Racial discrimination is an awful thing. At this point, I think most of the enlightened world would agree that society would benefit from the elimination of stereotypes. But while they exist, it may not be so bad to take advantage of the ones that work in your favor.

Although “positive” stereotypes are detrimental to the racial group as a whole because they do not reflect real vicissitudes among individuals, they can be used to your advantage when you’re the beneficiary. If you’re a model minority and someone assumes that you are smart and industrious, roll with it. If you’re not actually intelligent and hard-working, this just makes it easier to fake it like everyone else does. This is especially the case with anything non-white being more “authentic.” This can apply to any aspect of culture, but if you have cultural authority based on the color of your skin, then use that empowerment to better spread your message.

Much has been written about Twelve Years a Slave winning the Oscar for Best Picture because of white guilt. Two Academy voters even when as far as voting for it without seeing it because of its “social relevance.” Ellen DeGeneres may have joked that there were two scenarios–either Twelves Years a Slave would win or the Academy is made up of racists–but she touched on the real issue of how much race played into the decision. “Social relevance” may just be a euphemism for white guilt.

Now here I’ll make a distinction between white guilt and affirmative action. Ostensibly, affirmative action is driven by a goal of diversity, and less so now to rectify past wrongdoings. White guilt is a response that European descendants feel towards minorities because of a history of imperialism, including institutionalized slavery. Although a college admissions officer may be inclined to admit the black candidate because her ancestors were slaveholders and she is correcting for some cross-generational moral deviance, her official line would be that the black candidate would increase the college’s “diversity.”

I won’t proffer an opinion on affirmative action here; that would take up entire post, if not the entire blog. However, I will say that white guilt is completely fair game. As a minority, you don’t know what kind of unspoken biases are held against you. Safe to say that most of those stereotypes are more detrimental than beneficial. You can work to subvert that racism because you know that it is wrong on a societal level, but you can also smartly use it to your advantage when necessary. So when a white person offers you some sort of concession because of some historical event that likely didn’t directly affect either of you, go ahead and grab it!

Lastly, if you are a white reader, don’t let white privilege blind you any more than pernicious racial biases do. Sometimes an Asian person is just not that smart; sometimes a black person is just not that athletic. And sometimes a movie about slavery is just not that great.

*NB: This also applies to Jews, of course.

Race relations is a sensitive subject for obvious reasons. It’s difficult to speak about the issues without running into walls of political correctness on one end or accusations of racism on the other. Being a minority, I’ve weathered charges of racism pretty easily. It seems that calling a white person racist is one of the worst insults imaginable to that person. Given the history of Caucasian discrimination in this country, I can see how whites would be especially offended by any sort of inferences of racism. However, as a child of immigrants from a country where racism is not a forefront issue like it is here, it’s just never seemed like a big deal. As I’ve gotten older however, I’ve become even more sensitive to subtle racism when the effect is too easily downplayed.

Whatever my feelings about racism, I hate the term “person of color.” At its simplest level, it splits people into a dichotomy–either you’re white or you’re not, as if that distillation is all that’s required for intelligent discussion of race. At least when you use the word “minority,” there could be instances where that minority, within a given population, could be white. But with “person of color” that can only mean that they are nonwhite. I don’t believe the charges that “minority” has connotations of subjugation.┬áNot only that, but the idea of categorizing based on skin color is archaic and should not be perpetuated in use.

I suppose that this is a necessary term when you’re talking about diversity programs, but that overlooks the problem that diversity programs that only seek to ensure a significant “person of color” population is inherently flawed. It is easy, living in a diverse city, to forget that most of the country is predominantly white and in many communities, minorities are so few and far between that they might as well be grouped together for a coherent antimajoritarian agenda. However, this parochial outlook should not represent the country any longer. Sure, there are still parts of the country where being Asian means you’re conceived of as either Chinese or Japanese, but the country as a whole is a pluralistic society.

As alluded to, the cloud hanging over this whole discussion is affirmative action. My stance is that affirmative action programs that simply seek to achieve non-white diversity would not be respectful of the diversity within the nonwhite community. These days, most affirmative action programs likely will group minorities into broad categories and seek adequate representation of those groups. Yet any time you set an arbitrary group, there will always be underrepresented subgroups. This has been a big problem with Asians and Pacific Islanders, commonly grouped together as one, but actually representing very diverse cultures. When the public perceives too many overachieving East Asians and proceeds to pass judgment on the achievement of South East Asians, it unfairly discriminates against that group that actually should benefit from affirmative action.

In season 5 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry adopts a dog that barks at black people. Wanda Sykes accuses the dog of being racist. Given that the dog was adopted by, and not raised by, the current owner, the discriminatory instinct of the dog probably can’t be attributed to Larry. But that made me wonder–should you blame an owner if his pet seems to be racist?

I have not done extensive research into animal behavior, but I would assume that animals have no racial preferences (towards humans) by nature. A dog should not care who raises it, as long as it’s given a good home. What animals do seem to pick up on however, is their owners’ reactions towards other people. If a type of person has a negative effect on the owner, the pet probably reflects the owner’s personality and preferences. If you train your dog to bark at minorities, that’s surely a bad reflection on you. But the pets often pick up on more subtle cues that non-self-realized racists may by unconsciously leaving.

People are pretty quick to blame owners for their pets’ bad behavior, including racism. But does that also count animals short in their free will? Can an owner be completely free of bigotry and still have a racist pet? Some friendly people have very bitchy cats (though I’d argue that all cats are bitchy to some extent). Some timid individuals might have loud and aggressive dogs. Pets have their own personalities to a certain extent, rather than exact mirror images of their owners. Maybe it’s not fair to blame the owners if the animal indeed barks more often at black people. Perhaps it’s because people don’t think that animals are so deficient in reasoning that any kind of learned behavior must be human-driven.

What do you think? Should we blame owners for racist pets?