Also published on Medium, with audio version available to Medium members.
Look, I get it. I totally understand your reluctance to discuss racism. I know that even hearing the words racism or worse, racist, feels accusatory – offensive, even. I hear you saying, “I’ve never personally owned a slave; why should I be held responsible for things that happened so long ago?” I also know how much you hate it when people “play the race card” to take away things you deserved, like that job promotion. I mean, since Affirmative Action discriminates against white people, that is reverse racism, right?
I get it. I get it because I used to think like that, too.
I never thought of myself as a racist. I’d always had black friends. I grew up adoring Michael Jackson and Prince. The Cosby kids, Gary Coleman… all staples of my youth. I revered the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., I hoped to have the bravery and fortitude of Rosa Parks. I voted for President Obama, twice. How could I be complicit in any kind of racism, and furthermore, why was I being held accountable for it? The cognitive dissonance was strong.
You don’t think of yourself as a racist, either – and please know, I’m not calling you one. I know you’re a good person. I know you have black friends. I know you look back on Jim Crow laws with disdain and embarrassment. I know you were horrified and maybe even shocked seeing such unabashed, overt racism on parade in Charlottesville last August. I know it shook you to the core seeing angry white racists – who don’t represent the majority of us – with a very depraved idea of “patriotism,” marching with their tiki torches, protesting the removal of confederate statues while chanting “blood and soil.” When an innocent counter-protester was killed, I know that you mourned over what this world has seemingly become.
It was quickly revealed that the Charlottesville murderer was a white supremacist, and as you lifted your chin from a momentary feeling of shame, you washed your hands of racist idiots and then? You distanced yourself, and you moved on. It felt good to shake your head at the dregs of society, and to stand in solidarity with the peaceful, sane, rational people who are still left in this world.
But see, here’s the thing with racism. It doesn’t always show up in a white hood, carrying a burning cross (or tiki torch, for that matter). In fact, there’s an even more insidious kind of racism than the Neo-Nazism we saw running amuck in Charlottesville. It’s insidious because you don’t even know you’re infected with it; it’s covert, it’s invisible.
Does the presence of a black man make you walk a little faster or lock the doors from the inside of your car? If a black teen is walking through your neighborhood at night, do you keep a watch on him for “suspicious activity?” Do you assume he’s a “thug” if he’s wearing droopy jeans and a hoodie? Have you ever used the phrase “playing the race card” in regard to a person of color? Do you say or do things behind closed doors that you’d never say directly to, or in the presence of your black friends (or gay, or trans, or feminist friends)?
Racism has been so meticulously sculpted and embedded into every aspect of American life that we refer to it as systemic. In other words, we have a historically-based system already well-established, in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity. We see systemic racism through discrimination in education, banking & finance, mortgages & home lending, employment and unemployment, and so much more. Look no further than our prisons to see the racialized power imbalance in our justice system; there’s a reason why mass incarceration is called “the new Jim Crow.”
Systemic racism also confers that in America, white is not only the dominant race, but also the default race. This is why when you turn on your TV, look at billboards along the highway, pick a magazine off the rack, or watch the news, you see people of your own race widely represented, and usually, speaking as authority figures. Systemic racism is the reason why when you go almost anywhere, whether it’s to see a new film, or to the store to purchase books, cards, shoes, dolls, bras, or panty hose, for example, you can be guaranteed that they will match (or come close enough to) your own skin color if you want them to.
Systemic racism is not only why you can easily find items such as cosmetic foundation, blemish concealer, tinted moisturizer, and band-aids in just about your exact skin tone, but also, it’s the reason why these items are frequently given color-associated names like “flesh” or “nude.” As white people, we don’t give much thought to this. But covertly, these messages insinuate that white people’s skin is the only valid color, the only color capable of creating a “flesh” illusion, the only color that can pass as “nude.” We’re completely conditioned to take subtle implications like this for granted, yet they serve to reinforce our present hierarchy and privilege as a Caucasian race.
Oppressive structures and systems in return contribute to a more dangerous, insidious form of racism that brews deep inside each of us white folks. This type of racism is dangerous because its roots are deep, and we’ve failed to starve it. It lives and perpetuates because it’s constantly fed by our denial. Further, it functions without our knowing consent and without our direct approval. That insidious, covert form of racism may just be the strongest chokehold we have on people of color right now. That’s the thing we have to become highly aware of first, before we can even begin to do right by our friends of color.
Also, we need to clear up a common misconception. Racism in America does not mean one group of people hates another group of people, or that one group thinks they’re better than another. When we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge, that’s implicit bias. We all have some degree of implicit bias. If we negatively pre-judge another person or group, that’s prejudice. Writer and racial justice educator Debby Irving states, “a person of any racial group can be prejudiced towards a person of any other racial group. There is no power dynamic involved.”
If we then act on impulses of implicit bias or prejudice in a way that takes away from another person’s experience, especially when that person is minority or of a marginalized community, that’s not only hurtful, but it’s also discrimination. If we have a very severe case of prejudice that is accompanied by discriminatory behavior, that is bigotry. As Irving says, bigotry is “arrogant and mean-spirited, but requires neither systems nor power to engage in.”
Racism may have elements of implicit bias, prejudice, discrimination, and bigotry, but the key difference is power. Racism, defined by Irving is:
“the system that allows the racial group that’s already in power to retain power. Since arriving on U.S. soil white people have used their power to create preferential access to survival resources (housing, education, jobs, food, health, legal protection, etc.) for white people while simultaneously impeding people of color’s access to these same resources. Though “reverse racism” is a term I sometimes hear, it has never existed in America. White people are the only racial group to have ever established and retained power in the United States.”
Another concept to realize is that “playing the race card” doesn’t actually exist. What does exist is a widespread misconception that people of color get privileges at the expense of white people, that people of color are given a VIP pass without even having to try. But that’s not how it works. For example, Affirmative Action does not admit someone into a school because of their race. What Affirmative Action programs do say, however, is that all things being equal, the tiebreaker should go to a person of color in recognition of the structural oppression that obstructed their advancement up to that point. Yet, in the words of writer Andrew Hernández:
“Unfortunately, many white folks still misunderstand Affirmative Action as some kind of free meal ticket. Why? They rarely see all of the people of color who didn’t even get the chance to be considered for such a program.”
Affirmative Action programs are designed to help people of color access the schools and jobs from which they’ve been historically excluded. So no, it’s not “reverse racism.” Racism is privilege plus power. Because white people have the symbolic power and are privileged (i.e. not an oppressed people), it is impossible for them to be the recipients of systemic racism.
The next concept, white privilege, may be one of the hardest for my fellow white people to understand, but stick with me:
If you’re white, even if you’re not an overt racist, even if you know in your heart that you don’t ever discriminate against people based on the color of their skin, you still benefit (through no choice of your own) from the way systems and institutions are set up to function in this country. This is what’s meant by the term white privilege. If the sound of that phrase makes you sigh, don’t worry. White privilege doesn’t mean what it sounds like it means; it’s not an insult. It’s just a fact. It doesn’t mean that you are “favored.” It doesn’t mean that everything in life was handed to you free, that you’ve had a carefree and lazy life, or that you didn’t pull yourself up by the bootstraps to get where you are now. It also doesn’t assume you’re in a financially stable, mentally healthy, happy part of life right now, either.
White privilege, as famously described by Peggy Macintosh, is “an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in every day, but about which I am meant to remain oblivious.” If you’re white in America, by virtue of the color of your skin, you were born with a few advantages not afforded people of color. You’re also socially conditioned to be unaware that you have privilege (again, not your fault). White privilege means that you can live your life and you won’t be disadvantaged because of the color of your skin. You might be poor, you might not have privilege in the way of upper (or even middle) social class, but if you’re white, you are statistically more likely to be hired for a majority of jobs because of your skin color.
It doesn’t matter if your family never owned slaves. As a white person in America, you still benefit from the oppression of black people in ways you don’t even think about. The very America we know today was built by slaves, who were unpaid laborers, for centuries. Western fields of mathematics, astronomy, science, technology, metallurgy, architecture, engineering, medicine, and navigation were all built off the knowledge of black slaves from Africa.
The Constitutional rights and opportunities that white people enjoy were not even available to black people until 53 years ago. That, viewed alongside the fact that only white people could accumulate land and property until as recently as the 1940s, and you can maybe begin to understand why many young black people today don’t have a rich elderly grandmother who set up college funds and a nest egg for her grandchildren based off of her family’s accumulated wealth.
“But,” you say, “my family isn’t rich… I grew up poor, in a trailer park. How do I have any privilege?”
To answer that, I recommend reading this essay: “Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person,” by Gina Crosley Corcoran. There are simply no better words to explain white privilege to white people – at least not that I’ve found. For another compelling viewpoint, staff writer for The Root, Michael Harriott, describes white privilege with this analogy:
“Imagine the entire history of the United States as a 500-year-old relay race, where whites began running as soon as the gun sounded, but blacks had to stay in the starting blocks until they were allowed to run. If the finish line is the same for everyone, then the time and distance advantage between the two runners is white privilege. Not only can we see it, but we can actually measure it.”
When we go to school and learn about our heritage and our nation’s history, if we are white students, we are shown that people of our own color made America what it is, and we can most likely count on our children being taught the same narrative from their school’s selection of Eurocentric text books. This is white privilege.
White privilege also ensures little luxuries like, if we travel and stay in a hotel, the complimentary shampoo will typically work well for the texture of our hair, and if not, the travel-size section of a nearby drug store will generally always contain an assortment of hair products that will work for us. Further, white privilege is the reason why we buy our hair products from the “hair product” aisle in the first place, and not an “ethnic” section, or a separate “specialty” store altogether.
White privilege leads us to (knowingly or not) having some sense of entitlement. As a white person, if that hotel we’re staying in only provides African Queen Moisturizing & Skin Lightening Soap instead of the plain Dove Soap we’re accustomed to, we might feel like we’re on a Twilight Zone episode, or at least, we might feel slighted. We’re accustomed to not only seeing, but expecting/being entitled to “white” things. White privilege also means that every time we look at a piece of American currency to purchase white things, we always see a white person’s face on that currency. And if, in our travel we visit historic places or monuments, we’ll likely be reminded of how much we celebrate our American white history (which is every day).
