Tuesday, 2 June 2020
The words white privilege, antiracism, and white supremacy are being thrown around without a proper inquiry into what the language actually means. We are like children mimicking big words that sound clever without understanding the connotations. To be sure, this is how language evolves, as an implicit organic consensus among members of the same society.
But when we don't share the same society and attempt to share the same language, the organicity of that evolution is lost. Even as someone born straddling a continent, cross-cultural communication is *not* easy to facilitate. It reminds me of how 16th century Jesuit missionaries attempted and largely failed to communicate their idea of "God" in Japan, where the closest equivalent is the word 'kami'. 'Kami' (神), or "shen" in Chinese, equally does not have an appropriate English translation, but the closest I would come to is 'spirit'. At least in Shinto (written 神道 - the Way of the Kami) this is an animistic spirit, the capacity for consciousness present in all Life, in humans, animals, plant and matter. Clearly 'kami' communicates an entirely separate notion from the Judaeo-Chrisitian patriarchal overlord (sorry I know that's not how all Christians identify God but you still get the idea how different these understandings are).
The language we are using now is sophisticated and, as is the danger with all misappropriated language, not properly understood, generating a lot of feelings that don't deserve to be felt. The imbalance now is that our society is global, and while we may be able to 'see' the lives of others, we forget that we aren't actually experiencing those lives, and the communities we live in in real life don't necessarily reflect the nuances of the communities these words originated in. The existence of social media means that new languages can be generated among online communities who don't necessarily share the same experiences or understanding of a word, which are then spread and misunderstood with a RAPIDITY exponential to anything we have known before. So we see words being regurgitated and misappropriated without a background understanding of how these words came to be.
White supremacy is a system of imbalance that has permeated cultures globally. Its expression is different everywhere. Modern-day Japanese society is a fruit of white supremacy in many ways which I have expressed in other posts, but there aren't white police officers arresting and sitting on black people's necks there. This is obvious. The media has made us most familiar with its expression in the US, arguably the birthplace of the imbalance. The symptoms there are loud and ugly, and perhaps receive the world's outrage for these attributes. This is also where the term 'white supremacy' has been popularised and made vernacular, but it clearly does not apply in an identical way in other cultures.