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.