Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Is he even Buddhist?"

An acquaintance of mine recently sent me a message after a confrontation with one of my close friends. My friend, who I'll call 'Max,' is a long term Tibet supporter, and a fluent Tibetan speaker. This acquaintance, who I'll call 'Joe,' had gotten into an argument with Max about ways of supporting Tibet. When he contacted me to rant, one of his questions was: "Is Max even Buddhist?"

He's not the first to ask this question either. In fact, I find this question a common way for alleged Tibet supporters to put down or delegitimize other Tibet supporters with whom they disagree.

To me, this is a symptom of a far greater problem: the belief that in order to support Tibet, you have to be Buddhist.

This is a problem for many reasons.

First of all, it isolates non-Buddhist supporters. Darfur receives support from Christian groups and especially Jewish ones! Do you think that support would still exist if Darfur supporters asked about other Darfur supporters "Are they even Muslim?" If these supporters felt that they were being judged not only as to their religion but as to their level of religiosity, I doubt that they would stay with the cause. Yet, this pressure is seen as acceptable from Tibet supporters.

Now, this sentiment does not come from Tibetans, in my experience. The Dalai Lama himself has discouraged Tibet supporters from converting to Buddhism, instead encouraging them to understand and appreciate their own faith and culture.

This claim also delegitimizes the motives of those who wish to work for altruistic purposes. It says simply: "The reason to support Tibet is because I am Buddhist, and I want to preserve Buddhism." instead of saying "We should support Tibet because it is the right thing to do, it is an issue of human rights."

The irony, of course, being that Buddhism is supposed to encourage altruistic values, and yet, in judging this way, they are discouraging altruistic intention.

Secondly, the issue of Tibet is an issue of human rights. Not all Tibetans are Buddhist, neither are all Tibet supporters. His assumption that 99% of supporters (another statement he made in the same e-mail) came to Tibet via the Dharma is thus not only problematic, but inaccurate. I remember at a meeting of about a hundred members of Students for a Free Tibet, people were asked what brought them to Tibetan issues. Less than half answered Buddhism.

Let's go back to that earlier point: not all Tibetans are Buddhists. There are Tibetan Muslims, Bonpos and even Catholics (I passed two century-old Tibetan catholic churches in Dartsedo.). When we assume that Tibetan issues are solely Buddhist issues, what are we saying about Tibetans who are not Buddhist?

To Joe, I simply responded "Max's religion and practice is no one's business but his own. It's unfair to judge how a person is as an activist and supporter based on whether or not he is the same religion as you."

Although I do consider myself Buddhist, I also find it personally insulting when someone looks at me and asks, judgmentally, about my faith. If I answer that I consider religion a personal thing (my usual way of saying "None of your damned business") I'm usually met with judging stares or comments about the superiority of (western style) Buddhist practice. If I say I am Buddhist, this is followed by an interrogation of how much I meditate, practice, etc.

This judgmental interrogation creates two major problems. The first of which being it forces away many well intentioned, sincere individuals who's experience could be extraordinarily valuable to the Tibetan cause. If Tibetans were to choose for some reason or another, not to accept help from a certain group, this would be their prerogative. However, this instead is foreign 'supporters' forcing away potentially excellent supporters solely due to their faith. One major goal in the Tibetan movement is to make it a household name and get support from all over the world. How will this support come if people are ostracized due to not being Buddhist?

Secondly, this is a group of people trying to hijack the Tibetan cause and turn it into a crusade for their own evangelical form of Buddhism. Despite their claims of being Tibet supporters, by rejecting or isolating all supporters who are not (as they deem) Buddhist, they are clearly taking potential support away from the Tibetan cause. What, then, are they trying to do? Under the guise of "Tibetan Support" they are attempting to gather and create a group that represents their own evangelical view of Buddhism.

