Alright folks! Let’s talk about racism! It is an insipid oppression that permeates our entire society and colours all of our conversations, and our lives. It can be hard to recognize for white folks, and harder to live with for BIPoC. In this series of posts, we’re going to address all kinds of topics (in no particular order):
Defining internalized racism
Defining White Supremacy, and the Default Man
The illusion of a post racial society
Intent versus Impact
Identifying overt and subtle ways in which we can all be problematic, including a lesson on listening to BIPoC voices and including us in conversations, implicit bias, microaggressions and racial slurs that have crept into our language, tone policing
Understanding Militant BIPoC rage using bell hooks essays
Identifying strategies we can use to help fight racism from the ground up, both working inside and outside the system, and through interpersonal connections and discussions
Handling call outs
White Guilt/White Fragility and how it doesn’t help us
Healing from toxic whiteness, surviving in a racist society for BIPoC and self-care to avoid burnout
First, we need to define some terms. You can check out the original social justice primer post (we’ll be posting here on the site soon), but I’m going to redefine the terms here as well.
Racism: Racism is defined as prejudice plus privilege. It refers to a system of oppression that limits the voices and abilities and opportunities and safety of Black, Indigenous and People of Color and their communities. It is NOT the same as prejudice, as it requires the backing of that system of oppression and a degree of privilege, not just power. A good example of this is an employer/employee situation.
If I, as a person of colour, were to fire you, a white person from your job for being white, that would be prejudiced, but it would not be racist. Why? I don’t have the systemic power as a person of colour that my white employee would. The system isn’t designed to protect me, it is designed to protect my employee as a white person.
If the roles were reversed, as they often are in our society, the white employer would only have to find a coded reason for firing the BIPoC employee. For BIPoC phrases like “unprofessional” which unfairly targets Black folks for their natural hairstyles, or “not a good fit for the team” are often used to hide the implicit biases, for which there is little recourse in a system designed to provide the illusion of living in a post-racial society, without actually discussing or tackling the core issues behind it. Here’s a really great link to content that explains how we define racism, and why the typical colloquial definitions don’t address the whole issue, for those of us who do better in comic form:
For those of us who prefer a more academic approach to understanding concepts, here’s a great link to a paper by Caleb Rosado of the Department of Urban Studies over at Eastern, that explains how power and prejudice combine to form racism:
Because racism always has a systemic aspect, and ultimately defines a pervasive societal oppression, it differs from prejudice. Anyone can be prejudiced, but only white people, as the dominant voices in our society can actually be racist. BIPoC can be prejudiced, but they lack the systemic privilege that is necessary for something to be racist, which is why reverse racism is a myth. It is actually in and of itself an inherently racist argument that continues to force the illusion of equality when it hasn’t been achieved yet.
So now that we’re on the same page about the definition of racism as prejudice plus power, we already have a tool in our belt for dismantling it: We need to cancel out privilege. The best way to do that, is to include BIPoC in our discussions on policies that we implement to make sure that our voices are heard and given priority on matters that disproportionately affect us. More on that later.
Another key aspect to understanding racism is understanding whiteness. There is no white culture. We can have Scottish culture, American culture, Czech culture, German culture, English culture, but we do not actually have white culture.
Whiteness is a social construct designed by rich slave owners who wanted to create infighting between the lower socioeconomic classes in order to prevent indentured servants from joining with black slaves in revolt against them. They opted to encourage white folks to align themselves based on race, as opposed to class.
Here’s a really good video explainer that does a good job of explaining this concept:
So if we can redirect ourselves and address our focus on fixing the damage done, dismantling racism, and putting our allegiances where they belong, in uniting with BIPoC to fight for equality, rather than stepping on BIPoC backs, we are going to be far more effective in not only dismantling class oppression (which we will talk about in another primer) but fighting the core systems in place that lead to the election of people like Trump, that ultimately protect the haves from the have-nots.
This section is primarily for BIPoC, and I’d like to ask that white folks read to understand, ask questions, but don’t offer opinions here. I’ll explain why in another section.
Internalized racism is the internalization of racist ideas or views by BIPoC toward our own communities or ourselves.
