I am racist, and so are you: Recognizing and addressing racism in yourself

Guest post by Rachel Shadoan

This post is aimed at white folk, because our position of privilege allows us to benefit from, rather than be oppressed by, institutional racism.

Team Racists T-shirt from Zazzle.
Team Racists T-shirt from Zazzle.

Here’s the deal. Racism isn’t just guys in white robes and Paula Deen shouting racial slurs. Racism is subtle, racism is insidious, and American culture is so deeply steeped in it that it’s impossible to grow up in the US and not be racist.

It’s a kind of brainwashing: a set of default configuration files that come with the culture. It’s a filter, built up from birth, that alters our perception of the world. (Literally — racial bias makes people see weapons that aren’t there.) Racism isn’t just conscious actions; it’s judgements that happen so fast that we may not even be aware of them. Even people who are horrified by the idea of racism see through this lens, have this default programming. Even you. Even me.

Especially me.

How do I know that I’m racist?

Once, while living alone, I heard a noise that I took to be someone attempting to break in to my house. Instead of transforming into the valkyrie I’d always imagined I’d be in such a situation, I proceeded to have the kind of reaction I usually reserve for brown recluse spiders. Which is to say, I hid and called my boyfriend to come rescue me. When he arrived, finding the only other occupant of my house to be my wildly overactive imagination, he asked me, “What were you so afraid of?”

Unbidden, the image of a tall, young black man popped into my head. I don’t remember what I told him, but I doubt it was “young black men”.

Several years later, I’m walking home from the train. A black man I pass tries to get my attention, and I ignore him, as is my policy when approached by male strangers. He tries to get my attention again. Heart pounding, I turn to acknowledge him. He asks me for directions to the library, which I of course give him. I walk home with adrenaline surging through my veins and shame churning in my stomach.

Several years later, I’m walking across the street. It’s the middle of sunny afternoon at a busy intersection near my apartment. Three tall, broad, black men in baggy tees and baseball caps, walk past me in the opposite direction. They don’t look at me, approach me, or interact with me in any way. And yet, I realized suddenly, I felt a flush of fear as they passed.

I don’t know what it was about this third interaction that made me recognize my racism for what it was. Perhaps it was because I’d been reading a lot of feminist writings about race and racism. Perhaps the third time was simply the charm. Perhaps it was how utterly and completely inculpable those three guys were in my rush of fear. They hadn’t even acknowledged my existence, and here I was, pulse spiking because I’d fucking walked past them.

“Hang on, though, Rachel.” I can hear you now…

“Just because you’re afraid of black male strangers doesn’t mean you’re racist. Have you considered that your fear of black men is justified?”

Why yes, I have considered that. It would be awfully convenient, after all. But according to the Criminal Victimization Tables released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics [pdf], white people, who comprise 72% of the population of the US, commit 69% of the violent crime against white people, whereas black people, who comprise 13% of the population, commit 13% of the violent crime against white people. Not only does this mean that I am much more likely to be victimized by a white person than a black person, it also suggests that violent offenders who victimize white people are uniformly distributed across races. So, given this knowledge, why am I not more afraid of white men? Why is it that my brain conjures images of black men to embody my fears?

Upon recognizing my fear for what it was — racism — all I could think was, “Oh my god, Rachel, how fucking cliche is that? You’re the lily white blonde girl, afraid of black men. What, were you born on the set of King Kong?”

No, I was born in America. American media and mythos have been peddling the idea of violent and aggressive black people since the beginning of their enslavement at our hands hundreds of years ago; the fear we feel is a tool that has been leveraged to oppress, profit from, and destroy black bodies. The fear persists. Duncan (1976, PDF here) found that when performing the exact same action, black men are perceived as more violent than white men. Sagar and Schofield (1980, Google cache of PDF here) found that both white and black sixth graders rate actions as more mean and threatening when the person taking the action is black. Madriz (1997, PDF here) found that women of a variety of socio-economic, ethnic, and racial backgrounds had similar perceptions of criminals — they feared victimization by black and latino men. The research goes on and on — Americans are afraid of black people, especially black men. [Ed. note: these tweets on the topic of White Fear are well worth reading.] This fear, the legacy of hundreds of years of subjugation and racism, is part of our cultural heritage just like hot dogs and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

However, unlike Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, this fear kills people.

Mike Brown. Renisha McBride. Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. These are only a handful of the hundreds of people killed each year because of white people’s fear. Because of fear like mine. Because of racism like mine.

The media will tell you that those people asked for it. They weren’t properly respectful. They were thugs or drunks or in some way unacceptable (as though that gives us license to murder them?!). We must recognize that as bullshit. They’re soothing, irrelevant, lies that we white people tell ourselves to avoid naming our fears for what they are — racism. We would rather slander the dead than admit to ourselves that our irrational fears are rooted deeply in this country’s history of enslaving, oppressing, and murdering black people. It is easier to cling to any justification of our fear, even the flimsiest, most transparent justifications, than it is to probe how our own fears contributed to their murder.

We cannot continue to take the easy way out. This cannot be allowed to continue. People are dying, because white people have not stepped up to the plate and addressed the racism that has wormed its tendrils through our souls.

It is our turn at bat.

“I dunno, Rach. Maybe you’re racist, but I’m certainly not.”

“I’m not afraid of black men, for instance.”

Maybe you aren’t afraid of black men, but that example is only the most relevant and easily described way in which I have found my racism to manifest. There are a myriad of other areas in which our racism colors our perception, all requiring hard thinking and serious mindfulness to identify. Mine was so subtle it took years to even notice it.

So are you really sure you harbor no racism? How much time have you spent thinking about and examining your possible biases? How much do you listen to and learn about the experiences of black people from black people themselves? How often do you read about racism and structural inequality? Just how sure are you that you have somehow, miraculously, been able to avoid soaking up the racism that American culture is swimming in?

Look, I’m not here to condemn you. Condemning you, after all, would condemn me as well. I’m here to tell you that it’s not us against the racists. We’re not fighting a battle with the Paula Deens of the world. If only it were that simple, that cut and dried. The battle is instead us against racism, and that racism resides in each of us. This war begins within.

On the bright side, that means we have the home court advantage. How do we get started, though?

First, we read. Hundreds of people, brighter and more well-studied than I am, have been writing about these things for years. For longer than I’ve been alive. I’ll put a bunch of links at the bottom of this post to give you a good place to start.

Second, we must interrogate our discomfort. Reading will be hard. You will learn things you do not want to know. You will read things that make you want to lash out in your own defense, to shout, “Not all white people! Certainly not me!” Don’t shout that. Especially don’t shout that at a black person who is telling you about their lived experiences. If you absolutely cannot restrain yourself, and you must proclaim your innocence to someone, you can send me an email. I will say comforting and soothing things about how this is a necessary step on your journey to getting a passing grade in Decent Human Being, and how I expect you to suck it the hell up because as I said earlier PEOPLE ARE DYING and that’s more important than either your feelings or mine. This is going to be uncomfortable. It will make you feel sick to your stomach. It will make your heart ache. It will make your scalp tingle and your blood pound in your ears and you will want so desperately to stop and go back to the time when you existed, oblivious, in a blissful bubble of white privilege and YOU MUST KEEP GOING ANYWAY. Your temporary discomfort is a small price when weighed against the lives of millions of people. Sit with your discomfort. Befriend your discomfort. Let your discomfort guide you — where there is discomfort, there is likely unexamined bias. When you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself why. “Why does that make me uncomfortable? What is it about that that makes me feel this way? What are the beliefs that I hold that are conflicting with what I am reading?” You will survive your discomfort — black children do not survive being gunned down by cops.

Third, we must cultivate a perspective of belief. As I said, racism is a filter through which we view everything, whether we want to or not. It’s like being born wearing tinted glasses — certain colors are filtered out of our perception. The filter our racism creates makes it very difficult to see the racism at first. We must be trained to see it by the people who experience it more directly. So as you’re reading, and making friends with your discomfort, remember: if someone tells you that some event is because of racism, believe them. It may be a long time before you’re able to see racism with clarity. Until that point, it is an entirely reasonable default position to believe the people who have been observing it longer. You are not objective in this regard; you must proactively correct for your own cognitive bias.