The irony is that these same people will criticize the way China judges Tibetans religious practice, and how Chinese employers will frequently disregard a Tibetan who shows overt Buddhist faith, or how Chinese security is more likely to frisk a Tibetan wearing prayer beads. They fail to see that their actions of judging the worth and quality of a fellow supporter by their faith is, in essence, the same.

I think we need to realize that this isn't appropriate. I have decided, henceforth, when asked this question, my new response will be "I don't see how my religious affiliation relates to my work." I'm bound to make some new enemies (something which actually started less than one hour after launching this blog,) but I also think it will give me a clearer sense of who I should be working with, and who is only in this from a religiously judgmental standpoint.

I would really like to hear what readers, especially any Tibetans in the audience, think about this issue and what we can do about it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Judging Tibetans over etymology

A lot of fuss is made over the Tibetan word kyemey (also pronounced jyemey, depending on one's dialect), meaning wife or woman. Tendor has written on the topic recently (in Tibetan), and I just ran across 2007 post on Tibet Talk that addresses it too. There's a degree of debate as to the etymology of the word and likewise its spelling (it appears in several variants in many dictionaries), but the vast majority of Tibetans I've spoken with about it believe it means “low birth” in the sense that being born female is inferior to being born male.

I'm no proponent of the word kyemey, especially since there are unambiguously non-offensive words that enjoy much more widespread usage in contemporary Tibet. It actually makes me angry every time I hear it, and I'm 100% behind some of my Tibetan friends who are pushing to abolish the word. But what angers me even more is western people judging Tibetan society based on a word like kyemey and its likely etymology.

Let's step back and look in the mirror for a second. At English. The term husband is purportedly derived from Old Norse words meaning “house holder” or “master of the house”, but it's clear from the related word husbandry that there's a further notion of a benevolent lord looking over and managing something seen as unable to care for itself (the environment, livestock, or... one's spouse). As for the word wife, I've seen claims that it's connected to words for “veil”, “shame”, and a lot of other things supposedly-liberal people would be, well, ashamed of.

If Tibetans are to be judged for a word that reflects, in most people's minds, a sexist idea that women are inferior by birth, why aren't these same westerners judging their own peoples for the same sorts of sexist artifacts in their own languages? (And English is definitely not alone!) And why do westerners (even well-meaning “supporters”) behave so as to shame Tibetans about their own language as if offensive words were somehow a uniquely Tibetan thing?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Treating monastic robes as party costumes

Native Appropriations, a blog dealing with appropriation of indigenous and especially Native American culture, is reporting on San Francisco's “Bay to Breakers” event:
Bay to Breakers is an annual San Francisco Bay Area tradition, now in its 99th year. Technically it's a 12k race, starting downtown (the bay) and ending at the beach (the breakers). I don't know the exact history, or how it has (d)evolved through the years, but I can tell you it is now one part serious road race, and about 100 parts drunken costumed debauchery.
The big story is that they lost count after taking fifty-some photos of white people covered in feathers and paint and drunkenly war-whooping “playing Indian”. But near the bottom of the article, they add:
Indian costumes were by no means the only form of racist costumes. There were plenty of "Mexicans" in sombreros and mustaches, "Asians" with kimonos and stereotypical rice paddy hats, even some "Tibetan monks" (I have a picture of those):

Notice that we're not just assuming this is drunken costume party behavior; the “nun” in the center of the picture is actually carrying a can of Bud.

Is this a case of well-meaning supporters trying to find a clever way to insert a Free Tibet message in a public event (and screwing it up horribly), or just random party-goers who think they can treat someone else's religion and national struggle as a costume to put on while you party? I'm leaning towards the latter since they don't even get the color or design of the robes right, but with just a picture it's pretty hard to tell.

Even if they were trying to do something good, it's hard for me to tell where the borderline between making a positive statement and doing something offensive gets drawn. Of course they shouldn't be drunk and carrying beer cans, and mixing up the color of their robes (maybe they think TIE-bet is THAI-bet?) but what about other aspects. Would it be okay if these people had really shaved their heads? If they were carrying pictures of Tibetan martyrs? Does whether they have the permission/blessing of a Tibetan community or religious authority change anything?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

TIE-bet! Hey maybe they have TIE food?

