Maya T., journalist
Our whole country was founded on taking and profiting rather than giving and liberating. Did this compel American culture to become inherently selfish? Everyone seems to be constantly trying to claw their way to the top without any acknowledgement towards other people’s hardships. Generally, the majority is not willing to address the inequality from which they benefit, and will only bring light to inequality that hurts them. This has been a cycle for centuries. Colonists “freeing” themselves from Britain while murdering and enslaving Africans and Native Americans, fighting against being colonized while colonizing others, the assimilation of Irish and Italians clawing past the struggles of African Americans, the dehumanization of minority groups and immigrants, white feminism, biphobia and aphobia in the LGBTQ+ community.
A cycle of selfishness and greed shapes the country we know today. And, as it has been for hundreds of years, the majority holds power over the oppressed. The majority upholds systematic inequality through socialization patterns that psychologically dictate everyone’s place in society. And corporations wield those biases against us to enforce the cycle of inequality. In some ways it’s like everyone is being brainwashed from a very young age, but it’s really our own fragility, denial, and ignorance that perpetuates oppression and creates a system of inequality. And many, if not, all of us are guilty of this in some way. Why do we blame society when we are society?
Let’s look at racism closely. It can be hard for the white majority to see the “invisible” barriers that restrict others, because their privilege exempts them from the disadvantages people of color face. And, especially to the white point of view, racial inequality can be paradoxical at times. Is racism societally instituted, or are biases and prejudice the fault of radical individuals? Within racial inequality, does the white majority have an unfair advantage, or does the minority have an unfair disadvantage? While racial categories are societal constructs and labels, can they be identities as well? In reality, inequality and social identities are all these things simultaneously, but also each one, individually. At first, this concept may be difficult to grasp, but denying any one of the consequences of racial inequality is also denying the experiences and historical factors that contribute to racism today.
The problem begins to arise when people try to assign solid definitions to race to justify their racist action or inaction. When it’s the fault of racist individuals and white supremacists, it’s not the fault of society or “normal” white civilians. When it’s minorities who are disadvantaged, whites are not unfairly privileged, and thus, have no moral responsibility to speak out against racism. When race is a way people identify, it is not a social label. Some people can fool themselves into believing that racism doesn’t even exist or is not a problem today. This mindset only blinds people, who are looking for reasons why racism is not their fault or responsibility. They are so busy denying their role in racism that they fail to acknowledge the very real instances of inequality people of color face every day, and the harmful consequences of white ignorance.
As Robin DiAngelo states in White Fragility, “We (as white people) consider a challenge to our racial worldviews as a challenge to our very identities as good, moral people. Thus, we perceive any attempt to connect us to the system of racism as an unsettling and unfair moral offense.”
People deny racism. Everyone in society is socialized to deny the cyclic institutions that spread racism because of the historical biases rooted within our society’s values and ideologies. The white majority fails to recognize American society’s racially hierarchal foundation that predetermines how much power and privilege everyone gets in life. Because of this denial and the inability to acknowledge these things, this system prevails, just like it has for hundreds of years. We, as members of society, perpetuate systems of inequality through our biases and fragility.
To understand how socialization and white fragility play roles in supporting this cycle, we need to look at why race exists at all. According to DiAngelo, “The idea of racial inferiority was created to justify unequal treatment, but belief in racial inferiority is not what triggered unequal treatment.” In other words, the intention of exploiting resources and people for economically driven interests came first, and racism was created to justify these things. A prime example of this is slavery. Initially, people were enslaved and captured from Africa for labor, but not necessarily because they were black. The idea of black inferiority was later created to justify cruelty and abuse towards slaves.
Another example, the changing meaning of whiteness. As the U.S.’s need for labor increased in the 1800 and 1900s, groups who are considered white now, like Italians and the Irish, were labeled as non-white to justify their poor treatment and low wages. The political and economic interest in both cases was labor and money. The justification was white superiority. Now, people feel the need to justify their white privilege, because their whiteness justifies fundamentally corrupt interests.
I’m not saying white people are at fault. Events like these have piled up through the generations, strengthening the supremacist ideologies that have become the basis of our society. The idea that white is right and everyone else doesn’t belong. We may be consciously against this, but we cannot help but absorb it. We are socialized in this. It is our online media, our news, our TV, our communities, our schools. It is even in our language.
There is a coded way to refer to white and non-white people. People say, “Asian American,” “African American,” “Indian American,” “Mexican American,” but we don’t really say “European American” or “Caucasian American.” Whites are considered inherently American. If you’re not white, what kind of American are you?
White people are uncomfortable talking about race because they feel guilty benefiting from it.
What we need to do is recognize this and understand how it influences our biases. It is not enough to be NOT racist–we must be actively ANTI-racist. We need to talk about it and listen to other people and discuss our experiences with racism. We need to bring to light a system that feeds on people’s denial and fragility, a system that counts on people being uncomfortable.
Remember, ignorance is bliss, denial is a luxury, but neither can we afford to sustain if we ever hope to finally eradicate racism.
SOURCES & RESOURCES
Background Information about Racism and Inequality:
Definitions of Systemic Racism: https://www.raceforward.org/videos/systemic-racism
Historical Hierarchy of race and class: https://youtu.be/oxnVKIrslkM
Hate: https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/summer-2017/standing-up-against-hate–Maybe because of: https://www.vox.com/2018/3/5/17080218/school-segregation-getting-worse-data (Links to an external site.)
Changing U.S. Census Opinion: https://www.prb.org/changing-race-and-ethnicity-questions-on-the-u-s-census-form-reflect-evolving-views/
Background Information on Race and Ethnicity: https://genderedinnovations.stanford.edu/terms/race.html
Reframing Racial Inequality:
Reframing how we look at racial inequality: https://www.in-mind.org/blog/post/inequality-minority-disadvantage-or-white-privilege-and-why-it-matters
U.S. Racial and Ethnic Change: https://www.prb.org/children-are-at-the-forefront-of-u-s-racial-and-ethnic-change/
Reframing Race: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47446913
The Subjectivity of Race: https://www.vox.com/2015/1/13/7536655/race-myth-debunked
Psychology Behind Hate: https://liberationist.org/the-incompetent-heart-why-people-love-to-hate-you/
Whiteness and Fragility:
The Changing Meaning of Race: https://www.nap.edu/read/9599/chapter/9#244
Definitions of Whiteness: https://www.thoughtco.com/whiteness-definition-3026743
Whites not always considered white: https://theundefeated.com/features/white-immigrants-werent-always-considered-white-and-acceptable/
Implicit Bias: https://perception.org/research/implicit-bias/White Privilege: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4K5fbQ1-zps&feature=youtu.be