Give me a CLEAR EXAMPLE of a racist… I hear this all the time when talking about racist issues or how Trump is a racist. A clear example is wanted- but it is wanted only in a certain way. It seems that white people have been sold a lie about racism. I am sorry that I will be the one to break it to you, but here’s hoping I can help you undo years if not decades of a whitewashed history that has made you think of racism as person and not a system. An educational system and media organization has socialized you to think of racism as one thing and one thing only- the KKK, white hoods, the burning of crosse, saying nigger (but of course not when singing a song), the anger faces during the civil rights movements, or clear cut examples of discrimination and overt that even racists are like “ya that is racist”. When racism is only thought to be those overt examples, the way racism really is is missed, almost like when you look at one side of the road for a store and miss it on the opposite side. Racism is sneaky. It is snake-like and insidious that changes to meet current times. People don’t look for what racism IS, they look for what it WAS and when they don’t see it how it was then they wipe their hands very comfortably and say not only do I not see racism, I now can say I am not a part of it.
So many times when having conversations about race and racism on social media (yes, I am that person) I am asked to give a clear example of racism. I am asked to give a clear example of how Trump or anyone within that administration is a racist, I am asked to give a clear reason of how a comment or situation is racist. When asked for the clear example it is expected I will give an example from the 1950s, as an example of a cross burning, n word saying, white hood wearing person will suffice. White people, all of us actually, have been taught to look for only one thing when discussing racism and when that one thing isn’t used to “prove racism” folks do a victory lap because “racism” wasn’t proven. They hold on to that 1950s example and even when where is an attempt to show how the comment or situation was indeed racist, if not 1950s enough for them they have tuned out any other information or data because they are now carrying their “can’t prove racism’ trophy.
If we are to look at racism now we have to look at how it has changed like a transformer who is “more than meets the eye”. To look at racism we first have to look at race and the definition instilled in us which is about the color of skin, black or white. Going by this definition made it very easy to then say racism was about the color of skin and hating a person’s skin color. It then also made it easy to say everyone is racist because a black person could then be a racist if they hate white people. When we look at race in that definition it is hard to see the flexibility of what racism means. Race was made up, it is a word literally made up by white men in 1619. It is what we will call socially constructed. There is no science or biology involved in “race”. Therefore the true definition of race: socially constructed. Sit and think on that for a second. This thing that was as made up as some of ya’ll’s invisible friends when you were young, but as something made up holds a tremendous amount of weight. It is a fictional thing that affects lives, determines who gets the best healthcare, who has longer or shorter prison sentences, who gets suspended in school, or who makes more money. It determines if you are followed around a store, allowed to wear a hoodie, can find ballet toe shoes in your skin tone, or if you are expected to speak for a whole race.
Now that we have discussed the definition of race let’s move on to the definition of racism. I know that many of you are going to immediately go google the definition. You will see the Webster, Brittanica, or Oxford’s definition of racism being “Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior” or “The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races” and say boom- you don’t know what you are talking about. I know that you want to hold on tight to this old ass definition that was written by a dictionary started in 1828 by white people, but we need to critically think more about definitions, where they came from, what was going on with race during that period, and lastly, who would benefit from the definition. Webster’s dictionary was started in 1828, and regardless of Noah Webster’s thoughts on slavery, I doubt he was ready to say “us white folks made up race and use racism to stay in power.” It just doesn’t make sense. So while folks want to jump to Webster’s definition let’s take a second to critically think about racism in relation to race. Many people want to read that definition and give their own opinion then on what racism is and what it most definitely is not. “This is what racism is and since the person in x situation didn’t think their race was superior then the situation wasn’t racist, or when the person wore x in x situation there was no intention to be racist so they weren’t.” Or my favorite (spoken by a white person who just used an MLK quote incorrectly), I don’t think this situation is racist because of x and y, so it isn’t, you are just trying to use the race card while playing identity politics.
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The definition Sensoy and DiAngelo (2017) (use this link to buy the book) gives which is more fitting of what racism truly is, is Racism: refers to White racial and cultural prejudice and discrimination, supported by institutional power and authority, used to the advantage of Whites and the disadvantage of peoples of Color. Racism encompasses economic, political, social, and institutional actions and beliefs that perpetuate an unequal distribution of privileges, resources, and power between White people and Peoples of Color. (p.228) I know right now you are saying I guess we can just make up our own definition about things to prove our point. It is easy to go that route, but I ask you to take a step back, a deep breath, and critically gaze at this definition. It is going to be very easy to get up in arms about this definition and go the “I don’t have privilege, I have worked hard for what I got, no one has given me a hand out, slavery ended centuries ago, what about that one time a person of color did x, and whatever other thoughts bubbled up to the surface when you read that definition. Just when you are thinking of closing the window with this blog I want you to think of the words “square, lit, bad, or fire” and think of the different definitions that now accompany those words. So now move your clicking finger away from the x and start scrolling down this blog.
