02 Why Does Race Matter?
WHY DOES RACE MATTER?
“That which we often call the ‘American Dream’ is built fundamentally upon violent affirmative action programs for white people.
If you do not understand white supremacy – what it is and how it works – everything else will confuse you.” – Neely Fuller
“We have a system of advantage, based on race…It is all about power. It revolves on power.” –Racial Equity Institute
“The legacy of that assault [slavery], its lingering and lethal effect, continues to this day. It flares in broken homes and blighted communities, in low wages and social chaos, in self-destruction and self-hate too. But so much of what ails us – black people that is – is tied up with what ails you – white folk, that is. We are tied together in what Martin Luther King, Jr. called a single garment of destiny. Yet sowed into that garment are pockets of misery and suffering that seem to be filled with a disproportionate number of Black people.” –Michael Eric Dyson
“Racism is a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks.” –Dr. Camara Jones
“The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes Black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you.
Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.” –Scott Woods
“How often do we actually let slavery sink in, how recent it was, and how monstrous? The people who called themselves white, people who looked like me, claimed the right to own the people they called black, to buy and sell and confine them like livestock. Well, no, not like livestock, as livestock. Asserting utter dominance over them, and their children, generation after generation after generation….
To the extent that slavery gets mentioned and talked about and acknowledged, it’s usually just that one word. It’s this sort of big, abstract concept. We have in our minds, for example, that six million Jews died in the Holocaust. But we don’t have in our minds how many people were enslaved when the Civil War started, or any of these estimates of how many people died or had their lives stolen from them. We don’t get presented with it in a way that even begins to get across the scale of the crimes against humanity.” –John Biewen
“It is hard to talk about race when we’ve been told our whole lives that it shouldn’t matter what race a person is, isn’t it? But that conversation is changing as we realize that Black folks and other communities of color are still being harmed in lots of ways by our ‘colorblind’ society. Systemic racism means that Black folks have worse outcomes in health, wealth, safety, education, and more.”
Here’s a great collection of short videos that explains more: https://www.raceforward.org/videos/systemic-racism
“As we’ve watched a series of untenable events unfold in our country, many of my white allies say phrases like, ‘this isn’t who we are,’ or some variation thereof.
This is EXACTLY who we are.
Everything we see happening now has happened in this country before. The problem is that in our American arrogance, we have a tendency to identify faults in others that we fail to see in ourselves. Internment, imprisonment, and civil rights violations are par for the course in America….We are currently repeating the mistakes of history because we have failed to confront the sins of the past.
We whitewash history to make sure that the majority upholds its moral authority when in reality, there are a lot of sins to repent for: slavery, lynching, Jim Crow, The Trail of Tears, Wounded Knee, Black Wall Street, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland. I could go on and on listing America’s sins, but the real issue is that America has yet to repent and make it right so that we can move toward an equitable society….We overlook the causes of our dysfunction in favor of blaming affected groups for their reaction to it. We never stop to consider the ‘why’ when it’s much easier to look at the ‘what’ of every situation.” –excerpted from Heather Fleming
“The population of ‘not-racists’ is steadily growing. Not-racists voted for Donald Trump. Not-racists say that kneeling for the flag means you want to slit the throats of veterans. Not-racists believe in Blue Lives, White Jesus and black-on-black crime.”
“[White people often say,] ‘I don’t see color.’
Do you stop at green lights? How do you play checkers, then? Not-racists will actually try to convince you that they don’t care about race and that erasing the concept of race from our minds is a righteous, egalitarian attribute.
Here is the thing: The idea of a post-racial society is really the desire for a white society. Even nonracist Caucasians don’t mind this because they don’t understand that whiteness has surpassed the classification of a racial category in America and has become the default.
Black people want to be treated like everyone else. We don’t desire to be seen as everyone else. Most African Americans, Mexicans, Jews, etc., love their race and their culture. It is a large part of who we are. We don’t care that you see our color. We just want you to respect it.” –Excerpted from Michael Harriot
“Not waving to a white woman is not a crime:”
“When some of you say, ‘I don’t see color,’ you are either well-intending naifs or willful race evaders. In either case you don’t help the cause. The failure to see color only benefits white America. A world without color is a world without racial debt.
