Georgia NeSmith
3 min readApr 30, 2022


You and I are not talking about the same thing.

You are talking about an abstraction that perhaps might be used in a legal case.

I am talking about real life experience. I am using a phenomenological POV, not an abstract scientific or social scientific POV.

If a person of color says they have experienced racism from a white person (there is NO SUCH THING as racism against white people, because racism is about a social system embedded in our culture for the last 400 years), then TAKE THEIR WORD FOR IT.

I have been told that something I said was racist. That hurt me a lot, but I was not about to give into being a white crybaby about it. I spent the entire night after reading her comment, and then thought, ok, how might a person of color (in this case it was a Native American) understand what I said as racist?

I cried a hell of a lot of tears. But BECAUSE I'VE PAID ATTENTION to what Black people and people of color say about "white tears" over being accused of racism, I worked really hard to understand WHY a Native American would experience what I said as racist.

An abstract definition of racism is USELESS in moments of personal interactions with Black people and people of color. Because THE EXPERIENCE OF RACISM is not abstract at all, but can cause serious pain and justifiable objections.

By working hard to see it from my accuser's point of view, I came to understand how what I did and said VERY DEFINITELY was REASONABLY experienced as racist.

It's about taking the trouble to LISTEN to someone else's pain, and through that COME TO UNDERSTAND how an abstract definition of racism simply harms more than it helps.

The harm of racism is IN THE LIVING OF IT.

Do you know anything about phenomenology and its use in cultural anthropology? I suspect you don't. When an anthropologist goes to study a population that is significantly distinct from their own, the first thing they have to do is to work hard to learn how the subjects involved define what they are doing and the meaning it has to them.

If you don't do that...if you impose a white Western, university-created (and of course Middle Class) perspective and language upon the people you study (that is, what that culture would define as "objective thinking," then you will FAIL TO HEAR how the people understand their world

You will arrive at conclusions that you insist are objective even tho you have thoroughly misunderstood how the people you have studied experience their lives and think about them.

Bottom line, that "objective" POV is actually the FARTHEST THING from objectivity because it imposed the researcher's idea of the world on the culture being studied. It will by necessity arrive at major ERROR.

So, what you would call an "objective" definition of racism would not really be objective at all. But rather a definition of experience that imposes the outsider's view on the culture and experience under discussion.

What you have in the dictionary definitions of racism are in fact definitions that are IMPOSED upon the people who experience racism from the outside.

There are TONS of anthropological literatures out there discussing that very idea, both in relation to the experience of subcultures as distinct from the experiences of people with the power to enforce THEIR very *UNOBJECTIVE* view about those experiences.

The only way to actually arrive at an objective point of view on racism is to...***L.ISTEN*** to how people talk about their direct experience of it in their daily lives.

Until you understand how racism is EXPERIENCED by people who are its targets, you cannot consider your definition as "objective."



Georgia NeSmith

Retired professor, feminist, writer, photographer, activist, grandmother of 5, overall Wise Woman. Phd UIA School of Journalism & Mass Communication, 1994.