To bring a personal touch to this, I can talk about my own experiences of internalized racism:
I’m half Scottish, and half Lebanese/Palestinian. Throughout my life I tried really hard to align myself with my Scottish side more than my Lebanese/Palestinian side. As a kid I used to try to hide the fact that I’m not 100% white because I was afraid that people would mistake me for one of those people. I obsessed about scented lotions and shaved off my arm hair and put great effort into developing my accent and verbal languages so that I sounded like my white friends. I refused, outright, to eat foods I had loved because I saw them as too ethnic – there would be only hamburgers and French fries and pizza for me, no shawarma, no warak h’aneb, no kibbe b’laban. That was what those people ate, not what I eat. I refused to speak Arabic in public. As I got older, I made it a point to wear make up and try all sorts of home “remedies” to make myself look whiter.
I had essentially internalized attitudes that Arabs were a backwards people who smelled funny, were hairy, talked funny and ate a lot of weird food, and that white was best. I adapted myself to fit in more with white people so I could separate myself from my own culture and avoid racism, and I was rewarded for it with white friends who would make racist comments and then remind me that don’t worry, I’m not like those people.
This is an unfortunate side effect of racism – we, as BIPoC learn to be ashamed of our cultures and ourselves, and do whatever we can to align ourselves with our oppressors in an attempt to survive, and it is problematic.
Many BIPoC go through this stage, and it is a hard one to overcome, but it is important that we learn to embrace our own cultures, if we’re going to heal and work toward a future where we are treated justly.
Here’s another story about someone else’s experiences with internalized racism:
Defining White Supremacy:
White supremacy, defined, can be a difficult concept to grasp. Loosely, it is the idea or belief that white people are morally, ethically, and in all ways superior to everyone else. However, there is also a systemic aspect to it, and it is one of those things that is so ingrained into Western culture that we can sometimes perpetuate it without really seeing it.
While very, very few white folk would actively argue that their whiteness makes them superior to the rest of us, the concept of white supremacy is still perpetuated through media representations and our language.
White skin dominates fashion runways, it dominates our television, our advertisements, our make up and clothing industry (ever notice how bras and make up often come in “nude” which looks remarkably like white skin?). White is held up as the standard for beauty.
White is seen by society as a symbol of “good” and Black as a symbol of “evil.” We talk about things that are blacklisted and whitelisted.
Studies have shown us college professors are more likely to respond to students they see as white, and employers are more likely to hire and promote white men compared to BIPoC.
White folk also perpetuate white supremacy without realizing it in the way we address BIPoC bringing up racist microaggressions that we face. We’re often asked to adjust our tone, or told that our experiences of racism weren’t actually racism, and are frequently accused of playing the “race card.”
The implicit belief behind statements like that is that white perception is the only perception that matters, even if that’s not the intent behind these statements. White perspectives and opinions, especially those of white cisgendered, heterosexual men become the default. This is the default man concept, and a further example of white supremacy, that white is default, and everyone else is “other.”
Ultimately, the only people who can decide if something hurts are the people being hurt, and it is everyone else’s job to listen and adjust and learn.
When we are in school, we learn about history from a white perspective. This is obvious when people talk about Martin Luther King Jr. and the end of racism. People frequently trot out MLK quotes they learned in school as a way to speak out against what they perceive as violent riots by the Black community. We are taught that he was a strong believer in non-violence, and so we never hear about how he once talked about how “Riots are the language of the unheard.” We don’t hear about his raging against the white moderate, or the evils of capitalism or militarism, because those views don’t fit in with the white supremacist narrative.
Here’s a list of ten insidious ways that white supremacy is perpetuated within our society:
The Illusion of A Post Racial Society
In school, we often hear that racism died in the sixties. We learn about how Black people got equal rights, and we are all encouraged to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.
But that’s an illusion. We may tell ourselves that we live in a post-racial society, but we don’t. We live in a society where racism is a taboo subject, and discussions of the very real, very valuable cultural differences between our various communities are silenced with “but we are all the same!”
Racism is still a very real problem for us, and its effects still hang over us like a really thick, noxious fog. While white folks can walk around with respirators, us BIPoC are choking.
Our society still treats black bodies like they’re disposable. Police brutality still disproportionately affects the Black community more than any of us.
Black folks are more likely to face harsher criminal charges, are more likely to be convicted on weaker evidence, and are more likely to face longer sentences than their white counterparts. They’re more likely to be stopped by police for traffic violations, more likely to sit in jail while awaiting trial, are offered worse plea deals, and are more likely to be arrested for drug use than their white counterparts.
People with “ethnic” names on their resume are also less likely to make it to the interview stage, and even less likely to be hired, despite anti-discrimination laws: