RacismThis 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.

To make this process easier, Social Theorist Peggy McIntosh in her piece, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack outlines 50 daily effects of White Privilege she herself experiences.

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:

  1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.
  3. 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.
  4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
  5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  7. When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
  8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
  9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
  10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
  14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
  15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
  16. 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.
  17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.
  18. 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.
  19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
  20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
  21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
  22. 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.
  23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
  24. 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.
  25. 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.
  26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
  27. 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.
  28. 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.
  29. 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.
  30. 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.
  31. 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.
  32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.
  33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.
  34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
  35. 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.
  36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.
  37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.
  38. 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.
  39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.
  40. 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.
  41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
  42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.
  43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.
  44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.
  45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.
  46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in "flesh" color and have them more or less match my skin.
  47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.
  48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.
  49. 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.
  50. I will feel welcomed and "normal" in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.
  • Fascinating piece. I found myself getting a little angry at what I face. (Though this piece did not trigger it. Just reminded me.) As a Native American who looks white, I hear insults to my culture constantly. And I am supposed to think that is funny. I was called into Human Resources at work because I said I thought Columbus Day was a stupid holiday to be celebrating in the 21st century. Though the reason I said this is because he decimated our population (among other things), I was told I insulted Italians and Spanish people, which I did not. I find it interesting that they are cautious to be so P.C. but obviously never looked at my HR record to see how I identify myself (or did not care). And this is just one example.
    I honestly can not believe we have not moved beyond race as a term for judgment in our species. We are, all of us, human. Why do we keep maintaining and building more walls when we should be working together to fix other graver ills that haunt our species? Damned if I know the answer to that or how to fix it but I am listening and seeking a solution.

  • Pavel

    I can understand why people hate racism – it brought much suffering to many people throughout history.

    But why make science a victim of politics?

    Race can be easily observed and if some instances race of a person is unclear because of his looks, that doesn’t go against the concept in general.

    A niceassesment by forensic anthropologist and professor of anthropology George W. Gill:

    The ‘reality of race’ therefore depends more on the definition of reality than on the definition of race. If we choose to accept the system of racial taxonomy that physical anthropologists have traditionally established—major races: black, white, etc.—then one can classify human skeletons within it just as well as one can living humans. The bony traits of the nose, mouth, femur, and cranium are just as revealing to a good osteologist as skin color, hair form, nose form, and lips to the perceptive observer of living humanity. I have been able to prove to myself over the years, in actual legal cases, that I am more accurate at assessing race from skeletal remains than from looking at living people standing before me. So those of us in forensic anthropology know that the skeleton reflects race, whether ‘real’ or not, just as well if not better than superficial soft tissue does. The idea that race is ‘only skin deep’ is simply not true, as any experienced forensic anthropologist will affirm.


    “Those who believe that the concept of race is valid do not discredit the notion of clines, however. Yet those with the clinal perspective who believe that races are not real do try to discredit the evidence of skeletal biology. Why this bias from the ‘race denial’ faction? This bias seems to stem largely from socio-political motivation and not science at all. For the time being at least, the people in ‘race denial’ are in ‘reality denial’ as well. Their motivation (a positive one) is that they have come to believe that the race concept is socially dangerous. In other words, they have convinced themselves that race promotes racism. Therefore, they have pushed the politically correct agenda that human races are not biologically real, no matter what the evidence.”


  • first, it is global, not western. every culture. micro-tonal differences of brown, not a black or white in sight, behave this way too.
    second, brain research shows it is difference, not color, that people notice (costume trumps skin color).
    third, if there is really just one race, the human race, why write this article? because the article wants to emphasize difference.
    four, stupid people are everywhere. stupid is not racist, anybody can be it, and it underlies racism. being stupid is the problem, racism is just one of its expressions.

  • It was implied but I guess not explicitly stated in the post that this particular issue of White Privilege/racism discussed applies mostly to the North American context, and I suppose also Britain, Australia, South Africa, and other “White” nations.

    White Privilege hasn’t always just been about the colour of ones skin, that’s the CURRENT manifestation of the issue. 100 years ago (and even more recently) in Canada and the US the Irish, Italians, and Jewish people were all considered BLACK–they were racialized… yes, I did say Irish and as such they faced every bit of racism as people of colour. Today Jewish people particularly religious Jews are still racialized and face their unique from of racism: anti-Semitism.

    And the post was indeed written to emphasize difference. Difference in treatment, not difference in “humaness.”

  • Thank you so much for your comment Emma. I’m sorry that you had to endure that and I couldn’t agree with you more about Columbus Day!