Fourth, we must be gentle with ourselves. We accomplish nothing by doing more violence to our pysches than our system has already done. You and I are not bad people because our position of privilege allows us to benefit from, rather than be oppressed by, institutional racism. We are just people, products of a racist culture that we didn’t choose but got stuck with anyway. It is, however, our responsibility, our ethical obligation, to address our own racism. We cannot change a racist system — a system that oppresses and brutalizes black people and other people of color — without first changing ourselves.

Finally, we must realize that the battle with our racism will never be over. You don’t just wake up one morning and say, “I guess I’m done being racist!” Over time, we’ll improve, of course. We’ll succeed in building new mental pathways that overwrite parts of our racist programming. But we will struggle. We will grapple with pernicious racist beliefs so ingrained that our minds have carved canyons down those planes of thought. It will frustrate us, how quickly our brains find the racist answer, like marbles rolling to a low spot in the floor. And when we succeed in levelling that floor, we’ll find new pockets of racism that we didn’t even know existed. We will never win — but we must press on in the struggle.

I know you can do this.

I know we can do this.

I know we can do this, because we must do this.

Articles to Read:

Publications to Read:

Books to Read:

Scholarly Research:

Comments on I am racist, and so are you: Recognizing and addressing racism in yourself

  1. Thank you for this! As a liberal, educated white person, this is hard to read but very, very accurate. I am an elementary school teach and have taught almost entirely black students for the last 6 years. I went in to the job thinking I was not a racist and have slowly battled my own ingrained racism throughout my career.

    At first I fought hard against the idea that I was racist. I have slowly acknowledged that I do have racist and classist notions deeply imbedded in my psyche. I think that by accepting that fact, acknowledging that I am a product of my society, and educating myself I am able to slowly learn another way of thinking.

    • Right? I’m in the same boat. Been doing a lot of questioning and thinking the last couple of years. The first time I heard “white privilege” I was so pissed. Then I had a really great conversation with a co-worker who explained Privilege in it’s many forms. That’s when I started to really listen and question what I believe. It’s been a pretty insane journey. So much of what I previously believed I don’t anymore. Not that i was this crazy bigot before, but when you get right down to it if you are a white person living in the USA and you don’t know what White Privilege is you’re pretty blind. I was really blind.

      I’m grateful that we can have discussions like this in my office.

      Great article! I’m going to pass it around and share it with everybody.

    • Oh! Can I add another video (that I actually encountered here on the Empire, I think)?

      I really like it (mostly the idea of racism in your teeth, which I found very helpful.), it’s a little long (~12 minutes), but worth it:

      Jay Smooth’s lecture “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Discussing Race”

  2. This is really good to read. Like, really important. I grew up with a white dad who was raised in Oakland and experienced violence there, and as a result he (actually kind of proudly, he doesn’t seem to be ashamed of this at all) is fairly racist. I always wanted to be different, not be racist! But even in my rebelling “non-racism”, I was still thinking/acting out of a racist kind of mindset, and I’ve only recently become aware of how much my “non-racist” thinking was still quite racially based. I’m going to do some more reading and work a little harder to battle the racism inside me.

  3. Uncomfortable but necessary. I can’t begin to change who I am if I can’t come face to face with the uncomfortable realities hidden within myself. Thank you

  4. This is something I’ve been trying to write for a long time, and you’ve done it wonderfully!

    There is nothing wrong with admitting you’re a racist or even being told that you are a racist–you are! We all are! We’re raised with it, our media feeds it to us. People feed us lies that our behaviour is perfectly acceptable or that we’re somehow magically post-racial, but we’re not, you’re not, I’m not, nobody is, nowhere is. Racism is everywhere, social/ethnic/racial/economic prejudices are everywhere.
    All acknowledging your–and my, and everyone’s–racism means is being aware. When you hear it, when you think it, when you knee-jerk it, acknowledge it. Think critically about it. Be compassionate, be rational, be aware.

    • Yes exactly!

      I do a fair amount of gentle self-talk, like I would to correct any other thought process I want to change. Like:
      “Hmm, I think that thought comes from racial bias. Why are you telling yourself that particular story? Who in your society benefits from you buying into that story? Who suffers from you believing that story? What counter evidence can you find for that belief?”

      That kind of thing. Metacognition. It’s awesome!

  5. So let me get this straight, it’s only Whites who are racists? Not Blacks, or any other color variety? Even with our President making statements like, “She’s a typical white woman…” referring to his grandmother crossing a street when she saw black men?

    If you’re going to say that Whites are racist, you must look at every other group, as well, It is NOT a condition that is isolated to one group/color/etc.

    And please quit with Paula Deen. That case was so badly reported as to be laughable as an example. Yes, she made a racial slur 20 years ago in the privacy of her own home AFTER being assaulted by… a young black man. The press was so eager to indite her that they didn’t bother with the facts of the case. But that seems to be the state of the press now – report the sensational details, and damn the truth. Someone else can sort that out later.

    • No, racial bias (especially anti – black racial bias) is something everyone carries. The conversation around the Twitter hash tag #blackpoweryellowperil started by Suey Park has some great discussion of the way racism informs interactions between black and Asian minorities. And, as I mentioned in the article, both black and white children perceive black actors as more threatening. Racism exists in us all.

      That said, white people hold the majority of the power and the resources, and thus the best chance/greatest responsibility for changing the bias in all our systems.

    • Laura- Please recognize that Rachel is addressing INSTITUTIONAL (also structural) racism, rather than individual prejudice. Therefore your individual examples have no bearing on the discussion at hand. Institutional and structural racism both have a long, well-documented history of placing the white man above minorities through the creation of policies and established hierarchies. Thereby they create an unequal playing field for those not born white, straight, or male. See here: http://www.intergroupresources.com/rc/Definitions%20of%20Racism.pdf

      Everyone practices prejudice at one time or another no matter what color they are (I am, unfortunately, included in this although I am constantly trying to address it). However, as a white woman, I am not oppressed in the same way as a black woman via institutional racism. A black woman often has to deal with many problematic issues that my white privilege prevents me from having to deal with (income inequality, housing inequality, lack of representation in the media and politics, etc.)

    • So here’s the thing with any -ism. It means specifically a member of a group in power (meaning with the most control over particular social systems) is exhibiting a particular prejudice against members of a group of lesser power. Looking at the United States media, legal, financial and justice systems as well as demographic, white people are the group in power and other races are the groups with less power.
      Can members of other racial groups exhibit prejudice? Absolutely. But by definition, because another group has more power, they can’t participate in racism.
      (In smaller dynamics, think about an office. A hiring manager refuses to hire someone who is older because the hiring manager believes that the elderly will have a hard time acclimating to new software the office uses. That’s the office manager exhibiting ageism. The elderly person doesn’t get hired and is upset and calls the hiring manager a stupid young whipper-snapper. That’s prejudice, but it’s not ageism because the elderly person doesn’t have the power in this dynamic.)
      Semantics piss a lot of people off. I get it. But it’s a definition.

      • “But by definition, because another group has more power, they can’t participate in racism”

        I think you need to look up the definition, because your definition is incorrect. Racism by definition is thinking that something about another group is inferior to ones own group. A marginalized group can absolutely think that something about their group is superior to the group that is in power.

        Should the conversation be primarily about white people marginalizing others? History and current events tells us that yup, absolutely it should be.

        • You’re totally right–I will append a long-winded discussion on definitions (my apologies in advance):
          So various dictionaries differ on whether they include one important word in their definition: discrimination. And I feel like that’s where whether racism is open to everyone basically hinges. The dictionary definition of THAT word varies, but the gist is making a decision in unjust treatment of members of “The Other”–while a minority group member can certainly exhibit discrimination against majority group members, the group as a whole is simply not in a position of being able to enact wide-scale discrimination against the majority group.