One of the greatest privileges of whiteness is not to see color, not to see race, and not to pay a price for ignoring it, except, of course, when you’re called on it.” –Michael Eric Dyson
“We are not facing the real issue of what this country has done in constructing assumptions about race so deeply held as to be scarcely acknowledged. We believe that the youths from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, largely white and white-presenting, are innocent and therefore worthy of our sympathy and protection, whereas black youths and other black people are never considered truly innocent. There is always this societal narrative when it comes to the killing or persecution of black people that we somehow did something to deserve it.
The widely held belief that black people ‘deserve it’ is so pervasive that it doesn’t ever need to be said. It is embodied in every person who suggests that Trayvon Martin shouldn’t have been wearing that hoodie; that Rekia Boyd shouldn’t have been outside her house; that Michael Brown shouldn’t have talked back; that Aiyana Stanley-Jones shouldn’t have been sleeping in her bed; that Tamir Rice shouldn’t have been playing in the park; that Sandra Bland shouldn’t have been driving her car.
This hideously loaded conclusion is something that black children become aware of as soon as the outside world becomes aware of them. We are taught that our lives have less value and that people can both fear us and not be fearful of us, as we wield no real power of which to be afraid. We learn about our people and ourselves from anyone who does not look like us. We are not believed when we tell the truth. We are made to believe that we deserve poverty, food deserts and over-policed, treeless communities.
It is a terrible thing when people in a society accept that another group is beneath them; it is worse still to be those underfoot.” –Janaya Kahn
“[We hold on so ferociously to our belief in race as a real thing, grounded in biology], because the belief in race is like a religion. It’s like a religion that people, many people, find very hard to even imagine not existing. They resist even allowing their imaginations to go there because it’s such an important part of their worldview and their sense of their own identities.” –Dorothy Roberts
“As the liberal establishment foams in exasperated incredulity, I wonder what the Trump-Putin press conference means to the young people beaten and one killed on the South Side of Chicago last Saturday night; I wonder what it means to the young Black folks in West Baltimore, and in Ferguson, North Philly and Kensington. I wonder what it means for the young Brown folks locked in tent cities in the searing heat of the southwest border. I wonder what it means to their parents from who they have been snatched. I wonder what the Putin-Trump fiasco means to the poor Black people in rural Alabama suffering from hookworm infestation. I wonder what it means to the Black and white folks of Flint who share the diseased drinking water. I wonder what it means to the Black children of Michigan who a state court recently ruled were not entitled to learn how to read.
I’m not saying that the whole affair is irrelevant, but the spasmodic handwringing in memoriam for ‘our democracy’ and ‘the rule of law’ is puzzling and exposes the deep chasm of race and class in the United States. So much of Black and Brown America live beyond the reaches of democracy. They live in the dim light of constant police surveillance, poverty wages or the fragile infrastructure that barely holds together the cities we live in. They numb the sting of US democracy with opioids, booze and the finality of suicide.” –Keeanga-Yamatta Taylor
“The Declaration of Independence wasn’t really about ideas of universal freedom. It was about the people who signed the document becoming free of intervention and control of the British Crown. They wanted to be free to do basically more of what they were doing, which was to profit from slavery and other forms of exploitation. So, the life that they’re talking about, when they talk about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, definitely isn’t the lives of people of color, African-Americans. The liberty they’re talking about wasn’t for us. And their pursuit of happiness was contingent on our exploitation.”
— Chenjerai Kumanyika
In 1790 the Naturalization Act declared that citizenship could be granted to “any alien, being a free white person.” You were welcome here with all the rights of citizenship, as long as your skin was light enough.
“The light bulb moment about my white privilege I gratefully learned from a colleague: She shared with me that whenever she enters a white space, she has to wait till she’s assessed and then judged as ‘civilized.’ As a white woman, I never considered myself a privileged individual until she pointed out that I have never been nervous or scared to just enter a room. My recent awareness that this is something my friend copes with every day has made a huge impression on me that I try to introduce to others who insist we are all equal in our ‘free’ country.” –Jan Van Lier
In 1848, after his stint as VP of the US, John C Calhoun declared, “With us, the two great divisions of society are not the rich and the poor, but white and black. And all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class and are respected and treated as equals.”
