by Patrick Appel
A reader writes:
The readers whose responses you published seem to misunderstand racism. It's not, as many people believe, simply a matter of antipathy against members of one race or perceived racial identity. In its most pernicious forms, it manifests instead as a privileged treatment of a preferred class (in the case of race, this is white people). Ethnic and racial prejudices are complicated and hellishly tangled knots, so it's perfectly understandable, and very common, for this point to be lost. But what your readers' responses describe is precisely racism, manifested as a form of white privilege that is found almost anywhere in the globe where the construct of "race" has taken hold.
I agree. Contemporary racism is easier seen by looking at outcomes. That certain Chinese and Thai citizens feel no hatred towards people of color doesn't excuse discriminatory behavior. Though there is nothing necessarily wrong with wanting to learn a particular English accent, using race as job applicant sorting mechanism is highly racist and perpetuates a stereotype, apparently widespread in China, that accents are linked more to race than country of origin. I read the previous e-mails as explanations rather than excuses for Chinese behavior. Another reader makes a similar point:
A reader wrote "a desire for whites is less about racism than it is appearance." Am I missing something or isn't this still racism? Just because the English schools the reader writes about aren't personally racist, it doesn't mean that acceding to the racist dictates of their customers isn't racism. The belief that all the best American English speakers are blond hair haired, blue-eyed white people is still a racist belief whether the school administrators or the population that sends their kids to that school holds that belief or not. There were plenty of business owners in the South during Jim Crow that didn't personally hold racist beliefs but still wouldn't hire blacks because their customers would object, therefore losing business. That was still a part of the Jim Crow system and they were just as morally culpable as the racist business owners who wouldn't hire blacks out of their own personal racist beliefs. The same holds true today in China and apparently in Thailand (as the reader suggests) as well.