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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?

Is saying a white person can't be an expert in African-American studies racist?

  • 12 votes
  • 4 votes
JeffMurray 8 Aug 24

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Phytoplankton are plants so perhaps she made a mistake.

I wish, but it went on a tangent about how there could be oxygen in the middle of the desert where there are no bodies of water. Then she got even more perturbed when I said that wind and the fast movement of gas molecules was more than enough to move oxygen into areas and even used her own theory against her when I asked about how many trees are in the middle of the desert.


Are you referring to Rachel Dolezal?????

(If so, the above post is missing vital information to form an informed opine. If you're not referring to her, there still isn't a one-size-fits-all answer.)

Well, I'm not really sure in what manner I'd be referring to her, but in any case, I'm not sure why it would matter if it was her or not. What are the factors that you believe make it a racist or non-racist statement?


It matters because there's a false equivancy if you think /mean that a white woman portraying herself as a Black woman would have the same life experiences as an actual Black woman. Or that simply having a degree or degrees in African Studies somehow equates to being an expert in a field. That's why she matters in this particular thread.

Furthermore, a person, any person, can or may be considered an "expert" by x, y, or z, but found to be totally inept by a, b or c.

This isn't about color, it's about experts. Adding the color of the expert makes it about race.

@SeaGreenEyez So if we're saying one could study a subject for near a decade and get a doctoral degree and still not be considered an expert, wouldn't that say more about A, B, & C's ability to recognize an expert and less about the person's actual expertise? There are millions of Americans that believe Fauci is a quack and not an expert in the field of immunology and infectious diseases. Does that make him not an expert?

And while you may debate whether or not Ms. Diallo had the "actual" experience of a black woman, she was apparently considered to be enough of an expert to teach 5 different college courses, either way, we weren't talking about life experiences, we were taking knowledge/expertise.

All that aside, this was not about Diallo. It was a theoretical white person who earned their PhD in African-American studies. Simply put, is saying someone can't be (or is, by default) an expert of something simply because of the color of their skin a racist thing to say?

@JeffMurray I'm not going to fuss with you over Rachel Dolezal. It's very simple. She's an expert, alright.

An expert fraudster and liar. Going to college. Teaching at a college. Neither makes you a decent human being nor an expert in a field.

@SeaGreenEyez Again, none of this was about her.

@JeffMurray Then that was a terrific hypothetical about a real life person. 👍

@SeaGreenEyez Diallo doesn't have a PhD, so it wouldn't apply to her anyway. Ignoring anything related to Diallo, what is your answer?

@SeaGreenEyez Wait, are you suggesting that there aren't white people with doctoral degrees in the realm of African-American history?


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

You laid it out nicely. Well said

yes, well well said. accept my proposal of marriage. also, im looking foran heir to my eastate of 2.6 million dollars.


So can an atheist teach a theology course? Certainly, but not to that stupid bitch. Nobody can teach her anything because her mind is closed.


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.

Those aren't the same thing at all. The "bushman" is the part that makes them the expert, not their race. You actually didn't even denote race in your example. Why exactly couldn't a white person be a "South African bushman"? I think South Africa is like 10% white, so there's no reason they couldn't be.
Similarly, the "city dweller" is the informative part, not the "white". Would a black city dweller fare any better because he was black? See?
So these examples are not analogous to what we were discussing. It is not "merely factual" that one's skin color makes them more knowledgeable about African-American studies.

And there is zero truth to the claim that noticing racism is an indication one is racist. Do you think noticing other things makes you those things too? Does noticing child abuse mean you're an abuser? Does noticing alcoholism mean you're an alcoholic?

@JeffMurray ..... The original post used skin colour as a category, just as "bushman" is a category. I am a third generation Kenyan, pretty savvy in bush living. But my race means I am not as well adapted to it. My black skinned mates laughed about this when I had to blacken my exposed skin when tracking animals with a camera.
I feel the USA has allowed racism to dominate its way of life, instead of accepting the differences.

@Petter You really think modifiable and non-modifiable "categories" are the same thing?
Aside from that, I already admitted there are circumstances where claims of X because of skin color Y could be made specifically to provide a non-racist counter-example. These claims are almost exclusively statements of fact though and are not the types of things that usually come up in conversation. When was the last time you felt the need to mention in conversation that dark-skinned black people are less likely to get sun burned than Irish people?

Also, I have no idea what "allowed racism to dominate" means.

@JeffMurray Just forget it. You are fixated on proving racism in everything. I actually revel in the differences between races, but that is probably because I grew up in multi-racial societies where we joked about it.

@Petter You're displaying ignorance to several important concepts. One that I questioned you about that you didn't respond to above, and now glossing over the distinction between racial differences and racial disparity.


It's not racist, it's ignorant.
It's like saying that any Italian can make a better pasta dish than a non-Italian master chef!

Why can't it be both?

@JeffMurray It doesn't sound like she likes white people very much. What would you call that?

@barjoe Well my position is that anytime X simply because of skin color, it's most likely racist. (I say most likely because you could intentionally finish that sentence in a way that wasn't racist.)


I'm very interested in hearing the other side of this argument. Could the people who voted that it wasn't racist please comment and tell me why. I need to know what I'm missing. If I'm holding a stupid belief, I need to know so I can change.


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.

lerlo Level 8 Aug 24, 2021

I think I got everything you were saying, the conjunction 'it also may' confused me a bit though.
The restrictions we could place on things could get out of control. You can't be a lactation specialist unless you're a woman... who has had a baby... who nursed?
Astrophysicists aren't experts on space if they're not also astronauts?
Wait, can only hermaphrodites be gender reassignment surgeons? You wouldn't want someone who wasn't an expert performing a major surgery on you, right?

@JeffMurray I meant that they didn't necessarily mean it to BE racist, just you can't be an expert of something if you're not one kinda thing, that you picked up on.

@lerlo That makes it perfectly clear now. Thank you for the reply. And I'd certainly agree it wasn't meant to be racist, but looking at objectively one could see how it was.
When I pointed out how that other comment about black people dancing was racist, that other nurse was shocked. She thought there was no way it could be racist because she thought "it was so complimentary to black people". Just because she didn't know it, and couldn't understand why when it was explained to her, and thus, didn't intend for it to be racist, doesn't mean it wasn't, in fact, a SUPER racist thing to say.

@JeffMurray You didnt mention the black people dancing comment

@lerlo "(e.g. "they're only a good dancer because they're black" - a real statement made by a different coworker)."

@JeffMurray stereotyping is just another form of racism. As we know they're called generalizations for a reason

@lerlo There are other implications as well that highlight how offensive the statement was like the fact that it completely downplays the countless hours these dancers had practiced by claiming most of their talent was innate because of their skin color. It also suggests that if white people had the same base level of skill that black people were born with they would be better dancers than black people. There were others that came to light during the discussion, too, but she couldn't see reason.

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