          Sociologists have long worked to redefine racism more clearly, and their definitions generally agree that racism is a system that the majority of people do not active choose to subscribe to–”belief” implies that one has consciously chosen to feel prejudices against other groups, and that’s just not what we’re dealing with here. By sociological definitions, racism is specifically about the kind of power dynamics I’ve mentioned above. So my “by definition” above should definitely be “by scholarly-supported sociological definitions, which are subjective and haven’t been accepted by major dictionaries.”

          • Using that definition, the author of this article is not racist. Why? She didn’t participate in any acts of oppression, only in thought…

            If we accept that these thoughts are racist, then we must accept that ALL people can be racist, not just those in power or the oppressors.

            I suppose I wanted to more point out that defining it as a system of oppression is restrictive and doesn’t tell the whole story.

      • Point of clarification:

        “But by definition, because another group has more power, they can’t participate in racism.”

        Can a group that has less power than the dominant group still have more power than another minority group, and therefore participate in racism against that third group? Or is it only the dominant group that can do so?

        • So there’s a big honking field of research and study dedicated to this sort of question. I only know enough to be dangerous, but I feel confident in replying: it’s complicated, but smells like no?
          Several scholarly writings on the subject I’ve read seem to agree on one concept: whatever power mid-level groups have, it’s what’s “allowed” to them by the majority group. So any discrimination enacted by a mid-level group on another is an extension of the majority group’s power and racism. Other writings argue that all minority groups are continually in a struggle to gain power over the others, and that means that no group really gets to call itself number two–there’s the majority and everyone else.

          Anyway, I fully recommend that anyone that anyone who thinks this sort of thing would be interesting or insightful to Google group dynamics and learn more. It’s a meaty damn field, but it’s pretty neat to me (I’m continually seeing those theories at work in Offbeat subcultures. We’re all The Other here, y’all!)

      • So because we describe it as “prejudice” and not “racism” does that make it better? It’s still the same shitty action, so why make up different words to excuse it when it goes the other way?

        • Because the longstanding, ingrained structures of society cause oppression to land on people of color in a way that their prejudice can’t land on white people.

          There are lots of axes of oppression – I hold white privilege and class privilege, and as a fat woman I also have sexism and sizeism land on me. It’s complicated, sure, and it still comes down to white people holding more privilege and (collectively) more power and thus having the responsibility to work on ourselves.

          Great piece, Rachel.

    • This post does not say, nor does it imply, that only white people are racist. As I understood it, the author is white and she is writing about her experience as a white person. Because her experience is limited to being white, she wrote an article that she thought might benefit other white people. I don’t think your interpretation of this article is at all fair, nor do I particularly understand your points about the President and Paula Deen.

      I think the Offbeat Empire works really hard to be inclusive. I also think that they work really hard to recognize when their perspective is limited. I applaud the author for writing such a powerful, personal essay and for being clear that her experience is as a white person and that she can’t speak knowledgeably about anyone else’s experience.

      • Except the tagline of “This is only directed at white people” DOES imply that only white people are racist and need to be reminded that they’re doing something wrong. And for all that OBE has always struck me as working hard to be inclusive, that tagline crosses this article into a realm where if THAT was acceptable, I no longer want to be a part of the community.

        • I don’t read it that way at all but if you’ve made up your mind I likely can’t change your opinion. As I said, it seems to me the disclaimer at the top of the article is there because “the author is white and she is writing about her experience as a white person. Because her experience is limited to being white, she wrote an article that she thought might benefit other white people.” I took it as her attempting to not explain issues of racism to people of other backgrounds. A sort of “this is my experience, as a white person in America. Based on these objective studies, I think this is an experience that is common to white people.” Nothing about that suggests, to me, that POCs aren’t also racist. It seems a very limited reading.

          By the same token, if a prosecuting attorney wrote an article addressing her experiences with prosecuting and how she wanted to be careful to not play in to institutionalized racism against POCs and warning other prosecutors about those dangers, personally I would not fault the author for not discussing the role defense attorneys might play. Or the role accountants or hair dressers or scientists or teachers might play. Because those would be different articles that the prosecutor wasn’t qualified to write. Anyway, that’s how I took the disclaimer.

    • It’s true, anyone can hold racial bias against any race: A black person can hate all white people, and by the dictionary definition that’s racism. However, what the OP is really talking about in her article is the racism that, frankly, matters more — systemic/institutional racism. Systemic racism effects the world in intense, visceral ways; it’s the racism that leads to black people (especially black men) being profiled as “thugs,” and “gangsters.” It is the racism that leads to politicians confusing the phrases “Mexican” with “Illegal Immigrant.”

      So, no. To say white people are racist you must not look at every other group. White people have an institutional advantage over every other group. The worst that can happen to a white person in our culture’s system of institutional racism is that they’re individually disliked, or accused of being a racist. Even if you feel that what happened to Paula Deen is overblown and unfair, it is still a thousand times better an outcome than being shot… which is what happens to black people just for being black, all the time. All you have to do to see that is watch the news.

      Here’s some further reading on institutional/systemic racism vs. individual racism:

      UC Calgary on Racism: http://www.ucalgary.ca/cared/formsofracism
      The Nation on the Effects of Ignoring Systemic Racism: http://www.thenation.com/blog/178101/effects-ignoring-systemic-racism

    • As a long time reader of this site, this is a bit surprising. Whites are not the only one to experience racism. I’ve met with plenty of African Americans, Chinese, Spanish, etc people that are racist as well.

      Also, why are white folks always displayed as privileged? There are poor Caucasian people, just like there are poor Mexican, Black, Japanese, etc. Drive through a poor part of the country (for example, some parts of Kentucky) and I doubt if you would say that these poor white people are still privileged.

      Additionally, it’s not fair or accurate to use Mike Brown as an example until all of the facts are out. The investigation isn’t anywhere near completion and we will not know the full story until then. Right now, it’s just media hearsay. The Travyon Martin investigation was due to Trayvon attacking Zimmerman. Yes an element of fear was present, but that happens when anyone is attacked.

      I understand the authors heart in the matter, and like this person, I do not like racism. However the way this article was worded was beyond poor, and racist in itself saying that only whites are privileged and racist.

      Lastly, everyone has the chance to make change. So called “privileged” whites can make change just as well as Chinese, Black, Mexican, Italians, Japanese, etc can. In the US, we have equal rights. We can both vote against things. We can work together to create peace. So in my thoughts, this article should be aimed at everyone.

      I used to love reading OBH and OBB, but after this article, I’m pretty much done with this site.

      • Chrissy, I don’t think you really understand what “privileged” means in this context. White people can and do lead poor lives, sad lives, unfulfilled lives… what have you, but that doesn’t make them not the recipient’s of privilege. Privilege in this context comes from without, not within — and US culture favors white people over non-white people. Maybe someday this won’t be the case, but for now and for the past two hundred years, that’s been how our culture has operated.

        I know it’s hard to have someone tell you, “You’re racist,” and then to add insult to the injury add: “…and *you’re* the only one who can be.” That sounds at first like someone is calling you a bad person, but that’s not what this is. This article isn’t about white people being universally bad people, it’s about them being privileged at the expense of others, which they are. The statistics don’t lie — people of color are imprisoned at rates that far exceed white people, regardless of the offenses. White people get second chances and start ahead of black people institutionally. This isn’t a personal thing. On an individual level, there are poor white people. White people in jail. White people who are bullied and harassed. But that doesn’t change who the system *as a whole* favors.

        As for your examples of Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin… You seem to have latched on to the idea that if these young men did something wrong, they deserved what happened to them. That’s what people who are using that argument about “waiting for all the facts” are saying. But nobody deserves capital punishment for anything but a capital crime. No one deserves to be stalked because of the color of their skin. No unarmed person deserves to be shot by an officer for stealing cigarettes (*if* that’s what happened). The truth is, white teenagers aren’t being shot for minor offenses because they “seemed violent” or “seemed dangerous.” White teenagers are given the benefit of the doubt. And that’s white privilege, that benefit.

        • To be honest, if that’s your idea of privileged, then that’s even more hard to believe, being that we have an African American man for our president for two terms in a row.

