Part of the reason I have this blog is to write down my thoughts on random things. It’s kind of like a time-capsule: if anything ever happened to me I’d want people to read this and know who I was, disjointed thinking and all. In that spirit, today I’m on the topic of racism.
I caught this post on an OM re-blog. The original post discusses how reverse racism is impossible as applied to white people. Because this is a post that discusses my current thoughts on racism, I ask that people reading this read the whole thing before commenting here or elsewhere. I commented on the original post, but I received no word back on whether or not I should link to her post. Nevertheless, this conversation on racism, discrimination, and race in general is an important one to have in the U.S.
My understanding of the original post.
As I took the author’s points, the general sentiment was that white people are taking and assimilating aspects of non-white culture for themselves. The latest thing to be taken? Being subjected to racism. By printed quotes of terms and certain statements, the author suggests that white people cannot be subjected to racism. This is because “people of color do not hold the institutional power that makes racism a systemic force and that we, non-white people, are incapable of oppressing anyone[.]” See post supra.
Naturally, this idea and other sentiments like it generated the usual backlash of people saying that white people can experience racism, other people apologizing for white people, and people agreeing carte blanche with the author. The array of comments was not terribly surprising. I live in the South, and discussions on race have all the commented points discussed. These are the products of talking heads, canned debates, and all the classical rhetoric on race that is great for soundbites but terrible for meaning. Another problem in the discussion on race, I think, but I shall have to leave that thought for now.
There is a sense of frustration I found in the original post, and rightfully so. The sentiments expressed not only refer to people not analyzing the situation based on the parameters the author supplied, but also that the idea of white people experiencing racism is not even a refutation of her point. Granted, as I pointed out, that according to her definition that white people could be victims of racism. However, any error on the author’s part is simply the product of an over application and does not totally negate her point.
To be clear: in the U.S., due to how our institutions still work, white people do not experience racism. White people can experience discrimination in the U.S., but an institutional bias is something that I currently can find no evidence for. Claiming otherwise distracts from the dialogue everyone in this country needs to have.
The difference between racism and discrimination.
I know what I said is a loaded statement for white people. I’ve been subjected on more than one occasion to discrimination from black people. What I’m talking about goes further than discrimination. Racism, as the link I posted suggests, is not just discrimination. It’s an institutional affair. Sometimes racism is conflated with discrimination, and the whole subject is so emotionally charged that people are willing to get angry about it before they think about what’s getting said.
One time at one of my old jobs, I was told, “All you white people look the same.” This was out loud, in front of a bunch of people. I didn’t like what was said, but I laughed it off anyways. The statement itself was designed to get me angry, and I didn’t feel particularly keen on getting butthurt about it. At the end of the day, I knew I could go home and not give two shits about what words were uttered. In other situations, the same reasoning applied. I had that luxury because I didn’t have to put up with additional bias in the entertainment I consume, the friends I have, the advertising I see, the police that patrol my street, or my neighbors.
My eyes were opened a little wider after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. I lived a few towns over when it happened. I saw news reports that followed, and one of the curious things was I saw black people talking out about how they were afraid. They were afraid of white people because of what happened to Mr. Martin. They were afraid because similar unreported things like that have happened in the past.
I’ve never owned a gun in my life. The news reports shocked me. After thinking about it, I realized that what got me the most was that their fears were reasonable. Some white guy goes batshit in a neighborhood miles away because he saw a black kid and had his gun with him. How were they to know I wasn’t like that guy? How were they to know any white person wasn’t like that guy? My mind wanted to come up with some distinguishing reason, some argument that could differentiate me from people who were trigger-happy.
And I couldn’t.
This is because, no matter how often white people want to admit it, there is some institutional fear left in our community. It’s what helped Mr. Zimmerman pull that trigger; it’s what helped the police officer in Ferguson choose shooting his weapon instead of assessing the situation. Oh, and the threats of rioting? Yeah, that’s another play on an institutionalized fear that has no basis in reality.
Discrimination is awful, and no one should ever be subjected to it. But people can speak out against discrimination. It’s even illegal. Individuals can discriminate, and they can be identified and disagreed with.
Racism, though, still hides in the fabric of our society. And because it hides there, it’s not easy to talk about and rid ourselves of it. It doesn’t even require people to be aware that they use the fruits of racist institutions to keep them running. All it does is exist, quietly dehumanizing other classes of people while the dominant one is oblivious.
Only by owning up to what racism is can people start dealing with it.
A lot of white people I know of would not do anything openly racist. These same people wouldn’t even privately do anything racist. When the accusations of racism fly, they get hit with them too and get indignant. Of course this is expected when people are misunderstood.
However, it pales in comparison to being misunderstood when one is charged with a crime.
My point is that misunderstanding abounds in the context of race. With both sides screaming at each other, it’s no wonder that nothing meaningful happens. White people are too butt-hurt to realize that how our economic, social, and legal system is stacked against minority groups. And minority groups are too butt-hurt to realize that white people are trying to do the right thing. White people need to admit that they are messing up, and they need to know how they are messing up. Minority people need to admit that white people are not consciously utilizing racist institutions, and they need to know that there are white people who are more than willing to get on board if they can get pointed in the right direction.
By its very nature, the racism left in the U.S. is that which is not easily found and destroyed. Discrimination, though, is not the same thing. Sometimes the two terms are conflated, but in the interests of everyone, we should think first before reacting. Let’s think about what we say so we can start putting this horseshit behind us once and for all. More importantly, for those of us who are younger than 40: our ancestors ended slavery with a civil war, our parents did what they could to end segregation, so let’s do our part and silence the echoes of both.
Some concepts I didn’t reach.
I’m not going to jump full tilt into the specifics of racism (i.e., income disparity, legal disparity, etc.) in this post. There were some other issues raised in the original post that deserve extra comment and discussion, but this post is already getting longer than I anticipated. Rather, I just wanted to throw out a slightly more thorough response to the post that spawned this. Like issues relating to feminism, I want to do more research so I can at least pretend to know what I’m talking about. What’s important now I wanted to describe my current thoughts on the subject, to define where I am starting so I know where I need to travel.