Steve King, Congressman from Iowa in 2017, in just one of the many white-purity comments he’s made while being repeatedly re-elected: “You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else’s babies. You’ve got to keep your birthrate up. This Western civilization is a superior civilization…”
Obama, in his 2004 inaugural speech, said: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That is the true genius of America.” John Biewen comments on that:
“This is the story we tell ourselves: ‘we’re the first nation in the world not formed around an ethnic tribe that’s lived in a place forever. Our country was built on a revolutionary idea. Yes, there were contradictions, especially early on. Lots of the founding fathers owned people. And they said all men were created equal except those who were three-fifths of a person. And we did commit near-genocide against Native Americans in the process of taking their land. And yes, it was ‘all men are created equal’ and women didn’t even get to vote for almost 150 years. But that’s how the world was back then. Look how far we’ve come. That founding idea was genius and we’ve been working things out ever since, striding relentlessly toward that Jeffersonian ideal.’
That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it, apparently. But how true is it? Fourteen years after we declared to the world, ‘We hold these truths,’ the U.S. Congress made its first actual laws, and those laws said something different: this is a white man’s country. So, which is it? We have two national characters, not one, and they’re always fighting it out. Which side has done most of the winning?”
“To say that the nation has a character is always a political project that we should be suspicious of.” — Chenjerai Kumanyika
“Being hopeful and depending on God to make everything better was cool but where did it get us? It’s 2017 and there is not one Black person that doesn’t know how to act around white people. Why? Because it was taught to us.
We were raised by fear. Yes, slavery was over by the time our parents and grandparents were born, but the Jim Crow laws were in full effect. They were attacked by dogs, sprayed with water, redlined out of certain neighborhoods and faced with extreme racial prejudice.
You can only teach your child what you know. So they taught us how to live through oppression.
Even though times have changed and some laws are in place to protect minorities, our lessons did not change.
It’s time to stop trying to convince people we’re Americans, we belong, and we matter. We can’t just keeping hoping for change–we need to change. PERIOD.” –Courtney Chylane
“So, here I am facing a dilemma. Do I give up on white people, on white America, or do I continue to fight for a better white America, despite the fact that my efforts continue to lead to forms of unspeakable white racist backlash?
I am convinced that America suffers from a pervasively malignant and malicious systemic illness — white racism. There is also an appalling lack of courage, weakness of will, spinelessness and indifference in our country that helps to sustain it. That indifference is itself a cruel reality, a reality that often makes me want to scream at the top of my lungs until I fall flat on my face from exhaustion. That indifference makes me sick to my stomach….”
“Yet just when I began to unmoor, a braver white America began to speak, to risk, to love. Perhaps for the first time, these white readers took off their masks, even if only for a moment, to hear me. Then again, perhaps they had already known about the difficulties involved in removing their masks, knowing how hard it is to avoid falling back on ‘white innocence.’ They entered that space of risk and honesty where they dared to tell the truth about their whiteness. ‘Thanks Professor Yancy for your thoughts,’ one woman wrote. ‘The system is racist. As a white woman, I am responsible to dismantle that system as well as the attitudes in me that growing up in the system created. I am responsible for speaking out when I hear racist comments.’”
“The fortunate man is seldom satisfied with the fact of being fortunate. Beyond this, he needs to know that he has a right to his good fortune. He wants to be convinced that he deserves it and above all, that he deserves it in comparison with others. Good fortune thus wants to be legitimate fortune.” –Max Weber
Dining While Black in Philadelphia:
“To be sure, the belief that public space belongs exclusively to white people is not new, and this redlining has been inflicting trauma on people of color for a long time now. Whether it’s on the street, in a café, or at an airport, the visibility of people of color in public is tolerated only so long as it does not disturb the comfort of the dominant group….