    It’s actually very fitting that you bring up Columbus because racism as we know it today actually arose from the colonial expansion of Columbus’ era. The real story about Columbus is that he was far more interested in GOLD than land. Through his capitalistic drive he enslaved Native Americans to mine the gold (and silver), in a system of terror with people dying from being over-work, from disease, torture, and mass-murder (and I can’t bear to repeat what they did with these peoples’ bodies). Within 50 years of this system Columbus initiated 99.9% of the Tianos population had perished – that’s genocide, not a reason for a national holiday so I applaud you Emma for standing up for what’s right.

    The genocide of Native Americans spread rapidly throughout early America and soon new sources of slave labour were “needed.” Enter the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade of my ancestors… and well I guess that’s where the history books pick up the account. When human beings “of colour” were no longer considered people, but easily replaceable commodities for trade, modern racism was born.

  • I find it so sad that these types of discussions still have to be had. I agree with Gregory Lent: ignorance and stupidity prevail.

    I must say that I do not offend easily, and while I’m sure some, or all, of these experiences may be personal to you, or the writer, I find this post a good bit slanted against “whites” and in point of fact racist in and of itself.

    I find it hard to believe that being so educated, you would seek to use that education as a shield – and in this regards a club – in order to make such a broad – and reaching – over-generalization as to offend without thought of those “whites” who would have nor mean you no harm – nor have such privilege.

    While you probably have been exposed to some of this behavior, and for that I am deeply saddened, I am torn between your belief in attempting to confront such ignorance and the simple fact that generalizations are some of the worst forms of bigotry.

  • ok, everybody everywhere treats people different from themselves differently. and your white privilege meme is true in every culture, on every continent, even within cultures where there are no “whites”. differences are everywhere, differences in treatment are everywhere. … what can be done about it?

    and as an aside, any self-identity that is a subset of the whole is guaranteed to bring problems with it, because it needs an “other” in order to exist.

    it is high time on this planet for all people to have only one self-identity, and that is “human”.

  • I think it’s important to point out that list of 50 points of White Privilege are a personal list that PEggy McIntosh (a White American feminist) says she experiences in her own life. It’s not meant to be a generalization that all White people experience White Privilege in the same manner she does… in fact, as a Black woman, I’ve experienced one or two of those points myself. It’s not meant to generalize, but to get the discussion going.

    Looking at McIntosh’s list can help White people to acknowledge the benefits of not being racialized (not having a set of broadly applied negative stereotypes attached to you with no regard for your individual character–all based on the colour of your skin). By acknowledging White privilege, it can help these same people to begin understanding what we racialized people must deal with on a daily basis. I can take most of the items on her list, inverse them and that’s my life and the lives of many others like me! That’s the point.

    And I agree that it is sad that these types of discussions still have to happen. And what my education has taught me is that generalizing is indeed dangerous and racial stereotyping is just that: generalizing. This piece is a social commentary against that process. White Privilege is a social fact in the Americas. No it does not effect all White people the same way, and no, not all White people are privy to it.

    Issues of race are also intersected by socio-economic status, age, gender, education etc. to form a complete package a stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination that affect ALL people. This post focuses on race.

    My education has also taught me why race continues to be such a salient issue in the West. There are many reasons, but the one that I feel is the most important to remember is that colonialism, slavery, and segregation are still RECENT history. Those scars will take several more generations to heal. That is why this issue is so important to discuss and acknowledge. Until we go back to living in a world where colour truly doesn’t matter, courageous people will continue to fight against this injustice.

  • it’s ok to go forward to living in a world where colour truly doesn’t matter, and to do that courageous people will have to stop thinking in terms of colour.

  • yes, it will be wonderful when race is not a factor again (it’s a fairly recent social issue). but unless and until that happens people like myself will continue to speak out.

    the post was intended for a North-American/Western context as is made obvious by the items in McIntosh’s list of 50.

    and of course there is much social stratification in countries throughout the world, but I’m not talking about the world in this particular post.

    What can be done about it? It’s my personal belief that it will take several more generations before the West heals from the effects of racism, and skin colour no longer matters. So in the mean time we can start with educating ourselves, our children and others about the issue. Acknowledge our own prejudices so we can rid ourselves of them and ensure that our prejudices never turn into acts of discrimination. Actively fight against racism by speaking out when we see it and correcting people who practice it — right down to the level of stereotyping.

    It’s a start, but you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge so being “blind to race” adds to the problem, it’s not a solution. Gradually the tide will turn and racism will be no more — but I don’t see that happening in my lifetime! Here’s hoping for my great great great grandkids’ kids!

  • You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge so being “blind to race” adds to the problem, it’s not a solution.

