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During a conference I attended recently, I had an interesting interracial dialogue with a White woman. A conference participant mentioned that the presence of a White staff member during the event and more intimate group meetings bothered her and a few other people. She discussed the importance of having spaces sans White folks. While the event attendees were predominately Black, the conference was not a space dedicated solely for Black women. I shared the participant’s concern with my White colleague, to which she replied, “It sounds like insecurity to me.” My colleague is an ally and fully supports the event’s mission but in this instance her thinking showed otherwise. She unintentionally perpetuated racism, while consciously thinking she was helping to uplift Black women.
At that moment I was reminded that White folks do not understand. When White people are called out for being racist by Black people or other groups of color, they often turn around and call their “accuser” racist. We saw this in the public view recently, when incoming Boston University professor Dr. Saida Grundy came under fire for comments she made about dominant “white masculinity.” While many people (some of whom are white) have come to her aid, most White folks do not seem to understand their worldviews around racism, classism and other systems of oppression perpetuate stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice. White folks appear delusional. They grant themselves the privilege to be seen as individuals, but do not allow people from other racial groups the same courtesy. In that vein, grab some tea and let’s discuss “the problem with White folks.”
Denying Racism Exists
Sociologist Elijah Anderson provides a great explanation for White people’s conceptions of race in his co-authored article, The Legacy of Racial Caste. He finds their assumption of privilege is expressed through a denial of racism. This denial is conveyed through the idea of “reverse racism” as well as comments like, “I’m not racist” or “It’s just a joke.” These statements assume a post-racial world. However, as evident through current events, biases and racism remain alive and well in the United States.
In addition, white people often disclaim their race. Anderson explains this process involves White folks thinking racism is something of the past and doesn’t exist now. Statements such as “Racism is dead” imply that neither the individual nor others could be racist. To prove their point, White folks reference personal examples of Black and Whites “getting along.”
Misunderstanding White Supremacy
Another problem with White folks is that they do not understand how our systems were designed to benefit them. The term “white supremacy” triggers images of the extremist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. However, White supremacy is maintained through the systemic, oppressive paradigms on which this country was built through colonization and further perpetuated through laws and cultures. White folk tend to only view overt racist terms and open expressions of hate as racism. Unfortunately, this denies the internal and subtle ways racism persists in thoughts, beliefs and worldviews. This is also white supremacy.
White supremacy affords white privilege and demonizes efforts to destroy it. For example, White people scream affirmative action is reverse racism. This assertion, “Reverse Racism,” contends that White folks are now the ones being oppressed. As a result, White folks fail to realize their own privileged status resulting from White supremacy. They feel these “special freedoms” extended to people of color as corrective measures endanger their opportunities, free speech, and resources. Therefore, White folks believe their achievements are not due to the color of their skin, but the result of merit and hard work.
Maggie Potapchuk and Sally Leiderman, authors of Flipping the Script, explain this lack of awareness of white privilege well by stating, “white privilege is so pervasive that white people do not even notice that they end up together and in the same place: sharing power and privilege that structural racism denies people of color.”
Toting Color-Blindness vs. Color-Consciousness
Miller and Garran in their text, Racism in the United States, discuss the harmful impacts of color-blindness. They mention that a problem with White folks is their constant proclamations of “I don’t see color” and “We are all human beings.” These statements deny the importance of racial and ethnic social identities and the lived experiences of people of color. This leads White folks to the conclusions that race doesn’t matter and is not an important consideration.
Consequentially, White people believe they do not belong to a race and/or a culture. Their ignorance and lack of acknowledgment of shared history, practices and beliefs places the burden for racial equality on the shoulders of other ethnicities. Specifically, Black people live in a perpetual state of negotiating White supremacy. Numerous studies demonstrate that Black people live in a defense mode because White people can single us out for our race at any time. Black people live in a society where they must caution each other and their children about the racial caste system. Research suggests this attempt for survival fosters a cultural pride and self-respect that mitigates race-related stress and injury.
Internalized racism affects everyone. It is not only about Black people feeling victimized, suffering from colorism or having low self-esteem. In Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpack the Invisible Knapsack, she offers that White folks internalized racism is unacknowledged privilege, or an oppressiveness operating on unconscious levels. Subsequently, White people are viewed as oppressive, even though they do not see themselves that way. This lack of acknowledgement to their White privilege disables them from identifying the daily effects it has on their lives and the lives of others). Internalized racism is the systemic oppression to which all people are vulnerable. The problem of White folks is not a problem of individuals, but one of our societal structures.
What do White folks do to alleviate their problems? They have to make a conscious decision to actively combat racism. White people have to make a choice to see themselves. Doing this, they must also not see themselves as the default, the norm, as a people that we all must aspire to be. White folks need to be examined: more research needs to highlight their problematic belief systems. Also, White people need to conduct their own self-examinations and must be taught to be actively anti-racist.
When all people examine the internalized beliefs and attitudes propagated through a pervasively oppressive society, then we all can create a new reality.