There is an age old conversation taking place in America. The conversation, whether asked directly or indirectly centers on this most volatile of topics and question. Racism and “Are you a racist?”
I feel this frame of questioning is almost mute at this point because the answer doesn’t really answer the question. Racism exists whether one responds yes or no and the vast majority of racists, not being extremists like the KKK but good, honest, hardworking white people, hear the question with a slanted idea on racism that will inevitably lead to the answer always being “No”.
What these non-extremist racists hear is this “Do I call minorities names based on the color of their skin?” or “Do I hate people of color solely based on the color of their skin?
Both of these answers while being indicative of racial prejudice which is a by product of racism, never really answers the question because of how most racists think of the questions. Most racists ideas of racism are rather passive aggressive and school yard-ish. Their focus is on words and ideas. The former being hurtful but “temporal” in its lasting affect and the latter based on ideas that may be racist in nature but lack agency. Which, in answering “No” to those questions, they believe they are not racist because they actively do not consciously participate in these activities so as to not be accused of racism or believing that not participating in them makes them not racist.
Taking those two prevalent trains of thought, shouldn’t the question really be framed differently? The question should be centered on something that covers all of this:
“Are you aware of the structural system of white supremacy that is the plumbing to American society and wealth and that this system actively oppresses non-whites sociologically and psychologically to the benefit of white people and white power?
If the answer is that “No such system exists” then the answer is yes, they are racist. If their answer is “Yes I am aware of it” then their answer is also, yes they are racist!
It is impossible for any white person to grow up in a society structured on the continuation of white dominance, power and privilege and not be racist. Whether that is a conscious or subconscious racism is of little importance in the determination of racism. This fact is as inescapable in as much that it’s impossible for a young person of color, regardless of class, to not grow up in America with the various scars inherited from the sociological and psychological wounds of racism or to break out of the dark hue that they reside within in and by default, so oppressed for.
To admit to the existence of the system of racism, it’s damaging effects, the power and privilege afforded to it’s benefactors and one’s individual role in it, is the beginning of a path to healing, redemption, and reconciliation.
The truth really does set us for free.
For example, as a black man who believes himself to be a feminist, I first and foremost have to admit that I am also sexist.
It is in the acknowledgement and awareness of my culturally developed sexism that I became aware of its direct affect on women in a society that gives preferential treatment towards men (even black men) and its larger societal implications in such topics as women’s abortion rights (largely decided by men). I can assure you that prior to this awakening, I would have stated in ignorant sexist bliss that I am not sexist.
It is only when I acknowledged it and saw my role, that I began to see the unfairness and inequality of it thus moving from a position of an oppressor to a bumbling, some what shaky partner, who attempts to keep my formerly subconscious ability to assert myself over women, my male presence, in check and hopefully be a useful assistant to women in the movement towards a truly equal society. Some days I get it better than others but I’m getting there and admitting you have a problem is the starting point.
The reality is that there is liberation in our truth telling and as long as we have a society that continues to discuss the issues of race on terms that are not congruent and racists who continue to disregard the reality of a society structured on racism in the hands of white power, then this conversation and racism, isn’t heading anywhere other than where it’s at. Or, in light of recent events regarding the Voting Rights Act decision in the Supreme Court of the United States- backwards. Which is only detrimental to particular people and that’s racist.