Let’s talk about race. Wait. Did you feel that quiver in your boot? I do almost every time the topic comes up. And that’s perfectly fine and understandable, because race discussions, dialogues and debates rarely end respectfully and are often cast as “us vs. them.” These conversations frequently start in one of two ways. The first is with a generally curious question after an article is posted on Facebook. The second is in general, everyday conversations between people — people who are more than their race, but who at times forget the complexity we’re all entitled to have as humans. So, being a little uncomfortable is OK. It means you’re learning.

Recently, I have noticed a sentiment surfacing in many of the conversations I see about race. I wanted to talk about this sentiment — this question, really — that I’ve observed. It’s a question that, before I gained a deeper understanding this past semester, I would ask others while trying to weed through what we have come to call race and racism.

The question: “Well, isn’t that racist against white people?”

Well, no. I know, I know, your mind is blown, right? I didn’t believe it either. How could the same racist behavior against someone who is white not be racism? The reason is that racism — despite popular belief — is not an ideology. Racism is a system.

This revelation was a shocker for me. As a biracial person — white and Black (note the omission of half there) — I have often felt a need to understand these concepts to, in some way, reconcile my heritages. In the years I’ve been at the University, while I acknowledged the fact I had much more to learn, I felt that I was truly coming to an understanding of it all. After all, I was the person who would start the debate on the Upworthy article posted on Facebook and could hold the conversation.

And now racism isn’t an ideology? It just didn’t make sense. I was confronted with this assumption during a class trip to the Charles H. Wright Museum. While there, I challenged a friend on her views toward white people (I’ll admit, I was slightly offended) and asked the golden question, “How is that not racist against white people?” Her response — slightly akin to stand-up comedian Aamer Rahman’s response — was that it wasn’t racist because racism is a system. “Reverse racism isn’t a thing, Michael,” she said. I was uncomfortable and so I didn’t believe her at first. I took it as her opinion, not necessarily as a scholarly view on the topic, because I just didn’t understand it. That’s what I was used to: everyone had their own ideas of what was and wasn’t racist. Or so I thought.

Then I saw Aamer’s routine and read an article by writer Olivia Cole about white students who filed a discrimination suit against a Black teacher. I looked into Jane Elliot’s modules on racism and discrimination and finally it clicked. Racism is a system. Granted, discrimination can go across the racial divide, yes, but racism cannot. Racism is the divide. Anyone can discriminate and be discriminated against, but racism is reserved for those in power in a particular social structure. Does that make the discrimination OK? Of course not. In a world growing ever more diverse, we need to learn how to close this divide.

As the late Nelson Mandela once said, “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.” Racism is among those man-made constructions. Its deconstruction — its eradication, even — can only start with understanding and learning to be OK with being uncomfortable. After all, like Kid President said, “If you want to change the world you have to know about it.”

Michael Chrzan is an LSA and Education junior.

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