The other day, I got into a huge Facebook fight about the nature of racism. (As a side note, this shit seems to happen to me ALL the time. Although I must admit that I have a hard time letting things slide). To the white commenters, racism is individual. It is one person, regardless of color, hating another. One person in particular was complaining about being discriminated against because he was white. And oh those mean brown people, how could they do that? How could they be so mean? Don’t you know who I am?
I was struck, not the first time, the difficulty of talking about racism with white people. Especially white people who don’t recognize their privilege. I often get very frustrated, angry and hurt. Frustrated because they don’t understand where I am coming from, angry because it’s just another manifestation of racism and hurt because it reminds me how fucked the world is. Moreover, it seems that I have these conversations with people I consider friends and it hurts me to be so invalidated and ignored. Most of all, however, it hurts because they are often implying that I’m the racist for calling them out on the white privilege and that is the king of ironies.
The other thing that struck me was that there was a part of me that wanted to agree with them. There was a small voice in my head that said, “What if they are right? What if I’m the racist one?” I quickly called someone to talk about the experience and was brought back to myself in short order. It reemphasized for me, however, the importance of being surrounded by a strong community. For like the sea beating upon the shore, if I don’t have some sort of insulating and protecting factor, I will be washed away like so much flotsam. The medium of racism that all people of color exist in is caustic to our being and personhood and if we hang out in it unprotected by community, our identities, our-selves, are quickly washed of any definition. We become a round, indistinct blobs that have no purchase and no personality. And the result of that is a soul crushing alienation from our-selves. At least, that is my experience.
So, for the record, racism is a system of oppression (that is given power by white supremacy) that privileges people of European/white decent over Third World people/people of color/brown people. It is the marriage of prejudice and power. It is a complex system that manifests in ways as audacious as apartheid to as subtle as everyday interactions. Racism is the reason why the poverty rate for Black and Latin@s is more then half then that of their white counterparts. Racism is the reason why Black people make up 39.4% of the total prison population and yet make up only 12.6% of the total population in the United States. Racism is the reason why young people of color go to college less then their white counterparts.
But more then that, racism is the reason why people of color experience a deep alienation from themselves. Racism is the reason why we feel disaffected, dissatisfied and depressed. There is a reason why Black and Latin@ have elevated rates of depression over their white peers. Racism is why we have the soul consuming anger that we constantly have to surpress because otherwise we get ostracized at best or jailed at worst. Racism is a daily reality for people of color. It is inescapable.
The other point I want to make is that racism can only go one way. This is because people of color don’t have the institutional power oppress white people. People of color can’t be racist because they don’t have the power to do so. Can they be prejudiced? Absolutely! But even then the context is different. When I say that I am tired of dealing with white people, I’m not saying that they are inferior to me or that I hate them or that I want to commit genocide on their people. What I am saying is that after centuries of being hated, called inferior etc, I just don’t want to deal with it anymore. And anyone who thinks that that is unreasonable needs to go take a long walk off a short pier. If we lived in a post-racist society then I would totally be in the wrong. If those power differentials didn’t exist, then I would need to revise my position.
But that is the thing; we DO NOT live in a post racist society.
Racism is still real, today. Ask anyone at the Rez if genocide is being committed. Ask anyone who as lived in low income communities for generations if colonization still isn’t happening today (read: gentrification). Ask anyone stopped by the police if Jim Crow is still alive. Ask any families separated by ICE if racism is still real.
So before you go complaining about how you are oppressed as a white person, remember that you will never have to worry about the things mentioned above. And you might not like it seeing all this. This might be painful. It’s hard to look in the mirror and see someone who is implicated in the death of generations of people. But trust me, it is better then the alternative.