Racism: Justice is More than the Absence of Brutality
"Does race still matter?" The question by itself is a strong indication of America's disillusioned attitude towards race. It has been barely forty years since segregation— arbitrary laws that separated white children from everyone else because of the assumed superiority of whites—was abolished, and already Americans, especially white Americans, have begun to complain that we are too focused on race. Why, they plead, can't we be a color-blind society? How could that possibly happen unless we first embrace color-consciousness: the fact that people are still treated differently based on the color of their skin. Racism today is not always the same as racism in the past. Horrific incidents of overt racism still occur and hate groups still exist, but the racism of today is much more subtle than the past. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "The absence of brutality and unregenerate evil is not the presence of justice." The racism that exists today quietly benefits and privileges whites in terms of what they receive from systems and institutions already in place in America.
If you are a white, while you read, take a moment to think about what you learned in elementary school, about your professors here at State U., about the programs you watched on TV last night. Do the people you interact with daily look like you or do they look differently? Because I am white, it did not occur to me that most magazine covers had white models on them, most commercials featured whites, most of the baby dolls in the toy store were blond and blue-eyed, most of the "heroes" I learned about in school were white, and most of the authors I studied were white. I did not notice because I was not different. The different, the "others," the ones who were "not like us" were the people of color. Peggy MacIntosh, in her essay "White Privilege Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack" says "whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative and average, and also ideal." The little I learned about people of color in school was through special programs or during special times. I learned "history" throughout the year, and I learned "black history" during February. I learned "literature" all throughout high school, and I learned about "African-American literature" when I took a separate class. Recognizing the reality of white privilege—that growing up believing that whites were the norm and people of color were the "other"—was a slap in the face for me. For the first time, I had to accept that although I never used racial slurs or deliberately shunned a person of color, I was not actively resisting my white privilege. Instead, I was accepting the unearned advantages that being white brought me. I would never have called myself racist, but by not being an active antiracist I was allowing the systematic institutional racism that ultimately benefits me to go on.
I have since learned to differentiate between...