When I recently read this fantastic article from Jamelle Bouie entitled Why Do Millenials Not Understand Racism?, I couldn’t help but think it didn’t go far enough.
As someone who works with young people all the time, I definitely see the patterns Bouie describes in his analysis of research done by MTV (yeah, MTV does research! Whodathunk?), but it’s just too simple to say that Millenials don’t understand racism.
I think a lot of millenials in general misunderstand the connection between systems of oppression and interpersonal experiences of prejudice, but this is also a race-specific problem.
And by race-specific, I mean that this is a White people problem more than anything.
Now, let me be clear about why this article is directed at White people.
First, I am White, and as such, my role in ending racial oppression must be in engaging other White people to join accountable work for racial justice. Plain and simple.
Second, because privilege conceals itself from those who have it and because White people benefit most from the current systems of racial oppression, we as White people have a particular tendency to bury our head in the sand on issues of race, but we also have a particular role in acting for racial justice.
Are there people of Color who act in ways that reinforce systems of racial oppression? Sure. But it is not my place to address those issues. It is my place to work with White folks.
Thus, inspired in part by 18 Things White People Should Know/Do Before Discussing Racism, I would posit that there are a few things that it’s about time all White people figured out.
These are things we’ve been told collectively by people of Color countless times, but we don’t seem to be hearing them. Perhaps we can hear them differently when called in by a White person to consider how we can actively work to end racial injustice and oppression.
1. Racial prejudice and racism are not the same thing.
I recently posted the following graphic on Facebook:
(If you’re not sure why reverse racism isn’t a thing, that’s a wholly different article. Read this before continuing.)
It led to a frustrating and tense conversation with a White man who called it “the single dumbest thing [he’d] ever read.” I tried to unpack the “Prejudice + Power = Racism” argument, but it wasn’t working.
He kept coming back to something I often hear from White people when this notion of racism is presented.
He was very concerned about how this sentiment is unfair, as it seems to let women or people of Color or other oppressed people off the hook for prejudicial behavior.
Perhaps this speaks to how we as White people need to engage White folks differently in the conversation. Reverse racism is not real because racial prejudice directed at White people doesn’t have the weight of institutional oppression behind it, but that doesn’t meant that White people aren’t sometimes hurt by racial prejudice.
This is not to say that we should cater to White people’s feelings in conversations about racism or that this hurt is in any way comparable to the hurts caused by racism. It is to say, though, that we as White folks need to talk about this concept in a new way when engaging other White people.
If we never acknowledge the ways that White people feel wounded by interpersonal racial bigotry, we can’t push past this defensiveness to make change.
So no, it does not feel good to be called a “cracker.” It’s legitimate to feel hurt by that language. And as White folks, we can validate that hurt in other White people as we call them in to a conversation about racism.
It’s not legitimate, though, to equate that language with racist language that reinforces the oppression of people of Color. Sure, it can be a hurtful reaction, but equating racial prejudice against White folks with that experienced by people of Color erases the often-invisible structures of oppression at play, and doing so ensures that we never actually deal with root causes.
2. Interpersonal racism and systems of racial oppression rely on one another.
Race as we know it was created to ensure that poor Europeans utilize interpersonal expressions of racism to uphold bigger systems of oppression.
Thus, whether we’re talking lynchings or everyday microaggressions, the end result is the same:the actions taken by individuals further marginalize and devastate those already oppressed by racist structures like our educational system, our criminal injustice system, and so on.
Thus, while we absolutely must focus our energy on racist individuals or actions, it’s not simply for the sake of that individual or those they impact.
We must see engagement of interpersonal racism as a tool in the wider dismantling of racist structures.
3. Race isn’t real, but the impacts of race and racism are very real.
One of the more common responses that I hear from White people when confronted with the socially-constructed nature of race for the first time is for them to push a “race-neutral” ideology. This is often characterized by statements like, “But I don’t see race” or, “If race isn’t real, then we really are all one human family!”
Read the Rest at Everyday Feminism.