We watched the inauguration at work yesterday as a community in what we call the “community conference room.” I work for a non-profit, community-based organization (CBO) whose mission so to fight for “economic and social justice.” I work around progressive-minded people, but even within that environment, I find resistance to any substantive discussion of racism…
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-=[ Privilege and Resistance ]=-
Yesterday, at least two white people called me a racist outright or implied it. One took issue with my use of the term “white racism,” the other informed me that pointing out racism is itself racist.
I love all people regardless of skin color, but it never stops to amaze me the extent of ignorance some whites possess when it comes to race. For example, for some whites, yesterday had nothing to do with Obama being an African American. Either it wasn’t important, or emphasizing Obama’s race was proof positive that I suffer from some form of pathology. In psychology, this is called projection.
I am also aware that many whites still entertain racist notions of what it means to be a person of color. I know this because my subjective experience has been borne out through the systematic study of the issue. I call it the “black holes of ignorance.”
Someone suggested that we should perhaps forget about skin color. My response to that was to question if a person of color really has that luxury. It was pointed out to me that saying something like that is itself racist.
Allow me to clarify: I conceptualize racism in structural and institutional as well as individual terms. My definition of racism describes a system of oppression of African Americans and other people of color by white Europeans and white Americans. There is no black racism because there is no centuries-old system of racial domination designed by African Americans that excludes white Americans from full participation in the rights, privileges, and benefits of this society. Racism requires not only a widely accepted racist ideology but also the systematic power to exclude people of color from opportunities and major economic rewards.
I could sing kumbaya till the cows come home, but when we go our separate ways, a person of color suffers, while a white person benefits from racism. I find it the height of arrogance and condescension that a white person would exhort me to be less conscious of race.
It is a well-worn cliché that the last thing a fish notices is the water. Similarly, we take the air we breathe for granted, just as European Americans take their race as a given — as normal. While it is true that white Americans may face difficulties in their lives — with finances and family, for example — race is not one of them. Whites can afford to be nonchalant about race because they cannot see how this society produces advantages for them because these benefits appear so natural they are taken for granted. They literally do not see how race permeates America’s institutions and how it affects the distribution of opportunity and wealth.
For blacks, Latino/as, and other people of color in the U.S., the same culture, laws, economy, institutions, and rules of the game are not as automatically comfortable and legitimate. In a white-dominated society, with color come problems…
I’ve had up to…
… with people getting testy around the “race issue.” If you don’t like it, don’t befriend me — leave — and don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out. If discussing race in a frank and intelligent way offends you, then get off my friends’ list. Fuck you and the white horse you rode in on.
That’s the way I feel about it.
I am light-skinned with blue eyes and the easiest thing for me would be to deny racism and just enjoy the benefits that my European features afford me, but I can’t. I have this thing with truth and being true to myself, I just can’t keep quiet, and I pay a personal and professional price for my outspokenness. So fuck you and your hurt feelings, there are lives at stake here.
I am also sick and tired of the fact that if I call attention to the way we are treated or to racial inequality, if I try to change the way advantage is distributed, if I try to adjust the rules of the game, white Americans see me as a troublemaker asking for special privileges.
Black holes of ignorance…