But public space belongs to everyone. If racists don’t like hearing Spanish being spoken in a deli, or having Native American teens on a campus tour, or seeing black folks going on about their lives, they should just stay home.” –Laila Lalani
“’I think there is too much emphasis placed on racist individuals as opposed to the social forces that create racists. Everyone behaving a slightly racist way has a much more deleterious effect on Black people than a few people being very racist,’ Dr. Williams said. Racism is built into the power structures and institutions in our society, and White people are taught to propagate racism and not to see it.” –Dr Joy DeGruy
“…What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to [them], more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which [they are] a constant victim. To [them], your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to [them], mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour…” –Frederick Douglass
“Most people of color living in the United States get to know white people, like it or not. That’s certainly going to happen if you choose white-dominated professions like photography and academia. The reverse, white folks having lots of relationships with people of color, is more optional and much less common, as we know.” –John Biewen
“I’m going to start with an open heart and trust you and think you’re okay, but if
you have two or three racially-insensitive moments, I’m going to walk away. And that’s
okay. But I’d rather start from an open place than to shut everyone out. And I think that
that’s probably how I’ve lived my life and how I’ve acquired a bundle of white friends,
because they were the cool ones that didn’t have poor racial tendencies, or thought
bigger and broader and expansively about life.” –Myra Greene
Developed by: Kathy Obear of ALLIANCE FOR CHANGE
Some/many whites tend to (consciously and unconsciously):
- believe they have earned what they have, rather than acknowledge the extensive white privilege and unearned advantages they receive
- not notice the daily indignities that people of color experience; deny them and rationalize them away
- work to maintain the status quo and protect the advantages and privileges they receive
- believe that white cultural norms, practices and values are superior and better
- internalize the negative stereotypes about people of color and believe that whites are smarter and superior to people of color
- want people of color to conform and assimilate to white cultural norms and practices
- accept and feel safer around people of color who have assimilated and are “closer to white”
- blame people of color for the barriers and challenges they experience; believe that if they “worked harder” they could “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”
- believe that people of color are not competent and are only hired/promoted to fill quotas
- interrupt and talk over people of color
- resent taking direction from a person of color
- dismiss and minimize frustrations of people of color and categorize the person raising issues as militant, angry, having an “attitude,” working their agenda, not a team player…
- focus on their “good intent” as whites, rather than on the negative impact of their behavior
- focus on how much progress we have made, rather than on how much more needs to change
- want people of color to “get over it” and move on quickly
- get defensive when people of color express their frustrations with current organizational and societal dynamics
- “walk on eggshells” and act more distant and formal with people of color
- segregate themselves from people of color and rarely develop authentic relationships across race
- exaggerate the level of intimacy they have with individual people of color
- fear that they will be seen and “found out” as a racist, or having racial prejudice
- focus on themselves as an individual (I’m not racist; I’m a good white), and refuse to acknowledge the cultural and institutional racism people of color experience daily
- pressure and punish whites who actively work to dismantle racism to conform and collude with white racism
- expect people of color to be the “diversity expert” and take the lead in raising and addressing racism as their second (unpaid) job
- minimize, ignore, overlook and discount the talents, competencies and contributions of people of color
- rephrase and reword the comments of people of color
- ask people of color to repeat what they have just said
- assume the white teacher/coach/facilitator/employee, etc., is in charge/the leader
- rationalize away racist treatment of people of color as individual incidents or the result of something the person of color did/failed to do
- dismiss the racist experiences of people of color with comments such as: That happens to me too…You’re too sensitive…That happened because of _____, it has nothing to do with race!
- judge a person of color as over-reacting and too emotional when they are responding to the cumulative impact of multiple recent racist incidents
- accuse people of color of “playing the race card” whenever they challenge racist policies and practices
- track patterns of differential treatment of people of color and intervene to stop inappropriate actions and educate others
- continually learn more about the experiences of people of color and racism
- recognize when people of color might be reacting out of cumulative impact, and offer space to talk about issues and their experiences
- analyze policies and practices to assess any differential impact on people of color and intervene to create change
- constantly track daily organizational activities to ensure fairness, respect, and inclusion for all people with respect to group dynamics, communication, task assignments, professional development opportunities, decision-making, conflict management, mentoring, networking, etc.
Muhammed Ali comedic video on being black in a white world
“Brennan’s encounter with the homeowner began Thursday morning when he woke up late, missing the bus to school. He tried to walk the bus route to get to Rochester High School but got lost. His mother had taken his phone away, so he couldn’t use that for directions.
So Brennan resorted to the old-school tried-and-true method, stopping and asking for help. Brennan decided to stop at the home he did because he saw a neighborhood-watch sticker on the house, and thought it would be a safe spot to stop.
Apparently, that was not the case.
‘I got to the house, and I knocked on the lady’s door. Then she started yelling at me and she was like, ‘Why are you trying to break into my house?’ I was trying to explain to her that I was trying to get directions to Rochester High. And she kept yelling at me. Then the guy came downstairs and he grabbed the gun. I saw it and started to run. And that’s when I heard the gunshot,’ he recalled.” –Breanna Edwards
On Ibram Kendi, National-Book-Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning, The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America:
“Education, love and exemplary black people will not deliver America from racism, Kendi says. Racist ideas grow out of discriminatory policies, he argues, not the other way around. And if his new center [Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University] can help identify and dismantle those policies in the U.S. and around the world, he believes we can start to eliminate racism. At least that’s the goal.”