          No, I just do not follow the media and sheeple. The lovely sheeple and media has this mentality that black children can do no wrong, when in reality, they can do just as wrong as white kid, Mexican kids, etc. Yes, I agree that they don’t deserve capital punishment for such petty crimes, however, if they do more than the petty crime for example, such as attacking a cop or a man, then person getting attacked deserve to fight back. If someone attacks me irregardless of his or her skin color, I will fight back with as much force as necessary to get the person to stop attacking me.

          Also, it’s not that white teens are given the benefit of a doubt. It’s just that we do not hear about these crimes in the media. It’s not “exciting” or “entertaining” to hear of a white teen being shot by a cop, or a black cop shooting a black teen. or a black adult shooting another black adult. It’s only entertaining and viewer increasing when it’s a white cop shooting a black teen. So yes, it does happen, but it doesn’t gain viewers so therefore, we do not hear about it. The media is not out there to help us, or portray information. They’re only there is gain viewers and increase profit. It’s a business like any other.

          • I’m sad I can’t change your mind. But since I’m pretty sure I can’t, this will probably be my last reply to you. I really hope that you take the time to read some of the links Rachel included in her original article. Concepts of institutional privilege and racism aren’t something I made up to be cruel or attack white people; they’re not my idea, they’re well-known concepts of social justice.

            I’m a white person, I don’t hate myself. I don’t have any of that “liberal guilt” people sometimes talk about. But I recognize that our culture privileges people that look like me. I know I’m lucky to have been born in my skin. I know that the reason having a black president is such a big deal is because it’s an exception to that rule brought forth through a concerted effort, but it doesn’t change the entire system in one fell swoop.

      • Privilaged in this context doesn’t mean wealthy. It means in the simplest of terms that you are given the benefit of the doubt in all areas. Lets say you habe two women, one black and one white. They both have a four year old child. He falls down and bumps his head like little kids do. She takes him to the ER to get checked out. How much more often will a black mom get CPS called on her than the white mom? The implicite assumption is that the black mom’s kid got hurt because shes neglectful. The white mom gets the benefit of the doubt…her kid got hurt because kids get hurt. Thats just one example of white privilage thay has nothing to do with economics but can have really negative consequences for the black person.

    • In the US white people are like store managers, other races are like store employees. All the store employees can go up to the manager and complain, even say “You’re fired”, but they don’t hold the power. It just takes one store manager to go up to everyone who works there and say “You’re fired” and now they have no jobs without the ability to do much about it.

      • If that’s true, then how does that explain the black managers and leaders? Or the Mexican managers and leaders?

        Some individuals seem to be under the guise that it’s still the slavery era. Luckily, it’s not. Other races can lead and be successful. For example, my company is run mostly by Indians. There are very few Caucasians in the office.

        Or this example: Forbes most powerful African American women leaders http://www.forbes.com/sites/mfonobongnsehe/2013/06/04/the-worlds-most-powerful-black-women-2013/

        • You are not getting the point, I am talking about as a class of people, socially, economically on a grander scale than individuals. This has nothing to do with actual stores or managers.

          • Your example doesn’t work either. If a random white person just decides “Oh hey, racism is over” it doesn’t magically change either. White people aren’t somehow magically holding the key to stopping racism. And the people who are in that position come in every colour.

        • Just because there are examples of African American men and women who have succeeded does not mean that there is not racism embedded in our system. Those people could have been born into situations more conducive to rising through the social ladder, or their parents could afford to send them to better schools. Unfortunately black children are suspended much more frequently than white children for the same infractions and black minors are much more likely to be sent to “real” jail than their white peers for the same crimes. Also, schools with higher minority populations often have new teachers who then move on to other schools, giving these already disadvantaged students an even worse education (compared to other schools with a higher percentage of experienced teachers and more funding).

          While there are examples of people who have succeeded with the current system, that doesn’t mean that it’s a good system to keep.

        • Hi Chrissy,

          I believe that you may have missed the author’s big idea… “It’s a kind of brainwashing: a set of default configuration files that come with the culture. It’s a filter, built up from birth, that alters our perception of the world. ” She is speaking from her own view point as a white women through much of the article but is mostly attacking the fact that we ALL were born into a institutionalized form of racism which is unacceptable.

          I find many times that many people, even friends of mine, will at first hear these kinds of statements and will feel as if they have to go on the defense “But it’s not just US! Your people do it too!” Unfortunately when a white person is living in America (and most of the world) they get to experience privileges that I as a black woman never will. My boyfriend who is of mixed race (white and latino) but is physically/visually a white male and has learned this the hard way many times. Having grown up in a predominately West-Indian neighborhood HE was the minority and grew up not fully experiencing what it meant to be a white male in our society. We began dating as teens and now 6 years later in our 20s… he has just now understood to believe me and my experiences of moments he may miss because there are “Just somethings that you’re not going to understand, please just take my word for it this time?”

          Having our first president of color means that we are progressing, it does not mean we are done. Having a small fraction of a “most powerful and wealthy” type list being women of color means we are progressing, but the fact that someone had to pull their names out and make them stand on their own, means we are not done yet.
          Just as an alcoholic becomes a recovering alcoholic for the rest of their lives because they know their work is never done. As the author wrote, this work will never be done either. We fear what we do not know, so we will have to educate, everyone, every new generation, over and over again. Lest we have history repeat itself as it has with every young black male the author listed, with every peaceful protest met with military equipment.

          I, as a black woman, check my racist thoughts and my own privileges (of for instance having a masters degree) often. What makes it different is that because of the power dynamic in our country and throughout our history… more will change the more that whites do the same. Yes, everyone needs to do this, all of us. But how many times will those who are oppressed have to be the ones to teach their oppressors how we can live together peacefully? I can not do it alone and the author can not do it alone either, which is why she writes us.

    • Laura, I think you’re confusing racial hatred and institutionalized racism. The former can be felt by any individual against any race, the latter is society wide racial bias in which one group is in the position of being the default, “majority” (regardless of actual proportions), ideal and/or superior, and all other groups are the minority. Racism may or may not come with violence and race based hatred, but that’s not all it is.

    • Racism comes from all sides. But the point of this is that white people come from a place of privilege, and it is even more white responsibility to end racism since that is still the majority. White people aren’t as racially oppressed as the underprivileged minorities.

    • The author refers to privilege. With regards to race, in the US a black person is not privileged in the way a white person is. I find that the “you accuse X but what about Y and Z?” arguments only serve to dilute and blur the conversation and in this instance I think it’s unhelpful. This is a focussed (and short) article that serves to spark further discussion (and has successfully done so, looking at the comments). It’s similarly frustrating, for example, when an article discussing issues of sexism against women get responses (often many, judging by my twitter feed) saying, “but what about sexism against men?” or “but what about men that don’t behave in a sexist way towards women?”.
      Should we have to pre-amble and/or footnote every article and think-piece with disclaimers for the benefit of every possible demographic of society? That would be exhausting and redundant. Just because an article is focussed on one aspect of a debate or discussion doesn’t necessarily mean that the author is denying the existence of other sides/aspects of the issue.

  6. My office bristles at the requirement for minorities to be specifically, explicitly included in our contracts. They balk at the idea that certain groups should get special treatment, because they aren’t racist and being not-racist means nobody gets special treatment.

    Our entire staff is white, save for two.
    The entire staff is male, except for the admins and accountants.

    We recently let go of the only non-white, non-male professional, because she didn’t have seniority and a layoff was necessary. I’m not sure how she’s ever supposed to GET seniority, with a policy like that. Meanwhile, we’re trying to prove what an equal opportunity environment we’ve got. Our clients *liked* her, dammit.

    I have to assemble the marketing materials to show how well we meet the diversity criteria for jobs, while we don’t lie, we refuse to face facts. Our clients want diversity. They demand it. Social justice demands it. I feel dirty and racist every time I have to nod obediently along with my boss, because there’s nothing I can say to change their minds and I can’t afford to lose my job. So I’ve given up on them.

    Instead of arguing with my bosses, I’ll write science fiction with the leads who aren’t white. I’ll paint a picture of a better future. And maybe the people who are oppressed by the current system can read my books and see themselves cast as heroes-not villains and not sidekicks. And those of us who are white can see these diverse heroes and have a new stereotype in our heads, one that’s not borne of a narrative of fear and marginalization.

