Lots of white people are racist without really knowing it, and they show it in ways that they believe are the opposite of racist. Everyday Feminism posted an interesting article on The Good Men Project that details five ways that “non-racist” white people facilitate and participate in racism. Every one of them is absolutely true.
Fear of people of color.
Many of us don’t think of ourselves as afraid of people of color; specifically blacks and anybody who looks middle eastern, and, to a lesser extent, Latinos. The fear can be subconscious, brought on by the stereotype that these people are inherently more dangerous than we are. Everyday Feminism lists some of the things we might do when we see a person of color nearby:
- Holding personal belongings closer when in proximity to a person of color;
- Wide-eyed looks when a friend, classmate or colleague is venting about their experiences with racism;
- Nervous habits or gestures when in the presence of a friend of color while in a “bad area.”
We whites have been conditioned by both conscious and subconscious cues, all our lives, to believe that people of color are dangerous. It’s what’s behind this idea: “The reason the prison population is disproportionately black is because people who commit crimes are disproportionately black!” It’s also behind the idea that anybody who looks like a Muslim must be a terrorist.
But, then you have to delve deep into sociology to look at all the things our white society tends to do that puts people of color, specifically blacks and Latinos, at a disadvantage to begin with (yes, this is a truth. An uncomfortable truth, but a truth nonetheless). We, as individuals, might not think we’re contributing, but we are, especially when we buy into the general idea that we’re just not safe if a person of color is around.
Everyday Feminism mentioned that this particular problem is not just a fear of people of color, but also a fear of engagement, and a fear of accountability. We white people feel defensive when someone brings up institutional racism, and we think, “Not all white people,” the way some men, angry about feminist language painting them in an unfavorable light, say, “Not all men.” But that’s a deflection; it turns the conversation off of the uncomfortable topic—institutional racism and white privilege—and onto we who feel uncomfortable with these very ideas.
Disregarding violence and atrocities happening to people of color worldwide.
Yes, we white people do this, too. We try and advocate only for people we know, and ignore the things going on in the world. Or worse, we do look at it globally, but we use racist acts and institutions elsewhere in the world as a way to minimize and dismiss what’s happening here. Everyday Feminism has these examples:
- “This is not just local; this is global.”
- “We need to focus on the big picture, not necessarily what’s happening here.”
- “If we look big first, then we will be able to see that our problems here aren’t as bad.”
Have you ever had a problem you didn’t know how to handle, sat down with someone you trust to talk about it, received this kind of response, “Oh that’s not so bad, you should try…” and then had to sit quietly as they launched into why what happened to them is so much worse? Did that make you feel trivialized and dismissed, or even villainized, as though you don’t have the right to have a problem because someone else’s problem is so much worse? This is like that. Yes, we need to focus on the bigger picture, but it needs to go along with what we see and do here at home.
To be blunt, as a society, we totally suck at understanding that worse things happening elsewhere does not mean we’re not allowed to pay attention to problems of our own. This includes problems of racism here at home.
Disregarding the fact that people of color are individuals, with different histories and heritages, and not all the same.
Everyday Feminism says:
Race isn’t the only thing that makes up and affects the lives of people of color. There are so many other intersections and identities that we embody.
Post-racial ideologies erase those intersectional experiences. They erase the experiences that LGBT people of color face regarding fair housing, homelessness, employment, sexual harassment and assault, and treatment while incarcerated.
Psychology Today has a great article about colorblindness, which is what this writer believes Everyday Feminism is talking about with the idea of “post-racial ideologies.” Monnica T. Williams, the author of that article and a person of color herself, says:
Colorblindness creates a society that denies their negative racial experiences, rejects their cultural heritage, and invalidates their unique perspectives.
Americans, especially, and perhaps uniquely, white Americans, view colorblindness as the ideal way to eliminate racism once and for all. The problem, as Williams sees it, is that colorblindness implies there’s something shameful about being, well, anything other than white. On the surface, it seems great: “We’re judging you by your heart and your character, not the color of your skin,” but when we look deeper, it only contributes to racist attitudes because it trivializes the experiences and perspectives of people of color.
It’s not “playing the race card” to point this out. We white people cannot say that people of color don’t have the experiences they say they have. We cannot say, “It would all go away if you people would just…” do whatever we want them to do so we feel more comfortable. We don’t, and have never, experienced what they’ve experienced. We have no common frame of reference, so we cannot relate. To deny the histories, experiences, and heritages of people of color by saying, “I don’t see skin color,” is inherently racist.
Making people of color “tokens” in the workplace.
This happens when we look to people of color as the representatives of their entire race or ethnicity. We think we’re elevating them by asking for input, but making them spokespeople like this actually reduces them to “the token black man,” “the token Latino woman,” “the token Asian guy,” the “token Indian woman,” and so forth. It says, “Okay, we’ve got someone who isn’t white here. We’re good.”
The problem, as Everyday Feminism puts it, is that people of color tend to be one of only a few in the workplace. Making them a token leads to bombarding them with questions like:
- “Have you heard about [insert current event involving some racist act here]?”
- “You’re so different compared to other ________ people.”
- “What can we do to make our company more diverse?
- “You’re so smart! Do you want to be the leader of this diversity campaign?”
In short, constantly asking people of color to be the spokesperson for their entire race or ethnicity, and constantly asking them to explain their racial or ethnic identity, is microaggression. Check out this list, from Buzzfeed, to see more of the microagressions people of color experience from white people.
What’s white silence? We think, “I speak up. I call out racism. I call out racial injustice. So does every other white person I know. What’s this white silence you’re talking about?” Everyday Feminism says that people of color are talking about this:
- “Everyone goes through these things! We’re all fighting for the same thing!”
- “I’m a gay man! I experience the exact same oppression, and you don’t see me complaining.”
These things, according to Everyday Feminism, allow white people to avoid being accountable for whatever racist actions we engage in (consciously or otherwise), and allow us to excuse our privilege as well. Everyday Feminism said the following about both the accountability and comfort zones of white people:
When white allies are only present and vocal in spaces where they feel comfortable and able to blend in, they don’t have to worry about accountability.
If you feel comfortable being present and vocal at events for fellow anti-racists, we also need you to be present and vocal in spaces where blatant racist ideals are upheld.
As long as being present involves no accountability, being vocal is easy.
Being an ally is an action, not an identity. It’s means taking risks, giving up the safety of silence, and rejecting all unfair privileges.
That last one, rejecting all unfair privileges, is a difficult one, because we whites are generally unaware of our own privilege, and all the ways it manifests itself. As Nicholas Kristof put it in his fantastic piece, “Straight Talk for White Men,” it’s like a tailwind in a race. No runner or cyclist notices the tailwind helping them. Every runner and cyclist is aware of a headwind for every inch of the race.
People of color (and even white women, but to a lesser degree), experience that headwind all the time. White people (including white women) have the tailwind. When we remain unaware of our own privilege, accuse people of color of “playing the race card,” and say things like, “I’m totally colorblind; I don’t see skin color,” we make that headwind worse, not better.
Featured image by PublicDomainArchive. Licensed under Public Domain via Pixabay