Shawn Maxam discusses the difference between a few volatile words.
It must be remembered that in those great days I was considered to be an “integrationist” – this was never, quite, my own idea of myself – and Malcolm was considered to be a “racist in reverse.” This formulation, in terms of power – and power is the arena in which racism is acted out – means absolutely nothing: it may even be described as a cowardly formulation. The powerless, by definition, can never be “racists,” for they can never make the world pay for what they feel or fear except by the suicidal endeavor which makes them fanatics or revolutionaries, or both.
― James Baldwin, No Name in the Street
Every single time we discuss any ism (race or sex) folks get dismissive or defensive because they don’t “see” it or experience it on an individual level. In 2005 I personally didn’t know anyone with HIV/AIDS but that didn’t many the disease didn’t exist. Granted that is a crappy analogy because in this example “the disease” is the villain not other human beings or the larger society.
In conversations about abstract ideas and socially constructed theories we tend to dismiss the macro generalities in favor of specific micro examples. I live in New Jersey and it’s a part of the United States of America. Without the other forty-nine states America doesn’t exist as we citizens have constructed it. Racism is a similar idea. Prejudice, bigotry and discrimination all happen but it is when they occur together consistently for generations (systemically) to a whole race (a social construct) do we get the magical elixir of racism.
“As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”
― Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Letters
This isn’t about why racism happens. That is another post all together. This is moreso about what racism is and what it is not.
One tree doesn’t make a forest so I won’t be focusing on what individuals do but what societies, communities and groups of people do. This gets murky because these larger systems consists of individuals but just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. We send rovers to Mars so our collective intellectual capacity to do this does exist.
Prejudice: (1) : preconceived judgment or opinion (2) :an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge OR any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable
Bigotry: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance OR stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own
Discrimination: treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit OR the act, practice, or an instance of discriminating categorically rather than individually
Racism rests upon and functions as a kind of seesaw: the persecutor rises by debasing and inferiorizing his victim
-Albert Memmi, Racism
Returning to my analogy of one tree doesn’t make a forest or one state doesn’t make America it is the same thing with racism. It isn’t just one type of ”bad” treatment of people that is racism. While I despise individuals engaging in racist behavior, a lone jerk doesn’t create a social problem. Social problems are societal in scope. This is big-picture stuff. Slavery, Jim Crow, Segregation, Inter-generational Urban Poverty and so forth.
Most folks say that racism is over. Well look at police profiling, the War on Drugs and Mass Imprisonment. This dis-proportionally affects people of color. Especially Black and Brown men. Yeah we have successful men i.e. Barack Obama, Colin Powell, Wayne Brady and some guy writing this blog. These men have seemed to avoided the grip of racism but again these individual examples don’t disprove systematic oppression. It gives us hope but it doesn’t mean the ugly reality doesn’t exist.
If you have some system-talk feedback I would love to hear it. Let’s try to avoid the individual talk for one post today. Thanks for reading.
Please share this with friends, enemies and temporary allies alike.
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