    It’s the best I can do while I try to break down the barriers in my own mind.

  7. Wait. She gives SPECIFIC examples of individual racism. SHE ignored that man, because he was black. SHE called for help, because she pictured her “boogeyman” as a tall, black male. The article talks about how WE, as individuals, must examine, challenge, question, and eventually change OURSELVES, so that we – INDIVIDUALLY – are not racist.

    SHE brought up Paula Deen – the whole crux of the case against Ms. Deen was that she used “the N-word” in a private conversation 20 years ago, and somehow that was proof that she ran a racist restaurant.

    And now you’re telling me that.. oh, no, it’s not about the individual, it’s about institutions?

    I agree that institutions can be racist. I also understand that there is a law that supports “Reverse Racism”, as it has become called, in Affirmative Action. I have personally been victim of that lovely piece of legislation – as a white girl in high school, I was denied a state scholarship, because I was not black. I was told directly by the principal of our school, that they had a quota to fill, and that a young black man who had lower grades than me was getting the scholarship. I was happy for him, but furious because of the unfairness of the situation – this young man happened to live in an upper-class, white suburb, and his parents were far more well-off than mine were.

    I guess my point is that it goes both ways. Yes, there is racism amongst whites. But it is in every other race as well. And in other institutions, too. “White Privilege” is a blanket that people hide under to ignore the fact that racism exists in other forms, as well. If you’re going to cure the disease, you have to cure the WHOLE thing, not just one symptom.

    • Wasn’t there also some weirdness with Paula Deen using an all-black waitstaff at plantation events or something like that? I seem to remember there was more to the story as well.

      Affirmative Action as it exists today really does have issues- it’s not benefiting minority groups in the way that it’s meant to. Here’s a decent article, though not the one I was thinking of:

      And also, as you say, it can give advantages to someone who may not actually need them and overlook someone who does. It can also cause additional tension as white students may assume that any POC got into the school because of the color of their skin and not on their own merits, causing resentment and prejudgement of their intelligence.

      I definitely think it’s worth taking measures to help out less privileged groups, but the way we’re doing it now isn’t working. Better, perhaps, to focus on improving K-12 education in all areas so that AA isn’t needed.

    • Thank you. I found this article annoying. Yes, institutionalized racism is a problem and yes this can easily bleed over into subconscious “white woman” fears but the article is giving anecdotal “evidence” that is supposed to somehow include all of us white readers. Sorry, but if I hear a bump in the night, my first thought is a Joseph Duncan or Ted Kaczynski look alike. Not a black male. Is that because I live in a predominantly white area? Perhaps. But my bogey man just isn’t automatically the black youth that this article wants me to believe it is.

      Working together against individual and institutional racism is the goal here and I’m all for it. But it’s weird that this article is painting us all with the same individual brush when the supportive comments are claiming the point was the institutional racism that we face.

      I applaud the author for facing her ingrained ideas and agree that we should all challenge our fears and our long held (sometimes subconscious) beliefs. But please, don’t accuse us all of sharing those beliefs.

      (That’s kind of like saying that all straight people are homophobic because the power is held by the heterosexuals and that LGBTQ citizens are so often discriminated against and the system isn’t inclusive. It’s patently untrue that we’re *all* racist/homophobic/etc just because the system is against it. There may be a white hetero majority in America but there are many of us working to challenge that.)

      • I did not just provide anecdotal evidence. I linked to four studies: an ethnography that found that a common theme among women across racial, ethnic, and socio-economic groups is a fear of victimization by poor minority men; two psychology studies that found that people rate actions as more threatening when they are taken by black people; and a third psychology study that found that people more quickly associate weapons with black faces than with white faces.

        I used the fear of black men as an example not because it is the only or even the most important way that my racism manifests, but because it is incredibly common.

      • I didn’t think I had any ingrained biases either, growing up in a predominantly white community. But then I moved to a different state with a very different demographic. I had some ingrained biases that I didn’t know I had! Maybe they were there all along but not prompted to surface, or maybe it was exposure to the local news that differed so much from where I grew up where all the “bad guys” were white. Yes, you can get over a lot of your biases and perceptions, but it’s the nature of the beast that your feelings and actions can be subtle and subconscious.
        But the larger point is- it’s not about ME. I’m not the one who gets followed when I wear a sweatshirt into a store. I’m not the one who has to worry that my brother might be perceived as “threatening” and be shot.

  8. I’ve found that, as a fairly small and admittedly not-physically-strong woman, I feel some degree of fear passing men of any race if they’re in a large group or (and this is where my bias comes in) dressed in a stereotypically “thuggish” way. Like, black man in a suit or skinny jeans? I don’t think twice. White guy in a wifebeater and saggy pants with a “13” tattooed on his neck? Probably going to consider crossing the street. I have no idea if this bias has any justification in reality, but I can safely say it has a lot to do with which type of person I’ve gotten the most creepy comments and cat-calls from 🙁 Obviously that’s just my experience and maybe in my area, because I know other people have had PLENTY of comments from all sorts of guys. I haven’t figured out how to balance checking my bias with also maintaining my sense of personal security – I guess I’d rather been seen as classist than be harassed.

    It is a delicate thing when it comes to dealing with men as a lone woman – I once got yelled at in a parking lot for speeding up and looking behind me suspiciously when I heard a man walking very close behind me. The guy was African American and clearly thought I was being a racist bitch…but I didn’t even know what race he was ’til I turned around to see who was there!

    • For me, the group of young men doesn’t have to be in ‘thuggish’ attire. Maybe it’s sexist but I don’t trust groups of men period, regardless of race. I will admit I am biased towards groups of White men in certain areas (I’m a Black woman).

      • I think I’ve been very lucky in that I haven’t been personally victimized by men very much in my life, so I think I’m less sensitive to the presence of men than a lot of women are. That said, if I’m alone at night I’ll be pretty unhappy to run into any strange dude at all.

      • I have white skin and I think I’m actually more afraid of white men than any other race of men. However, I think that it’s because I didn’t/don’t have a lot of exposure to media, so I fear what I “know” (based on experience) to be violent/sexually frightening. My mom has darker skin than I do, as she’s Hispanic, and I think she’s more afraid of white men as well. Again, I think it’s due to experience vs media. Neither of us had much access to media growing up (her to any, and mine was very restricted), so I think it pushed us in that direction. I’m more scared of college-aged white men than of anyone else.

    • I am also more nervous about walking away from my stuff in public if there are teenagers in the park. I remember my theiving, pickpocketing social group back in high school. In my old neighborhood those teenagers tended to be mostly black, but what I was experiencing was ageism, not racism.

      However, to stay relevant to the article, I did force myself to go through a mental examination to make sure of that. “I am suddenly uncomfortable leaving my purse at the picnic table. What is it about this group of people that makes me feel this way? Would I feel still feel this way if they were all white? If they were all women? If they were all over the age of 20?” Honestly, it’s a good mental exercise to go through whenever you find yourself feeling uncomfortable.

      • I’m guilty of this kind of age-ism, too. I don’t like it about myself. I was a freaky teenager who spent lots of time with a group of similarly freaky teenagers, walking around aimlessly after dark in neighborhoods. Now, I’m the woman who feels uncomfortable when I see groups of teenagers walking around aimlessly in my neighborhood. It has little to do with the race of said teens (my neighborhood teen population seems pretty diverse, as was my friend group when I was a teen) and more to do with “these kids today are up to no good!”

        I’ve had my house burglarized, my sheds burglarized, and dealt with petty vandalism. The other day, I was home alone and a teenaged boy knocked on my door to ask me if I needed my grass mowed. I was disgusted at how fearful I was the rest of the day because all I could think was “If I hadn’t answered the door, he would have broken into my house!” The next day, the same boy came by and bummed a cigarette from me while I was sitting on my stoop. We ended up having a nice conversation; he lives across the street with his grandma. He just moved here. He misses his friends and his girlfriend. He’s 18 and starting college in the fall and is trying to mow grass and do odd jobs to save money for a car. You know…teenager stuff. After talking to him, I was even more ashamed of my perception, that I was afraid of him because he was a teen, and ALSO because he was a young black man with dreads, dressed in “street” fashion. If he’d been middle aged, knocking on doors asking to mow, I would have had less of a fearful reaction. If he’d been dressed differently, I probably would have too. It is uncomfortable to realize such things about oneself. But necessary I think.

      • When it comes to things being stolen, my answer to that is usually “You’re right, brain, I should be locking my purse away from old white women as well!”

        …but I’m pretty paranoid on that front.

    • I definitely experience the same thing, and it has made me rethink my classism and assumptions about poorer people/communities. It’s a prejudice too.

  9. This was a good article and important. However, racism is largely fueled by fear of the unknown. The best way to combat that is to make friends! I’m not saying to search out folks who are black (or Hispanic, or Asian, or Muslim ….). But when an opportunity arises – a neighbor, a co-worker, another parent at your kids’ activities, whatever – don’t shy away just because someone looks different. I was blessed to go to a high school with a racial mix of nearly 50/50 and had a few experiences of being in the minority. What I learned was that while there are sometimes cultural differences, under the skin, we all are pretty much the same. All most people want is for ourselves and our families to be healthy, happy, safe, and financially secure. Learning about cultural differences, while expanding your social circle will enrich your life.

  10. I just want to say, Rachel, thank you for this post. You’re already starting to get bristling replies which is par for the course with a topic as loaded as this, but I want you to know I think you did a good job getting the message across. Your writing is kind, but not unclear. And of course it’s necessary too.

    To everyone reading this and feeling attacked: Please take a breath. Please remember that Rachel isn’t attacking you, she is starting a very difficult conversation about a loaded topic. We’re taught from an early age that racism is wrong and ugly, but we’re also taught institutional systems of oppression in our day-to-day lives. We think we’re better than that — but we aren’t. By her own admission Rachel isn’t, and I know I’m not.

    Before you get angry and flounce, try reading the articles she’s thoughtfully linked at the end of her post. The worst thing that might happen is after it all, you still disagree. But maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll gain a new perspective.

  11. For the folks taking issue with the language of this article, it might help to know that “racism” and “privilege” defined this way (by power dynamics) is how sociology defines them in the study of social inequality. People without power hating people with power isn’t considered racism in sociological terms. The author’s examples of personal bias were meant to demonstrate that even without knowing it or wanting to, people participate in racism. That’s because it’s the status quo.

  12. While I don’t feel like she denied that groups other than whites are racist, I do have an issue with the idea that everyone’s racist. Being afraid of African American males isn’t normal. I have certainly never experienced it.

    Although I’m a white woman, I married a minority. My child is a minority. I don’t come from a place of unchecked privilege. I’ve had an African American woman make racial remarks about my spouse’s Asian ethnicity. I’ve had Asian Americans make rude remarks about why my spouse wanted a white woman. I’ve faced threats and harassment from white people who didn’t want an interracial couple living near them and known what it was like to lose sleep at night for fear of violence. This has all made me very reflective about my own attitudes and I can say, without a doubt, I’m not racist.

    Just because the author was ignorant of her own privilege doesn’t mean everyone is. I sincerely hope most white people aren’t. Perhaps some of us need more diverse life experiences, maybe some humbling ones, maybe even some scary ones.

    • I used the example of the fear of black men not because it is the only way my racism manifests, but because it is both easy to describe and incredibly, incredibly common. It is delightful that you have never experienced it! But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In fact, I linked to four different studies in this article that speak to exactly how pervasive it is. Even people who don’t believe they hold racist beliefs perceive the actions of black men to be more threatening than the same actions taken by white men. If you asked that people in the study, “Are you more afraid of black men than white men?”, they would probably say no. The data, however, says otherwise.

      My point is precisely that I am *not* unaware of my own privilege. I have read extensively on this subject. I know a great deal about how my whiteness provides me with advantage. But I can know all of that, believe all of that, and STILL be racist, because the racism exists beneath conscious thought.

      • I said that you had been unaware, not that you currently were. You became conscious of your own position or you would never have acknowledged those things. I’d argue that, for some reason, you were able to make it into adulthood without examining your own ideas and position in society. It’s not your fault, and it’s good that you’ve taken time out to be more thoughtful.

        However, I don’t like the fact that you try to speak for all white people. I grew up with minorities and never held any unusual attitudes toward them. As my comprehension grew, I began to understand my own position of privilege. I deal with racism on a regular basis, now, because of the family I’ve chosen, and I think my comprehension of the issue has deepened to the point where I can say I’m not racist. Period. Maybe reading isn’t a good substitute for actually throwing in your lot with your minority neighbors and being deeply invested in their lives.

        • Mrs. c, I think your family sounds wonderful. I really wish more people had as much experience with other cultures as you have. But, do you think that you have had equal experience with every single culture on the planet? Just because you are in an interracial relationship doesn’t mean you aren’t biased ever.

          My boyfriend is middle eastern. I have a question for you: if you were on a plane with your child, and you saw a group of middle eastern men sitting near you, speaking Farsi or Arabic quickly to one another…would you perhaps experience a fraction of a moment of doubt or fear? Would you hold your child tighter for just a second? Even if you wouldn’t, that’s just one example, but there are so many other cultures out there. I’ll be honest, even after being immersed in my boyfriend’s culture for over 7 years, I think I still might have that moment of fear. After that .05 seconds, I would, of course, come to my senses, but instincts are hard to override. Especially when we have them hammered in by society, practically since the day we were born. Does that mean I don’t love my boyfriend? or his family? of course not. It just means racism go really, really deep.

          Having a deep understanding of one culture (and a smattering of other cultures through friends or other acquaintances) is fantastic, but those social prejudices and racist thoughts are pretty deeply ingrained in our society.

          • I’ve had Middle Eastern, male friends, so no. I’ve allowed them into my home and shared hopes and dreams with them. (One of them even advised me and gave emotional support in the early stages of my relationship with my husbsnd.) I really think it’s hard to be racist against groups that have been important parts of your life. I don’t think I’ve excluded any groups of people from my life, and frankly, if I’m distrustful of someone who looks like a friend or family member, I’m not a good friend or family member. Of course my experiences with all cultures are not equal, but if there’s love there, I have a very strong reason not to be racist.

            If someone else told me they were nervous around Middle Eastern guys on a plane, I would think they were joking. I refuse to think I’m the only person who finds that ridiculous. I think of my friends, not what I might see on the news.

          • You’ve “allowed them into your home”? Umm…that statement feels weird to me.

            Also, I admitted that I MAY have a fraction of a second of doubt even after 7 years of being immersed in the culture. I’m being completely honest. Logically, no, of course I don’t believe the media, but it’s like brainwashing. It goes deeper than our conscious thoughts. Having friends and “sharing your hopes and dreams” doesn’t let you off the hook either. That’s like saying “I’m not racist, I have a (insert ethnicity) friend.” And I said above, this is one example, there are many, many more cultures out there.

            I just find it hard to believe you have complete understanding of all races and cultures.

            Also, if it’s such a “joke” to associate middle eastern men with terrorism, why was the first man arrested for the Boston Marathon bombing a middle eastern man? Because he was running away from an explosion…and was middle eastern. What about all the white guys running away too? Nobody tackled them.

          • You essentially accused me of racism because of the “allowed them into my home” comment. That was uncalled for. As a woman and a survivor of rape and attempted rape, allowing any man into my home indicates that they are in a position of trust. So yes, it is a big deal to be allowed into my home.

            I didn’t say I have a complete understanding of all races and cultures. I said I have enough to know I’m not racist. I know that I take everyone as they are and use my new relationships as a learning experience. I do not make assumptions. I have enough life experience and wisdom to know that assumptions are harmful and, generally, wrong. I allow people to teach me about themselves and don’t make my judgements based on other voices, but rather on the people themselves. I don’t need to know everything to avoid being racist.

            And I would never deliberately keep company with people who had that reaction to any group of people. Sure, I know a lot of folks do, but in my circle, something like that would only be said to mock backwards ideas. Just because it’s an attitude some people hold doesn’t mean it isn’t ridiculous. It is.

            No one can speak for all white people, just like no one can speak for all African American people or all women or any other group. My family has been intermarrying with other races for a long time. I grew up in an area where a lot of my playmates weren’t white. I hung around foreign students in college. I’ve lived and worked in ethnic neighborhoods as an adult. Half of my closet friends don’t look like me. My entire life has made me realize that judging someone based on race is like judging them based on hair color. It’s silly and cruel. I assure you I don’t do it.

            I’m not ignorant that other people do it, either. I suspect most of them don’t have enough close friendships with people outside their race, have a need to feel superior, had a bad experience they didn’t properly heal from, were taught improperly as children or consume too much mass media garbage. It’s unfortunate. However, I’m not them, nor do I stand idly by when I see unjust things happen in my community and social circle.

          • I’m very sorry about your prior experiences. I take back my statement. It did rub me the wrong way at first, but I understand what you meant now.

            I haven’t changed my opinion. Plus, were you not, effectively saying I didn’t care about my boyfriend and his family? You said, “I really think it’s hard to be racist against groups that have been important parts of your life.” after I admitted I might have a fraction of a second reaction in that situation. Isn’t that implying something as well?

            Plus, of course I think these ideas are ridiculous too. That isn’t the point. I think all the exact same logical thoughts as you are stating, but I admit that, maybe…somewhere in my subconscious…there could be deep seeded racist thoughts that are harmful. And while my rational brain of course knows what is right and wrong, I may have 1 second of doubt or fear. I just want to be self aware. I want to constantly be vigilant with my thoughts and why I think them. Even if they are for just a moment. I know I’m not perfect, nobody is, and I want to be constantly improving myself.

            Obviously we are at a stand still here, and I don’t think we can change each others views at this point. I really wish you all the best.

    • “Being afraid of African American males isn’t normal. I have certainly never experienced it.”

      me either, but i have been given to understand that it is pretty damn common. that said, it is only one example of the racism that people internalize living in our society. and i think it is extraordinarily important to examine how living within an institutionally racist society has manifested in yourself – counting all the ways that it has not manifested is not particularly helpful (i mean, it’s damn good for you and for life in general, it’s just not helpful to the *conversation*).

  13. I also wanted to thank you for writing this. Conversations around race and racism are always difficult, difficult conversations.

    I wanted to speak to the question of individual vs. institutional racism. They cannot always clearly be separated – an individual act of racism contributes to larger, institutionalized racisms. I thought this article talking about how the criminalization of black and brown men starts early on in educational systems provides powerful examples: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/14/opinion/charles-blow-michael-brown-and-black-men.html?_r=0

    • This is such a great point! It’s hard to say, “This is individual racism”, when we’re the individuals making up the institutions. Excellent link, too! I’ll add it to my link section of the post on my blog.

  14. Okay seriously, this shit needs to stop. When did the internet turn into the world’s biggest white guilt machine?! Yes, I acknowledge that things like white privilege exist but let me put it into perspective to you Americans.

    I live in South Africa. In this country, white people are the MINORITY and make up only 9% of the entire population. Whites are picked last for jobs, sports teams, home-, car- and personal loans, places in universities and schools, you name it, and to top it all off, whites are being murdered and tortured and raped purely for being white. Just last week my husband showed me an article of a white farmer who was tortured by more than one black man by having almost a gallon of petrol poured down his throat and then burned repeatedly. YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW OFTEN THIS HAPPENS. In fact, many whites go to sleep every night fearing for their very lives.

    Most white people in South Africa just want to get on with their lives peacefully and try to help others where they can regardless of their race so we all can build up the country together. Yet at every corner of the Internet they are labelled racists and monsters because of apartheid.

    I find these rants about white privilege on the internet really one-sided because none of these authors have EVER seen or experienced black privilege. And yes, it truly exists.

    Good on you for also implying that it’s only whites that are ever racists. How very close minded of you, author.

    • The author made it quite clear at the beginning of the article that she was specifically talking about the United States.

      “…American culture is so deeply steeped in it that it’s impossible to grow up in the US and not be racist.”

      • My comment is below, but I would warn others of saying that this is only happening in the US. Racism is rampant many countries (I could even say MOST, and potentially all), and to my worry is increasing. The new policies of many countries in Europe are not very friendly to immigrants or minorities, and particularly to minority immigrants. Much of the population of Latin America and Asia discriminate based on how dark someone is. There continue to be plaques on national landmarks in Taiwan depicting the darker aboriginals with big lips and tails! Also, you do not need to be in the majority as a population to be in the majority in terms of power and income distribution.

    • I think this article was definitely talking about western/white-majority cultures, but I did consider earlier pointing out that a few of the comments were very vague about that. Things aren’t the same everywhere (but unfortunately *people* are, which is why some form of racism seems to happen in just about every culture, perpetrated by people of just about every skin color. White people have historically been very good at colonizing and dominating so it gets discussed a lot, but it still happens in plenty of other cultures too. Plus, if you’re using an English-language-speaking corner of the internet, you’re going to mostly read about racial issues in English-language-speaking (ie, usually mostly white) countries.

    • Actually, in visiting South Africa I was appalled by how segregated and racist against blacks South Africa continues to be. There continue to be homes with tall tall gates with whites driving around, and blacks walking to and from their homes on the side of the highway. I understand why you feel like your race is being oppressed; it’s much easier to recognize and remember policies and actions that hurt you than those that benefit you, because those benefits have been there all of your life. I find it unlikely that whites are picked last for universities, since as a minority whites are very obviously OVER-represented in business, government, media and universities. Blacks continue to earn less than whites. Articles like those you cited are similar to the ones in the US – written by whites who are afraid, and yes racist, but not maliciously so. I’d recommend reading more about your own country from other sources than what you normally read.
      Again, I understand why this is hard for you, and for Americans to change your worldview. But try asking yourself – how many black people have you asked about what their life is like, and how they have been affected by racism. How many of their communities and homes have you visited? Take a breath, and ask – can you really tell how you are being unfairly treated compared to blacks if you haven’t seen South Africa through their eyes?

      • Essentially, what you saw is apartheid’s “old money” (which is also ridiculous because as far as I understand the apartheid government didn’t just hand out houses and land to white people, the majority of them had to work for it). For people my age it’s actually a whole different ball game – at least for those of us who stand on our own feet and not get by with the help of mommy and daddy. And you cannot judge what life is like in a country by merely visiting – you need to actually LIVE here.

        All in all, I just wish we could all get along. Humans have caused each other enough pain and damage. 🙁

      • …except, you do not actually LIVE here and you do not face life in this country EVERY SINGLE DAY. If it gets too hot for you here you can always run away to your safe first world country. Most of us here cannot do that, because as you know – our passports are useless and for South Africans there are a ridiculous amount of hoops to jump through to get a working visa anywhere in the first world. 🙁

        The truth is that many white people in South Africa DO fear black people and immediately see a black person as someone who only wants to hurt them. This is because of two reasons: apartheid wrongfully, unfairly and disgustingly taught our parents and grandparents of “swart gevaar” (“black danger”) and because most of the crime in South Africa is out of desperation and poverty, and I would say that about 90% of poverty in this country is unfortunately the black population. (But that is also extremely complicated in and of itself because of many variables that I am probably not qualified to discuss.)
        In no way do I (or many, many people regardless of race) agree with this, but that’s the way it is over here unfortunately.

        The point is, many white people in South Africa are outright being denied their citizenship and heritage because of their skin colour, despite being born and bred in South Africa, with the documents to prove it. You only have to spend ten minutes reading the comments on News24.com’s Facebook page to see how many black people tell whites to “go back to Europe” because “they are not true Africans and do not belong here”. (And yes, the white people retaliate and say absolutely disgusting things too – some which I cannot repeat here, you will have to see them for yourself. :/ )

        The point is, we are scared and there is probably a reason why you and your parents don’t live here anymore.

  15. Reading through these replies makes me shocked and saddened just how little insight, and how much defensiveness, some people have.

    Acknowledging you have some underlying reactions based on what you have been fed through the media and society does not make you a bad person. Acknowledging it makes you a GOOD person, an INSIGHTFUL person. Doing something about it makes you even better.

    I’m a white, middle-class woman, educated and paid well. I look around my office… the only person of colour (and that colour is Argentinian, not black), is male and more highly educated that me (something even more prized in my area of psychology). Although my place of work desperately wants more Maori and Pacific Island psychologists as most of our clients are from that ethnic base (I’m from New Zealand), we cannot hire them because they are so few across the entire country.

    Why? Because schooling systems, university systems, pay inequality and inequalities in access to assistance mean that less Maori and Pacific Island people are even able to ENTERTAIN the idea of entering this profession.

    I am most definitely aware of my own biases and reactions that come up (it’s part of my ethical responsibility, but I also think growing up in a town where the ethnic balance was more even than the country as a whole has something to do with it as well), and well aware of the biases in the system as well. I only have to look at my clients themselves for that.

    People of colour do not have higher statistics for poverty, child abuse, criminality and drug abuse because they want to. I will simply leave with that comment.

  16. For those of you who disagree with the OP and don’t think for a minute that you’re racist – I would recommend taking an implicit association test: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/selectatest.html

    Studies have shown that those who in surveys say that they are the least racist, reveal the most racial bias in the test. Just because you don’t do the exact same as the OP’s clearly personal example does not mean that you’re not racist. And again, that DOESN’T MAKE YOU A BAD PERSON. I really like how the OP says racism is more like a filter or tinted glasses – it just means you might not see all the oppression going on in America, in your state, or even in your neighborhood. And those who say that they are not racist at all – are again, not worse people, but they’re just not realizing that they have the filter on. And reading more and being aware of it can help the world be a better place. And that’s something we all want, right?

    (here’s one study, but if you google implicit association, race, survey you’ll find many others) https://politicalscience.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/attachments/iatrev.pdf

    • I remember seeing this study a while ago – and being fascinated that most black people also have an implicit pro-white bias.

      If you really think you’re not affected by race because you grew up and/or live in a very mixed community, that’s worth thinking about. Non-white people have similar biases to white people. That’s how deeply ingrained this stuff is an a structural, societal level.

    • …I did a few of these just now … and learned and interesting thing about myself. I’m a self-hating white person. X.x The vast majority of my underlying feelings tended towards a generalized distrust of white men. That was unexpected ….

  17. Hey guys, we’ve had to clean up a couple comments that have gone around the bend from disagreeing respectfully to rude and insulting.

    This is just a reminder that, while we know this is a tough topic and we want to provide a space for conversation and disagreement, we’re not ok with attacks or insults.

  18. I think this article suffers from an over sensationalized title. I thought parts of it were well written and it certainly discusses an important topic, but first impressions matter. If you want to encourage people to become aware of their own racial prejudices (or any prejudices, whether they are racial prejudices, age-related prejudices, religious prejudices, etc.) and have a discussion about what we can do as individuals to help address them as a society, then you should consider an approach that is more constructive. Otherwise, it leads to emotionally charged reactions (as seen in the respones to this post).

  19. I just also wanted to say thank you for writing this. I recently returned to the US after living for 3 years overseas in a very homogenous country and have been painfully aware of race here (along with other things like cars stopping for pedestrians…). It’s been hard to grapple with, especially because everyone here is so post-race and you can’t have a very honest discussion with most people.

    Anyway, these resources look extremely helpful and it’s nice to know other people are struggling with these issues, and the shame and honesty it takes to admit how institutionalized AND personal it is at the same time. I am especially sick of the “it’s not about race, it’s all about class” dismissive attitude. Because it IS about race and we need to admit that if we’re ever going to make things better.

    • These are important points, but I wanted to suggest that another way to think about this is to remember that we all exist in multiple positions of privilege or oppression, and that in fact these different positions impact each other. It’s about race AND class (and homophobia and transphobia and more).

      As I believe Audre Lorde once said, it’s a good idea to avoid the Oppression Olympics. I know she said: “I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. I cannot afford to believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group. And I cannot afford to choose between the fronts upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination, wherever they appear to destroy me. And when they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you.”

      Just because I was disadvantaged as a poor, rural girl growing up doesn’t mean that I haven’t benefited from white privilege. Class impacts my life, and so do race and gender (in my case, race grants me privilege). We don’t need to dismiss any of those to fight for a more just world, but we do need to think about how VERY, very powerful race is in the US – and how declaring a postracial society may actually increase its power. And we need to constantly think about how all of those axes of oppression inflect each other.

  20. These types of “only white people are racist and we’re bad and born racist etc etc” posts get under my skin because it seems to encourage self blame and self-hate of white people. White people are supposed to be ashamed that they are white and somehow take blame for the past history of this country. I’ve even read online that there are white people who believe it’s okay for non-white people to bully and threaten them because of “power” and “privilege”. Obviously that is an extreme, but the fact that this ideology is becoming popular shows how distorted the issue is. If you hate someone solely for their race, you are racist, and if you hate white people for being white, I can’t see how that isn’t racist.

    To think that white people have this power everywhere and it is not more complex is just not true. Commentors here have obviously never been an ethnic minority where they live before. I have white friends who went to black-majority schools who had to dress, talk, and act a certain way or they would be beat up and robbed almost every day. I’ve seen friends on the internet slammed with racial hatred aimed at white people ex. “cr*cker, h*nky, mayo-faced white bitch”, etc (I edit anything considered a slur. Opinions on this may vary). A friend of mine has been harassed by people of all races for being white and dating a black man. She lived in an apartment complex for years where she was the only white woman and other residents would purposefully slam into her walking by and would not look her in the eye or speak to her. DC area schools are actually having a lot of trouble with black vs. hispanic violence with the racism going both ways. My cousin who is a teacher took her chorus (black/hispanic) on a field trip once. They walked past an Asian family and her students started pulling the corners of their eyes back and chanting “ching ching chong”. An episode of a popular wedding dress show on TLC featured a white woman marrying an Indian man. She says up front that his family was mad that she was white and she had to dye her hair from blonde to dark brown so they would be more accepting. None of this behavior is acceptable.

    When you simplify race relations to “white people are racist”, that becomes a finality and ends very intense and complex discussion that surrounds these issues. Race relations and racism go much deeper than that. Also, when you fail to educate people past “white people are racism”, some people treat it as a “get out of jail free” card and a lot of severe and sometimes violent problems arise.

    I’m actually surprised this post is here, especially with OBH posting that outstanding article on cultural appropriation and being a social justice warrior. This feels like something I’d see on Tumblr.

    • That’s very interesting – I actually saw the opposite of self-hate happening in the post.

      I can acknowledge that I benefit from white privilege (after all, my great great grandparents received land under the Homestead Act – which rests firmly on the shoulders of Native American genocide). I don’t hate myself, but I do consider it my responsibility to work towards a world in which I am neither disadvantaged for being poor or a woman nor advantaged for being white or straight. That’s not self hate – it’s my vision of the world in which I’d prefer to live.

    • i didn’t see an inkling of encouragement for self-hatred in this. self awareness, yes, but that is a drastically different thing. there is no shame in being white, but there is enormous shame in choosing not to think critically about it.

  21. I just want to say how appreciative I am of this small, civilized corner of the internet. This is an exceptionally loaded topic and warrants good debate, and I’m amazed at how respectful the conversation has remained. Thank you, Rachel, for writing such an honest and important post. And thank you, moderators, for keeping the discussion respectful. BIG internet hugs to you all!

    And on a more relevant note – I am a white woman living in the US, and I only began really examining my white privilege in the last two years since we moved from a city with very little racial diversity to a city with very high diversity. It’s sometimes uncomfortable and has involved a lot of self-questioning (Why did I shift my purse across my body when that person walked by? Why did I think that man was homeless?), but I really believe it’s made me a better person. Thank you for the links, I look forward to checking it out.

Read more comments

Join the Conversation