Disclaimer: I am a white female who comes from an upper middle class family. I live in one of the whitest cities in the country, and I used to live in one of the worst states for African Americans to live in. I recognize that I am approaching this topic from a position of privilege, and that a discussion of race from my perspective is not without holes. So I want to say that my goal here is not to act as an educator, but instead recommend videos and articles that have helped me to understand the presence of racism in this country and my own implicit biases. All of which have helped me to put current events into perspective. I hope they do the same for you.
This past Saturday was the 50th anniversary of the historic march on Selma, Alabama.
Before the Oscar-nominated film came out in 2014, I had never heard of Selma. Sure, my school celebrated Black History Month, but while we did learn about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, and George Washington Carver–that was it. No discussions were had on police brutality, and very little was taught about African American achievements outside of the civil rights movement. Even in the context of the civil rights movement, I didn’t learn enough. I didn’t know anything about Malcolm X beyond the “he was a more contentious MLK” rhetoric until I saw the Denzel Washington film in college. This is on the one hand a pathetic reflection of our school system*, and on the other, further proof that media can be a powerful educator.
Despite the ignorance regarding race and racism that I know is not unique to my own experience, many in our society seem to be reluctant to talk about it. When people do try to discuss race in the context of police violence, criminal justice, or everyday experiences trying to get a taxi, they’re accused of “playing the race card.” The same people are likely to say things like “I’m color blind” or “If we just stopped talking about race, then racism wouldn’t exist.”
Stop. Just stop.
Nothing will change if we stop talking about race as though the consequences of racism were not real:
To quote Jon Stewart: “Race is there, and it is a constant. You’re tired of hearing about it? Imagine how f#%*ing exhausting it is living it.”
So let’s talk about race. It is just as important to talk about today as it was in 1965.
First things first, I want to address a few myths when it comes to discussions on race and racism:
“Color Blindness” is Not a Thing**
One of the most important lines from this video: “When people insist that we are color blind–what you’re saying is that their [people of color] experience is not real.”
Recently, a study conducted by MTV (yeah, I was surprised, too) found that millenials are shockingly ignorant when it comes to racism in America. I would strongly recommend reading this Slate article that analyzes the study’s findings. Among other things, the study notes that:
- A majority of millenials believe that our generation is post-racial.
- 48% of white millenials believe that discrimination against white people today is as big a problem as discrimination against racial minorities.
- 73% of millenials believe that ‘colorblindness’ is something to strive for, yet confusingly:
- 81% believe embracing diversity and celebrating differences between the races would improve society.
Some of the contradictory statistics in this study might put into question millenials’ ability to read and comprehend basic polling questions, but that doesn’t really make me feel any better.
Also Not A Thing: Reverse Racism
You may have already seen the above video–it was floating around the Facespace a while back. In it, comedian Aamer Rahman does an excellent job defining reverse racism if it did exist, eloquently discussing the relationship between racism and power.
This is one of my favorite scenes from the film Dear White People:
I strongly recommend watching the full film, and I’m going to talk about it a lot more next week. In this scene, the main character, Sam, has a brief and excellent monologue that perfectly explains why “reverse racism” is not a thing. She says, “Black people can’t be racist. Prejudiced, yes, but not racist. Racism describes a system of disadvantage based on race. Black people can’t be racist, since we don’t stand to benefit from such a system.”
Or, as this everyday feminism article puts it: “Yes. Any person of any identity can be an asshole to any person of any other identity. But that doesn’t make it oppression. It doesn’t even make it racism or sexism or heterosexim or any other -ism.”
tl;dr: Prejudice ≠ Racism.
Now that we’ve talked about things that are not things, let’s talk about some things that do exist:
In recent months, this has been most commonly discussed in regards to artists like Iggy Azalea (also this) and racist Halloween costumes. Here’s Akilah, Obviously*** to explain the concept of cultural appropriation:
In a similar comedic vein, the Dear White People creators envision a future black history wherein twerking has been entirely appropriated by white people:
Even Megyn Kelly from Fox News–who says some pretty terrible things in the following video, in addition to the positive message I’m getting at–understands that white privilege not only exists, but is pervasive in our society:
When the woman that claims that Santa just is white recognizes the existence of white privilege–with genuine conviction–stop fighting it. It’s a thing.
tl;dr: Read this comic:
Institutionalized Racism and Implicit Bias
In the video, Hank talks about The Implicit Association Test, which covers a variety of topics outside of race, including gender, violence, weight, etc. The IAT is a great primer on learning more about yourself and your own biases. Mother Jones does a great job of explaining what it is and the implications of its findings, especially in regards to race.
Unsurprisingly, Hank’s brother John Green does a great job explaining how institutionalized racism and implicit bias affects society:
One of the most important quotes from the video: “To deny the existence of systemic racism is to deny a huge body of evidence indicating that racial bias affects almost every facet of American life.”
Finally, here is why institutionalized racism, implicit bias, white privilege, and cultural appropriation are so important to talk about:
Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tony Robinson, and so many others.
Institutionalized racism, and all that it entails, can have fatal consequences.
I know that considering my readership (Hi, Sam), I’m largely speaking to the choir here. But I still strongly recommend you check out the videos and resources I cited above. You just might learn something new–I know I did when I was writing this blog post. If you’ve already seen these videos, try sharing them with a friend who may have missed them (if you like the videos that is. If you don’t, let me know in the comments!)
Some progress has been made since Selma, but not enough:
We can all do better.
So, this week we’re going to be talking about the effects of institutionalized racism in our society. I’m going to talk about some of the most devastating statistics in John’s video, including the black male achievement gap and mass incarceration in the United States. Next week begins my series of posts on the representation of people of color in the media, so watch out for those.
*To be fair, I attended private school. I can’t speak for the United States school system as a whole, but I get the impression other schools don’t treat Black History Month much better.
**Black/White color blindness, that is. Obviously, red/green color blindness is totally a thing.
***Watch Akilah’s videos! She’s great!