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Thu Sep 17, 2015, 02:02 PM

White People Explain Why They Feel Oppressed [View all]


Modern white Americans are one of the most powerful groups of people to ever exist on this planet and yet those very people—or, if you're white, you people—staunchly believe that the primary victims of modern racism are whites. We see this in poll after poll. A recent one by the Public Religion Research Institute found 52 percent of whites agreed, "Today discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities." A 2011 study led by a Harvard Business School professor went deeper to find that "whites see race as a zero sum game they are losing." That was even the name of the study.It showed that over the last five decades both blacks and whites think racism against Blacks has been slowly declining, but white people think racism against whites is growing at a fast rate. White people are increasingly certain that they're being persecuted. The study also notes, "by any metric—employment, police treatment, loan rates, education—stats indicate drastically poorer outcomes for black than white Americans." White perception and the reality are completely at odds.

Why is it that some white people feel like they are the primary victims of racism? And why do they feel like giving any bit of liberty to black Americans means they are losing something? And why should I be an unpaid armchair psychiatrist interpreting the feelings of white people when I could just ask them? I mean, they're all over the place and available for study in their natural habitat. So I did my own unscientific poll, asking several white people to help me understand white people. Based off the responses, I found three primary explanations for why so many white folks feel like they are the true victims in America today.


For some white people, whiteness seems less economically valuable than it was decades ago. It's as if w­hite privilege doesn't take you as far these days in the same way that a dollar doesn't go as far as it did in your grandpa's time. Back in the Mad Men-era, if a white man showed up, he got a good job that let him take care of his family. No more, they say. But understanding the reasons behind that are hard. A woman who asked not to be named said, "Being a reasonably hard working white male no longer entitles you to respect or a middle class lifestyle. This has mostly to do with structural economic dynamics including increased competition globally and the decline of unions, but it's a lot simpler to blame it on the black person or Hispanic person who got the job that you think was supposed to be yours."

Jon Dariyanani, co-founder of a software start-up called Cognotion, echoed that sentiment. "It's much easier to believe that the reason the middle class life is slipping away from you is because some lazy group of people are soaking up resources and blocking the way, than to believe that it is caused by globalization and bad macroeconomic policy beyond any individual's control. 'Anti-white' racism relies on an economic anxiety that is almost entirely a fantasy."


Some of the white people I talked with feel like many white people lack of a deep understanding of race and racism. Tim Wise said, "Whites are used to thinking of racism as an interpersonal thing, rather than institutional. So we can recall that time we got shitty customer service by a black person, or had some black person make fun of us for something, and we think, 'we're the victims of racism now,' paying no attention to the ongoing systemic imbalance in our favor." This is in part because the nature of privilege is that you don't have to think deeply about your privilege if you don't want to.


Calling yourself color-blind is not progress—it's insulting.

I am not urging white people to feel guilty, I'm saying be more honest. As we move toward a nation where white people are less dominant, it will be critical that white people stop being racial ostriches, or sleepwalkers, and deal forthrightly with what it means to be white. Many white people say they have a strong desire to not discuss race because there's a chance they could make a mistake and end up somehow looking racist. But a lack of discussion about race leads to a lack of sophistication about race.



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