White privilege is also why we can cope well in difficult situations without being insulted, like being called “a credit” to our race, or “well-spoken” for our race, and why we can be fairly certain that if we ask to speak to “the person in charge” we will be facing a person of our own race. (For more of this list, visit Peggy Macintosh’s 1989 article, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.
A long time ago I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I adored the poet, writer, and civil activist, Maya Angelou. Before the world lost her in 2014, I tried to absorb as much of her writing as I could. She had genius wisdom and more than enough famous quotes to prove it. Some of my favorites are:
“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”
“When people show you who they are, believe them.”
This quote I didn’t find until much later in life, but it profoundly moved me, and helped me with accountability:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
When I began reading, learning, and later advocating for my *TGNC child, I also got an education and small glimpse into the microcosm of some other marginalized communities as well, including people of color. Needless to say, it was eye-opening, and Maya Angelou’s words “when you know better, do better” resonated on a deep level.
I learned that I personally was contributing to systemic racism without even realizing it. And, I was getting a lot of things wrong with regards to language, perpetuating stereotypes, jokes, and some deeply held personal biases that I didn’t even realize I had, which I had to dig up, expose to light, and confront head-on. This led to me having some deep, white guilt. It was pretty unnerving to realize that not only was I part of the problem, but also, didn’t know how I could fix it.
Ultimately, I realized that the point of all this wasn’t for me to engage in self-condemnation; it was about me shutting up, listening, and understanding so I could do something within my power to help change the future. It wasn’t my fault that I was born with white skin, but, by acknowledging and seeking to understand the fundamental ways in which I unknowingly collude with oppression every day, I could begin to try and change that; that part was my responsibility. “When you know better, do better.”
After sitting with that discomfort, I had to make the conscious decision to listen rather than talk every time a minority or marginalized voice was speaking. In order to really understand, I had to start re-reading history – the books that might’ve been censored from my public education experience – and I had to seek out the written words and personal narratives of people in various marginalized communities.
Becoming highly aware (or “woke” as the kids say) is done by listening without talking (or having to have the last word), and really, truly acknowledging that the problem exists. This means you must wholeheartedly resist the temptation to say, “I hear you, but…” This is the very first step toward change. From there, your mind can be open to more compassion, and possibly even a desire to make things a bit better moving forwards.
Having said that, despite the small growing number of white people who are becoming woke, who want to start working to tackle racism, our society is at this strange point in discourse where the topic of racism has become so taboo that anyone trying to speak out against it tends to suffer some level of material consequence from other white people, such as character assassination. We’re accused of being “divisive,” or something like that. We’re dismissed as “angry” or we’re conveniently ignored. Instead of being outraged when the door cracks and racism tries to enter the discussion, my white friends, why not direct your outrage at actual racist rhetoric that you’ve been complicit in perpetuating?
Think about it. What is your knee-jerk reaction to being called out for “racism?” In actuality, insults only hurt deep down if they’re true. This is exactly why I can laugh it off and not feel a tinge of pain when someone sends me an e-mail accusing me of being a “child abuser” for supporting my trans child. It the furthest thing from the truth, it’s so absurd and foolheaded that all I can do is shake my head and chuckle at the irony.
Likewise, there’s no need to take personal offense at having white privilege, or being called out for racist remarks. Racism is not about you, nor is it a personal attack on your moral character. (I mean, unless you’re a member of the KKK, Neo-Nazis, or other white supremacist groups). The whole system was set up a long time ago, on purpose, for invisible, covert racism to thrive, without our knowledge or consent. It’s not your fault. But, once you understand this, it is your fault if you choose to be willfully ignorant.
“When you know better, do better.”
There are a few more things we’ve got to understand, my fellow white people. One is this: just because you don’t personally see it yourself, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. (Which can also be applied to homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, etc.) Another is this: it’s willfully ignorant to believe that we live in a meritocracy. We don’t. If we did, then the upper tiers of corporate America would not be crawling with middle-aged, cisgender white men.
There are many other different things we say and do, often that we’re not even aware of, that enable and perpetuate systemic racism. (Also, when we say and do these things, we prove without a doubt that we have that insidious form of invisible racism, alive and well, inside of us). Here are the top six types of invisible racists we encounter most often:
1.) Colorblind racists: These people say what they say with conviction and good intentions. They sincerely believe what they’re saying is progressive, the Cadillac of political correctness. These people tend to say, “I don’t see color; I just see people.” Or some variation of, “we all bleed the same.” Unfortunately, even with good intentions, if you say this (especially in a conversation about race and racism) you’re definitely pleading guilty to your denial of white privilege.
What you’re really communicating is “I don’t see color because I don’t have to.” Which means you have the privilege of ignoring the every day realities of racism that don’t affect you personally. If we can’t even be open to entertaining the possibility that a person of color is bearing witness to real pain they feel, then we are defining the very notion of white supremacy.
2.) Defensive racists: These people are always the first to point out, “but not all white people are racist!” Well, of course not all white people are overtly racist. But if you say “not all white people are racist” in response to people of color calling out structural inequalities and institutionalized racism that hurts them, what you’re really saying is “I’m going to take your pain, your tears, your very real hurt, and make it all about ME.” (a.k.a., “white tears.”)
Think of it this way: If you wouldn’t say it in front of your black friends, it’s definitely a racist remark. You also can’t absolve yourself by saying, “but I have black friends.” If you’re perpetuating stereotypes that would hurt an entire race of people, that is racism. This type of defensiveness is also a shut-down technique. It’s meant to be the last word, to punctuate the discussion with a period, and further, it’s an attempt to absolve the person of their white privilege.
3.) Apologetic racists: These people are the Paula Deen’s of racism. They are masters of manipulation. Guilt trips and white tears are hallmarks of their behavior. These people say what they want to say, and if a person of color has the chutzpah to call it out, the apologetic racist will resort to an overly tearful, remorseful, “It hurts to know that you think I’m racist.” They appear sorry only when called out, then, a tearful apology follows that further draws the attention back to the white voice and away from where it belongs – to the black voice that’s saying, “what you just said is racist, and it hurts me.” The right thing to do in this situation is remain calm and thank the person for making you aware, and a validation that you hear their words. That is even better than an apology.
On that note, there’s another common misconception that occurs across all minority or marginalized communities, with regard to the “majority peoples'” attitude. I find myself writing some form of this every time I write, so it bears repeating:
It is not the responsibility of minorities (people of color, gay, trans, etc.) to educate you or to forgive you every time you have another, and another, and another lapse. It is your responsibility to take the initiative to do better on your own. How? Read black (or gay, or trans, or feminist) writers. Listen to their voices. When they are talking, do not knee-jerk and say something defensive in response. Just. Listen. The only time it’s acceptable to say something in response is if you’re going to take what you learned from that marginalized community or person, and use it to further the conversation and help educate other white people (or heterosexual people, or cisgender people).
4.) Gaslighting racists: These people seek to sow seeds of doubt in hopes of making people of color question their own truth. They also tend to want to alleviate their white guilt. They say things like, “this isn’t about race; not everything is about race!” They also label those of us who talk about racism as “being divisive,” while neglecting to recognize that what’s actually divisive is centuries worth of black oppression that still is not over, like gerrymandering, the lingering effects of racial restrictive covenants in housing, racial profiling measures like stop and frisk, the overwhelmingly black population of mass incarceration, and the school to prison pipeline, for example.
5.) Denier Racists: Deniers try to prove racism doesn’t exist. They take angles that try to leverage the number of black people in power (like Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé, Gen. Colin Powell, etc.) with the fact that racism can’t possibly exist. They argue things like, “But we have had a black President!” Remember, a black president was the exception, not the rule. 43 white presidents, 1 black president. (And look what followed the black president: an orange one, with a very green case of Obama-envy. But, I digress.)
When we deny the realities of systemic racism, we are in essence attempting to silence the conversation. We are also fooling ourselves into believing that we live in an imaginary, utopic world of meritocracy and post-racial society. By denying that color plays a role in injustice and ineqality, we are in no way improving the lives of people of color.
6.) Racing Racists: Obviously these people love a contest. They think oppression is a game or competition with a winner who stands to inherit something valuable. “You had slave ancestors? I had an entire branch of my family killed during the Holocaust!” That’s the type of sentiment these people relay, which is an attempt to diminish, lessen, or silence the experience of the person of color. This is not only insensitive, but also a deflection technique that, like the defensive racist, attempts to take the microphone away from the person of color to whom it belongs, and hand it over to the loudest voice, the one who doesn’t need amplification in that moment. Even if this is said with the intent to connect, it’s not a good way because it’s just another way that white people completely undermine and invalidate the person of color.
Now, I know you have abundant what-about questions like, “what about black-on-black crime?” Well, first of all, crime is crime. Second, you’re conveniently forgetting white-on-white crime (which accounts for 56.4% among poor urban white people, as compared to 51.3% among poor urban black people). And actually, black people hate crime just as much as white people. In fact, they have been creating music, rapping, marching, protesting, and holding vigils against violence in black communities for years.
What if we look at white-on-everyone-else crimes? Let’s consider a few whites with a known propensity for serial murder: Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy, David Berkowitz, Henry Lee Lucas, Edmund Kemper, Gary Ridgway, James Huberty, George Hennard, Timothy McVeigh, Jeffrey Dahmer, Larry Gene Ashbrook, Luther Casteel, Ronald Popadich, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Mark Barton, Terry Ratzmann, Kyle Huff, Robert Hawkins, Nicholas Troy Sheley, George Sodini, Robert Stewart, Tyler James Peterson, Ted Kaczynski, Dennis Rader, Michael Kenneth McLendon, Eliott Rodger, Isaac Zamora, Scott Evans Dekraai, Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Dylan Roof, Chris Speight, Jared Lee Loughner, Stephen Paddock, Devin Kelley… the list goes on.
“But, how come black people can use the n—– word with each other, but white people can’t say it at all? Isn’t that reverse racism?”
Stop. Just stop.
Listen to what you’re actually saying. You know how you can berate your younger brother all you want, but if anyone else dares try, all bets are off and you go into protect mode? I mean, what are you even arguing for in this scenario? What outcome do you want? Do you really want to be able to use the n—– word, whether casually or for an attack? “It’s just the principal of the matter; it’s a double standard,” you might respond.
Let me make this comparison. Sometime last century, the word “queer” used to be one of the worst, most offensive labels we could give a guy. But then the Stonewall riots happened and queer, gay people decided there was nothing wrong with the word queer, and so they took it back. They reclaimed and de-stigmatized the word, thus, stripping it of its offensive power. There’s something to be said in that act of bravery.
