By Guest Contributor Jaymee Goh, cross-posted from Silver Goggles
Dysconcious racism is a term coined by Joyce E King (in the Journal of Negro Education, Spring 1991, JSTOR, but you can get it through Google, too) as “the uncritical habit of mind (i.e., perceptions, attitudes, assumptions, and beliefs) that justifies inequity and exploitation by accepting the existing order of things as given.” It’s pretty much the reason why Moff’s Law exists as a comment policy on pretty much any blog that seeks to analyse pop culture.
You know when people say stupid sh-t like, “there will ALWAYS be racism,” or “people have ALWAYS been prejudiced towards one another” and “human beings are just like that”? And, like, what the fuck kind of argument are you going to have with that kind of statement, anyway? It’s not like there’s any kind of untruth to them; it’s just that it’s a really f-cking lazy thing to say and absolves people of any responsibility to actually think and address the problem of, you know, RACISM!
Dysconscious racism in steampunk is part of a larger attitude of escapism, usually exhibited by people who just think steampunk (and other kinds of fiction) is a fantasy, and whenever you try to engage with them about the political implications of their very problematic ish (whether it’s literature or world-building or whatever), they get their “Why Do You Have To Be So Political About This?” tantrums on and “Suddenly The World Is Ruined and it is Totally Your Fault” because you brought it up, so there.
On another note, dysconscious racism can include the refusal to consider the ins and outs of racism, and a lot of grouching about “being made to feel guilty.” Sometimes, some effort is made to engage, but there’s a lot of tip-toeing around the actual problem, a lot of stumbling around, and rather than have an actual conversation, we all sit around making vague statements about why racism still exists. Which, FYI, doesn’t actually help any.
Anti-racism is a conscious thing. It has to be cultivated as conscious habit. We grow up with so many unexamined assumptions and with poor education systems that cannot possibly cover the length and breadth of the world. Sometimes, our own education systems don’t even cover the ins and outs of our own countries’ histories (and seeing as how schools are as form of state apparatus to mold citizens that comply with state expectations, it’s no wonder!), so it’s easy to grow up not realizing all these histories.
Dysconscious racism, then, is sort of a default state of mind for a lot of people who refuse to develop the critical thinking skills needed to actively combat racism. There’re only so many ways to combat dysconscious racism, and unless the person exhibiting it is willing to give thinking a try, there’s really not much you can do, except reiterate, over and over, “racism can be fixed. Racism is not a natural state of being. Racism is not here to stay. Racism is taught, not intrinsic to humanity,” and hope they gradually internalize that.