To look at racism with this definition is scary. It means that as a white person you are more involved in racism than you originally thought you were (yikes)! Racism becomes something more tangible than a person. This word now shows how you as a white person has benefitted from racism in ways that you didn’t think possible. We are all taught that we live in a meritocracy. The only way people should get things is by hard work. But… it is time to throw that idea away. It is time to throw that idea away because it seems to ignore the decades and centuries where white people got many things for being white. It ignore the jobs, property, schooling, or wealth that white folks got just for being white. It ignores that white people still get jobs for being white and are thought to be the ones who always have the skills and experience vs people of color are through to be the unskilled affirmative action hire. If you don’t believe me look at the CEOs, sport team owners, actually anyone in power who are white and got the job with virtually no skills or experience (cough cough Trump, DeVos, half the new and old cabinet, Whitaker, should I go on?). I know you will find that one person of color in power and say “SEE” you don’t know what you are talking about. But, one? That is what you are going to ride on- one? If you can count the amount then there probably aren’t enough, AND THAT IS THE PROBLEM!!
Now back to racism. Racism is imbedded in our system. It drives how we act, how we talk, and how we move. I know now you will say that this is impossible. I talk to black people, hired a black person, like black actresses or actors (hey Denzel), or have a black friend… well not really, they haven’t been to your house and you haven’t been to theirs, don’t have any pictures with them, feel uncomfortable when there are a lot of black people around and they are outnumbered, but swear they have a black friend. Well, I hate to break it to you again, damn it I am bearing bad news, but “not being a racist or part of a racism system” is not just the examples mentioned above. Knowing a black person, dating a black person, having conversations with a black person, or working next to a black person does not give you a pass on racism, prejudice, bigotry, or stereotyping. It isn’t a card that you now get to have that says “because Joan has any type of relationship with a black person she is therefore not susceptible to racism.” It doesn’t work that way. Our country was founded on racism and white supremacy. It was founded on oppressing people of color to give white people advantages and the ability to could wealth and property. If you want to question that look throughout history at what benefits white people did and still do received from the oppression of people of color. Redlining, New Deal, GI Loans going to 98% of white people, mortgage lending scams to predominately people of color, shootings of unarmed black men, shootings of unarmed black women, shootings of unarmed black boys, and on and on. The idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness wasn’t meant for people who look like me. It could not have been. It is impossible to want life and liberty for all…. yet own slaves.
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The quicker this fact is acknowledged this the easier it will be to move on to being anti-racist which is the goal. Not being a racist is not the goal. What does being “not racist” even mean? Seriously though. What does it mean? I urge people who use that language to ask themselves what they mean when they say it. It means nothing, and has become a catch phrase to stop uncomfortable conversations on race. I will let you in on a little secret that people of color know; no person of color has ever heard “I am not racist” and immediately thought, finally a not racist, I am so glad they told me because I would have never known. When people say they aren’t a racist we wait for the racist comment or the “how is that racist”, they probably didn’t intend it that way, or the oldie but goodie- why do you make everything about race? What is the old proverb, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions?”
We could put all the people WE consider racists on another planet and racism would still continue flawlessly without a blip on the radar. Racism can be many things. It can be conscious and overt. It can be subtle and covert. It can be the dog whistle of talking about black on black crime, but not white on white crime. It can be the discrimination against a person of color who wears their hair in ways not viewed as positive by Eurocentric standards. It can be talking about Mexicans as only rapists and drug dealers. It can be only talking about gun violence in relation to the “ghetto” or “hood” but not suburban America where white boys shoot up things left and right. Racism is a spectrum and it is so many things. It comes in forms so out of sight of white people that they doubt it really occurs because they do not see it overtly occurring. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
When you say that racism and the deadly affects on people of color doesn’t occur who are you double checking with? Whose opinions are you listening to? I find that when a person of color talks about racism and it is in ways that a white person doesn’t understand or feels uncomfortable with, no matter how detailed the experiences they don’t believe it and go hunt down a person of color like Kanye West, Stacey Dash, Candace Owens or the other Fox folks to prove that what the many other people of color voices are saying about their experiences with racism is wrong. They will ignore data upon data and experience upon experience because Kanye West says racism doesn’t exist. Racism manifests itself in small ways that might “seem” to be a one off to a white person who thinks they have experienced the same thing, but in reality it is a consistency to people of color.