    Sometimes I think people are so ignorant about there own prejudices. They’ll say, “I’m not a racist, I have plenty of Black friends.” and then without being conscious of it their blood pressure elevates and they get nervous if say, their alone in an elevator with a young Black man (for example).

    It would be better in my humble opinion if we would just throw it all out there, be open and honest iwth ourselves about our prejudices so that we can actively work to get rid of them.

    If there’s an elephant in the room, closing your eyes doesn’t make it disappear.

  • you have defined yourself in such a way that you need racism in order to be you. only you can change that.

  • Jasmin, I would think all of us have experienced 1 or 2 of these in our life. I would not think that is at debate here. You however seem to indicate that “white” people and the “western” world should take note. It would be my observation the entire world experiences this issue.

    Race is most commonly misrepresented when individuals in fact are pointing towards nationality or ethnic descent. This has been of issue, and continues to be of issue (e.g. Bosnia, Palestine, Darfor, etc.).

    I don’t care whether Ms. McIntosh is white, black, yellow, or purple. Her points are not well received, and your use of her points in support of your arguments are equally not well received. I would liken this as you building a house on quicksand.

    To your point of your education teaching you “race continues to be such a salient issue in the West”, I wonder why you do not make mention of those issues on-going in the “East” – as if there were some arbitrary line dividing you and I, or us and them.

    True, our society does indeed still bear the scares of inequality and separte-but-equal – but how far do we have to torture ourselves? I do not think anyone does not acknowledge there were issues, and continue to be issues, we have to overcome. However, you would suggest reopening the bandages and pouring salt freshly on our wounds as the treatment for our ill.

    It is not pain nor spite that will heal our wounds, Jasmin. No it is understanding, love and an attitude of service that will right those wrongs. It is my job to serve you, as an equal human being, just as it is for you to serve me. We pay it forward, and should not expect in kind or unkind any gesture of repayment. We do this because of our comitment to make not only the world better, but each other.

    While you you say you seek to ‘educate’ me, I would kindly offer that I believe it is you who remain somewhat closeminded to the broader picture.

    You speak strong words, “Until we go back to living in a world where colour truly doesn’t matter, courageous people will continue to fight against this injustice.”

    Do you fashion yourself truly fighting for a “cause” with posts like this? I will readily admit, I do not know you, and I do not know your heart. But how else am I, a world away, to know what your heart truly seeks without your words being that window into your soul? In this brief interaction, I would submit that as long as you believe in the things of this world, you will be subject to its rule.

    Thank you for your thoughts. I do not agree with your assertions, but welcome your right to speak your peace.

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  • Well said, Gregory.

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  • I will always say I’m not racist… This does not mean I do not have prejudices. I’m not partial to mayonaise with peanut butter, I do not like eggplant parmesian, and I watch over my shoulder if i’m walking down a city street at 11:00 at night. These are all prejudices in some shape or form.

    I am with you in regards to throwing your opinion out there. Let’s get real, people, by all means!

    However, it seems as if you brought the elephant with you this time, Jasmin.

  • The science of race may be trivial, but one cannot argue down the consequences of race that face visible minorities today.

    That would be foolish.

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  • Fred

    Fuck you, nigger!

  • Ben

    Jasmin, have you read the paper 'Genetic Structure, Self-Identified Race/Ethnicity, and Confounding in Case-Control Association Studies' by Hua Tang,1 Tom Quertermous,2 Beatriz Rodriguez,4 Sharon L. R. Kardia,5 Xiaofeng Zhu,6 Andrew Brown,7 James S. Pankow,8 Michael A. Province,9 Steven C. Hunt,10 Eric Boerwinkle,11 Nicholas J. Schork,12 and Neil J. Risch3,13?

    They found that people's self-identified race/ethnicity is a nearly perfect indicator of their genetic background.

    James Serpell’s The Domestic Dog:

    ”Recently using genetic and biochemical methods researchers have shown domestic dogs to be virtually identical . . . to other members of the genus . . . Results using mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) data . . . reveal startling similarities among canids . . . Greater mtDNA differences appeared within the single breeds of Doberman Pinscher or poodle than between dogs and wolves . . . to keep things in perspective, it should be pointed out that there is less mtDNA difference between dogs, wolves, and coyotes, than there is between ethnic groups of human beings.” (pp. 32-33)”

  • Great post, really help me alot. Thanks.


  • excellent job done by Mr. and Mrs. Smith!

  • Hope that other people would get to read this and widen their vision of racism and gender equality.

  • I hear insults to my culture constantly. And I am supposed to think that is funny.

  • I’m glad you chose to share this. Though some of those statements aren’t universal truths. I usually don’t self identify as white on any forms.