Look, I know this thinking goes against the grain and feels “too liberal,” my white friend. But honestly? It’s not about politics. I mean, sure, the acceptable level of discourse because of who’s at the political top has been completely, for the moment, destroyed. But this is about beginning to mend the damage. This is about beginning to “reach across the aisle and work together,” (to use a political phrase). This is about not just restoring basic human decency and dialogue, but rising above, to the point where we can have healthy, functional dialogue — dialogue that leads to change. That level of dialogue can’t happen without your active listening first, though.
The next time you hear a phrase like “check your white privilege,” rest assured that you’re not being attacked, or being told to feel guilty about your identity or skin color. Checking your privilege is just an act whereby you give consideration to the fact that your words or actions may be furthering the oppression experienced by minorities or marginalized communities. It’s a call to think and act differently, and to be a better human.
If by reading this article you felt offended, attacked, or that it’s just all too much political correctness, ask yourself why. There’s probably a very relevant reason.
“When you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou
*TGNC = trans and/or gender nonconforming
Hello, awesome reader! You made it this far! Thanks so much. Since my goal is to change the narrative on gender diversity & marginalized communities (and I just also love dialogue), please feel free to comment. I read them all and try to always respond. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it around, liking me on Facebook, or following me on Twitter and/or Medium. Lastly, my writing is all reader-funded so if it resonates in any way, you can even throw some spare change my way so I can continue furthering the narrative. (I’d gladly accept glitter, but it doesn’t pay the bills.) You’ll find me here on Patreon, or here on Paypal. Read more on HuffPost, or on my website, Gender Creative Life. Thanks for supporting independent journalism.
82 thoughts on “The Kind Of Racism You Don’t Even Know You Have”
Bravo! So very well written!!
Thanks for reading and responding, Patti!
This gave me hope as black person to know that’s there people like yourself out there who actually get it! I heavily encourage you to keep spreading this message out to your race peers in hopes they would put a end to the bullshit because only white people can end it not blacks, no matter how much we march or fight in hopes to find glitches in the matrix. I salute you! We need more people like you! This made my day, thank you! It takes effort for white person to be this aware and informed, I bow to your concern even when it don’t affect you, I respect your journey and the difficulty of it. I loved this, definitely on point! Didn’t miss a beat!
Idiot at best. Unbelievable and retarded. Oh did you get your feelings hurt? Wake up, look around. I don’t care what you have to say about this. You are wrong and you have nothing as proof of what you are saying. It is absolute rubbish, but it is well written.
Wow what a powerful read.Thank you so much for giving me a wake up.Was exactly what i was looking for to educate myself .
Little late but I havent read this in full yet but I don’t consider myself responsible for slavery. Would tell modern Germans they are responsible for killing millions ofJews? Would you go to Japan and blame the current generation for Pearl harbor?
I don’t feel it’s wrong to say color blind. I will keep saying it because it applies in many situations. If I was an employer, I would nott see ksin color.
As for getting shot by police, is it right to frame ‘privilege’ in just not getting shot by cops? Some stories only tell you what they want .
Also if you go to a Native American owned store /.casino Don’t hand them a $20 . Andrew Jackson led the trail of tears so the refuse $20 bills.. If you ask me Native Americans have been the most marginalized people.
Sometimes, POC use ‘privilege’ to keep from doing better and turn a blind eye to other marginalized groups. I don’t deny racism exists, but don’t just frame it under one group or one factor. My ‘whiteness’ hasn’t made me advantaged. ;.
this is pretty good and covers a lot…..
Thanks for reading and responding!
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Comprehensive, informative, thorough, thought-provoking, and honest in the way that doesn’t seek to further fuel racial hostilities but makes a genuine attempt to bring back some much needed civil discourse when discussing a very sensitive topic like racism.
I don’t write on this topic much, because I don’t want to be just another white person taking up space that belongs to black voices. But, most of my readers are white, and I’m not so sure all of them are reading black writers, so… Thanks for reading, and for the kind words of support.
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You got it!
Today my white husband admitted our current president “may be a racist, dick after all”. It took a while for him to get here. Years of explaining these points in your article. This article gives me solace, and I will share with the hopes of reaching the reachable. Thank you.
Awesome article. Systemic racism is why my friend’s husband often gets mistaken for a gardener when he works outside, in their upper-class suburban home. It’s why a cartoon image on a Corn Pops box “accidentally” depicted a darker version of cereal on the character that was cleaning up after all the other “corn pops.” It’s why black people are subject to more scrutiny when making a withdrawal from their own bank accounts, if it’s a lot of money. It’s why a dear friend of mine (who has since passed away) was able to qualify for an apartment over the phone, but was turned down when she showed up with the check. The owner just didn’t realize that a black woman could sound just like a white woman. But the money from her hand wasn’t the same as it would have been from a lighter-colored one.
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Thank you so much for reading, and for your thoughtful response. The examples you listed are not just anecdotal. They are prime examples of what happens every day in America. I’m so glad Kellogg’s owned their mistake and fixed it quickly. What’s sad, though, is that the people all over America who got *salty* because Mr. Ahmed called out racist imagery are the same people who don’t realize they’re just reinforcing the problem.
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I love this insightful piece of joutnalism!
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Thank you for reading and responding, Leigh!
I’ve listened to the audio and read this on Medium, enjoying it a great deal though it is coached as a conversation between yourself and other Euro-Americans. Of special note was your acknowledgment of Racist Gaslighting, a recurring theme throughout my life. So many appluaded your work and I wish I knew these people because as a Black Woman Born Transgender, I haven’t met a White Trans Woman that hasn’t argued against just about every point you make. For example CrossPort of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana has had one Black member that attended regularly, myself during it’s entire history. In 2004 when I dared ask why in a community that was 48% African-American they thought this was the case, some members were so angry they took to screaming ow sick they were of hearing Black people, that race doesn’t matter, that transition is just as hard for Whites as for anyone else. Months later when I got fed up and lost my temper over that continued perspective, I didn’t get a pass like their behavior did. The interesting thing is that in 2016 the same ideology about race hasn’t changed. Colorblindness is claimed but the repetition of this idea Race is Political, Transition is Personal is what ended my attempt to approach the community for reconciliation. That is how they and every Midwestern support group I’ve contacted justify a policy of taking no action to reach out to historically excluded communities of Trans identity. That would be activism and that is not their mission. According to these communities I’m racist for raising the topic of racism. When in the Cincinnati Trans Community Facebook page I asked about how widespread this is, the comment was made, “What are we supposed to do, go out in the street and drag Black people into our meetings?” That was the beginning of the end for me. I can only assume that only a White person speaking this way can be hedrd by White or Black people. I forgot to mention the number of minorities who defend these people. It’s a surreal experience. I personally don’t see how to live my life fully while spending energy on constantly trying to figure out if someone is genuine or Gaslighting me. I’m done.
Thank you for reading and responding. You’re right: it is coached as a conversation between myself and other Euro-Americans. The reason is because those demographics make up my base readership, and in my experience, it’s those folks who need to learn the most. I’m always hoping that the message will get through to just one person, because that’s how change starts. That’s how it started for me, anyway. I also just want to validate and bear witness to your comments about the absolute hardships that black trans women face. All we have to do is look at HRC’s annual statistics to see that fatal violence disproportionately affects trans women of color, and, as the HRC website reads, “the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities,” and those are all barriers that make black trans women, in particular, much more vulnerable than any other people.
It’s hard to believe that in this day & age anyone would still say “Race doesn’t matter… transition is just as hard for whites as for anyone else,” yet folks who say these things never cease to amaze me. They exist everywhere.
This is all really about how open white people’s minds are, and how much they’re willing to learn, despite the inevitable discomfort. I think most white people sincerely believe that saying things like, “I’m colorblind; I don’t see color; I just see humans” is inherently good, and the morally correct way to think and believe. I don’t think they’re aware that by saying “I don’t see color,” they are erasing the entire narrative of black people, which further marginalizes them.
And you are certainly NOT racist for for raising the topic of racism; I’m sure you know this. But the gaslighting effect is strong when everyone is telling you the opposite. I’m so sorry you’ve had to endure those type of extremely toxic and hurtful statements. Please don’t give up. I have hope things will one day change for the better. xx
Appreciate that 👍🏾
Thank you. I wrote this with our collective negative “ism’s” and “phobias” in mind. I believe it’s time for more white people to stand up and begin to really demand and challenge each other to be better by example. 1 drop in an empty bucket is 100% more than was in it before. Step up, do your damn part to help our brothers and sisters.
Here is my damn part for this moment. I am GUILTY. I am GUILTY of saying the words that I am colorblind among people of color. I am GUILTY of saying that AND guilty of not realizing the impact of that. And I’m genuinely sorry for diminishing the incredible traumas and incredible pains that have been suffered. AND the incredible cultural heritage and amazing contributions of people of color to this ENTIRE PLANET.
With all that in mind, I pledge to listen. And to speak up and out when I see wrong. I ask the the same of you, actually I demand the same of you, my fellow white people. Stop being selfish. Put your “drops in the bucket” and we can make our culture shift, we can begin to heal some wounds thru just simply saying SOMETHING when you see it.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to respond, Mary. Absolutely – it IS time for more white people to stand up and begin to really demand and challenge each other to be better by example. I appreciate so much that you have the courage to say “I am guilty.” That’s where I started, and it was hard to admit at first. Thank you for your pledge to listen, speak up and out, and call out fellow white people to do the same. It’s not our fault that our history curriculum in elementary school (and beyond) was whitewashed – where things like the Trail of Tears, and slavery in America were glossed over as more of troubling embarrassments that we’d like to leave in the past, than what the actually were, like the fact that racism in America has roots; it’s a systemic, foundational rock upon which this country was built – but it IS our fault if we choose to continue ignoring when we know better.
The only people really reading this kind of stupid condescending shit is your own echo chamber. Lol, who do you actually think you are getting through to when your article is on a page catered to like minded individuals to you? Seriously, look at your comment page. Nobody is going to sit here and let you explain to them why they are racist. This Utopian world you want is just not going to happen. People have different opinions and the words “I disagree” are not synonymous with “I’m racist” no matter how much you want it to be. Yes, racists exist, but stop creating new criteria that has zero relevance to reality to make anyone a racist who doesn’t conform exactly to your ideology.
