I’ve been meaning to post about this for ages. Generally — with a very few exceptions — I don’t favor the “replace ______ with the word black” school of criticism.1
This is any argument that takes the general form “Suppose this offensive thing were being said about Blacks, instead of about [speaker's own group]? We’d all agree it was offensive!” Sometimes instead of “Blacks,” it’s “Jews” or “Latinos” or “women” or something else — but most commonly, Black people are the example. Sometimes it’s done with literal word substitution.
I was reminded of this by Hilzoy’s post, but no single example is to blame; it’s the pattern that’s the problem. The use of these comparisons over and over, by thousands of people, creates a pattern in which racism is constantly used as the ruler against with other oppressions are measured — and at the same time, there’s often an undercurrent of “racism isn’t so bad now, if only we could get treated as well as people of color get treated.”
There are a lot of problems with the “replace ______ with the word black” school of criticism.
First, it creates a burden on people of color, to constantly have their oppression used as the measuring stick.
Second, it implies, falsely, that racism is a problem that’s been solved.
Third, it implies that racism — and in particular, historic US racism against Blacks — is the platonic ideal of bigotry, against which other bigotries are measured. Other forms of bigotry are in turn only objectionable to the degree that they resemble bigotry against Blacks. This is then turned against other groups.
Fourth, it tends to make overlapping identities invisible. Some disabled people are black; some blacks are female; some women are queer; some queers are trans; etc, etc..
Comparing and contrasting different kinds of marginalization and oppression can sometimes be a useful exercise — but only when the comparison is being used to pull out really useful or new observations, rather than to bolster recognition of oppression A at the expense of recognition of oppression B. The “replace _____ with the word black” approach is easy to use thoughtlessly, and it’s less helpful than we assume. We should avoid it.
- This doesn’t mean I’ve never used it. But I’m trying not to. [↩]