You Aren’t Racist, But You Make Racism Possible

Racist Racism postThere are many ways that it is said, but the results are the same.

“If blacks would stop talking about slavery all the time they could just get on with successful careers.”
“I don’t see color. Black, white, and brown are all just people. Stop talking about it all the time.”
“Blacks shouldn’t be telling their kids about racism and they wouldn’t learn to think of themselves as inferior.”

Usually these people aren’t themselves racist. But this kind of talk does allow racism to continue in our country.

When my first post on racism went massively viral, I knew that some of the artistry of telling truth through story would be lost on some of the readers. Many of the comments on that post revealed that they didn’t understand my point that it doesn’t matter whether anyone actually confronts a minority person with hatred or violence, the cumulative effect of a culture of prejudice results in oppression even when no outward hostility is present.

I wasn’t surprised when many comments said what I used to believe. They pointed out that the story I shared didn’t include any actual prejudice persons confronting me or my son. “The fear of racism does not make racism,” they claimed. I too used to say that women and minorities need to just get on with living as if inequalities weren’t present. That living as if prejudice and racism were gone would allow people to get on with the business of living a life of opportunity.

There is some truth to this sentiment. Living a life of expecting and looking for prejudice does in fact cripple a person from living into a life of equality. In fact, that was the point of my post. But the error here is assuming that women and minorities can just turn a switch that allows them to ignore the very real prejudices, hatred, and even violence that they’ve endured.

One person told me that I can’t actually understand racism (which is why I named that post starting to understand racism) because when my black son isn’t with me at work, the store, or anywhere else I am able to shed my “black identity” in ways that my son can’t. I have the privilege of assuming that being denied employment, a loan, or service is based on merit and availability not my genitalia or the color of my skin.

That’s why so many white persons that read my post liked to claim that they weren’t racist because they are “color blind.” They claimed that they treated people as if race doesn’t exist, and that was the real solution to racism. Others, including minorities, just need to do what they do and ignore racial differences.

They are right that they are not actually racist, if they in fact treat people as if they are color blind. But they didn’t understand that this attitude actually enables a culture of racism.

These folks have failed to understand the differences between individual prejudice and institutional racism. Being “color blind” avoids the former but enables the latter. A massive amount of research that is being highlighted by Sheryl Sandburg’s Lean In campaign is showing that persons that experience prejudice have less confidence in their abilities and are therefore less likely to even apply for the opportunities that are available to them. In one study, only 49% of girls applied for a science competition while 71% of boys did so, even though the girls did just a tiny fraction worse on tests than the boys did. I suspect that this confidence gap causes similar results among racial minorities. That’s the effect of institutional racism even when individual prejudice may not be present.

It’s therefore not enough that the doors are (in more cases than a generation ago) open to minority persons or women. To open a door for someone after they have effectively been crippled of the ability to walk through it by other instances of racism does not actually strike back against racism or its effects. If you are indeed “colorblind,” then you aren’t just putting a stop to the prejudice that affects racial minorities. You are also ignoring all of the past (and present) prejudices that prevent that person from having the confidence and opportunity to achieve. You also are ignoring that they will not even have the rather passive opportunity that “color blindness” provides when they go to their next opportunity. If you are “color blind,” then you aren’t a racist but you make racism possible.

This is why our nation needs something more than color blindness. Rather we need to see the particular gifts that a racial and gender diversity bring to our institutions. Studies have shown that a racially diverse workforce will result in increased sales revenue, larger customer base, increased market share, and higher percentage of profits. I don’t think we should utilize racial diversity for its economic benefits, but this serves to show that racism isn’t only bad for minority populations. It’s bad for all persons. And all people need to be encouraged to appreciate their ethnic heritage. Only majority persons get to pretend that race doesn’t matter. We’d do much better to notice ethnic diversity and celebrate a variety of beautiful gifts.

This post is a follow up to my very popular post: The Day That I Started To Understand Racism

Related Post: Double Standards, Women, And The Church

Comments

  1. says

    I think you can take the words “racist” and “racism” and replace them with “sexist/sexism” and “homophobic/homophobia” or any other combination of terms around discrimination/hatred. Thank you for writing this. I’ve shared with my social networks.

    • says

      I concurr, but, I do not think homosexuality is logical, or, part of God’s will. As long as you do not express hatred towards homosexuals and practice tolerance its ok to be homophobic. If your not homosexual then its normal to be homophobic about the idea of same sex relationships. Jesus Loved his disciples and taught everyone to Love one another, but, modern liberal thought seems to be constructing the idea that same sex Love should be allowed to be in Holy Matrimony. I have tried to understand how people can be born homosexual through DNA ordering it. Scientificaly it makes a good hypothesis, but when thinking about sexual reproduction and sodomy as an alternate way for men to have sex to show Love its not logical. There are men who are definately femine and woman who are masculine so the hypothesis is viable but sexual sodomy is logicaly an unclean act, biologicaly speaking.