Mispronouncing Tibet as "TIE-bet" is a classic sign of ignorance about Tibet, to the point of being a joke in many circles. I can't remember the first time I heard someone say "TIE-bet", but I remember being conscious of the ridiculous mispronunciation many years back. I was at an SFT workshop playing out a protest scenario where I was trying to enter an official meeting venue (to disrupt it, of course) while noisy protesters yelled outside. When security stopped me despite my business attire, without even thinking I blurted out something like "Damn free TIE-bet hippies, I can't even get to my office on time because of them!"

So a couple days ago in a coffee shop in Dharamsala, I overheard some young white women talking and couldn't help but notice that one of them pronounced Tibet as "TIE-bet" when speaking to the proprietor of the business, a Tibetan woman. I didn't catch any more of their conversation, but the incident got me thinking back to all the times I'd heard "TIE-bet" in the past and wondering how it's taken by Tibetans. Being that Tibet was a name created by foreign people, maybe mispronouncing it isn't as offensive as mispronouncing personal names or titles. Or maybe it is. I've lost track of how many times a person, usually a young white male, came up to me and insisted on saying "TIE-bet" while I was doing advocacy work (tabling, handing out flyers, etc.) for Tibet.

The word insisted is key here. While there have been times, like in the coffee shop the other day, when I only heard "TIE-bet" spoken a single time, I have never had an experience where the speaker apologized or switched to saying "Tibet" after being corrected. The power dynamic in situations like this is usually that we (myself and whomever I'm working with at the time) are trying to make a case for Tibet and encourage people we meet to be interested, receptive, and supportive, so there's a perceived need for us not to directly correct those who say "TIE-bet". It's uncomfortable for me and I imagine it's a lot more uncomfortable for many of the Tibetans I've faced the situation alongside. Whenever this happens, myself and others I've observed make sure to say "Tibet", correctly and clearly, again and again, in the hopes of giving the person we're talking with a hint. And it's NEVER worked.

I don't think it's just a matter of people being unable to interpret a subtle hint. I think what's going on here is a really troubling power game. The person who insists on saying "TIE-bet" is doing it because, in their mind, they're right. They've already made up their mind about Tibet - and I don't just mean the pronunciation of the "i". Sometimes they listen and nod. Usually they make dismissive comments. On occasion, they consider themselves pro-Tibet and have specific ideas on how the Tibet issue should be resolved, whose approach is right and whose approach is wrong, etc. When they do, it's not based on any real facts or knowledge, but rather ideologies and -isms (anti-Communism, libertarianism, pacifism, white man's burden, ...).

The real message in saying "TIE-bet" to someone who's already corrected you by saying "Tibet" is "I'm right and you're wrong." And I'm particularly offended when I see white people saying "TIE-bet" to Tibetans because, to me, it comes across as "I'm more of an authority on your country than you are, despite that I can't say its name right."

It's almost laughable that these people prove their ignorance by not even knowing how to say the name of the place correctly, then feel entitled to have strong opinions on its future. But it's not funny, it's frustrating and insulting. And I don't doubt that, in at least many of the cases, it's intentionally so.

Readers, do you have stories about people insisting on saying "TIE-bet" to your face? Is my interpretation of it off-base?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Doing everything in English

One issue I struggled with when I first considered making this blog was the English-language issue. If you look at the vast majority of materials from international organizations working Tibetan issues, both humanitarian and political, they're all in English. The websites, the brochures, the press releases, the videos on YouTube, etc. I knew right away this was an issue I wanted to confront, but I also knew this blog itself would be yet another example of the tendency for discussion of Tibetan issues to take place in English.

