A white person’s explanation of racism today for white people who do not see it, experience it and/or understand racism.
If you are watching the news or reading the news online you may be hearing a lot about “systemic racism”. For the average, white person, this may be confusing. Racism may be far removed from your day to day reality. When you see the video of George Floyd being killed by a police officer, this may look like obvious racism. It is wrong. We can see this. But how is this connected to the larger picture of racism in America? Let me help explain. According to Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones**, there are three levels of racism: institutionalized racism, personally mediated racism, and internalized racism.
Institutionalized racism is defined as “differential access to goods, services, and opportunities of society by race”. Where do we see this? Black people have fewer healthy food options due to “food deserts”. For example, in urban areas, large grocery store chains do not want put their stores in poor, urban black communities. Medical care. Blacks and Hispanics are less likely to have health insurance, and employee sponsored health insurance, and therefore less access to preventative health care services and medical treatment.
Institutionalized racism is the silent norm we don’t see until we take a look at the numbers and ask why? A black person is exposed to institutional racism before they are even born. They inherit it from no fault of their own. Ever heard the expression, you can’t chose the family you were born into? Same thing goes for a black person born in this county.
This is the structural or systemic racism the media is currently talking about. Often, this racism is codified and legal. Research the Prison Industrial Complex. It is corporate (ALEC). It is even purposefully built into our legislation. It’s sneaky and the worse kind of racism in my opinion because it is hard to pin on one person, it plays off the fears of the naive and/or ignorant people, and it kills in large numbers. One might even call it genocide.
How many of you have heard or even said, “our school is no longer good because they are busing in kids from poor neighborhoods?” Racism watch dog would have a barking fit. In an effort to increase access to better education for minorities and poor Americans, we balk at it because it brings our Great-Schools.com ratings down.
Let me give you a more relatable example. Ever had a legal issue? Someone, perhaps a landlord take advantage of you or needed to fight a speeding ticket? You may have hired a lawyer, or not, depending on how much money you had to do so or perhaps you knew someone in charge. You had ACCESS to power. Black people as a whole are systematically denied or have less access to power because of quality education, gainful employment, their physical environment, and personal safety. Like women in the workforce, it is harder to gain access to power and make positive change if there are less of you in numbers AND have less number of people in positions of power. How many people have filed for divorce? Every little thing you do has a huge price tag! People may lose access to their children in a custody case because they can’t afford the legal fees. Only people of wealth have access to a fair, legal justice system. It’s unjust. Minorities as a whole have less of a fighting chance in today’s systems of power.
But you may say, what’s happened in the past is no reflection of what is happening today. Yes it does. And unfortunately, it hasn’t gone away because bad, racist people still exist, and old, racist ways are ingrained into our systems and have never changed or dissolved.
I encourage everyone to view this movie to see how vulnerable we are to media framing and how institutionalized racism is in the county, especially in the prison system.
Internalized racism is defined as “acceptance by members of the stigmatized races of negative messages about their own abilities and intrinsic worth”.
Examples, if a black person feels less beautiful because their skin is darker than a lighter shade of black. Counter-racism, beauty ads showing women of color with varying shades of black and dark black women. Below is a short film which embraces natural black hair and I love it.
Another example, a black person using a racial slur as a nickname. Counter-racism, don’t use the n-word.
It is also a helplessness, a hopelessness and a resignation that because you are a certain color, there is no point of finishing school or voting, or taking care of yourself, because there is no point. This type of internalized racism is what I believe a lot of minorities are feeling today, what minorities are internally combating every day, and also the driving factor for radical behavior. When any marginalized people feel their cries are not heard and they continually face injustice, some no longer take a peaceful route of protest. I am not going to argue for or against violent protest, as this is not what this article is about, but I will ask that we remove our “white lenses” and try to understand the perspective of people who continually witness and experience racism and how this affects their mental, physical and emotional health and well being.
Personally mediated racism is defined as prejudice and discrimination. This is what most people see as racism. If someone is refused to be served because of their color, this is personally mediated racism. If your parent tells you not to date a black person, or vice versa, this is personally mediated racism. If you see a Muslim or Arab on a plane and immediately wonder if they are a possible terrorist, this is personally mediated racism. Derek Chauvin acted from personally mediated racism when he kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and murdered him. He may have been influenced from his personal upbringing (personally mediated racism) and/or told by his police department to target black men (institutionalized racism), in a predominantly black neighborhood (institutionalized racism).
