Is Racism Ever Justified? Part 1
Today in my senior thesis seminar, a student presented on modern day slavery. Slavery is no longer an overt colonial enterprise masterminded by the state. Instead, slavery is committed by a loose network of individuals seeking to make a quick profit on the world’s poorest citizens. Today, slavemasters are now CEOs of large multinational corporations who sell us, in the developed world, cheap goods and services. Slavery is the cornerstone of an invisible empire; an intangible phenomenon that encompasses us all.
During the presentation, a white student commented that slavery is not inherent to just the “fourth world.” When talking about a fisherman who was working on a fishing boat for four years with no pay (with nothing to eat but rice and fish), the student equated the fisherman to college students. His argument to paraphrase: the fisherman is like the college student who is forced to go to college with the prospect of an auspicious life. However, once out of college, he will be forced to pay back hundreds of thousands in loans, not to mention the other loans and payments that go to buying a house and a car.
I will not debunk his argument on this blog post, because (and I pray) that most readers will see how flawed, immature, irresponsible, and egregious this sentiment is. I’d like to think that my readers know better than to compare the life of the fisherman with that of the American college student.
If you agree with his sentiment, then stop reading now. The rest of this post will just go over your pathetic head.
In that moment in class today, I was angry. Angry to the point where I responded with a combative strength I have not utilized since my rebellious high school days. In that moment, everything I suspected about my social environment came true; that I live in a country with citizens who have the audacity to aggregate their nonexistent struggles.
That isn’t to say that America is perfect; we have our share of hardship…but our problems are NOTHING compared to the majority of the developing world where immense poverty, high mortality rates, low life expectancy, corruption, violence, and little access to education are the norm.
After his comments, which he completely stood by throughout the course of the heated debate, I was physically shaking with anger. And frustration. And disappointment.
I am a STRONG believer in African American social justice and prosperity. You’ll see all over my Facebook page about how proud I am about where I come from, and how I am doing everything in power to readjust the stereotypes that are often associated with people who look like me.
And in that moment in class, I realized (yet again) just how difficult it’ll be to correct what’s wrong in not just my country, but the world at large. In a moment, I was slapped in the face by white privilege; by the belief that somehow, white middle-and-upperclass citizens still feel aggrieved by fantastical “struggles” that people of color cannot and will not relate to.
The concept of white privilege is controversial. Whites will deny its existence while minorities will assert and reassert how the phenomenon factors in to the opportunities we are presented. Both sides will never come to an understanding (at least not any time soon), and we’ll forever stay locked in a cyclical debate.
And that’s what frustrates me the most…how a majority of whites just don’t seem to get it. For some, the ignorance is purposeful. Some choose to deny white privilege as a reality because they do not wish to revisit a time when their ancestors were indisputably wrong. And others do believe in it, but suggest that white privilege (somehow) does not apply to them because they are so progressive and don’t see race. They posit that they don’t utilize their white privilege…(which is impossible because white privilege utilizes itself).
White privilege is a process, a series of systematic institutions that translate to social conditioning. This social conditioning is so entranced in our habits, beliefs, wishes, and prospects that it eventually becomes natural. And while the world is moving (seemingly) towards a more progressive stance on race relations, white privilege continues to strengthen.
Common discourse surrounds this notion that we’ll one day come a post-racial world where race doesn’t matter and racist histories are forgotten. And the leaders of this discourse are white. Go figure. The fact that whites are dictating to the rest of us how racial coherence will eventually form in our society not only speaks to white privilege, but reinforces it. Again.
In expressing these views with my friends, on Facebook, (and to a lesser extent, this blog) I have alienated people into thinking I’m racist against white people. When commenting on how prevalent white cultural supremacy is in our contemporary society, how it shapes the way minorities are still treated, in how people think and express ideas…I am coined a “Black radical” and/or a “Black nationalist.” But of course, my absolute favorite is a “racist.”
And I’m not surprised by these characterizations of me and my uncompromising beliefs against white superiority over minority populations. When I cite history and how it correlates into our socio-political and economic forces, I expect backlash because reality is hard to deal with. We’d much rather watch senseless television and read mindless dreck in the hopes of escaping an uneven society where winners and losers are, in part, determined by their skin color.
Whites, I suspect, feel as if they should not apologize for their ancestors behavior, nor do they want to. They understand what happened in the past, but lack insight on how those historical actions translate to our present. They’d rather focus on the future, where everyone gets along, opportunities are equalized, and we all have the same chance for success. They look to the future as a way to distance themselves from the shame of the present.
I state candidly that I AM NOT A RACIST. Of course people will disagree with me and throw my own words back at me with misinterpretations that’ll put Fox News to shame. However, in putting my beliefs in the public forum, I am prepared for the commentary that follows. And accept that commentary because, no matter what anyone of any skin color believes, I know my words and the context in which I mean them.
Am I angry about what whites have done to the past against my ancestors? Yes.
Do I believe that whites, for a long time, will remain ignorant of the effects of their past atrocities? Yes.
Do I suspect that there are a strong number of white Americans who still disdain Black people? Yes.
Will I ever compromise these stances in order to conform to the mainstream status quo? No.
I refuse to forget the pain. Some white folks really want me to, and that frustrates me. Why should I forget documented and irrefutable history?
We, whites and Blacks alike, want to pretend that intense racism at every level of public and private life are remnants of a forgotten past. I know better than to commit such an affront on my historical dignity. The last wide-sweeping bill of the Civil Rights era was passed in 1968…that was only 45 years ago. And it’s not like Civil Rights legislation comprehensively reversed racist practices and erased them from life. Racist practices (in real estate, housing, and education, just to name a few) continue today, except they’re more subtle, more institutionalized, and less easier to grasp.
So no, I’m not going to “get over it” like some white people want me to. I’m not going to pretend that everything will one day work itself out. I refuse.
I’d be doing myself a disservice to remain ignorant.