Ah, comments like this from folks with fake email addresses like “demonworshipper666” never cease to amuse. I’d think if you’re brave enough to voice your opinion, you’d do it with your real name and account. Regardless, thanks for reading and responding anyway. I appreciate all different viewpoints, and I’m always willing to learn more myself, but I do not accept hatred or bigotry. Though you say my audience is my own echo chamber, you’re completely misguided. I have all the demographics on who visits my website, and the numerous emails I’ve gotten from folks who reach out to me to say “thank you,” and admit to having racist tendencies that they didn’t realize they had before reading a piece like this speaks volumes.
I don’t wish for a “Utopian” world; just a world where people are willing to look deeper within themselves and discover root causes to problems that just won’t go away, like racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, etc. I’m aware people have different opinions. That America is still racist, and most white folks are in denial about that is not an opinion, though. It’s a fact. I haven’t created any new new criteria, and this is not my ideology. You can read any scholarly research on systemic racism in America to understand that.
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Thanks an awful lot for writing this very informative article on racism, a form of systemic oppression. It’s extremely frustrating that people who don’t comprehend systemic oppression are frequently attempting to silence or talk over the victims. What’s equally frustrating is how many of these people imply that people like yourself who condemn racism are ‘indoctrinating’ people on anti-racism as though anti-racism is an ideology or a mere opinion. All opinions are equal by virtue of existence, not merit. I mean, imagine if one stated that aversion to bullying, theft, arson or murder were ideologies or mere opinions. An overwhelming majority of people would find that absurd since most people can fathom what it would be like to be on the receiving end of such atrocities. Systemic oppression should provoke the same level of concern and horror as the aforementioned.
Once again, thanks a lot for writing this article. If I may ask, do you happen to have written a similar article on male privilege/female disadvantage that I could read to educate myself on that issue?
Hi Aran, thanks so much for reading and for your very thoughtful response. I could not agree more with you about how frustrating it is, but I will say that when even one person thinks and maybe also changes their mind, it’s worth the minor frustration. However, it IS overall frustrating when those of us willing to listen to marginalized communities, learn, reflect, and then share what we’ve learned are silenced. Typical responses to a piece like this are always carbon copies: “you’re too condescending,” “who cares,” “no one’s listen to you,” “who do you think you are?” “someone will always find something to complain about,” “I’m sick of people getting their feelings hurt over every little thing,” etc., etc. (The irony is not lost on me that these comments typically come from those who are fond of calling liberals like me “snowflakes.”)
It’s unfortunate that discussions and pieces like this ruffle feathers. Some folks just have a knee-jerk reaction before processing. It’s sad when someone’s first visceral response is anger. It’s sad when they attack the author or speaker for what they perceive as acting superior, patronizing, or condescending. Honestly, systemic racism (among other things like heteronormativity, misogyny, and cis privilege, just to name a few) are ugly truths about our society, and there’s no way to sugar coat that. You can’t sweet talk someone into believing actual history. And the “indoctrinating” theory as you mentioned is just ridiculous. Yet again, the irony continues. People who shout “liberal indoctrination” or “leftist ideology” (and equally asinine trolling names like “libtards,” “snowflakes,” “elitist”) don’t seem to understand that THEY are the ones who’ve been not only indoctrinated, but also indoctrinated with a whitewashed, false narrative, pushed by white men who wrote things like public school history curriculum, and didn’t want to paint their legacy in a negative light.
Totally hear your point that “all opinions are equal by virtue of existence, not merit.” This is another sticky place with people who don’t (or refuse to) get it. They also tend to accuse the left, or liberals in general, of being “not as tolerant/open-minded as they think they are.” Also a ridiculous argument, because our open-mindedness and tolerance does not have to include things like bigotry. By and large, I’ve found this group of people to be Trump supporters. Not all, but many. They tend to be intolerant of immigrants, Muslims/anyone not Christian, the LGBTQ+ community, women’s & feminist issues, the economically disadvantaged, minorities, Black Lives Matter, liberals/the left, and, in this case, people calling out systemic racism. Meanwhile, liberals/the left tend to be intolerant of Trump and this new brand of Republicans (more like Trumpism), because they oppress all of the above mentioned categories of people. Huge difference. Being intolerant of any marginalized groups of people, or being intolerant of things like discrimination, racism, bigotry, and hate speech are not values that any person should support.
I’ve definitely touched on male privilege in several other pieces, thanks for asking! I’ll include a few links, but also you can search by topic on my website, http://www.gendercreativelife.com I have every piece tagged with labels for easy location. Here are a few links to some of those issues I had published elsewhere:
View at Medium.com
Hi Martie, thanks a lot for your great response and those links. I apologise for not having responded earlier. I confess that I haven’t yet read them as I’ve been rather busy, but rest assured I’ll be on to them very soon with great enthusiasm.
If it’s okay with you, I wanted to share some of my other thoughts on racism and some other similar issues. Just before coming back to this article yesterday, I read a couple of pieces written months ago on athletes following Colin Kaepernick’s lead and taking a knee to draw attention to police brutality and systemic racism. I was very frustrated with some of the commenters that implied that it was disrespectful and unpatriotic. A flag is an inanimate piece of cloth and a country is a portion of an inanimate continental crust with arbitrarily constructed borders inhabited by humans. The notion that inanimate entities deserve more respect that the rights of humans is absurd and unfounded. The idea of patriotism is merely to incentivise people to care about and highlight problems affecting people closest to them so that they stand a higher chance of having their problems resolved. For the people who call themselves patriots, patriotism to them is a means of indulging in a false sense of superiority over other nations in order to feel better about themselves. This is a serious, toxic form of fundamentalism that, in my opinion, is on par with organised religion.
This group of people(predominantly straight, white males) get frustrated with protesters and preach respect and blind obedience to authority, claiming that they are disrespecting the flag and those who fought for the rights and freedoms of all, whether it’s whites, blacks, men, women etc. It has become more apparent to me that these wars for freedom were really waged to protect the freedoms of members of the straight, white, male demographic and it’s just expedient for them to pretend that they were waged for blacks, women and other ‘groups’ too. After all, after the war for American Independence was won in the 1770s, women still did not have the right to vote(a SEPARATE battle had to be fought to secure the rights of women that men already had) and racial segregation still existed(a SEPARATE battle had to be fought for the recognition of rights for blacks). As for respect and obedience to authority, didn’t the rebellion against the British colonisers constitute disrespecting authority?
The other things I hear often(you’ve mentioned this extensively in this article) is whites saying stuff like ‘Not all whites are racist or bad’, ‘blacks can be racist too’ and consistently post videos or articles on blacks doing bad things to whites and say’ huh, see? You libtards only talk about whites doing bad things to blacks. Men would say stuff like ‘not all men are sexists’, ‘non all men are rapists or women abusers’, ‘women can also do horrible things to men’. The problem is the failure to draw a distinction between individual ignorance and systemic oppression. People talk about morality and associate it with presenting oneself in a decent manner and raising children to present themselves in a decent manner, all the while glossing over systemic oppression as if it doesn’t exist, only to complain about it when they’re on the receiving end of it. I think we members of society need to focus more on systemic oppression and prioritise on that over presenting oneself in a decent manner; the latter is meaningless if the former is not dealt with.
There seems to be too much glorification of ignorance in the US; people who talk and embrace reason are ridiculed and vilified while people who spout nonsense and misinformation are praised and encouraged. Attempts to constructively criticise the flaws of the US are met with responses like ‘I love my country, it’s great and if you don’t like it, leave’ or ‘you’re threatening my right to free speech’. I’m all for freedom of speech, but I believe that regulation is necessary to disable the propagation of falsehoods and misinformation. Apart from individuals who refuse to educate themselves and inept elected leaders, I believe that a fair share of the blame must also go to educated, informed members of society who don’t take action and denounce stupidity, ignorance and injustice. A man by the name of Edmund Burke once said ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’. Those who recognise stupidity, ignorance and injustice and choose not to eradicate them are complicit in the perpetration of stupidity, ignorance and injustice.
I apologise for such a long response, Martie, but I feel a lot more comfortable talking to people like you about these issues that are misunderstood by many in society. I’d also like to say that it’s highly essential that whites write and talk about racism as well rather than just minorities doing so and that men write and talk about feminism as well rather than just women doing so. The message on combating systemic oppression is a lot more powerful when those who aren’t directly affected by it personally speak out against it as well. Please do keep on doing what you do, Martie. Thanks again.
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“A flag is an inanimate piece of cloth and a country is a portion of an inanimate continental crust with arbitrarily constructed borders inhabited by humans. The notion that inanimate entities deserve more respect that the rights of humans is absurd and unfounded.”
I could not agree with you on this any more! It has always bothered me that folks – especially folks who call themselves Christians – are so blind to the idol worshipping they devoutly engage in (under the guise of patriotism), the same kind of idol worship the Bible warns against. The American flag is a mere symbol and should be treated as such, not as an idol worthy of glory and worship. Same for the national anthem, and the Pledge of Allegiance (which, honestly speaking, bothers me because youth are FORCED to say it in school and most kids are just reciting it like some playground chant they’ve learned by rote… most elementary school kids couldn’t tell you what the word “pledge” even means, let alone the word “allegiance.”
“There seems to be too much glorification of ignorance in the US; people who talk and embrace reason are ridiculed and vilified while people who spout nonsense and misinformation are praised and encouraged.”
Again, I couldn’t agree more. Hence, we have a low grade, B-list actor, wannabe celebrity, reality TV game show host as President, and he’s “running” daily business exactly like a very badly scripted and extremely badly acted reality TV game show.
It sickens me to hear the news, the media, journalists, the WH press corps, etc., all acting as if we are in normal territory here. The attempts to carry on as usual and normalize Trump are disgusting. Every time I hear political reporter/WH and Capitol Hill correspondent Kelly O’Donnell speaking, for example, and referring to him as “President Trump” in her serious professional reporter voice, WITHOUT then bursting out laughing, I lose a little more faith in humanity. I will never understand how anyone can take this clown seriously.
Thanks so much for your response. No apologies needed for length! It’s always a treasure to meet one’s “tribe,” and people who just get it.
I wish I knew a lot of white people that understands and are educated on all these matters. Well done.
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Thanks for reading and responding, Hope. And thanks for your kind words. I try, though I recognize I do have a LOT more to learn about this, and a lot more listening to do, especially from black voices. I’m also aware that white privilege brought me to this place where I am, and that I still have to work through a few old thought patterns that try to rear their ugly heads from time to time.
