This is a guest post by Jasmin Smith (my wife), recent Sociology graduate and prospective Humanities teacher in support of International Blog Against Racism Week: http://community.livejournal.com/ibarw/
Race and racism are two concepts deeply entrenched in Western society, yet they are so commonly misunderstood. Racism describes prejudice or discrimination based on skin colour whereas race is merely an imaginary concept that segregates people into distinct social groups based solely on the colour of their skin. The existence of racism rests entirely upon this ‘reality’ of race. Consequently, the truth of racism is also a lie.
The Illusion of Race
We live in a multicultural, multiethnic world in which it has become normal to identify ourselves by our race. However, despite variations in skin tone, hair texture, and cultural practices today’s geneticists will tell you that race does not exist biologically. In fact, there is far more genetic variation found within a race than between different races.
This supports what sociologists have been saying for decades: that race is not real; it is a socially constructed phenomenon based solely on visible physically differences. Race is so fictitious a concept that in the post-emancipation U.S. a man could be considered Black in one state, and White in another!
The Very Real Consequences
Although race is not real, the effects of racial differentiation; however, are very real. Not every racial group experiences racism in the same manner or to the same degree. Racialized groups (those who society labels “visible minorities”) continually face institutionalized, racial discrimination based solely on stereotypes attached to our skin tone.
Non-racialized groups (most people who self-identify as White) also face the effects of institutionalized racism. By this statement I’m not referring to the concept of ‘reverse racism’ — which, like race, is baseless.
While racialized groups face many disadvantages from racism, on the other side of the coin non-racialized people enjoy the many benefits of being free from the racialization process. These advantages are otherwise known as White Privilege.
It’s easy, or should be easy, for us to point out racist stereotypes and blatant forms of racial discrimination. Where things become more difficult is identifying areas of institutionalized (or normalized) racial discrimination — this has been especially hard for non-racialized people to understand. This is where assessing White Privilege is most helpful. Although understanding the concept of White Privilege remains elusive to most of us, it illuminates the nature of racism by showing the other side of the coin. Where one group suffers, another gains.
According to McIntosh:
I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.”
Her 50 daily effects of White Privilege are listed below. I encourage you to read through these, take a look at your life and add your own experiences to the list:
- I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
- I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.
- If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
- I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
- I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
- I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
- When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
- I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
- If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
- I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
- I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person’s voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.
- I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
- Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
- I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
- I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
- I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their race.
- I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.
- I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.
- I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
- I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
- I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
- I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
- I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
- I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge", I will be facing a person of my race.
- If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.
- I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
- I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.
- I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.
- I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me.
- If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.
- I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.
- My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.
- I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.
- I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
- I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
- If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.
- I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.
- I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.
- I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.
- I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
- I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
- I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.
- If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.
- I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.
- I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.
- I can chose blemish cover or bandages in "flesh" color and have them more or less match my skin.
- I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.
- I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.
- My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.
- I will feel welcomed and "normal" in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.