“The goal is to identify inequalities, identify the policies that create and maintain those inequalities, and propose correctives in six areas: criminal justice, education, economics, health, environment and politics. Kendi also hopes to create an online library of anti-racist thinking. He’s still considering initial projects.
But when he talks about racism, he is not still puzzling out his ideas. Kendi has spent thousands of hours reading thousands of documents, including ‘some of the most horrific things that have ever been said about black people,’ to uncover the origins of racist thought. His words are distilled, precise, authoritative. His voice never rises. He is, temperamentally, an antidote to the heat of the subject matter and the hyperbole of the times.
‘We have been taught that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas, lead to racist policies,’ Kendi said. ‘If the fundamental problem is ignorance and hate, then your solutions are going to be focused on education, and love and persuasion. But of course [Stamped from the Beginning] shows that the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural.’ Self-interest drives racist policies that benefit that self-interest. When the policies are challenged because they produce inequalities, racist ideas spring up to justify those policies. Hate flows freely from there.’”
“’You can be someone who has no intention to be racist,’ who believes in and fights for equality, ‘but because you’re conditioned in a world that is racist and a country that is structured in anti-black racism, you yourself can perpetuate those ideas,’ says Kendi. No matter what color you are.
Anti-racist ideas hold that racial groups are equal. That the only thing inferior about black people is their opportunities. ‘The only thing wrong with black people is that we think there is something wrong with black people,’ a line that Kendi uses like a mantra.”
“The highest instances of violent crime correspond with high unemployment and poverty, and that holds true across racial lines, Kendi found. Most white poverty, unemployment and thus violent crimes occur in rural areas, while for blacks those ills are more concentrated in densely populated urban neighborhoods. If impoverished white communities ‘had five times more people, then that community would have five times, presumably, more violent crime.’” –Lonnae O’neil
“We have made enormous progress in teaching everyone that racism is bad. Where we seem to have dropped the ball… is in teaching people what racism actually IS.”
“The ‘Black Lives Matter’ Movement Explained in Under 10 Minutes:”
“As America became a nation, its people were on fire with ideas about liberty and equality. In a section on that fervor, the [Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture] prominently places a statue of Thomas Jefferson, whose words helped create America. Behind Jefferson is a wall of bricks, and on each brick is the name of a person held in bondage by the champion of liberty. Over his lifetime, Jefferson held 609 people as property. All men are created equal, he wrote. Twelve of the first 18 presidents owned people at some point.” –Jerry Large
“It dawned on me that the reason we don’t talk to each other about race, across the color line of black and white, is because it’s a minefield and no one has the manual. Well, that’s not completely true. There are YouTube videos on white superiority and white privilege made by white people for white people that I found quite good. And there are a few other great resources I’ve found out there. But the truth is considering the SIZE OF THE PROBLEM and the paucity of materials dealing with the problem… I’d say we have an avoidance issue here.” –Suzanne Kay
“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” Toni Morrison
“Most middle-class whites have no idea what it feels like to be subjected to police who are routinely suspicious, rude, belligerent, and brutal.” —Benjamin Spock
“I wouldn’t tell this story at all if this didn’t happen more times than I can count. It’s something I’ve experienced with similarly absurd indicators of one’s worth: hotel loyalty clubs, VIP lines, executive lounges, private events. It’s the extra ID checks, the poring over a slight difference in the formatting of my name on my passport versus other official documents, the “Ma’am, where are you going? You should be over there.” It all speaks to the general sense that if I’m not in a Black space, it’s hard for people to recognize that I might belong somewhere exclusive — especially if the other faces there are typically white.”
“We’re haunted by our history of racial inequality.” –Bryan Stevenson
Video–Stevenson, defense counsel, automatically assumed by judge to be the defendant:
“’This is what I’ve come to call Seattle’s passive progressiveness,’ said Stephan Blanford, a Seattle school board member whose doctoral research focused on race and public education. ‘We vote the right way on issues. We believe the right way. But the second you challenge their privilege, you see the response.’” –Isolde Rafferty
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