I want to thank you for educating yourself and actually understanding where another group of ppl are coming from. It’s so sad that 9/10 people do not understand at all how systematic oppression works and they argue everyday as if all black people are just playing some made up ‘race card’. Whenever black ppl speak up, the voices are silenced. It will never change in this country, and I fear for my life whenever I see a cop pull up, a conservative flag waver, racist men etc. no one understand what that is like, and I really don’t ever see change because the systems are designed to be this way, but when I see people actually trying to educate, I have a little hope. All over the US are concentrated ghettos filled with black faces who are receiving a poor education, little space for opportunity and little resources… often, their fathers a locked up (for longer time than white males for the same crimes committed) and with no guidance, these people turn on each other to feed families ‘black on black’ crime is born, and then those people are blamed instead of help. Its a sad cycle.
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Before I thought: “I can’t be doing racist thing! I don’t vote for the nationalists or use the n-word.” But now I realize it’s much more complicated and invisible than that. Thank you for educating in a way that’s easy to understand. I’ll read more and start to change.
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I wish there were more people like you. Thank you.
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Some of your points have merit. Overall though there is so much nonsense in this article I hardly no where to begin. In the meantime, perhaps you could give your next writing job to a person of color thereby practising what you preach. I mean really, you might be a talented writer who has earned her position or you may simply be, as it appears from your poorly researched article, a benefactor of white privilege. You must feel some guilt about that. No?
Wow, you sound an awful lot like the tech support person I just chatted with. 😉
I’d take your points more into account if they were written from a person using an authentic account with a real name and a real domain.
Meanwhile, I’ll just point out that *you* might consider doing your own research before writing nonsense, or hateful, spiteful, generic comments like this.
If you did do your research, you’d know that I’m a well established writer on many topics of social commentary, with racism being the thing I write the LEAST about so that I CAN give the megaphone to a black voice who’s more deserving.
You’d also learn that I’m a writer and educator who has been hand selected by editors like Noah Michelson to have my content featured front page on HuffPost, and elsewhere like Scary Mommy, Medium, Today Show Parenting, and my writing has been translated into several different languages & international versions of HuffPost and other places. Medium editors have selected a few of my pieces to be audio-recorded for their paying members, etc., etc. So a judgment statement that I “might be a talented writer” coming from a nobody – a person who won’t even show their face – is not going to sway or deter me. Sorry. I have a background in theatre and a very tough skin. Your remarks are laughable.
If you did your research you’d also know that I readily acknowledge my white privilege, and that it was only white privilege that got me to where I am in the first place. You’d also know that I regularly lift up and give a platform to marginalized voices who don’t often get to be heard. I retweet them, put their names in my pieces, share their works across social media platforms, and seek to educate my fellow white folks, since those are the ones who primarily follow my blog. Incidentally, several black professors and black writers have used content from this exact piece in their lectures and writings. Each one of them have personally reached out to me to say thank you.
Be gone, troll, before a house falls on you, too.
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The article was good,but I definitely could have done without the degrading comments about the president.
Thanks for reading and responding, Ron. I’m unapologetically critical of Trump, because he’s a joke. A con artist. A snake oil salesman. A Professor Harold Hill. A phony. A fake. And most importantly, he’s an extremely privileged individual in every possible way: cisgender, heterosexual, “Christian” (though that’s questionable), economically advantaged, elite class, white male, born of married parents into family wealth. He was afforded the opportunity to receive a first class education but pissed it away. He dodged the draft. He won’t disclose his tax returns. His racist track record in real estate and shady lawsuits are plentiful and well-documented. He’s a horrible person, undeserving of any praise whatsoever. He is a disgusting ogre, he’s ignorant, and he’s not a nice person. He doesn’t give a f—- about ordinary folks like you and me. He lives in an opulent, gilded Manhattan penthouse decorated in profuse amounts of 24K gold and marble. He’s a sham and a grotesque dictator, and I will call him on the carpet. Every time. Sorry, not sorry.
A very well written article. Some points I very much agree with, some point that I think miss the mark (my opinion only) and some points that I think you and I could debate for hours without being able to convince each other to view differently. I’ll only say that a one way street does not have the value of a two way street. Give and take will always net out a better result. One must also remember that racism (as described in your article) is an unfortunate condition that exists in ALL races. I enjoy your writing.
Very informative, if white people would learn to listen and then they can help solve a lot bigotry in America,but until then,most of you will not change in this decade or the next decade.
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This makes some sense but then it goes off the deep end and is all bullshit. Any people of any race can and will be prejudice to another group when it boils down to the neccesities of life. America was a white country founded by white people, thus the majority is white and people in power and band aid colours reflect that. It sucks that so many blacks were brought here to labor for free and then left to fend for themselves starting out at the bottom and way behind in every sense of society, that is true… However we cannot go and try to balance everything out by manipulating things and punishing those more deeply established for that will just create even bigger problems and give up the freedom this country was founded upon. I am Canadian of first generation Greek immigrants for some context, however I look at it like this, over in Africa if there are black people or in India there are brown people, they are represented power accordingly and if a bunch of white people went there and demanded to automatically be integrated in their society’s structure that would never happen. America lives in a delusional bubble so nice and safe that it stoops to this level of sensitivity and pity for shame
Allow me to address a few of your points, Dimitri.
“Any people of any race can and will be prejudice to another group when it boils down to the neccesities of life.”
Prejudiced, yes. But this post was specifically about systemic racism in America – very different from “prejudice,” “bias/implicit bias,” and “bigotry,” to name a few that often get lumped together and have their meanings skewed.
“America was a white country founded by white people, thus the majority is white and people in power and band aid colours reflect that.”
Actually, this country belonged to Native Americans long before white people. Though America as we know it now was “founded” by white people, it was ushered in on the backs of black slaves who did everything from planting, cultivating, harvesting, and ginning cotton – our most important export – to building our graceful antebellum homes, to influencing our popular culture through entertainment (like minstrel shows), to music (spirituals and work songs gave rise to gospel and the blues.)
“However we cannot go and try to balance everything out by manipulating things and punishing those more deeply established for that will just create even bigger problems and give up the freedom this country was founded upon.”
Well, you’re right. It will never be “balanced,” but that’s not even the point. We absolutely CAN do a few things to help though, like acknowledge that systemic racism and white privilege exist to the detriment of society, and we can listen to black folks and seek to be better people & allies for all Americans. That’s not “punishing” anyone. That’s what I’d call a start in the process towards healing and social equality. I don’t know why so many white people are *so* opposed to that… it’s certainly not a punishment to acknowledge we’ve been the beneficiaries of systemic racism (whether we like it or not), and it’s also not asking much for us to acknowledge that.
“America lives in a delusional bubble so nice and safe that it stoops to this level of sensitivity and pity for shame.”
No we don’t. There’s nothing delusional about our historically diverse melting pot of culture. The delusional bubble you speak of exists only for people who refuse to acknowledge inconvenient truths and who whitewash American history for the sake of comfort and convenience.
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Very powerful and thought-provoking. I look forward to reading your writing on gender as well as, like you, I’m the parent of a gender non-conforming child. When my son was about four, I read the book “The Family Heart” by Robb Forman Dew. It changed how I looked at all the assumptions about gender and sexual orientation we lay on children from birth. It changed my approach to parenting as well as the language I used to ensure he would feel good about himself and open to all possibilities. That was almost 25 years ago and I think the world is progressing, but still a long way to go. Thanks for what you’re doing on all fronts.
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Thanks so much for reading & responding, Lucy. And most importantly, thank you for being a shining example in the world for what unconditional love should look like. Blessings to you and your gender non-conforming son. 💖
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I like this a lot. While I honestly wish I could say I am better than being racist, I too perpetuate racism. I hang out with white people and envy the lifestyle of white people, and I am very sure I do not do much to stop racism. I did not put much thought into that, so thank you for showing me how even actions like this perpetuate racism.
I am not sure how to take actions to stop racism, partially because I am ignorant of their exact plight, and partially because I feel if I tried I would clumsily handle these issues and worsen the rift by offending those who suffer racism.
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Ian, thanks for reading and responding so honestly. It’s refreshing to see that. I had the same concerns at first – worrying about making it worse. Which is why I don’t write on systemic racism often. I read about 4x as much on the issue as I write. I think that’s always the best way to fight against it: with education and enlightenment. It’s surprising how much that shifts one’s perspective. Even if you just read Frederick Douglass… anything. Seek out black writers online and read their stuff. I think being willing is the first step, just listening is the next.
Thanks for the post. I needed to read this today. Especially today as I am having an “I hate whitey” day. I study whiteness and racism as a student (I am also an indigenous person), and it’s hard not to see the patterns hard not to understand the implications of a society that would whitewash the genocides of generations of innocent indigenous peoples whose homelands were literally invaded and stolen from them at the point of a gun.
How can a sane, rational, decent person NOT hate that? Not hate the literal evildoers who did that or the apathetic parasites (their descendants) who continue to benefit from the most disgusting of crimes against humanity and not only that, but deny these crimes ever happened or have any connection to today? How can any decent soul not despise such gross evil?
Well, I do despise it. I hate it with every fiber of my being because it is wrong, plain and simple. It is wrong and its denial is wrong. Pretending that it happened “so long ago” is also wrong. Denying the humanity of its survivors by telling them to “get over it” is as grave a wrong and in the same genera of criminality as genocide and slavery.
I’m not christian but when I think of white people the phrase “hate the sin not the sinner” comes to mind and I appreciate it because it is very hard not to hate white people as a monolithic group. I mean, it’s the same kind of difficulty I imagine someone being raped would have in not hating the rapist who is still in the act of raping them.
So I need posts like yours, I need them to remind me not to dehumanize white people because that act of dehumanization is of the same kind that committed racist white people do to POCs, and I can’t imagine anything more horrifying, more terrible, more of a defeat of my soul and human heart than becoming like that.
So thank you.
I forgot to add, maybe there should be a category for Intellectual or Academic Racists? Because in Canada academic racism is rampant with hard-core racists basically being given awards and free rein to pass off their racist opinions as actual legitimate scholarship (Philip Rushton, Jordan Peterson, Francis Widdowson, Tom Flanagan to name a few).
