During a long discussion with too many tangents to even try to remember, we touched on a topic that seemed to make one of the parties noticeably upset. The topic was about a Caucasian person being a professor of/ expert on African-American studies. She claimed that literally any black person was more qualified than any white person, even if they had spent close to a decade earning a PhD in the subject. I found that to be a ridiculous assertion. She was so angry at the mere mention that a white person could be an expert in that field that she thought it best if we moved along to the next topic. Not surprising, she also found something extremely objectionable in the course of that discussion as well, namely that most of our oxygen comes from marine plants, not trees. I never understood why people would be mad about facts, but she definitely was. She argued that if that were true deserts wouldn't have any oxygen (which, correct me if I'm wrong, seems to be a self-defeating argument because deserts don't have a lot of trees, either). When I tried to explain that wind and the fast movement of air molecules could easily account for why there is oxygen everywhere, she found that to be ridiculous as well.
So since that first discussion ended prematurely, I didn't get to make a few points I would have liked to. Most notably, claiming someone can/can't do something simply because of the color of their skin seems to me to be a clear example of a racist statement (e.g. "they're only a good dancer because they're black" - a real statement made by a different coworker).
So, does it go both ways? Is saying someone can't be an expert in African-American studies because they're white also racist?
Claiming a white person can't be an expert in AA studies is racist. Anyone can study anything and become an expert... you gray matter is important, not your BLM.
However, and perhaps this is where she is coming from and the source of her confusion, claiming that a white person can't be an expert in AA experience is on point.
As a non-AA but a POC, I can empathize and sympathize more with my AA brethern than my white brethren can. This is true. However, neither of us would ever be experts on what it is like to be AA in our society, to really experience what it's like to be AA.
So IMO, the source of her confusion is that she thinks that one must experience tostudy. So while it's certainly true that expertise born of both is best, there is expertise to be gained in either alone.
First, I'll give my interpretation of racism as the personal belief that people of particular skin colors or ethnicities are automatically inferior to what the racist considers important aspects of being human.
When on the specific topic of racism, I think academia is prone to sometimes miss the nuance and finer details of the subject that only experience may provide to enlighten some people. Not to say that experience is always necessary to fully understand, but some will not fully understand without it. A parent with biracial children may come to realize the hidden extent of racism through their children. Same goes for an interracial couple sharing the experience with their partner. Obviously, they themselves don't need to be the targeted race for those experiences to make them aware of their own knowledge gaps. I've seen this happen so many times that it's helped me understand how racism is sometimes confused with plain ignorance. It's not better, but it IS different.
That said, of course someone of a different race can become an expert in the social studies of another. Experience helps, and I would be more inclined to learn from someone with it, but it isn't absolutely necessary if they understood the nuance along with facts. I wouldn't base my understanding of the social issues in a different culture from a single source anyway. Making generalizations on the intellectual limitations of someone because on race is indeed prejudice at best. IMO
Seeing racism in everything is often a sign of being racist.
If a South African bushman, or an Australian aboriginal, claims to be better suited to survival in semi-desert than a white city dweller, he is not being racist, merely factual.
However, there are some white city dwellers who are just as capable, albeit very few.
If I went to college or otherwise dedicated myself to years of study on a particular subject I see no reason why I could not be an expert on anything regardless of my identity. I'm white and a man. If I could not achieve a level of expertise in African-American studies then for the same reason no man could ever be an OB/GYN. A woman could never be a proctologist. No one could ever be an expert on any culture that is now extinct. I don't know of any chimpanzees who are experts in primate studies but certainly a human couldn't.
While it certainly helps to have lived in a person's shoes (unless you've experienced discrimination in any form you really can't understand the feeling), under this theory, no history "expert" or professor could be such because they never lived in 1776 or 1492. So while I agree that it is also probably a racist comment, it also may just simplistically be a situation where a man can't be a maternal studies expert because he's not a woman, or a person can't be an expert in the history of the Yankees because they played for the Tigers. Anyone can study anything to the expert level, period.