Prejudice & Perspective
The Hot Topic of Racism
Now more than ever, it's become crucial to discuss subjects like racism and prejudice. Nowadays prejudice is running rampant. Muslims are being labeled as terrorists while they're being publicly assaulted based on their religion, Mexicans (and let's face it, anyone else who's brown and speaks with an accent that can be perceived as "Mexican") are being called rapists, and white people have been calling the police to report Black people for noncriminal activities like having a barbecue or babysitting children. Based on all the prejudice and resulting violence, it has become clear that refusing to talk about racism is a truly irresponsible choice.
Avoiding the conversation about racism and dismissively insisting that "we're all one race" is irresponsible because history has proven that race affects people and their lives. Race has played a huge role in the foundation of the United States, and the type of laws that the U.S. established. Slavery, the Japanese Internment camps, and the genocide of Native/First Nation people were all enacted towards people of color (PoC) on the basis of their racial identity.
Present day examples of race-based violence and inequality include the extrajudicial murders of Black people at the hands of police, brown and Black immigrants getting imprisoned and separated from their families, and the continued abuse that native people face while corporations and the government contaminate the meager amount of land Native people have left. These examples are proof that the "we're all one race," line is nothing but a phrase that's meant to silence people who want to confront these issues.
The "Hot Take" of Racism
Many white people (and even a few misinformed PoC) have a very black and white view of how racism works. That's understandable because most forms of media portray this issue as if it's black and white. As such, it's not hard to see why people think racism can be perpetrated against white people, but the truth is that racism doesn't work like that. It's kind of like capitalism, it was made to benefit a certain group of people and it only works when people who are not in that group suffer.
Capitalism is a system that benefits the 1%, and it can only exist when poor people are suffering. In the case of racism, it was established to benefit white people, and it only works when people of color (and to some extent, Jewish people) are disparaged and disenfranchised. With that said, reverse racism isn't real, it never was real, and it will probably never be real (especially if unchecked climate change truly destroys the earth in the next 10-30 years).
The Difference Between Prejudice & Racism
It's much easier and quicker to use the words "racism" or "racist" as umbrella terms rather than switch between using the words "prejudice" and "racism." These words are similar, but they have slightly different definitions.
For example, the system of racism cannot exist without prejudice. The system preys upon white people's misinformed biases agains PoC, and convinces them that their prejudices are right, which keeps the system in place. It's why racism is still alive and well in 2018, and it's why racism will still be alive in 2019, 2020, 2021, etc. There are racists in powerful positions who know they benefit from egging on the prejudices of white people. Honestly, look at anyone from the Republican party. Often times they run on platforms that exploit the prejudices of white people.
Speaking of which, prejudice has no true power without racism. Despite what a lot of status quo warriors may think, people of color don't really tend to care if some racist randomly hurls a slur at them. This doesn't mean that we're indifferent to this type of hostility, it just doesn't hold the same power as it would if that same random person happened to be a cop, a judge, a teacher, or someone else with an influential and powerful position in society. An individual racist is problematic, but a racist with the power to use their platform to further disenfranchise and subjugate PoC on a large scale are especially harmful. These types of people have the power to act on their prejudice and use it to keep others from advancing or succeeding in society in a number of ways.
For example, if a white teacher shows disdain for Black, Asian, and/or Latinx students, it's a problem because they have the power to ruin the education of these students based on their own racial prejudices. Giving racists the platforms they desire and the power to influence others is bad. This keeps the system of racism in place and enables racists to screw over children of color by preventing them from getting an education. Their actions also teach white kids that it is okay to treat certain people differently based on race or other differences.
Now you might be wondering if there are people of color who hate white people. If so, why isn't that an example of reverse racism? What about the prejudices against white people? Why isn't a prejudice against white people considered to be racist?
Prejudice Against White People
While racism against white people doesn't exist, prejudice against white people does exist. However, it's not the same as prejudice against people of color, nor does it function in the same way. Like I said earlier, racism in America is a system that was created by white people for the benefit of white people. Even in countries where PoC are the majority, white people won't face racism. They'll most likely face xenophobia and that's only due to their nationality. Racism against white people doesn't exist because PoC haven't established a completely biased system in their favor at the expense of white people. A person of color who harbors an individual bias against white people will ultimately lack the institutional and systemic power necessary to disenfranchise a white person entirely. Therefore, most white people will only experience prejudice. Prejudice towards white people is usually a direct response to the prejudice and racism PoC face at the hands of white people.
It's similar to the difference between white pride and Black pride (or Asian pride or Latinx Pride). Black Pride (along with the others) was formed to celebrate our success in the face of adversity. When people of color express pride in their heritage, it is to honor their cultures, traditions, accomplishments, etc. Many aspects of PoC identity are framed as inherently inferior to whiteness, so PoC pride is a neccessary response to the disenfranchisement that people of color experience. White pride is usually formed out of a sense of pride in white identity and its accompanying privilege. White pride is associated with the belief that white people are better than PoC because of their whiteness and nothing else. White Pride also tends to value things that helped disenfranchise PoC. It's okay to have pride in your culture, ethnic traditions, or your heritage and its contributions to the world. It's not okay to value an aspect of your identity that has been used to oppress others. Some harmful and racist examples of white pride are:
- Claiming to have "discovered" America. European settlers and colonizers' actions led to the genocide of Native Americans.
- Winning WW2 by dropping an atomic bomb on Japanese people, which caused terrible devastation to Japan and its people in ways that are still visible to this day.
- Celebrating the Confederacy. The Confederacy was a system that wanted to maintain the institution of slavery.
PoC's prejudices against white people are typically a response to historical instances of disenfranchisement and violence. These prejudices are defense mechanisms to protect ourselves and our families from racism. For example, some Black kids are discouraged from dating a white person. My own mother would tell me and siblings that we could date anyone as long as they weren't white. This general caution was especially focused on Black boys and men because historically, white women have played a significant role in getting Black men killed or arrested based on false claims. The most infamous example of this is the case of Emmett Till. Till's accuser practically waited until she was on her deathbed to admit that she lied. Her lies caused Till's murder.
So What's the Solution?
If people of color are prejudiced, it doesn't come from a place of malice or a sense of superiority over other races. When you see Black people gravitating towards other Black people, or you see Jewish people staying with other Jewish people, or when PoC express that they only date within their race, it's a means of protecting ourselves from a harmful system that leaks into every aspect of our lives.
If this truly bothers you and you think prejudice shouldn't exist at all, then you should start with the system of racism that emboldens white people's warped prejudices against PoC. That's the only solution.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Talaya Gatlin-Ali