I took the approach of thinking “OK, this blog is going to be English for now and somewhere down the line I'm going to look for a way to deal with that and make it less exclusionary.” But then I screwed up by trying to express that thought in the commenting guidelines:
4. The primary language of this blog is English, and for the time being, it will be English-only. I realize this is itself problematic and welcome discussion on the issue and what to do about it.
Without realizing it I was saying, albeit in a sugar-coated way, “You Tibetans need to write in English here. Sorry but that's how it is unless you can tell me a better way to do things.” Regardless of my intention, that's not cool.

Beyond acknowledging my mistake, I want to actually do something about it, so I'm going to welcome comments in Tibetan or Chinese as well as English. I'll do my best to follow up such comments with a quick description in English of what I think they're about, but I don't feel qualified or justified trying to actually translate comments myself.

Back to the whole issue, what kind of progress is being made? International Campaign for Tibet has Tibetan and Chinese language versions of their website, among several other languages. Students for a Free Tibet, even SFT India, does not have major written publications in Tibetan online, but instead SFT seems to have focused on audiovisual media and especially online video, translating their 14-minute promotional video into Tibetan and featuring a number of calls to action in Tibetan on the SFTHQ YouTube channel. SFT's executive director Tendor also has a blog, Yarlung Raging, featuring a mix of Tibetan and English posts.

Beyond these examples, I've had a hard time finding organizations (support groups or charities working for Tibet, as opposed to actual Tibetan organizations like TYC, TWA, or the Rangzen Alliance) with Tibetan-language websites or media. This brings up what seems like it might be an unfortunate trend: the cracks in the wall of English-language domination of Tibet activism seem to coincide with organizations where there's already a significant level of Tibetan leadership.

Short of further transition away from white-dominated (or otherwise non-Tibetan) leadership roles in the organizations, it sure would be nice to see more of the present white leaders in organizations making the effort to seek out qualified translators.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Breaking down a Tirade: Common Racism against Tibetans (and others too)

In Pongu’s article Help, my bingo card is over flowing on the first day!, he posted a tirade that was sent to us via the comments. I also had a chance to see the original facebook thread (42 comments, all but 10 of which were by our tirader, whom I shall call T.) Let it suffice to say, this was only the tip of the iceberg.

Inadvertently, T provided us with perfect examples of common problematic themes perpetuated by outsiders involved in Tibet. I’d like to use his own comments as a starting point for discussion of these issues. Some of these issues are important from a wider discussion of racism, while some are very specific to the Tibet issue.

“However I think that this blog perhaps starts out with a "Tibetans are superior, white people don't understand them, Tibetans can do no wrong" attitude. This is exactly the kind of reverse racist attitude (against your own culture) that is the MOST disempowering -- to non-Tibetans.”

-Automatically judging and feeling threatened by anything that is perceived to criticize westerners, even without cause-
This comment was made before there was a single content post on the blog. He decided that any criticism of white people was automatically anti-white racism, despite having seen none of the criticisms themselves.
-Whites must always be superior-
His message here is clear, white people must be on top. Perhaps they may be ever so gracious as to share their post at the top of the pedestal with Tibetans, but any possibility of criticizing westerners is judging others as superior, and god forbid white people be anywhere but the top of the pedestal….even outside of a white country and community. This is continued when he says “it creates a lot of false power structures where Tibetans are inherently superior.” Let’s be honest, the Tibetan issue is about Tibet and Tibetans, not white people. Therefore, within the context of the Tibetan issue, Tibetans are the ones whose views matter.

“What about criticizing the Tibetans for their rampant racism, constantly taking advantage of western people, hypocrisy, etc. etc.?”

