all, I am of course including myself. We all were raised in a sexist society, so we all think in a sexist way, and that works to keep women down.

Racism works the same way. Many white people think that people with other skin colours just have to work as hard as the white people do. White people can’t see the invisible hand of society that keeps people with other skin colours down. We all grew up in a racist society, so we all — including people with other skin colours — think in a racist way.

The only way forward is for all of us to become more aware of our own patterns of thinking, and to try to see beyond how we were raised, and the assumptions we have come to accept. And this applies to EVERYONE: women, men, people of all skin colours.

If we don’t start from the position that we are all sexist, racist, classist, etc., and try to fix things from that premise, we will not be able to move ahead.

The problem is not that one sexist guy, or that one racist white person, it’s all of us.


Edited to add: It’s not that specific white people, or specific men, or specific police officers are the problem. It’s that we all work to keep each other down because of our beliefs. We all need to work on thinking more clearly about what beliefs are holding people — including ourselves — down instead of building them up.

tldr: It’s all of us.

Why can’t we all just get along? Thoughts on the Effects of Underlying Relative Value Statements in Arguments

The latest argument pitting “Democrats” against “Republicans” is about children being separated from their parents. I put Democrat and Republican in quotes because almost no one who argues about stuff like this is an actual member of either of these parties. And I really dislike the idea that all of a person’s ideas can be summed up by a political party’s ideology, especially when we can see how easy it is for a political party’s agenda to be manipulated and changed based on the whims of the leader.

I bring this up because I spend a lot of time thinking about the arguments that people have, and why they have them. And my current hypothesis is that the vast majority of political arguments can be boiled down to what I will call a ​”relative position statement on a particular value​”​. ​Sometimes the values that people are arguing about might be characterized as being on opposite sides of a spectrum, for example, being for or against capital punishment. However, in a vast majority of cases, I think we are actually having arguments on two different “value spectra”, and can therefore never approach understanding or compromise.

In the case of the issue of children being separated from their parents at the point of arrival in the US, we can characterize one side of the argument as the value statement: “people get what they deserve if they do illegal things”. The other side is the value statement: “children should not be separated from their parents”. There is no way for either side to win an argument based on these parameters because the person who is going on about the consequences of illegal behaviour is not, at that moment, as worried about the children being separated, since they wouldn’t be separated if the parents were not breaking the law, and people get what they deserve if they do illegal things. On the other hand, the person who is going on about children being separated from their parents is not, at that moment, worried about illegal behaviour, because they don’t regard asylum-seeking as illegal. One argument is based on “rule of law” and the other is based on “basic humanity”, but they are pivoting around the question of whether or not a particular action is legal or illegal. When the actual argument plays out, however, that point rarely takes center stage. Rather, one side will eventually shout “criminals like you get what you deserve” and the other will shout “you have no humanity” and all sense of reason and resolution will be lost.

However, in another context, the same person who advocated for “rule of law” might take a completely different value stance on another argument. For example, in the case where a woman gets an abortion in a state where abortions are legal, that person (the arguer, not the woman getting the abortion) might get into an argument based on the value statement: “All life is sacred” and not care about the fact that the woman was following the law. And the “children not being separated” person might take a stance in favour of the woman having an abortion based on the value statement: “Women should be allowed to make decisions about their own bodies”, and in that case, not sympathize with the plight of the child in question.

​I remember one of my conservative friends pulling up another friend on her stance on guns (“Guns need to be regulated to prevent unnecessary deaths”) because it didn’t match her stance on abortion (which he might think of as “I think it is okay to kill babies”, when she thinks of it more like, “women should be allowed to make decisions about their own bodies”). In his mind, “People should be allowed to protect themselves” and “All life is sacred” demonstrated a more consistent set of values​. In his mind, my friend’s stance that “death is bad and we need to do things to prevent it” should also extend to unborn children.

Him: I need a gun so I can protect myself from death, and abortion also causes death, why shouldn’t abortion also be prevented?
>> Values based on freedom of choice (for protecting self), and avoiding death (of others)

Her: If you get to choose whether or not to have a gun, why can’t I choose what to do with my own body?
>> Values based on freedom of choice (for deciding for oneself) and avoiding death (of self or friends)

In other words, they both actually agree that freedom of choice and preventing death are both important, but they use their relative value statements to support one view and go against another, all the while thinking that the other person, who has just used their exact same value statements in the opposite way, is immoral, unjust, or just plain insane.

When we get into arguments, and especially when we get into arguments on social media, I think it would help if we could do an analysis of the value statements at play in the conversation. I think it would make arguing less frustrating. We can all agree, for example, that “there should be consequences to breaking agreed upon rules”, and that “children should not be forcibly separated from their parents”, and that these value statements are not contradictory. We can then, hopefully, have more civil arguments about whether laws are being broken, and if so, what consequences would be reasonable, without delving into circular arguments that can be boiled down to two “relative (and unresolvable) position statements on a particular value”.

I don’t know how we get there, though. I feel like there should be “referees” to arguments who step in and evaluate the conversation for value statements and get people to at least agree on the premises of their statement. We can all agree that laws are necessary for society to work well, and that separating children from their parents is bad. Good. Now assuming that both parties in this conversation are not heathens who want to wantonly break rules and put children into cages, where can the conversation go from there?

