Defining Racism 101 for White Folk
Let me begin by saying that I hate when my work is targeted primarily at white folk. In this white supremist hell society, y'all have enough learning opportunities and resources simply tossed at you. So please know that I am not writing this for you. I am writing this for myself. Because I am sick and tired of having to individually teach all of y'all about the intricacies and fundamentals of racism. Here is where you begin. It must be up to you to keep learning (and unlearning.)
That being said, there will be no catering to white fragility here. And if you are white, this will probably make you uncomfortable, because chances are your whiteness has been catered to in most, if not all, of your interactions with people of color. I do it, too -- it makes my life a little easier in some ways. But this is my blog, my voice. It's not happening here.
Okay! Now that we've gotten through that introduction, let's begin with Defining Racism 101. Before we actually define racism, however, we are going to define "prejudice" and "discrimination," two terms that sometimes are used interchangeably with racism... mistakenly. THESE TERMS DO NOT MEAN THE SAME THING, and their differences can be monumental. So, bearing in mind that we need to be precise with the powerful tool that is language, let's begin the lesson.
To have prejudice is to have feelings of dislike towards an individual or a group of individuals based on preconceived notions, or stereotypes, about that group. Pretty much everyone harbors prejudices, albeit subconsciously. However, these prejudices are just feelings or beliefs, and may not necessarily be acted upon.
When you act upon your prejudice, however, this is discrimination. For example, when a higher-up chooses not to give a job to someone because of their race, their sexual orientation, or simply they way they look -- that is discrimination. An individual in a position of power can discriminate against anyone. A white boss can discriminate against their black employee by firing them based on race. Likewise, a black boss can discriminate against their white employee by firing them based on race. One company can discriminate against hiring a model because the model doesn't look a certain way, stores can discriminate against elderly people by not allowing them to be there, etc.
And now we come to racism, or social patterns of discrimination, which is a structural belief that one race is superior than another race. It is important to remember that racism is institutional, and not about the individual, because it is maintained by policies and practices that benefit certain racial identities. In America and the Western world, the "type" of racism in play is White Supremacy. "While other forms of racism could exist at various times and in various places, none have ever been as effective and widespread in their impact as white supremacy, nor is it likely that any such systems might develop in the foreseeable future" (TimWise.org).
SO, dear white folk, by definition, it is not possible for a person of color to be racist against you. And wherever the term "reverse racism" came from? Because of the prevailing power structure, that is not a thing either. It is possible for a person of color in an authoritative position to discriminate against you, but to quote Tim Wise again, "this kind of thing rarely happens because, a) such persons are still statistically rare relative to whites in authority, b) in virtually all cases, there are authorities above those people of color who are white, and who would not stand for such actions, and c) even in cases where a person of color sits atop a power structure (as with President Obama), he is not truly free to do anything to oppress or marginalize white people (even were he so inclined), given his own need to attract white support in order to win election or pass any of his policy agenda. Ultimately, there are no institutional structures in the U.S. in which people of color exercise final and controlling authority: not in the school systems, labor market, justice system, housing markets, financial markets, or media."
You've made it this far, dear white individual, so let me try and guess how you're feeling -- you're angry that I'm saying white people can't experience racism. And you want to throw the dictionary definition of racism at me: "poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race." Well, I don't know why in the world you would WANT to experience racism, so that part kind of looks like a You problem. But let me tell you about the dictionary.
According to a Merriam-Webster quote, "editors study the language as it's used." That means, when the word "racism" was entered into the dictionary, its definition seemed to be socially accepted at the time. "Racism" was entered during the time of the American Slave Trade, and the people who agreed on its definition were white (and probably slave-owning) men. Even now, most people in authority positions are still white, and you can bet this reigns true in the dictionary-world. So, yes, I am rejecting the dictionary's definition of racism. It is not helpful. Talk to any sociologist, anyone who studies race, and they will tell you the same thing.
I (unfortunately) know a lot of white people who stick with Merriam-Webster's definition of racism. And for them, racism is the same thing as a bad day, as being called a cracker at the bus stop. But racism in real terms? Racism as experienced by people of color? It is our entire existence, not something that happens on a bad day. Our entire lives are affected by how people perceive us and the color of our skin. So to me, it feels like the people who advocate for Sir Merriam-Webster basically want to have the power to tell PoC to "shut the fuck up and get over it; I experience racism too." They basically want to deny the existence of systemic oppression. Please, just, don't be that person.
I hope it is clear, dear white folk, that racism does not apply to you, because this is the very basis (and definition) of your white privilege. This is not to say that you have it easy; this is not to say that you are able and in a comfortable financial situation; this is just to say that you have the privilege of not experiencing racism. Because when it comes to race, you are part of the dominant group. So please, when people of color are talking about racism and racial equality, sit yourself down and listen. Do not, in any means, start talking about your white self or White People in general. To quote Audrey Lorde, "this is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master's concerns."
So what should you be doing? You've started by completing Defining Racism 101. As a follow up, I have a resource called How To Be A (Better) White Ally, which is where you can take your next step - it's a very quick read. After that, the other resources you have available are endless. You have everything you need with google.com.
SOME FURTHER RESOURCES:
- White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
- The Color of Supremacy: Beyond the discourse of 'white privilege,' by Zeus Leonardo
- Peggy McIntosh, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Suitcase
- Video: White Privilege, Racism, White Denial & The Cost of Inequality, by Tim Wise
- Declarations of Whiteness: The Non-Performativity of Anti-Racism, by Sara Ahmed
- The Difference between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation, Everydayfeminism (note: In my experience, everydayfeminism has been an accessible, pretty easy-to-understand resource)
- 5 Ways White Feminists Can Address Our Own Racism, Huffingtonpost
- Literally type "resources for white allies" into Google search
PS. Just in case I need to add - your guilt is not what I am seeking to produce. Your guilt is not beneficial to anyone; in fact, I believe that guilt stunts and hinders progress. Turn guilt into anger, and use that to aid in dismantling oppressive systems. Or turn guilt into empathy. Though you will never understand what it is like to experience racism, feel for those who do.