Mainstream dictionary definitions reduce racism to individual racial prejudice and the intentional actions that result. The people that commit these intentional acts are deemed bad, and those that dont are good. If we are against racism and unaware of committing racist acts, we cant be racist; racism and being a good person have become mutually exclusive. But this definition does little to explain how racial hierarchies are consistently reproduced.
Social scientists understand racism as a multidimensional and highly adaptive systema system that ensures an unequal distribution of resources between racial groups. Because whites built and dominate all significant institutions, (often at the expense of and on the uncompensated labor of other groups), their interests are embedded in the foundation of U.S. society.
While individual whites may be against racism, they still benefit from the distribution of resources controlled by their group. Yes, an individual person of color can sit at the tables of power, but the overwhelming majority of decision-makers will be white. Yes, white people can have problems and face barriers, but systematic racism wont be one of them. This distinctionbetween individual prejudice and a system of unequal institutionalized racial poweris fundamental. One cannot understand how racism functions in the U.S. today if one ignores group power relations.
This systemic and institutional control allows those of us who are white in North America to live in a social environment that protects and insulates us from race-based stress. We have organized society to reproduce and reinforce our racial interests and perspectives. Further, we are centered in all matters deemed normal, universal, benign, neutral and good. Thus, we move through a wholly racialized world with an unracialized identity (e.g. white people can represent all of humanity, people of color can only represent their racial selves).
Even when violence stems purely from delusion in the mind of someone whos genuinely totally detached from realitywhich is extremely rarethat violence seems to have a way of finding its way to culturally approved targets. Yeah, most white supremacists arent crazy enough to go on a shooting spree, most misogynists arent crazy enough to murder women who turn them down, most anti-government zealots arent crazy enough to shoot up or blow up government buildings.
But the crazy ones always seem to have a respectable counterpart who makes a respectable living pumping out the rhetoric that ends up in the crazy ones manifestodrawing crosshairs on liberals and calling abortion doctors mass murdererswho, once an atrocity happens, then immediately throws the crazy person under the bus for taking their words too seriously, too literally.
And the big splashy headliner atrocities tend to distract us from the ones that dont make headline news. People are willing to call one white man emptying five magazines and murdering nine black people in a church and openly saying it was because of racea hate crime, even if they have to then cover it up with the fig leaf of individual mental illnessbut a white man wearing a uniform who fires two magazines at two people in a car in a bad neighborhood in Cleveland? That just ends up a statistic in a DoJ report on systemic bias.
Not to think about these things is to betray the dead. Not to speak of these things is to dishonor them. Let Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, look out her window at the flag of treason that is flown proudly at her state capitol and think about these things, and speak of them, before she pronounces herself so puzzled at how something like this could happen in South Carolina, the home office of American sedition.
Let Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jeb Bush, both of whom want to lead this troubled country, consider what it meant to absent themselves from campaign events in Charleston and think of these things and speak of them before they turn to their consultants about whether or not staying in a grieving city was what a leader should have done.
Let the elite political media that follows the two of them, roughly thrown into a maelstrom of actual news, look out onto the streets of Charleston and realize that politics exist for the purpose of governing a country, and not simply to entertain it.
Let Squint and the Meat Puppet think about these things and speak of these things before inviting Donald Trump, who is a clown and a fool, to come on national television and talk about his hair. Not to think about these things is to betray the dead. Not to speak of these things is to dishonor them.
Modern day lynching. But he just shot random black people instead of the specific one he's angry at. Of course I bet that's always happened too.
Racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. all go hand in hand. They are illness our society has. Deadly illnesses.
And the one that Roof used to rationalize his racist act was: women are beautiful, but their grace makes them fragile. Better that they stand back and let men defend them.
This argument is hundreds of years old, of course.
Its most clearly articulated in the history of lynching, in which black men were violently murdered routinely by white mobs using the excuse that they had raped a white woman.
Roof is the modern equivalent of this white mob. He believes that he and other white men own me and women like me you rape our women, he said possessively and so he justified gunning down innocent black people on my behalf. You are vulnerable, hes whispering to me, let me protect you.
What an entitled horrible horrible person: Supposedly he did it because girl he liked dated a black guy
From Tim Wise:
Before we dismiss this story as what it may well be -- an attempt to rationalize Roof's actions or at least humanize them -- let's reflect on the deeper and troubling meaning of this, if true. It appears as though the psycho-sexual insecurities of white manhood might be implicated in Roof's actions, in addition to other elements of racism. If so, this is supremely ironic, because it was only white supremacy --and its need to bestialize black men sexually and render them "threats" to white women (so as to control both those black men and the white women they supposedly coveted) -- that could have inspired this insecurity in the first place. Roof's insecurity and "shame" at "losing" "his woman" to a black guy was a "shame" he could only feel because this culture had so thoroughly inculcated the notion of a) white women as belonging to white men; b) white men as entitled to white women, and c) black men as hyper-sexual predators from whom those women need to be protected, but for whom they secretly lust anyway... White supremacist patriarchy is one sick ass philosophy of life.
Dalton Tyler, Roofs roommate, told ABC News that Roof spoke of starting a civil war and that he advocated racial separatism. He was big into segregation and other stuff. He said he wanted to start a civil war. He said he was going to do something like that and then kill himself, Tyler said.
Scott Roof, who identified himself as Dylann Roofs cousin, told me over the telephone that Dylann was normal until he started listening to that white power music stuff. He also claimed that he kind of went over the edge when a girl he liked starting dating a black guy two years back.
This scenario recalls a manifesto written by Elliot Rodger, who on May 23, 2014 gunned down six people in Isla Vista, California: How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me?
Dylann liked her, Scott Roof said. The black guy got her. He changed. I dont know if we would be here if not Roof then abruptly hung up the phone.
White Supremacy founded this country. It justified displacing and exterminating millions of indigenous people, for profit. It justified enslaving and trading fellow human beings, for profit. It continues to justify a system in which an elite few populate a hierarchically constructed top and are able to parcel out, or not, resources to the rest of us. Its 180° away from Americas stated democratic ideals. And it continues to be the organizing principle that constructs American institutions, American hearts and minds, and the American master narrative that one that tells us America was built by and for white people.
And get this: beyond who the White Supremacist culture values is what the White Supremacist culture values. In other words, if you cant look like a high-class, white, Christian, heterosexual, able-bodied dude, at least act like one. Oh, and dont get in their business. Dont rock the boat. Show emotional restraint, be on time, be efficient, and act independent. Also, choose data over anecdotes and intellect over instinct. And for Gods sake, understand that you exist in a hierarchy and stay in your damn place. There are all kinds of names for people who act outside of their assigned social boxes: bitch, uppity, pussy, crip, and NOCD among them.
Its this White Supremacist, stay-in-your-box, better-than/worse-than, bullying backdrop amidst which racial hatred, homophobia, misogyny, religious intolerance, classism, and other forms of oppression fester. And dont be fooledWhite Supremacy can come in seemingly benign packaging. Ive always found it easy to point my finger at people I see as bad and mean and racist yet, to some degree, all of it also lives in me. Images of white, male, Christian, able-bodied, hetero as normal and superior saturated my young life. How could I not have internalized White Supremacist norms? I would be lying to say Im anything other than a recovering White Supremacist.
How about you? Can you go there? Can you examine how White Supremacy manifests in your school? Your company? Your town? Your mind? Your heart? Can you see it? Feel it? Name it? This is what eradicating racism, I mean White Supremacy, requires. Lets go there.
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.
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