PART 2: White racism v. Black prejudice: Language matters

 

Editor's Note: This commentary is part two of a four part series on racism and the over-policing of African-Americans and other people of color.

Racism is not a genetic disorder;

Racism is not a virus.

Racism is not innate.

Racism is learned behavior that is supported by laws and systems.

Racism is the systematic exclusion of one group of people by another group of people from access to strategic resources and the rights of citizenship rooted in the erroneous belief that skin color and “race” ( and today you can add national origins, religion, gender, or sexual orientation) makes us (Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, Asians, Native Americans)inferior.

The power of racism is in its iinstitutionalization, which allows individual prejudice to gain power over others (individuals and groups) through structural power and privilege. Structural power determines who gets access to quality education; who gets hired for jobs; who gets the highest pay—and who doesn’t for doing the exact same job; who gets on-the-job training; who has job descriptions rewritten to fit them; who gets mentored; etc.

Let’s me set the record straight once and for all: Black people are NOT Racist! Why not? We can’t be, because we have no institutionalized power. Black people do not have the wealth and privilege required for racism to exist.

Black people can be prejudiced and act as individuals on their prejudices like the Dallas killer of policemen. And, most recently, Baton Rouge. But these are individual acts by people with no access to systemic or institutionalized power. They were acting out of their individual prejudiced view of police in reaction to all the incidents of Blacks killed by police. There reactions were individual without any group to support them, though the police and media seemed determined to link them to some group, and have targeted #BlackLivesMatter. The media has even mentioned the Nation of Islam. But NO connections have been found, and wishing for such connections do not make them real. Were these individuals prejudiced? Yes, to an extreme. Were they Racist? NO!

With deliberateness, and too often unintentionally, whites act in racist ways when they use institutional structures to operationalize their prejudices against individuals who are members of a group deemed to be inferior or different.

America needs a healing,

America needs a healing,

if we wish to reclaim our humanity.

The Power of White Privilege

White privilege has given whites the false belief that they are automatically entitled—simply because they are white–to jobs, education, etc. It is this deeply rooted (and often unconscious) presumption of white entitlement (white privilege) that has fuelled the cases that dismantled Affirmative Action, and increasingly challenge any race-based positive action to achieve diversity and equal access for Black and Brown people in education, employment, health care and wealth building resources such as business loans and house mortgages. The data speaks for itself. In every aspect of quality of life—education, employment, health care and wealth building, Black and Brown people seem to be no further ahead in closing these gaps in 2016 than they we were in the 1960s, the start of the Civil Rights movement.

America needs a healing,

America needs a healing,

to reclaim our humanity.

The profound belief in white privilege and white entitlement was the basis of the 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case that dismantled Affirmative Action quotas—the closest we have ever come in the country to some form of Reparations (for what people of color have endured in America: slavery, colonization, genocide, lynching, segregation, racism and white supremacy).

And most recently, it was white privilege that motivated Abigail Fischer to file her case in Fisher v. UTAustin. Fischer fundamentally believed that some Black person had taken her seat at University of Texas Austin, to which she believed herself to be entitled because she was white. She never entertained the possibility that “her seat” might have been taken by an athlete, or an alumni legacy admit (who were most likely white) with lesser grades. The Supreme Court supported UTAustin and in its ruling “reaffirmed that the value of creating a diverse student body allows university officials to consider race in making admission decisions, upholding a University of Texas plan that has been the subject of years of legal battles,” accordingly to a Washington Post article (6/23/2016).

Abigail Fischer, like Bakke before her, truly believed that her right to admission had been taken away by Blacks who were admitted. Grade point average (gpa) is not the only criteria that universities used in admissions, and I know of many white students who have been admitted at many institutions of higher education with lesser grades for a variety of reasons. That Fischer would only target people of color as her adversaries is not only wrong, and proof of her belief in her entitlement as a white person. It is also ironic since historically white women were the onese who disproportionately benefitted from Affirmative Action since the 1970s. And yet, feminists and white women scholars were virtually silent in challenging Abigail Fischer’s assertions.

America needs a healing,

to reclaim our humanity.

Irma McClaurin is an award winning columnist, who 2015 received the Black Press of America’s Emory O. Jackson Column Writing Award from the NNPA. She is the Culture and Education Editor for Insight News, a consultant, an activist anthropologist, writer, motivational speaker and founder of the Irma McClaurin Black Feminist Archive at University of Massachusetts Amherst. More about the author can be found at www.irmamcclaurin.com.

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