This is what I think about on Sunday afternoons…

(And kudos if you read this far!) :)

Square Dancing and Racism

So, here’s the thing. I am about as white as it gets, with my Dutch and Scottish heritage in a Canadian package. Under normal conditions, I would not ever experience racism, so it might be hard for me to really understand what it means, and how it feels, to be judged based on the colour of my skin.

Fortunately for me, though, I have lived in Japan for around 20 years and this has put my lily white skin in the position of being judged. AND IT DRIVES ME CRAZY. Let me assure you that it would drive you nuts too. You would be vocal about it and want to change it. You would not make excuses for it or tell people that they are being over-sensitive.

Let me give you an example. It is an entirely harmless example, but it illustrates the point that even a little bit of judgement can be really annoying.

I have been square dancing since 2007 (so nine years now, for those of you who are reading this in the future). I have learned how to dance to the choreography in three different programmes (basic, mainstream, and plus), and I have danced in Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, and as of this past week, Canada. I am not a perfect dancer, and I certainly do make mistakes, especially because I sometimes have trouble distinguishing my left from my right quickly enough, but under normal conditions, I don’t usually make “square-breaking mistakes” that completely mess everything up.

Some people do make square-breaking mistakes. Beginners will do it all the time because they are not used to hearing the calls and performing them fast enough to keep up with the music. People who have no rhythm, or who are not musically inclined will sometimes break squares. And older people who might have hearing problems, or who are just not fast enough to keep up can often break a square. This happens, and when it does, you just get into a certain formation (facing lines) and wait for the caller to call something that you can do from the formation. It’s no big deal.

Anyway, the point that I am making is that breaking a square is not that big a deal. It is fixable. However, when I dance in Japan, sometimes I get into a square that has some weak dancers. I hate it when this happens because the other people in the square will often make it clear that they think I was the one who broke the square. You can usually tell when someone thinks that you are a square breaker because they will handle you a bit more forcefully, by leading you with their hands to the correct positioning after every call, or by repeating the call loudly to you. Sometimes I do make mistakes, but as I said, I am not usually the reason that a whole square breaks down. However, if I am in a square that has broken down with dancers who do not know me, I will almost always be seen as the “culprit” and be “kindly” guided for the rest of the song even if I have danced perfectly the entire time.

THIS DRIVES ME CRAZY! Just because the square broke down and I am in it (one white person with seven Japanese people), it is assumed that it is my fault. There isn’t anything I can do to stop this from happening when it does. It is a natural prejudice that some people have and stopping the square to talk about sociological issues is not going to make me a more popular dancer. There isn’t anything I can do about it, other than tell people about it after the fact.

This is a small example, a small annoyance, and it does not affect my personal safety. However, it is a clear example of prejudice, and it illustrates to me exactly how it feels to be judged (and judged incorrectly) based on nothing other than the colour of my skin.

Because of this (and other examples that I am certainly willing to share if anyone is interested), I do have a small understanding of how people who are black/brown in Canada/US feel. If you have not ever felt that way, then you may not understand, and you may think that people who point out this particular kind of unfairness are over-reacting. Trust me, they are not over-reacting. It is annoying and unfair to be judged based on your physical appearance.

Prejudice and bias exist in all of us, and many of us are not aware of the fact that these themes infect our thinking. I do not consider myself to be racist, and I hope that my words and actions reflect that, but I admit to myself that I have prejudices and that I am susceptible to bias. I don’t want those to be my defining features, though, so I work hard to try to fight them. If you think you are a person entirely free of prejudice and bias, I would invite you to take the following test.

I would wager a large amount of money that the test revealed that you are biased.

When one person is biased against you, it can be annoying and frustrating. If that one person is someone who has power over other people, like a police officer, it can be dangerous. And if an entire system is biased against you, it will impact on every part of your life, on a regular basis, in ways that cannot even be imagined by the people who are not affected by the bias.

Have you ever been in this situation? Someone you have never met before starts treating you in a certain way that doesn’t match with how you see yourself. That person takes a look at you and makes decisions about you, and starts treating you according to what they believe about you. They might be treating you like you are stupid, or like you are older or younger, or richer or poorer, than you are. It can even happen when someone asks you for directions when you are in a place that is unfamiliar, or someone thinks you work at a store that you are shopping in. Or when you are in a foreign country and someone speaks to you in a different language, assuming that you can speak it fluently. You can tell when you are not being treated right (according to what you know about yourself) and it is weird and uncomfortable.

That is a brief taste of what it feels like to be a person in a minority. Imagine if that happened ALL THE TIME. Imagine what it would feel life if people ALWAYS assumed that you were aggressive. Or that you were poor. Or that you were up to no good. Or even that you can or cannot dance. It would certainly start to become annoying after the first few times.

What I am trying to say, in my rambling way, is that you should not dismiss racism, prejudice, or bias as not real, or not relevant, or not important. People who face it on a daily basis are not making it up. Just because you don’t get it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It does. You just don’t know what you don’t know.