This type of racist attempts to legitimize their racism through an appeal to (a version of) logic, rationality, science, etc. They attempt to put a decent face on their indecent bigotries through an “objective” analysis of “the facts”. It’s nauseating.
I’m not Canadian, I just go to school there (huge mistake, I don’t recommend it to any Americans of color; I did read an article by an American white woman in which she described her shock at how racist white Canadians were behind closed doors so maybe also not progressive white folks either) and the incredible amount of pervasive racism, denial, and white fragility in Canada is just astounding. None of what I have witnessed in Canada would ever have been given a free pass in America because (generally and comparatively speaking) Americans on whole tend to be much more woke and educated about racism—which is saying a lot.
Gregg, thanks so much for reading and for your deep, profound response. Tremendous respect for Indigenous people. I work in education, and it sickens me how the American public schools’ social studies curriculum whitewashes history. It is really disturbing how easily that’s accomplished.
Your words: “Well, I do despise it. I hate it with every fiber of my being because it is wrong, plain and simple. It is wrong and its denial is wrong. Pretending that it happened “so long ago” is also wrong. Denying the humanity of its survivors by telling them to “get over it” is as grave a wrong and in the same genera of criminality as genocide and slavery.” – I could not possibly agree more with this. And I will never, ever understand the “deniers.”
Also, this part: “I’m not christian but when I think of white people the phrase “hate the sin not the sinner” comes to mind and I appreciate it because it is very hard not to hate white people as a monolithic group. I mean, it’s the same kind of difficulty I imagine someone being raped would have in not hating the rapist who is still in the act of raping them.” This is a disturbing, yet extremely apt metaphor for the situation as a whole.
Thank you for so eloquently expressing these thoughts, and for your words of kindness which give me hope for humanity in very troubling times.
Thanks for reading and commenting!
A bit of an eye opener. Particularly, I bring up the roughly $30000 average salary gap between African Americans and caucasians. That alone should be a can of worms for a racism-denier to swallow but we all know that’s not the case.
Ultimately, the goal should be to get more white Americans to read articles like yours.
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Thanks for reading and responding, Chance. I’d say that ultimately the goal should not only be to get more white Americans to read about systemic racism and white privilege, but to actually read without needing to respond. Just read, soak it all in, sleep on it, think on it. Then, do better.
Reblogged this on Book of Searcy and commented:
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Thanks for reading and responding!
Okay so I’m a racist and I didn’t even know it! I couldn’t give a damn if you think i’m one of your “racist” categories. I’m white and I’m proud of being white. (does that make you mad?)
I love how you contradict yourself in the article by stating that white people are never disadvantaged because of their skin colour, yet by the very nature of Affirmative Action; the white person *is* at the disadvantage because they’re white.
I have nothing against black people. But now you’re gonna tell me I do. I just can’t win unless I submit to your ideology that white people are bad. Good thing I don’t care what you think 🙂
But congratulations on triggering me enough that I had to leave a comment.
Ashley. Serious question. Since you’ve commented so many times on this particular piece… For those folks who are “triggered” enough to leave hate comments, why bother? If you don’t care what I or anyone else thinks, why do you need to take precious time out of your day to put that in writing? That suggests that you DO actually care what people think of you.
Especially, why did you feel the need to attempt to leave 4 homogeneous comments on this post, with differing names/accounts/email addresses? I can see the demographics, I can see where all the responses come from. I’m aware that you’re the same person masking behind the FROZENSKYAURCORI account below. If you REALLY didn’t care, you wouldn’t have to tell me or anyone else.
You’re a classic example of exactly what I described in this article, and now you’re here in print for everyone to see that practical, classic example, up close and personal!
Also, you might want to read things more closely. At no point did I contradict myself. The part about affirmative action was written tongue-in-cheek – the way people like you *think* affirmative action works when you actually don’t know how it works at all.
Okay, firstly. I’m sorry about the two accounts. That’s my fault and nothing to do with me trying to hide my name or whatever. I haven’t used WordPress in a LONG time. And my browser derped and didn’t show me the first messages i posted then i logged in and posted them again thinking that they had been nommed buy the internet.
Okay moving onto the article. Let me apologise for being a bit… harsh or aggressive or whatever. I get triggered easily and i’m in a bad mood already (personal reasons) no excuse I know but still.
I have read the article and I would like to make some points. Firstly, I am from the UK btw, not the USA so it may be different. But these countries are “white majority” this explains why the things such as skincare products / “flesh tones” are more tailored towards white people than black people. Secondly, I think if black people really think they have it very bad in western countries they should go live for a while in a black-majority country and find out they have it very good here.
I would like to say I have nothing against black people or Asians or anyone “of colour”. I just find it offensive actually that you can tell me I’m racist just because I’m a white person. Like the colour of my skin automatically makes me a horrible, racist scumbag. I find that really offensive and that’s why i got defensive about it.
Please tell me i have misunderstood and you’re not telling me that White people are basically born racist because of the actions of white people 100’s of years ago? Yes I have black friends, yes i said all the things in your article as you predict but I am not racist and I will not be called racist just because I am white.
Well, I appreciate that you’re a person who’s willing to examine this topic more, stay engaged for dialogue, and possibly even seek to understand. Most people do not have the desire to even try and understand, which alone is problematic. And then there are the internet trolls who just pop in and sh*t all over someone’s well-researched writing, post cowardly, mean-spirited comments under fake accounts, and never come back again. Clearly that’s not you, which is always refreshing.
Here’s what I think you’re misunderstanding: when I wrote, “But see, here’s the thing with racism. It doesn’t always show up in a white hood, carrying a burning cross,” this literal thing is exactly what I’m referring to. White people hear a word like “racism” or “racist” and they immediately disassociate with it because they equate the term with overt racists who do (and did) things like showing up in white hoods carrying burning crosses. Thankfully, most of us don’t know actual people who do those things, and we’d certainly never do those things ourselves.
Also, understand, I’m not calling white people “horrible, racist scumbags,” as you alluded to. That’s the problem with language and its connotations. I agree, overt racists who wear white hoods and carry burning crosses ARE horrible, racist scumbags. But “systemic racism” does not imply that you are a “bad person” by virtue of your skin color. That’s not actually what the terms “systemic racism” or “white privilege” mean at all. These terms do not ascribe adjectives like “bad person” to their meanings. Rather, these terms are all about us white American people having advantages simply because the United States was founded as a racist society, and therefore, racism is deeply embedded in all of our social institutions, structures, and social relations within our modern-day society. Whether we realize it or not, as white people, we have (and still) benefit off that.
Again, systemic racism essentially means that the United States was founded in racism since the Constitution classified black people as the property of whites. This is historically true and proven record. According to sociologist Joe Feagin, “the legal recognition of racialized slavery is a cornerstone of a racist social system in which resources and rights were and are unjustly given to white people and unjustly denied to people of color. The theory of systemic racism accounts for individual, institutional, and structural forms of racism.” This does not mean that I am a bad person because I am white. It just means I have some things I should acknowledge I got for free and maybe that I take for granted. Which is actually a pretty decent and noble thing to acknowledge.
So I wasn’t talking about the overt racists here, the racists who are undeniably, out & loud, calling themselves “racists and proud of it.” What I’m referring to is something that’s possibly even more insidious, because white people have for decades and decades been refusing – flat out refusing, even in the face of factual events and research – to acknowledge that systemic racism and white privilege exist. People are too easily triggered by the term “white privilege.” As I’ve said before, it’s not an insult. As a white person myself, even though I don’t *feel* privileged in this life by way of class, wealth, social status, etc., I can still acknowledge that white privilege has afforded me opportunities I’ve taken for granted, opportunities that people of color are not freely given from birth.
My most recent example: after my oldest son had been in driver’s ed for the summer, and spent a full year with a learner’s permit driving with me or his Dad, he earned his full drivers license around his 16th birthday. No, we couldn’t afford to buy him a car, but we were able to allow him to take off driving in the family car, all by himself, without worrying about anything other than his safety should he get into a wreck or drive carelessly. My black friend whose son turned 16 and earned a drivers license had to sit him down and have “the talk.” The one where she has to break his heart, take away his innocence, and warn him that as a black person, he is statistically more likely to be pulled over and more likely to be given a ticket than a white or Hispanic person. (openpolicing.stanford.edu, and Bureau of Justice Statistics, Data Collection, PPCS)
Not only that, but she also has to help him understand that he is statistically more likely to lose his life at the hands of a cop than his white peers, simply because he is black. While it may be true that, technically speaking, larger numbers of white people are shot and killed by police than black people, we have to measure that data against the population total. According to the most recent census data, there are nearly 160 million more white people in America than there are black people. When we look at the data that way (which WashPo has been tracking and reporting on since 2015), we can see that white people make up roughly 62% of the U.S. population, with 49% being killed by police, while black people make up just 13% of the population, but 24% being killed by police. Statistically speaking, that means that black people are 2.5 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than are white people. And with regard to police shootings of unarmed people, because the white population is approximately five times larger than the black population, that means unarmed black Americans are five times as likely as unarmed white Americans to be shot and killed by a police officer.
So, you see, this mother has to have heartbreaking conversations with her son that I don’t have to have with mine. She has to teach her son strategies, like “if you do get stopped, don’t take your hands off the steering wheel for any reason, and if you absolutely HAVE to, announce your intentions to do so before doing it.” As a white woman, I can rest assured that if my son gets pulled over for obnoxious teenage behavior like speeding way too fast, he’s likely to get away with a ticket – maybe even a warning because he’s so young. Not true for the black 16-year old. His mother has to worry that first of all, he is likely to be targeted and pulled over just for being black (all while the police officer is using implicit bias but in denial about doing so, which is why it’s so insidious), and furthermore, has to worry that when he does get pulled over, he’s more likely to LOSE HIS LIFE than a white 16 year old who gets pulled over. Her worries go way further than just a ticket or a good scaring.
That’s only one, tiny, minute example of how systemic racism affects (or doesn’t affect) me and my family, and one example of how my white privilege has led to me taking many things in life for granted – things I wouldn’t even think about were they not pointed out to me.
Hi, it wouldn’t let me reply to your reply so I will reply here instead.
When you mention statistics that show black people are more likely to be shot by the police based on their skin colour I think you should also take into consideration statistics that show that black people are more likely to commit an offence and/or resist arrest.
I am not trying to deny that there is a deep-seated anti-black sentiment in the police force in the USA or that such racism exists. I have no knowledge/experience so i cannot make any comments on the matter. But maybe police officers are GENUINELY suspecting black people more because they are generally more likely to commit offence (at least statistically) this could also be due to personal experience in the force.