-The Fallicious Flip-
See the definition in the hyperlink. This quote is a perfect example.
In short, he feels that westerners should be beyond individual rebuke, simply because he feels that Tibetans are racist or take advantage of people. Instead of addressing the issue at hand (problematic actions by non-Tibetans), he flips the question onto a different topic as a way of derailment.
The fact that his claims of ‘rampant racism,’ constantly taking advantage of people, hypocrisy, etc. etc.’ are clearly the overstatements of a person disillusioned with the fact that Tibetans aren’t all enlightened monks is the topic for another essay. Yes, there are a number of Tibetans who do bad things, just like there are many white people who do bad things, I’ve been on the bad side of that more than once myself. However, we as outsiders have the privilege of being able to leave Tibetan work and communities whenever we like. We are not even guests, we have forced ourselves in, whether for good or bad purposes. Therefore, it is our duty as outsiders to self reflect and keep ourselves in line. If we are unhappy, we, unlike Tibetans, always have the privilege to leave.
This attitude is furthered by his statement: “Ultimately it's talking about how Westerners are the ones making mistakes, how they make mistakes, etc. It is not talking about how Tibetans make mistakes in relation to Western people.”

"And it seems to start out with the premise that how Tibetans make mistakes is irrelevant, and they are not to be held accountable for their actions. Why? Because they are an oppressed people? Because they don't have a country?Because WE are the one supposed to helping out THEM (even though they are supposed to be the ones with all the altruisim right?)"

-WE and THEM-
[I would like to note that I have not, in any way, edited the quotes, except to put them into italics. All capitalization and so on are his and his alone.]
In his continuing rant (previously viewable on my friend's facebook page, and now deleted), he goes on about how he lives in Tibetan communities, speaks Tibetan and so on. Yet here, he makes a clear distinction in capital letters between WE and THEM. This is a common white tendency, to make a big distinction between 'me' and 'other', we/them is white-solidarity versus othered POC.

-Confusing owning up to racist behavior with owing people something-
This blog, as declared in the guidelines and first introductory post, are simply about outsiders realizing and owning up to our own inappropriate and problematic behavior. We aren't saying that anyone needs to help anyone else, but simply that inappropriate behavior is, well, inappropriate! No one is telling him he HAS to help Tibetan communities, however, he has made the conscious and voluntary choice to live, work in and help Tibetan communities.

-Stereotyping Tibetans as 'altruistic' (the Shangri la Mentality)-
Even among the best intentioned, most stable minded Tibet supporter, Dharma student, et cetera, this is rampant. The idea that Tibetans are perfect Buddhas and must behave as such. It seems like a positive statement, but lets break this down. This is racist! It is saying "As a result of your RACE, you should behave in the following manner. " Sounds pretty racist, doesn't it?

Later on in this rant, T openly claims that he is beyond this stereotype and sees Tibetans accurately as they are, and recognizes this as an inaccurate stereotype, and yet here he is saying that Tibetans are the ones supposed to be altruistic. This is common in virtually all instances of racist behavior. A person claims that they (logically) know that a stereotype is false, while in their actions and statements showing that they firmly believe this stereotype and expect the other race to behave in that manner.

"Tibetans are very widely seen extremely idealistically, by the majority of the Western Tibetan Buddhist scene and it would seem also the Western Tibetan rights scene. This idealism make us subservient to the Tibetans and literally disempowers us."

-Thinking it's not our fault for idealizing Tibetans-
The idealized stereotype of Tibetans was created not by Tibetans, but by foreigners. We created this idea. He claims that it disempowers us. We created this idea, we as outsiders created a false stereotype and chose to live by it. We cannot blame Tibetans for our own racism and creating a system which he claims disempowers us. In reality, it disempowers no one. It is case of people abiding by their own incorrect, racist viewpoints. That's not disempowerment, that's racism and ignorance.

"The Tibetans' racism, xenophobia, sense of cultural superiority, and most notably their almost inexcusable ignorance and lack of interest in other cultures and their politics is arguably what made them lose their country in the first place -- Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and others have said this. Tibetans are quite prone to use Westerners for money in great variety of ways, and at this point this should be well known. Many Tibetan lamas, rinpoches, and monks basically are more concerned with making money than your enlightenment. Tibetans guys generally see Western girls as an easy f*ck and a passport/visa, Tibetan girls generally see Western guys as a passport/visa."
-Making sweeping, racist generalizations-
The passage speaks for itself.

