This article is actually called "11 Ways White America Avoids Taking Responsibility for its Racism." However, I'm not copying any of the 11 ways, so I didn't put that in the subject line. I'm more interested in how this article describes racism as a default setting perpetuated by everyone, and not just horrible things done by horrible people, so that's the part I copied. But there's lots of interesting stuff here.
I am white. I write and teach about what it means to be white in a society that proclaims race meaningless, yet remains deeply divided by race. A fundamental but very challenging part of my work is moving white people from an individual understanding of racismi.e. only some people are racist and those people are badto a structural understanding. A structural understanding recognizes racism as a default system that institutionalizes an unequal distribution of resources and power between white people and people of color. This system is historic, taken for granted, deeply embedded, and it works to the benefit of whites.
The two most effective beliefs that prevent us (whites) from seeing racism as a system are: that racists are bad people and that racism is conscious dislike;
if we are well-intended and do not consciously dislike people of color, we cannot be racist. This is why it is so common for white people to cite their friends and family members as evidence of their lack of racism. However, when you understand racism as a system of structured relations into which we are all socialized, you understand that intentions are irrelevant. And when you understand how socialization works, you understand that much of racial bias is unconscious. Negative messages about people of color circulate all around us. While having friends of color is better than not having them, it doesnt change the overall system or prevent racism from surfacing in our relationships. The societal default is white superiority and we are fed a steady diet of it 24/7. To not actively seek to interrupt racism is to internalize and accept it.
As part of my work I teach, lead and participate in affinity groups, facilitate workshops, and mentor other whites on recognizing and interrupting racism in our lives. As a facilitator, I am in a position to give white people feedback on how their unintentional racism is manifesting. This has allowed me to repeatedly observe several common patterns of response. The most common by far is outrage:
that everyone would have to admit it, and no one would even try to deny it for fear of looking like an idiot.
A was naive.
Jeb Bush, FOX, I even thought they would have to admit it in this case.
And even here at DU there are people who think this wasn't about racism.
I have no optimism about our society's ability to eliminate racism when people so willfully deny racism in so obvious a racist crime. This is depressing.
No small part of our outrage and griefparticularly the outrage and grief of African-Americansis the way the Charleston murders are part of a larger picture of American life, in which black men and women, going about their day-to-day lives, have so little confidence in their own safety. One appalling event after another reinforces the sense that the countrys political and law-enforcement institutions do not extend themselves as completely or as fairly as they do for whites. In Charleston, the killer seemed intent on maximizing both the bloodshed and the symbolism that is attached to the act; the murder took place in a spiritual refuge, supposedly the safest of places. It was as if the killer wanted to underline the vulnerability of his victims, to emphasize their exposure and the racist nature of this act of terror.
Watching Obama deliver his statement Thursday about the Charleston murders, you couldnt help but sense how submerged his emotions were, how, yet again, he was forced to slow down his own speech, careful not to utter a phrase that would, God forbid, lead him to lose his equanimity. I thought of that sentence of James Baldwins: To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in rage almost all of the time. Obamas statement also made me think of Between the World and Me, an extraordinary forthcoming book by Ta-Nehisi Coates, in which he writes an impassioned letter to his teen-age sona letter both loving and full of a parents dreadcounselling him on the history of American violence against the black body, the young African-Americans extreme vulnerability to wrongful arrest, police violence, and disproportionate incarceration.
Obama never affords himself the kind of raw honesty that you hear in the writings of Baldwin and Coatesor of Jelani Cobb and Claudia Rankine and so many others. Obama has a different job; he has different parameters. But, for all of his Presidential restraint, you could read the sadness, the anger, and the caution in his face as he stood at the podium; you could hear it in what he had to say. Ive had to make statements like this too many times, he said. It was as if he could barely believe that he yet again had to find some language to do justice to this kind of violence. It seemed that he went further than usual. Above all, he insisted that mass killings, like the one in Charleston, are, in no small measure, political. This is the crucial point. These murders were not random or merely tragic; they were pointedly racist; they were political. Obama made it clear that the cynical actions of so many politicianstheir refusal to cross the N.R.A. and enact strict gun laws, their unwillingness to combat racism in any way that puts votes at riskhave bloody consequences.
We dont have all the facts, he said, but we do know that, once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun. At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesnt happen in other places with this kind of frequency. On race and politics, he was more subtle, but not stinting, either, lamenting the events connection to a dark part of our history, to events like the Birmingham church bombing, in 1963.
Roof, who was born in 1994, violently shatters one particularly entrenched myth that society holds about racism that todays millennials are more tolerant than their parents, and that racism will magically die out as previous generations pass on. We think that millennials should be lauded for aspiring to be colorblind. There is the belief that tolerant young people will intermarry and create a post-racial, brown society and that it will be beautiful.
But the truth is that the kids are not all right when it comes to racial equality. Studies have shown that millennials are just about as racist as previous generations:
As Jamelle Bouie at Slate noted:
Millennials have grown up in a world where we talk about race without racism or dont talk about it at all and where skin color is the explanation for racial inequality, as if ghettos are ghettos because they are black, and not because they were created. As such, their views on racism where you fight bias by denying it matters to outcomes are muddled and confused.
Which gets to the irony of this survey: A generation that hates racism but chooses colorblindness is a generation that, through its neglect, comes to perpetuate it.
and poorly faking a stereotyped version of an accent isn't a skill, any more than wearing blackface is. You not seeing the relationship between what she's doing and racism doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
We define "racism" as doing something horrible, like being a member of the KKK, using the N word, making racist jokes, etc. That means that to say someone is doing something racist, we are saying they are a horrible person. We use the word "racist" as a noun because that means that once someone has done or said something racist, we have decided they are horrible people and we dismiss them and everything they ever do as being unworthy of consideration or attention.
But I think that's totally off. Racism is bigger than that. It's a part of our society, and a part of every institution and system, built into them - sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. And we don't necessarily even see it because it's normal, particularly those of us who are white because it doesn't affect us in the same way.
If we look at racism in this way, we can see that nice and well intentioned people can accidentally say something racist without being "a racist." Without a need to dismiss every other thing they do and say ever. If someone says that Michael Moore put forward a racist idea, that doesn't mean they think he's "a racist" and should be dismissed as horrible and never to be listened to again about anything. It just means he's a privileged white person, just as all white people are, who didn't see the racism because we simply don't always see it. Not because we're bad, but because it's built into our society and just too big, and it doesn't affect us in the same way so we don't have the same response to it.
And if privileged white people accidentally say something racist, we don't have to get defensive. We can recognize that it's just being a part of our racist society and being privileged to not have that racism affect us in the same way, and not something horrible about us. We can learn from it - learn to recognize it better - and grow as people.
I wish we as white people could stop jerking our knees over the word "racism" and accept racism as what it is - something much bigger than one person, or a group of people. Something nice good people who are not "racists" (in the noun sense) can sometimes do accidentally, and that if we do accidentally do it, it doesn't make us bad people. How we should respond is to listen to the criticism of what we said, and learn from it, and try not to get defensive because there's no learning once someone becomes defensive.
I agree with the general idea - our money doesn't stretch as far as it did and particularly not as far as food goes, but I don't think 1998 was a year when you could buy that many groceries for anywhere near $20.
Profile InformationMember since: Sun Jul 4, 2004, 01:07 PM
Number of posts: 22,336