Also, please may I ask your opinion on the subject of whether or not, as a white person, i should be “sorry” for something that happened 100’s of years ago that I have no control over. Why should I be sorry for something white people did all those years ago when I had nothing to do with it? Do I have to be sorry in order to not be a “denier” or a “racist”?
To say that there are “statistics that show that black people are more likely to commit an offense and/or resist arrest” is a harmful ethnic stereotype. In particular, the exaggerated, false stereotype of African Americans males as criminals (now known as “thugs”/defiant/resistant, etc.) was first constructed as a tool to discipline and control slaves in the U.S., starting in 1619 when twenty African slaves were brought to Jamestown, Virginia.
From then on, slaveholders intentionally perpetuated the myth and stereotype that African American males were dangerous criminals, that they were wild, savage beasts, who would commit crimes and rape their white women if they had the opportunity to, even though the opposite was true (it was the white, male slaveholders who raped the black slave girls and slave women). A traumatic and sad example of how this type of harmful stereotype played out more recently, I’d recommend looking up and reading about Emmett Till (1941-1955), for starters.
Perpetuating myths like this are extremely dangerous, because this is exactly what causes things like racial profiling to occur within our criminal justice system in the first place. Then, because of practices embedded (systemic racism), like America’s “War on Drugs,” we had African American arrest rates skyrocketing, while white arrest rates increased only slightly, even though white people were more likely to use and abuse drugs. By the end of the 1980s, African Americans were more than five times more likely than whites to be arrested for the same drug-related offenses.
And on that note, although the “black drug user” stereotype is heavily associated with young black people, studies show that African American young people are actually less likely to use illegal drugs than other racial groups in the U.S. The disproportionate, long-term, mass incarceration of African Americans in minor drug-related offenses is referred to as “The New Jim Crow.” Without even realizing it, American society has internalized this criminal/thug stereotype of African Americans. We know this because of documented scientific research. In experiments conducted where black and white people perform the same act, respondents have reported that the black figure is more threatening than the white figure. Likewise, in surveys asking about fear of strangers in hypothetical situations, respondents are more fearful of being victimized by black strangers than by white strangers.
In general, black people today continue to be incarcerated at a rate of 5.6 times over white people, again, for the same or equal crimes. As I alluded to before, the incarceration rate of black people in America is more than three times higher than their representation in the general population. And the assertion that it’s because “they’re guilty more often than white people” is just not a true statement.
As to your question about whether or not you as a white person should be “sorry” for something that, as you say, “happened 100’s of years ago” that you “have no control over?” Well, first of all, it’s not for me to tell you how you *should* or *should not* feel. How you feel about something is entirely up to you. However, I would think that there are not many people who are in any way *proud of* what our ancestors did to black and Indigenous people (and how we, as white people, continue to benefit from without even knowing it). I certainly wouldn’t look on 100’s of years ago wistfully. And though we’ve come a long way, there’s still a long way to go with civil rights.
But more to the point, no, I don’t think you should be “sorry.” Black people don’t need or want our “white tears,” our guilt, or our empty apologies. They just want us to stop denying that racism is still alive and well, and they’d prefer it if we read more of their research and writing on the matter. Many great African American writers have spent their entire careers researching and explaining systemic racism, only to have their own community read it, as if they’re preaching to the choir. White people as a whole need to celebrate and amplify black voices, and bear witness to their stories and narratives. We need to LISTEN to them without talking over them. Go and watch the video of Alton Sterling’s son breaking down in a news conference and crying out for his “daddy” who was an unarmed black man killed by a cop. And if your first gut reaction is, “Well, what was he doing wrong that caused the police to have to shoot him in the first place?” then I’m sorry to tell you, but you have racist tendencies. Because you shouldn’t have to ask that question now that you have the knowledge that black people are *not* more likely to commit crime than white people, but are more likely to get killed by police.
Listening to black people’s stories, without having to respond or have the last word, is the literally the best thing you can do in order to not have racist tendencies.
Thank you for taking the time to write your replies. I think i am starting to SEE what you mean and understand it. The problem i have that i am sure you are very aware of is that I, and i *mean* this, truthfully honestly believe(d) that I as a white person am being “attacked” when people say things like “I’m Black and I’m proud” but I’m not allowed to say “i’m white and proud” without being accused of being racist.
I honestly feel like i need to defend myself because it hits a deep, deep nerve. And even as i write this i feel like that. But I am going to say that I have been doing a lot of reading about it too and i am starting to see what you mean.
I see the problem now that white people take it too personally as an affront to “them” i am guilty of this as i just said but I’m trying so hard to see it from a black person’s point of view. It feels “wrong” to admit it but, maybe i need to understand white privilege more…
A major problem I think is that white people are seeing “pro-black” and “anti-racism” actions as “anti-white”, and the are honestly taking it to heart like that , which is feeding the alt-right and overt racist white supremacists.
BUT i would also like to say that the left and anti-racist publications have to stop painting white people as innately “bad”. I think the biggest problem i have is being told that I am racist for saying something like “I don’t see a person’s skin colour, I see a person as a person”. The “colour-blindness” if you will. That is honestly how i see other human beings. Is that wrong? I worked alongside a black person for 2 years and we became very good friends. we didn’t talk much about race and he didn’t really reveal any personal experiences with racism but I saw him as a human being, the colour of his skin made no difference. But should it? I treated him the same as I would treat any white friends i have.
But I see blogs on the internet saying that even if you openly support anti-racist movements, that in itself is racist. Why is that racist?
I think that this misunderstanding, which i have OPENLY displayed with my stupid first comments is truly twisting what black people mean when they talk about racism.
I am going to try and take what I have learned here and make me a better person from it.
Thanks again for taking the time to respond to me even when i came across as a troll at first.
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Thanks for sticking with me. I believe you’re confusing terms like “white privilege” with “inherently bad person,” and the two are not even remotely the same. Same for “systemic racism.” “White privilege” is not a character judgment. “Systemic racism” is not a character judgment.
But saying things like, “I don’t see color” are considered hurtful statements (despite the genuine, inherently good intentions of the person who says these things), because a.) it’s just not truthful; our eyes are all perfectly capable of seeing the difference between skin tones/color, b.) it implies that to see color, or to label people “black,” “white,” “Hispanic,” or whatever, is bad. Seeing color does not equate to racism.
The language of “colorblindness” has the unfortunate, unintended effect of shutting the door on several much-needed conversations about race, culture, and heritage before they even begin. Acknowledging color gives us the opportunity to open that door and have many enlightening discussions that may be beneficial to all parties involved. By saying that you “do not see another person’s color,” you are communicating that you don’t see their rich culture, their long history, their background, and all the other things that make them unique. By saying that you don’t see their color you are ignoring multiple parts of their identity, some of which they may be extremely proud of.
Here’s a great piece on it: https://www.theroot.com/notracists-be-like-the-top-10-phrases-used-by-peop-1819142064
And a great piece written by a white person, on what white privilege is and is and is not: https://medschool.duke.edu/sites/medschool.duke.edu/files/field/attachments/explaining_white_privilege_to_a_broke_white_person.pdf
Wow I’m racist and I don’t’ even know it! Feel free to call me a “racism-denier” or whatever you want but this is absurd.
I’m not even going to argue because there’s not point, you’re so entrenched in your “Hurr durr white people are innately bad” that you won’t listen.
But I will say that I’m white. And I’m proud of being white. And I don’t give a damn if I’m what you consider “racist”. because all that matter is that I know I have nothing against black people but you’re going to explain to me that i subconsciously do. Absurd article to cater to the white guilters and cry baby black people that winge and moan that they have it so bad every day.
You “don’t give a damn” so much that you stopped and took time out of your day to leave a comment. Enough said.
Just love it – being White female in South Africa I can relate to the truths and feelings and especially now where 74 deaths on farms of all colours in a year is claimed to be white genocide and I am losing friends who actually never bothered to learn the truth. That even though I did not vote until 1994 my ancestral privilege has been and continues to be acknowledged unlike many I know who claim to have had no special privilege – not even taking the Group Areas Act into account.. I am currently unemployed because I stood up to my BIG white Afrikaans boss who threw me out the office using all sorts of abusive language, he still hates the English… how can he actually go to church – because the Afrikaans Church still support undercover apartheid. Google Steve Hofmeyer and you will see what we are dealing with. Go forth and thank you.
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Dot, I have much research to do on South Africa. I’ve barely scratched the surface of American history. I had a lot of friends in high school (back in 1990) who were actively involved in causes like Greenpeace and the anti-apartheid movement. I wish I had paid attention back then. Thanks for reading and commenting!
This is excellent! Thanks!
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Thank you for reading & responding, Jayne!
Thank you. The acknowledgement of privilage and systemic racism is a continum.Truely as we learn and grow we must remember ” When you know better, do better”
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So true that it’s a continuum, like so many other things in life. Thanks for reading and responding, Eileen.
Thank you for this article. It was very interesting to read. I, too, love dialogue and I would just like to share some of my thoughts in response to yours. I’d first like to say that recently I’ve been watching and reading a lot of stuff from various parts of the political spectrum and frankly I don’t know who to believe. I watch something that says white privilege is a non-issue and then something else saying that it is a very real problem. This extends to all kinds of topics. I learn in school that statistics are unreliable and can be used to support any argument, yet that’s what people on both sides use to justify their stances. I feel like I can no longer trust anything but my own experiences. And that’s probably not the best solution because I’ve likely had a very sheltered life so far that is not representative of the experience for many Americans.
Anyway, what I currently consider to be the ideal future is one where race does not matter. I recognize that at the moment we do not live in that utopian society, but I see that as the goal. Therefore, I tend to be against anything that promotes a division between races. This includes the use of the n-word. If skin color is being used as a factor in deciding if someone can or cannot do something, no matter how small, I do not believe it is right. I do not think your analogy to the use of the word “queer” is appropriate because a straight person can use the word “queer” no problem, but a white person cannot say the n-word, even if they are using it in, what I understand to be, the new, fraternal use of the word. I believe this rule to be only furthering the reliance in this country on using race to categorize people. It raises questions like: “If you’re singing along to a song, who is permitted to use the n-word if it’s in the lyrics? Just people with dark skin and curly hair that had ancestors in Africa? What about people with dark skin and curly hair that had ancestors in Southern India, but none in Africa? What about people with medium-dark skin and curly hair with half their ancestors originating in Africa? A fourth of their ancestors? An eighth? A sixteenth? What about people without dark skin or curly hair that live in a small Chinese village and their family’s roots are only traceable within that region?” I don’t know, maybe I’m taking this too far, but all this has really been on my mind lately.