What can we do right now?
First, reading and educate yourself. Leila Hakimizadeh shared these recommendations:
I am also adding some references at the end of this post and wanted to add “Devil In The Grove” by Gilbert King. A must read especially if you live in Florida. Personally, this book was so hard to get through because the injustice and hate are so awful. So I will commend you now for your efforts.
Second, recognize that just by being white, you are privileged. This is a hard pill to swallow for some. It’s like telling a young German person they are associated with the Holocaust. Ouch. I remember when I went to New Zealand and I was told that white people were referred to as “pakeha” and it meant white settler. Not me, please. But the truth of the matter is that until I learn from our past and understand how being white affects my life differently than a person of color, I can not begin to be the change I want to see. Here is a good read to help you get started…
Recognizing your white privilege doesn’t mean you are admitting to be a racist. It helps you recognize implicit bias, or your unconscious beliefs, stereotypes, actions, attitudes, etc. that are racist. It doesn’t mean that you are personally responsible for every act of bigotry and racism in America or anywhere. It makes you conscious and that my friend, is a good start. Acknowledging, recognizing and remembering our racist history helps us build a better future for everyone. And helps create positive, constructive change for our future.
Third, dialogue and relationships with people. Here is the catch…with people not like you. Bridge the gap. Here is a NextDoor post.
“Please, someone, tell me what I can do to help. I want to help.”
I like because it is intentional, honest and authentic. It’s getting the conversation started. Caveat… despite believing that social media is a power tool for change, I encourage readers and social media lovers to get out from behind the words. A brilliant idea?! Listen. Be prepared to listen with an open heart and an open mind. And better yet, choose before you walk into the room not to react. This is my own personal struggle, I react. I let instigators and haters get to me. Where can you listen and lend a helping hand? Organizations like the Boys and Girl Club. Churches.
Walk the talk. This reminds me of the London PSA you can hear at the train stops, “If you see something, say something”
From a NextDoor neighbor…“I appreciate this post, Jason, and love the sincerity in it. I don’t know if i have an entire answer for you but I have to tell you that calling it by name is the first step. Calling it by name every time you see it, hear it, feel it, or even benefit from it is the first step. Then, once you’ve done that start to research some of the brands, companies, organizations you’ve aligned with financially… See where they put your dollars. Identify if they truly do align with your personal values, then encourage others to do so too. Everyone in this room has mentioned the universal truth: racism is everywhere. But that doesn’t mean small steps can’t be done that may impact someone or something across the world. Lastly, donate to local organizations fighting racism. Small steps make a big impact. Thanks again”.
Fifth, legislation and politicians. Know who represents you. Research HOW they voted. Find out where their financial support is from. Not what they say they support. And VOTE. Know what is on the table and lend your support or disdain. Look into the legislation. Stand Your Ground. Citizens Arrest. A lot of legislation is implicitly biased or strategically engineered to further oppress person’s of color.
Sixth, raise your little ones right. Help them to understand racism at an age appropriate level. Don’t just leave it to your child’s school lesson on Martin Luther King or a Black History month assignment. Encourage them to make friends with everyone. And help them build empathy by sharing stories of why not everyone has what they have. Here are some books you can read to your little one:
Finally, I want to talk about the word “race”. Camara Phyllis-Jones, MD, MPH, PhD said, “‘ race’ is not a biological construct that reflects innate differences, but a social construct that precisely captures the impacts of racism”. We are in a conundrum of wanting to move to a place where color is no longer seen but in order to get to that place we have to recognize that color is both a privilege and barrier.
I once had a Canadian professor in New Zealand say we needed to stop using the word “race” because we are all of one race, the human race. And people who choose to identify based on their genealogy are identifying based on their ethnicity. I ask this question, can we stop using the word “race” in order to create a new social norm where our shared belief is that we are all human? While at the same time recognizing color as a barrier and the effects of the 3 levels of racism? Maybe we start by identifying by color on a census, not by a race? I’d love to hear from others on how we can move forward as one race while acknowledging the inherent privilege of whites and the barriers of persons of color.
Thank you for reading and please share.
**Levels of racism: a theoretic framework and a gardener’s tale by Camara Phyllis Jones, MD, MPH, PhD can be found here https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1446334/