Brief: On Race & Racism

I would like to preface this with an acknowledgement: yes, I missed several days of writing. The last several days have been trying. I will still strive to write as often as I can here, but perhaps every day was too much to try to deliver.

With that said, I would like to briefly discuss race and racism in the social context of the United States of America. I do not plan to delve too deeply into this topic, as my experience only goes so far in one direction. In recent years, however, as the social consciousness of the American public has continued to fracture and the ideological gap between people has widened further and further with each passing day, I have found it difficult to speak up with my own views on the matter.

Racism shouldn’t be a complicated issue. The Oxford English dictionary provides two definitions for the word: one explicitly based on prejudice towards a specific race based on one’s belief of their own race being superior, and the other more broadly applying a trait or traits to a race in order to identify their perceived superiority or inferiority. Film and culture critic Bob Chipman, through identifying the etymology of the words “racist” and “racism”, points out that really, at their core, mean “based on race”. And while that falls into Oxford’s secondary definition of racism, there still seems to be a particular notion floating around about racism being more systemic than anything.

I have seen and been the target of prejudice, discrimination, and antagonism on the basis of being a white male. It does not happen incredibly often, but it does happen. Yet those who are on the offensive in these scenarios, when I or somebody else points out that they are judging my character based on the color of my skin, quickly decry any accusations of racism directed to them. Sometimes they will try to say that because they are of such-and-such race, or because they or their ancestors or both have been oppressed by white people in the past, they can not possibly be racist. Other times they throw out the idea that racism is a system that can only be perpetuated by those in power, i.e. whites, and that it is impossible to be racist without the institutionalization of racism supporting your prejudice.

It can not be made clear enough that, yes, whites have been the largest racial demographic in the United States for decades. To ignore the legally enforced racial segregation of the first half of the 20th century and the complacency of whites in allowing such segregation to go on is to cast aside the very idea that there are or ever have been racial tensions here in the United States. Is there a stigma against African-Americans among Caucasians in the US today? It depends on who you talk to, but I think it’s telling that many hiring managers have the names and genders of applicants hidden when they review applications. And, living in the south, I have seen whites discriminate against blacks on the basis of skin tone. Hell, my great-grandmother was livid when she found out that two of her great-grandchildren, my cousins, were biracial. She was in her early eighties and lived in Philadelphia, and this was in the mid-2000’s.

The term used to describe racism as being a purely social construct that is supported by the “dominant” racial demographic is “systemic racism”. It’s a term which I take no umbrage in existing, as systemic racism does exist. Hell, there is still wariness of Muslims in our culture following the 9/11 attacks, but that suspicion was amplified by then-President George W. Bush regularly referring to them as terrorists in order to drum up patriotic fervor leading up to invading the wrong country, but that’s a different topic.

But while systemic racism is racism, racism itself is not solely systemic. If a black person dislikes Mexicans because “they’re too loud” or “they talk funny” or something else they attribute to everybody of Mexican descent, because blacks are not the largest demographic in the country, does that mean this person is not being racist? Even though they are targeting a specific group of people based on their race and attributing a negative trait to all of them, thus classifying them as somehow inferior?

Another term I have seen thrown around for years is “reverse-racism”, which as far as I have been able to extrapolate is essentially the opposite of systemic racism: people of a minority group displaying prejudice towards those of the largest racial demographic. While it is the antithesis of systemic racism, reverse-racism is still racism. I used to be quite critical of the term, writing it off as a means of deflecting accusations of racism towards a minority when they are displaying their prejudice towards a white person. While I have seen people do this, I believe there is more to it than that. It is also a push back against those that a minority group views to be the source of their disenfranchisement. But, in my experience, hate begets hate, and this sort of push back can easily instill a resentment towards the people pushing when those who are being pushed had no ill intent or complacency with their plight, but are being blamed for it regardless. It can quickly become a vicious cycle of hate.

And that seems to be what the narrative has turned into today: a vicious cycle of hate. Minorities point out a problem with how they are treated; the racial majority either takes too long to help, does not do enough to help, or ignores their plight; a minority of the disenfranchised speaks louder than the majority or garners more attention from the racial majority, often times through violent or otherwise radical means; the racial majority sees them as being the most prominent representation of the disenfranchised and begins to resent all of them; the non-violent members of the minority group try to keep a level head but the racial majority still lumps them in with the radical minority, despite their attempts at dissociation; and that resentment merely grows.

Racism, especially in the United States today, is a volatile subject with vitriolic discourse. If my brief thoughts and examination of the subject hasn’t upset people, the fact that I am a white man talking about it almost certainly will. But I didn’t write this to intentionally upset anybody, because that just stirs the pot and breeds contempt.

Shouting matches, buzzwords, and slurs only widen the gap between us. Sit down. Talk to each other. Understand where the other person is coming from. Race, as discussed in this article, is only skin deep. In reality, we’re all part of the same race.

The Human Race.

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