Please inform me of any gaps in my knowledge or logic as I’d like this dialogue to continue.
I am not generally known as a racist or bigoted, and I doubt many of my friends and family would see me as those things either, I am generally quite helpful, supportive, kind, humble, but this has made me realise how little I know myself.
I know it will pass, but I am, right now, thoroughly ashamed of my ignorance, I am offended by my own lack of awareness and blindness about such matters, and I am just so upset with myself for not seeing more of the issues that some of the people in my life have likely endured on a regular basis.
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It has been interesting to read all of the comments…as well as the article itself. Quite frankly, I believe that the melanin-deficient people who continue to perpetuate the -isms and phobias that adversely affect societies across the globe have no interest in “playing nice” or equalizing anything. You are right to encourage folk to address this (and other issues like it) at a personal level…it is our only hope, particularly in America.
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This article helped me so much. Thank you.
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Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to leave me a kind message. I really appreciate it!
Thanks for reading.
I see this implicit bias not quite every day, but a lot of days, and I see it mostly from White females. During college, yep, they’d cross the street on me, clutch their purses more tightly, all that. And I recognized these folks as White feminists in some of my classes! You know, people who call themselves, “progressive”? Amazed me. This was in the 1990’s.
Fast forward 20 years. A couple of years ago, my mentor’s successor at my alma mater, a (quite attractive, I must say!) Black American woman in her mid-30’s, described her White female friends’ reactions in discussions of civil rights. They’d expect her support on issues of sex discrimination, but they pooh-pooh’d her descriptions of “shopping while Black” incidents. Things like, “why’re you playing the race card?” “Don’t be so overly sensitive!” “It isn’t always about race, ohmigod!” She actually cried on my shoulder about this. She wasn’t so much angry…rather, she was hurt. And I felt that hurt. I just held her in my arms and let her cry.
Then we talked about it. No wonder so many Black women voted for Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in 2008!
We also discussed her feelings about dating and relationships. She was quite willing to date men of any color; that wasn’t the problem. Rather, she also felt hurt and fear about men of any color, in her words, “leaving me for a White woman.” This is despite how educated, professional, and pretty she is. She cried in my arms over that, too. She even indicated her fear that were she and I to date, I might do just that (I wouldn’t, but I understand her concern).
It was heartbreaking to see this. But I knew how true it all was.
There are so many examples of the racism that you describe. The White feminists’ reaction to Barack Obama’s historic Democratic Primary win. The ignoring of “Existing While Black” descriptions, as described above. The view of Black men and boys as “super-predators”. PFC Jessica Lynch vs. SPC Shoshanna Johnson (Jessica Lynch herself called this out publicly and was promptly dropped from media coverage thereafter). The ignoring of Black women for political office while heavily promoting White women (e. g. former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun–does she have some stories!).
This is the sort of thing that we need to get past.
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Would you agree that the problem with the world today is that we judge ourselves by our intentions, whilst the rest of the world judges us by our actions….?
Just had a thought, and would love to hear your feedback… If I proclaim “All lives matter” am I not speaking truth? I’ll expand on that statement by following up with “All lives matter. From trees to bees and any other living species that breathes.”
So, at face value, yes, I agree that all lives matter. I think most everyone would agree with that. However, we always have to consider such a phrase in the context of a conversation. Is “all lives matter” being said in response to another person saying “Black Lives Matter?” If so, then it’s problematic. If someone responds “all lives matter” in that conversation, then they don’t understand what the Black Lives Matter movement is about. They’re likely misinterpreting the phrase to mean “black lives matter more than any other lives,” which is not at all what Black Lives Matter means.
The point of Black Lives Matter is not to imply that black lives are more important, superior to, or matter more than any other lives. The point is about acknowledging the fact that in America, the lives of black people are generally undervalued, and are statistically more likely to be ended by police than any other color American. When unarmed black men are disproportionately shot and killed for non-violent offenses, and white Americans (including our criminal justice system) are largely indifferent to that? Or argumentative, like using a qualifier: “Well what did he do? He must’ve given the police some reason to shoot at him,” then the message that their (black) lives don’t matter at all gets reinforced. It’s a social inequity that we cannot seem to even try to fix, because white people hold up the proverbial “talk to the hand” the moment they hear that phrase. White people, as a whole, are not listening to, or really hearing what black people are saying.
Unfortunately, American society has a long history of treating various minority groups as less valuable than others. If you’re part of the majority (like white people are in America), you may not “see” this, because you’ve never personally experienced marginalization and cannot begin to imagine what it would feel like to live constantly under those conditions. Which is why it’s so very important that we listen to each other, but *especially* to the voices of those who have the least amount of power in our society, the minority groups.
Racial bias is something that continues to exist even when it is no longer conscious, which is why it’s insidious and thus, dangerous. This factor has been confirmed by multiple studies, and is why I titled this piece “The Kind of Racism You Don’t Even Know You Have.” Additionally, there are numerous studies which have all confirmed that, in the exact same situations, African Americans and Latinx people are treated with deadly force far more often than white people, and further, that authorities are held less accountable for those deaths. So when you have those factors all together: unconscious racial bias, police officers using deadly force, a lack of accountability, and a criminal justice system that shows indifference, you have a combination of things that are deadly to an entire society of people in this country.
What has to happen on the part of white Americans is a reckoning: that you can be a fine, wonderful, good, upstanding community role model, but still have racist bias you’re not even conscious of. To be responsible, white people face the daunting task of first, recognizing that these societal ills continue to exist – whether we “see” them happening or not – and second, that white privilege exists, even though we wish that it didn’t and we did not ask for it in the first place. We have to understand that Black Lives Matter is about a subset of humans in America (who also happen to be the minority) who are tired of being discarded, overshadowed, treated like they’re somehow “unappreciative,” and being accused of “playing the race card” when they simply want to stop having to beg for their fathers, sons, and brothers to stop being killed by police.
To deny the truth of the statistics, and the firsthand accounts of black people because they make me, a white person, uncomfortable? That would mean I was placing my comfort above their safety.
That’s what is being communicated when someone asserts “all lives matter” in response to “black lives matter.”
Hi Jaslyn, thanks for reading and responding. I’m not quite sure I’m accurately understanding… but I’ll go ahead and respond to your next comment below.
I appreciate very much your addressing this question. I found this when I googled “What’s wrong with saying ‘not all [whites, etc.]?’ ” I apologize for the following being my “issue,” but I’m working to understand: You comment on what’s wrong with the phrase in specific contexts. I had responded to someone on FB who said “Where is the Western outrage?” when PoC are killed in terrorist incidents (comparing, e.g. the France-supporting profile frames after the concert attack, but no such frames after the shopping mall attack in Kenya). I said, “Please know that not all Westerners … ” — intended as SUPPORT, that there ARE many of us who are fully aware and pay attention and recognize systemic racism and global racism, actually. And I got blown away! I very much took it personally because I was NOT saying it to shut down the conversation, or to say it doesn’t exist, etc. Please help me understand, IN THIS CONTEXT, why to say “not all” is offensive and hurtful. (I have an elderly relative who has been actively anti-racist all her life, but who still says things like “He speaks so well,” or “He must have had a scholarship to get where he is,” and other comments I call her out on. But on the present question, it is I who gets defensive.)
Thank you for this question. I totally hear what you’re saying and I get the complexity in ALL of this.
So first, I just want to validate your question as genuine and coming from all the right places, and I want to say THANK YOU for that, and for being someone who seeks to understand.
I certainly don’t have all the answers. I have a lot more learning to do in general, but, I often wonder why more people *don’t* use Google; we can find answers to almost everything with the wealth of knowledge available at our fingertips in 2018. And I genuinely believe most of us are intelligent enough by this point, at least in America, to understand how to distinguish junk websites from legitimate websites. I guess sometimes people don’t have the time or energy, or not even the basic emotional investment in social issues to do the necessary research, and therefore don’t ask questions like yours, or seek answers to those questions in the first place. Which I think is sad. But that’s a whole other discussion 😉
In short, the answer to your question, “what’s wrong with saying ‘not all [whites, etc.]?’” even in the specific context that you gave, is this: when that’s your first, go-to response, it comes out sounding defensive & selfish rather than comforting and unifying.
Take this example (which pales in comparison, and I don’t presume to try and draw any equivalancy here, but sometimes people can understand it this way, and also because I have a background in education and I draw a lot from that): It’s almost like a teacher stepping out of the classroom for a second, trusting the students to behave, and walking back into the classroom to total chaos, majority of students out of their seats, wrestling running, yelling, & climbing the walls, except for a handful, and when the teacher calls them out on it, everyone begins yelling, “it wasn’t me!”
Like, if you’re doing the right thing then you don’t have to justify or state the obvious. Your actions will speak for themselves. If you’re one of the students in that situation who is doing the right thing, you don’t need to tell the teacher, “not all students are out of control,” because the teacher is wise enough to know that, and when she’s addressing the class as being out of control, she knows exactly who is and who is not showing their ass.
That is a very watered-down and poor example, but the underlying premise is similar. I can’t speak to global racism because I don’t know enough about that yet. But based on what I’ve learned from the way systemic racism operates in the United States, if a black person is using their voice to shed light on or to speak their truth on the ways in which they continue to be silenced, oppressed, marginalized, discriminated against, etc., the best thing a white person can do in that situation (because the white person still represents the majority race and therefore the more powerful person in that situation) is to listen, stay quiet, or, if there’s a need to say anything, let it be words of affirmation like, “thank you for speaking your truth. I’m here to listen.” That’s it.
As white people, we cannot understand or conflate our slights or struggles with the very real narrative of, say, a black mother, whose innocent son was killed unjustly by police, with no justice and no accountability for the person in the position of authority who killed her precious son.
It is not our duty to defend the whole of white race, or humanity, or whatever. Again, let actions speak for themselves.
When we respond, “not all white people…” we are first and foremost defending ourselves instead of listening and validating. Also, we are taking the attention off of the person in pain and directing it back to ourselves, which has the unintended effect of making us look and sound selfish.
Wow. Well done.