Racism has been in the news a lot lately. I’m not quite sure how to parse out some of the extreme views coming from people on both sides of the issue. I invite you to comment here, and help me frame some solid ideas of my own. For now, however, I’m going to simply post some of the various articles, questions, or comments that I’ve read that struck a chord with me. I’m not saying that I agree or disagree with any of the commentary below, I’m simply trying to build a complete picture of the issue.
I’ll start by listing a few articles that paint a picture of the current climate:
- Philando Castile | Falcon Heights, Minnesota
- Alton Sterling | Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- Five Police Officers Killed | Dallas, Texas
- Statistics on National Police Shootings
- Three Police Officers Killed | Baton Rouge, Louisiana
And here are some other, older stories that are finding their way back into the general commentary.
- Jamar Clark | Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Michael Brown | Ferguson, Missouri
- Trayvon Martin | Florida
- Henry Louis Gates, Cambridge Massachusetts
Full disclosure, I am a white female, so I suppose you can accuse me of “white privilege”. I apologize if I sound terribly naive and uninformed about racism, but I’m putting this post up because I want to collect my thoughts in one area (and by the way, this is kind of a hodge podge), and I want people to come by and challenge me on my ideas. Please don’t flame me, call me names, or call me stupid. I am volunteering the fact that I know very little. I offer all of the following in a sincere effort to understand. I cannot learn if you don’t teach.
- Is the deck indeed stacked against you if you are born black? Is it also stacked against you if you are born asian or latino?
- Should we be using the word “race”?
- What do people of color prefer to be called? Brown? Black? African-American? I suspect the answer to this question varies depending on who you ask. Unless I can tell exactly where a person is from by what they look like or what kind of accent they have, I find it disingenuous to use words like “African-American” or “Caucasian”. I am not from Caucasus. My immediate ancestors are of Irish, German and Polish decent. I don’t go around calling myself Irish-American or German-American either. I suppose calling me “white” will do just fine, since that is a fairly general description of my appearance without assuming too much more.
There’s a lot of discussion about institutional racism. Institutional racism is defined as “any system of inequality based on race”.
Statistics Shell Game? Can institutional racism be proven or is it just a statistics shell game? Further, how can one collect data on this issue? Wouldn’t the data collected largely be subjective rather than objective? If it’s subjective, how can we ensure we are fixing what is indeed a real problem, and not just the perception of a problem?
Poverty/crime cycle. I am completely sympathetic to the vicious poverty/crime cycle. This cycle applies to people of all races. In brief, if a young, uneducated, unmarried girl has a baby; if the baby is a girl, that child is more likely to also be a young, uneducated, unmarried mother as well. If the baby is boy, that child is vulnerable to a life of crime. This is an equal opportunity cycle, but seems to be very prevalent in black communities. My question is, how do we break the cycle and give young people the opportunities to thrive and be successful?
Psychological effects. I dislike very much the psychological effects of words like “institutional racism” and “white privilege”. The first implies that if you are black and you find yourself down on your luck, you will cry, “institutional racism!” and use it as a mental crutch or an excuse for your inability to succeed. Conversely, saying that I have “white privilege” implies that I should feel guilty for being white. Neither phrases are productive, and prey on emotions.
“Good mentor privilege” Is it terribly naive of me to say, “Look, it’s not that hard to finish high school, learn a marketable skill, keep your nose clean, and wear a condom (or make your partner wear one). When it comes to the business of having kids, get married or be in a stable relationship, and then have kids on purpose (i.e. not by accident).”? Doing all of these things seemed easy and basic to me, but I suppose that’s my “privilege” speaking.
…And that brings me to ask, “Does white privilege exist?”. I was taught that if I work hard, and surround myself with successful people, that I can build a good life for myself. It had nothing inherently to do with the fact that I am white—it had to do with the fact that my parents knew how to be successful in life and imparted that knowledge to me. So call it “Good mentor privilege”, or “Class privilege” I suppose.
Further reading on institutional racism: White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism
Racism in the justice system
There’s also a lot of discussion about institutional racism in the justice system. If you are black, you can’t trust the cops. The claim is that black people are treated more harshly for the same crimes as a white counterpart. Is that true? Again, this is another issue I don’t know enough about.
In general, I trust the police officers to make the right decisions in their everyday encounters with us. I am deeply disturbed by the anti-cop rhetoric that I’m seeing in the aftermath of these events. Cops put themselves in harms way every single day. When we have to interact with police officers, we have a duty to minimize our threat to them. That means being respectful (yes sir, no sir), calm (being nervous is allowed, of course), follow instructions, and keep your hands in plain sight. For every outrageous story that we can dig up of a cop being brutal to a civilian, I can also find another of a cop dying in the line of duty by an encounter that literally took seconds to escalate. They do not have time to fuck around and play the “is this person going to kill me” game in their head.
Racism stemming from the days of slavery
More on this later, but I just wanted to put this section in because it’s something I’d like to learn more about.
Debasement of black culture from the “Great Society” program
I’ve heard this brought up a few times in other commentaries. The claim is that Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” program was the beginning of the downfall of black culture. It made welfare benefits too accessible and caused the breakdown of the nuclear black family structure. I don’t know much about the program or its effects since, but it seems overly simplistic to suggest this single program caused so much havoc. This is also something I’d like to know more about.
More on this later, but I have wondered why it’s okay for there to be BET (Black Entertainment Television) and Jet magazine, but it’s unthinkable for white people to have a similar TV channel or magazine.
I’ve also heard commentary to the effect of, “Why is there so much outrage when a cop shoots a young black man, but there’s hardly a peep when two babies are killed/injured in a drive by shooting?” If black lives matter, why aren’t we focusing our attention on areas in our country where black lives aren’t mattering?
I found this interesting comment on a reddit forum: “I actually think that there is a sort of soft racism that’s pretty widespread in society, for example, black people are often depicted as dangerous in all sorts of media, and so many people who have been exposed to this quite a bit are afraid of them, even if we know better and earnestly want to not be racist. I have to admit that, despite being pretty progressive, there is a level of prejudice that I have yet to overcome, and though I’m trying, I still get uncomfortable around people who dress and act in ways I don’t routinely encounter (not just black people either). Really the only way to get past it is to get out of your comfort zone and engage people out of your circle more often, but most people wont do that.”
What’s the Solution?
I’m starting to arrive at a few general conclusions regarding racism, and I will come along and flesh them out more later.
- Education. Strive to learn more and read opinions from all points of view.
- Get over fear of each other.
You see, I know I have a thin understanding of this issue. If you have an article that you can suggest, please post in the comments. If you post a book, I will add it to my reading list, but I can’t guarantee I will have time to read it.
Image Credit: Saaleha Bamjee