-When non whites do it, it's the group, when whites do it, it's the individual-
If a few Tibetans do negative things, he feels it represents all Tibetans. Yet, when some white people do negative things, its always seen as an individual responsibility, no matter how widespread the action is. This applies in virtually all racism cases. Like people who say that black people are thugs or druggies, however, when several white people are also involved in gangs or drugs, it's individuals, not white culture. It's unfair, no matter how you slice it.

-Quoting a Tibetan authority to make your case, in a completely different context-
The simplest way to explain this is a more common example. A black activist speaking to the black community encourages black men to be good fathers, and racist white Americans say "See! All of these problems are caused by black people being bad! Even [insert black activist here] says that they are bad fathers!" T, if you are reading this. I'd like to see the original quote in context, please!

"Tibetans often act with total disinterest to Westerners"

-Feeling that Tibetans are obliged to be interested in/interact with Westerners-
This is a Tibetan community, we are invading their community, for better or worse. If they want to live within their community and their culture, this is their right. They are not obligated to show interest in Westerners, hang out with westerners, or anything else. Tibetans are doing their best to preserve their culture and make a Tibetan community outside of Tibet. If people like this cannot be respectful to them and their culture, I see no problem with Tibetans choosing not to interact with them.

"I am not saying that Westerners are not really ignorant of Tibetan culture (we are, even those who are dedicated to helping Tibetans and are deeply involved in Tibetan Buddhism), but the Tibetans by constrast are just as much or even more ignorant of our culture and often do not attempt to understand it, either."
-Feel Tibetans are obligated to learn Western culture-
OK, similar to the last point. But what makes this important is that these are not Tibetans in the west that we are talking about, or that the writer (living in a Tibetan community in India) was talking about! Westerners living IN Tibetan communities should be obliged to learn Tibetan culture, in the same way I would expect someone living in my home to abide by my house rules. I think I can express this better in an example, albeit a slightly flawed one. [as noted, we are not guests, we've invited ourselves]. If I were to visit an orthodox Jewish home, I would be expected to follow certain rules. No unkosher food in the house, no miniskirts, no talking about sex in front of the kids. It would be inexusably rude if I came in and said to my hosts "You need to learn about MY way of life. Stop wearing your hat, stop wearing your long skirts." It is not my place. I would expect others to respect the rules of my home and community, even if they did not adapt to my way of life because it is not the same as their own, I would expect them to respect it. On the other hand, westerners like T, an outsider here, somehow believe that Tibetans within a Tibetan community have an obligation to follow the rules of a foreign culture 8000 miles away.

"It is also white people who need to be empowered in relation to Tibetan people"

White people, even in Tibetan relations, are in a position of power. We have the right and ability to walk away at any time.

Finally, I want to put in a comment that wasn't posted here, but was posted on the original facebook thread, which unfortunately, T seems to have taken down.

He very specifically objected to the statement in the guidelines "Tibetans owe us nothing." I was actually so shocked by his statement that I copied what he wrote:

""remember Tibetans don't owe you anything". This, to me, revealed the basically racist and ethnocentric attitude of this blog. So, what, do we owe Tibetans something then?"
-Believing that Tibetans owe us something, while disregarding how we benefit from Tibetan suffering-
A commenter on the original thread responded to this by saying "And remember, Tibetans owe us nothing. If we decide to help Tibetan communities, we must do it solely out of our desire to help, not to get anything in return. Any other motive is an egotistical attempt for us to make ourselves into saviors." This goes back to the point that we, as outsiders, are forcing our way in. How can we believe that when we force our way into someone's life, even for what we believe are good reasons, they owe us something? Despite what T says earlier, its really us, the outsiders, who need to be altruistic.

As to how we benefit from Tibetan suffering, we constantly benefit from China's economic position, how many people don't save money by buying made in China products? In fact, our whole patterns of consumption, what kinds of goods even exist in the marketplace, have been determined by Chinese economic prominence in manufacturing!

More importantly, in the case of Dharma students (which T admits to being) we really benefit from the suffering of Tibetans! We continually benefit from the forced spread of Tibetan religion, which occurred when Tibet was occupied, forcing many great lamas into exile, such as the Dalai Lama. Without this, it's likely that we would never even know of Tibetan Buddhism. I say 'we' because it's important to call myself out on this one. I personally, have benefited a great deal from this since childhood. I wouldn't call myself a 'good' dharma student, but none the less, I would not have my religion, my teachers, or even my current job, were it not for Tibetan institutions being forced into exile by the Chinese.

This is just a sampling. I'd like to see what people have to say.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Let's get real about what racism is

I realize from how OT started off that a lot of white people involved with Tibetan issues probably haven't spent a lot of time thinking about race, racism, and what most people trying to do anti-racist work actually consider racism to be. So this is my take on “racism 101”. As a white male I'm far from the best authority on the topic, so I encourage readers to go type “racism 101” into Google (or click here if you're that lazy) and see what others have to say on the topic.

A really common white mistake is thinking that any discussion or consideration of race is “racist” because we're “supposed to be colorblind”. A lot of white people even consider racism to mean “racial discrimination” in the strictest sense of the word discriminate: to recognize or perceive the difference. Of course a definition that makes it impossible to even talk about race and racism without “being racist” has no place in serious scholarship or activism about racism, which brings us to looking for some slightly more sophisticated definitions.

Racial prejudice refers to making an judgement about a person based on that person's race. The judgement could be about their worth (for example, whether to hire, whether to accept into college, etc.) or just an expectation of how the person will act, what they will like or dislike, etc. Racial prejudice is a part of an individual person's judgement and decision making process.

Racism is not the same as racial prejudice. In short, racism = prejudice + power. The longer explanation is that racism is a phenomenon that appears as part of a large-scale system (“society”) when there are imbalances in power between racial groups, and the prejudices of a privileged group serve, intentionally or unintentionally, to keep other groups in a position of disadvantage.

For the most part, in our globalized world there is no such thing as “racism against white people”. There may be environments in not-primarily-white countries where whiteness is not privileged in the local environment, but in the vast majority of these cases, white people have the privilege to leave and go somewhere else if they so choose.

Consciousness of race-correlated trends is not in itself racial prejudice, but can quickly become racism when applied by a racial group with institutional power in ways that disempower people of other races.

Some examples:

“Because John is white, I expect him to look down on black people.” - This is racial prejudice, and might be consciousness of a race-correlated trend (if there's good reason to believe a majority of white people look down on black people), but it's not racism.

“In the United States, murderers are more often sentenced to death when their victims are white.” - This statement is consciousness of a race-correlated trend, and shows awareness of systemic racism taking place at the hands of the justice system, but the statement itself is not racist nor racially prejudiced.

“Asian students are really good at math and science.” - This is racial prejudice, and stated from a white perspective, it's racist.

“Most of the Hispanic bikers don't wear helmets.” - Stated from a white perspective, this is racist. For one, it's extremely likely that the person making the statement is selectively noticing examples which reinforce a stereotype while ignoring examples that refute it, especially since it's hard to tell someone's race when they're wearing a helmet. And secondly, it comes across that the speaker is judging a whole race as reckless.

As a last thought on the meaning of “racism” and “racist”, it's a lot more productive to talk about racist actions and behaviors than about racist people. You can't know what's going on in somebody else's thought process but you can see the effects.

Any treatment of “racism 101” would be incomplete without mentioning privilege. Privilege refers to unearned advantages an individual enjoys purely by belonging to a group he or she had no choice to join or not to join - for example one's race, nationality at birth, physical features, sex, sexual orientation, etc.

The classic resource on (white) privilege is Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh.