How to Not Be Racist: Chapter 1
The University of Michigan just scored an “F” on racial equity in a public university study.
And since we are in the spirit of writing guides, I thought it would only be right to create a guide where a Black student attempts to educate their peers on how to be a little more civil and culturally competent.
I write this to the incoming college student, and anyone who might’ve gotten too much exposure to Fox News.
I write this to all of the racist, sexist, bigots in the classroom and around campus.
I write this to the parents who failed miserably to educate their pasty-ass kids in their lily-white neighborhoods.
I write this to the professors who’ve essentially told me that they’re sorry, but I need to sit down, shut up, and deal with it.
I write this as solace — in solidarity to those who have had to put up with too much for too long from their oppressors.
“I am tired of being sick and tired.” — Fannie Lou Hamer
Chapter 1 - Basics/101
Shit You Should Know, But Your Parents Probably Failed to Learn and Teach You
Racism is not just being a part of the Ku Klux Klan.
Racism is also an attitude, in which you would prefer not to get involved with issues of race, or understand how race works and operates to keep minorities around you disenfranchised.
Racism is putting your own comfort over the lives of the marginalized and oppressed.
In America, you have two options when it comes to racism:
Ignore all of this, and continue perpetuating the problems.
See exactly how this is, fight against it and stand up to it.
Sitting and repeating “I’m not racist” does absolutely nothing to change racism.
And pretending that you do not see it definitely does not change anything.
I am tired of sitting in a class full of white racist students who have done nothing to educate themselves on how race works and operates in this country.
Their “opinions” work to maintain the status quo and actively endanger my livelihood.
I wrote this so that you can be better, and so that this country doesn’t have to fall for the same reasons Rome did: the failure to incorporate people of different backgrounds into society.
“But I’m not racist! I don’t see race! I’m colorblind.”
In any conversation about race in modern America, resorting to “colorblindedness” is a defense mechanism in order to avoid talking about race because you “don’t see it.”
“But then what do you do at a stop light?” — Trevor Noah
Put bluntly in the words of writer Hayley Burroughs, colorblindedness does the following:
“It denies cultural heritage and negative racial experiences.
It discourages people from acknowledging the racism they face.
It views racism at the individual level without looking at the larger societal, institutional, and structural mechanisms in which racism operates.
It assumes we live in a country where race no longer matters, even though is still a major issue.
It invalidates people’s identities.
It narrows white people’s understanding of the world, disconnecting them.”
We all see color, or, more importantly, are capable of understanding that someone’s race affects how they move throughout the world. We know that obtaining money/resources does not alleviate racial struggle. As a result, colorblindedness ideology encourages and fosters racism, as it fails to recognize the economic, political and social differences within race.
Racism is alive and well in America. And it’s not going away anytime soon.
Resources on Colorblindness, and introductions to power and privilege:
https://medium.com/@timjwise/hey-conservatives-facts-dont-care-about-your-feelings-either-44957ceb6285 (HEY, A WHITE MAN WROTE THIS)
The History of White People, Nell Irvin Painter
If you don’t have time to read the book, here’s some great reviews:
The Effect of Colorblind Racial Ideology on Discussion of Racial Events: An Examination of Responses to the News Coverage of the Trayvon Martin Shooting
Racism Is Over
Racism is not over.
It is built into the fabric of American society — into how suburbs, cities, education systems, income levels and every single tier of existence are created.
This system, which has been fashioned in America over centuries, is far too complex to be broken down in this starter guide.
But to be fair, let’s look at just a few recent statistics on discrimination.
Blacks and whites in Educational Attainment:
As you can see from the data above, Blacks and Hispanics are enrolling more in college than ever — but why are they conferring less bachelor’s degrees?
Spoiler alert: It’s not because they’re lazy. Maybe it’s due to the institutional barriers they’ve been facing since they were children.
The idea of education being the great equalizer is a tall tale at best. The “American dream” is largely dead. And even though exceptions exist, social mobility has remained stagnant and even decreased over the past 30 years.
In Harvard's "Civil Rights Project," “Lee and Orfield identify family background as the most influential factor in student achievement. A correlation exists between the academic success of parents with the academic success of their children. Only 11% of children from the bottom fifth earn a college degree while 80% of the top fifth earn one.”
Maybe institutional and generational wealth has something to do with all of this, because people of color haven’t had access to the “old boys network,” or nepotistic practices — those white people have had to keep their wealth insulated for years.
More Resources on understanding this:
Lee, Chungmei; Gary Orfield (2005). "Why Segregation Matters: Poverty and Educational Inequality". The Civil Rights Project. Harvard University: 1–47.
Leonhardt, D. & Scott, J. (2005). Class matters: Shadowy lines that still divide. New York Times.
Haycock, Kafi (2001). "Closing the Achievement Gap". Helping All Students Achieve. 58: 6–11.
"Classroom Instruction and Teacher Training for Gifted Students from Diverse Populations". National Association for Gifted Children. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
Or, you could just scroll to the bottom of this page and start researching.
Blacks and whites in Household Income:
The data below show that there is around a $30,000 income disparity between the median Black household income and the median white household income.
Spoiler alert: it’s not that the Blacks are lazy!
“In 2016, the most recent year for which all of these data are available, the median black worker earned 75 percent of what the median white worker earned in an hour; the median black household earned 61 percent of the income the median white household earned in a year; and the value of net worth for the median black family was just 10 percent of the value for the median white family. Related to these relative proportionate differences is also a wide range of absolute differences. While median hourly wages vary by a few dollars ($14.92 for black workers, $19.79 for white workers), the difference in median household income is tens of thousands of dollars ($39,490 for black households, $65,041 for white households), and the difference in median family net worth is hundreds of thousands of dollars ($17,600 for black families, $171,000 for white families).” — Valerie Wilson, Economic Policy Institute
Blacks and whites in Unemployment:
“In 1954, the earliest year for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has consistent unemployment data by race, the white rate averaged 5% and the black rate averaged 9.9%. Last month, the jobless rate among whites was 6.6%; among blacks, 12.6%. Over that time, the unemployment rate for blacks has averaged about 2.2 times that for whites.” — PEW Research Center
Is it clear yet?
Disparities between whites and Blacks exist. Racism is alive and well.
And if this sounds like you, stop drinking this shit: https://youtu.be/xdyin6uipy4
“Victim Mentality”/“Victimhood”/ “If you don’t like it here, then leave!”
“Why is it so easy for white people to fix their barely-there lips or curl their fingers to tell people of color to leave the country if they don’t like it?
I wanna ask them why they don’t leave? Most, if not all, white people know their lineage. So why not go back to where they came from? After all, their ancestors chose to come here. Mine were stolen from Africa.” — WOC Allies
White people have been saying “Go back to your country” for ages, even though they all should be the first to leave. You stole this country from Native Americans. You committed genocide to keep it. You profited off Black and people of color’s labor for centuries to build this nation. You even created immigration loopholes to benefit from cheap labor. See: the Bracero Program. And now you want us to leave, so you can reap all the benefits? Further, many racists assert that if you acknowledge how racism affects you, a community or any social or political interaction, you are playing the victim.
I’m here to tell you — that’s categorically false.
If someone stabs you, do you just say, “Oh, it’ll heal itself”? Acknowledging institutional racism exists isn’t antithetical to social progress. Acknowledging wrongdoing is the healthiest way to move on and repair damage that has been done to communities for centuries.
Someone is not a victim for acknowledging what has happened to them.
And now, some common myths that derail actual conversations on racism:
MYTH: The Irish were slaves, too. You don’t see me complaining.
The Irish were never slaves.
“While it is true that anti-Irish sentiment was present in the United States until well into the 20th century, but that is a separate issue from 17th century indentured servitude,” Leslie Harris, a professor of African-American history at Northwestern University, said. “The descendants of indentured servants, Irish or otherwise, did not face a legacy of racism similar to the one faced by people of African descent.” Harris also notes “an indenture implies two people have entered into a contract with each other but slavery is not a contract . . . It is often about being a prisoner of war or being bought or sold bodily as part of a trade. That is a critical distinction.”
2. MYTH: Asians are able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps - why can’t you all?
Asians are not, and have not, been subjected to the same complex and purposeful systems that were built to oppress Blacks.
Let me emphasize: Asians definitely were (and are) discriminated against. There were lynch mobs, housing discrimination, internment camps and immigration quotas to oppress Asian people. But the system that oppressed Blacks has been here longer, was enforced more brutally and has remained to this day.
Let us not forget: Asians were not subjected to as heavily as a community to slavery, black codes, segregation, redlining, ghettos, police brutality and prison systems. And let’s remember that stereotypes cast Asians as smart and workaholics, while Blacks are portrayed as lazy, dangerous and dumb. These stereotypes can cost jobs, opportunities and even lives.
The struggles that Asians and Blacks went, and continue to go through, are completely different. Asians came over mostly as willing economic migrants or as refugees fleeing war. Blacks were forcefully taken from their homelands to work as slaves.
3. MYTH: I am not responsible for my ancestors’ ills.
Yes, yes you are.
Whether your ancestors owned slaves and exploited their labor to gain familial wealth, or you are simply white, you are benefitting from a system created to help you succeed.
Most recently, the history of immigration law, civil rights law, and this country at large has one people's history at large. Name one law that helped Black people that wasn’t undoing some shit white people did.
You benefit from their ills every day.
As Jeanne Curran, a emeritus faculty member at California State University-Dominguez Hill campus wrote, “When past actions, such as colonialism and/or slavery, exploited some and privileged others, the exploitations and privileges became part of our system of law through the unstated assumptions of privilege. The law was created by the privileged, and so reflects their perspective to the exclusion of the perspective of those colonized, enslaved, or exploited. To the extent that we continue to take advantage of the unstated assumptions of privilege on which our current system is based, we continue to bear responsibility for the effects those unstated assumptions have on people harmed by them.” She goes on to say, “Institutional racism is racism that arises from the rules and normative structure of social interaction in personal relationships and in institutions, rather than from any discriminatory or racist intent of an individual perpetrator. In other words, some acts of discrimination and racism occur because someone, operating on racist or discriminatory assumptions and beliefs, intends to exclude or harm a specific group or person. But other acts of discrimination and racism occur simply because ‘that's the way we do things,’ or because ‘we're just following the rules.’”
4. MYTH: Get over it. Slavery was so long ago.
For more on why you shouldn’t blame Black people for what you did to them.
5. MYTH: Africans were complicit, and sold other Blacks into slavery.
Africans and Europeans had different definitions and understandings of what a slave was, so don’t even start with “Africans were complicit in the slave trade” when there is little evidence to support that they did understand the totality of what they were doing.
For more on why you shouldn’t blame Black/Indigenous/Hispanic/Latinx people for what you did to them:
Partners or Captives in Commerce?: The Role of Africans in the Slave Trade
Herbert J. Foster Journal of Black Studies Vol. 6, No. 4 (June., 1976), pp. 421-434 (14 pages)