  2. says

    This is very true. Thank you for your willingness to tackle tough subjects, even after a post which I’m sure brought down a lot of vitriolic comments.

    The problem with being “colorblind” is that this ignores the point of oppression. Oppression and prejudice, while often connected, are not the same thing. Prejudice is an individual acting in a biased way or with a biased attitude against another person. Oppression is prejudice plus power. Oppression has a lot more to do with historical injustices and systems which continuously suppress an entire subgroup of people, and it can manifest itself in acts of prejudice, as well as acts of violence and discrimination. This is why reverse racism is not a thing. For reverse racism to exist, minority groups would have to have power over white people. This is obviously untrue. While they can have prejudice against whites, there’s not a history and continuation of systematic oppression because they have no widespread power over white people.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. I think one of the biggest things people can do to help fix the problems of racism, sexism, and other -isms, is to acknowledge their privilege and admit that it allows them advantages in life. As you pointed out, to say that they are colorblind indicates that they are ignoring all of the privilege that they possess and all of the historical wrongs committed against an entire group of people.

  3. Julie crown says

    I don’t believe myself to be racist. I was raised by a father who would not stand for the unequal treatment of blacks in the civil rights era, not just in principle but in tangible ways. My issue is my inability to express my personal opinion without someone assuming it’s a racist slur. A comment about the POTUS inexperience in foreign policy is attacked as a racist comment, when in fact other Presidents have similarly had the privilege of my negativity about their skills. If a black woman is abusive to her children my concern for those children becomes a racial attack, instead of an observation of her character.
    I find myself defending my opinions, which had no basis in racism, and defending my constitutional right to have and speak them. What’s the right approach here? Stop talking?

    • Audrey says

      Julie,

      This (everything you describe) is how racism – in it’s institutional form – hurts white people. Through no fault of YOUR own, you live in a world where the current president has been treated differently because of the color of his skin, so when you attempt to make a remark based upon his merit (or lack thereof), it cannot be heard without the baggage of what other people have said about him.

      I am sorry you have been silenced by other people’s racism. When this happens to me, I often take that moment of pain or frustration as a reminder that this is what racism feels like, and I only experience it in a tiny amount and very rarely.

      However, the other struggle is that because we live in a society where racism happens, I have often found that what I intend to say has a very different impact on the people who are listening. When that happens (e.g. I have a concern about the president) I stop and rather than defending my position (THIS IS HARD, especially when I think I’m right!) and start to ask questions to better understand why the person in front of me is reacting in a way that feels irrational, strange or hostile to me. I’ve been SHOCKED at how often my refusal to defend my position and willingness to simply hear the other person makes space so that whomever I am talking to then ends up asking ME questions and understanding what I mean.

      I don’t know if this helps you, but I was really moved by your comment and empathize with you.

  4. Gail P. Poole says

    Dr. Gibbs, you are spot on with this topic of conversation for our american society…it is my strong desire that we should get our government to stop classifying our citizens by race and or culture. we have a clear path to citizenship thru our immigration department and we should encourage any person and or people to follow that path to citizenship so that the end result for our society can be that we’re all Americans with different cultures that can be celebrated as a whole or individually. But the main thing is that we all are members of the human race with its diverse cultures…:)

    • larry says

      The path to citizenship is not that clear if you talk to a few people who have recently been or are going through the process

    • says

      Very well said, and progress is moving forward but there is the mass media control and propaganda feeds that come from the powers to be that want racism to continue for their own agenda. They are obsucure to find and prove to be keeping their disorganization tactics. I believe racism is a way of keeping us distracted from the powermongers and fight with ourselves.

  5. Renee says

    Everyone comes from different backgrounds, religion and were raised differently. With that being said I always treated each person according to how that individual acts. I never divided people by their color only behavior. For some apparent reason fraternities and sororities have a certain behavior, artist and performers do as well, those who were raised in the bigger cities versus those who grew up in the country. Some people are classy, some are very casual, some are preppy and there are those who are hood. All these categories don’t just come in one specific race. There’s diversity in all of them. I always thought that each person is different and they should be treated according to how they act. Just my thought

  6. Marjorie Misenar says

    Thank you for helping us understand. I,m 83 yearsold ,and bring the baggage of lower middle class with my understanding.this was very helpful when I attend a class on the subject at church.

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