Story time: I was at the airport recently to fly to Colombia. I was wearing leggings, a t shirt, and a large hiking backpack. I walked up into the TSA precheck line and there was a black woman who had been waiting there before me. This black woman was obviously going to a work event. She had on a suit and was holding a briefcase. She was in front of me, was focused on waiting for the agent to beckon her forward, and I don’t even think looked behind to see me. So obviously we didn’t speak. She was called up to have her boarding pass checked and about 3 min later for some reason the TSA agent waved me up and asked if we were together. I said no, we both just happen to be black. He did the awkward uncomfortable laugh and we both gave each other the look. The look of we have been here before.
I had recently joined a Facebook group called “Women Who Travel”, but it really should be called “White Women Who Travel and Who Allow Black Women into Their Group”. I say this with humor but with a lot of truth. I explained my situation as a funny, here we go again, and the white women got PISSSSSEDDDD. They immediately wanted to use experiences of their own, or maybe experiences they had heard but were nowhere near the same just to show race wasn’t the reason. “Well if two people are standing close” I wasn’t. “Well if two people were dressed the same” We weren’t. “Well maybe you looked like.” We didn’t. “It happens everywhere they just want to speed up the line” Nope, there was no one behind me and maybe two people in the other line.
These white women wanted to use every single excuse EXCEPT for race. To them race wasn’t even an option. They chose to be the ones to determine if race was the reason. They made themselves the self-appointed race reasoners. This could not be racism because you weren’t physically hurt. This couldn’t be racism because the intent wasn’t there, it was just a mistake. People have thought another blonde and I were sisters. Why didn’t you ask him why he thought that and spend the time to explain things if you thought it was racism? It couldn’t be racism because……. Anything but racism. And not only could it not be racism, they wanted to make sure it was ran out of my head that race could even be a factor. When these types of things occur it shows why women of color are very hesitant to talk about their experiences. We are literally shunned when talking about race and could potentially lose our job. Women of color have realized it is easier in some respects to stay silent when talking about the effects of racism then have to battle white folks just to explain how their experience was actually a real one. Are you someone that argues people of color’s experiences by saying that it couldn’t have happened that way, maybe that wasn’t the intent, and so on. If so I hope you will reconsider words of that nature and how they are harming to the person of color and allowing the white person who said them a free get out of prison card.
White women did everything to make sure it wasn’t racism. Because to them racism is only one thing. To admit it manifests itself in other ways might mean that it manifested in things they did and said. To them racism is not a spectrum it is one obvious thing, and since they do not do it then they are not racist. One woman tried to report me and have me kicked out of the group! How dare I mention my experiences as a black woman who travels? Another woman said she was leaving the group because of this one thread, a thread mind you she could have ignored or not clicked on, but just the idea that a thread like this existed in her space was enough for her to leave the group.
It got real. To them if I mentioned instances of prejudice, bias, or racism must then mean that I am angry, I am hurt, I am offended. I have to be. I cannot just name situations that affect people of color because to bring them out into the open means that they have to hear what affects us and not just ignore it. One woman said that all this racial tension just popped up out of nowhere and it was not here 10 years ago. Well you my friend, obviously have no friends of color and have had zero conversations with people of color on any of their experiences.
I say all this to get white people to understand the large and complex spectrum racism is on. We cannot have a country built on racism and white supremacy and they are only displayed in one manner. We cannot have a system that literally built a country and it is only shown through people who are in the KKK and consider themselves the Grand Armadillo It is time we peel off the “I’m not a racist” blinders, stop looking for the 1950s example of racism, and see how we are all involved in this system of racism. It is time to stop asking for a “clear” example of racism. It is time to take a step back and look at the following things that perpetuate racism such as:
1. How language being used can have a supremacist tone to it
2. How reactions to experiences people of color tell you about can dismiss or invalidate that they have been through
3. How if a person of color tells you a white person something they went through, your reaction of saying, “ it really didn’t happen or didn’t have the meaning behind it the person of color thought it did” helps perpetuate racist culture
4. Comparing your one off experience to their continued experiences, (Well one time I had something that wasn’t really the same happen to me so your experience really isn’t (fill in the blank))
Things that help build an antiracist culture are
1. Starting to learn about how systems are constructed and continue regardless of who is in charge
2. Asking yourself, if a disabled person or an LGBT person was telling a similar story would you have the same reaction
3. Lastly, having open conversations with people of color about their experiences
There is no clear example of racism, but there are clear examples of people not trying to end racism.
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