Most of us recognize and stand solidly against overt expressions of racism such as racial slurs, violence, cross-burnings by the Ku Klux Klan, and practices of blatant racial segregation and discrimination. But overt racism is only the tip of the iceberg.
More often, racial discrimination is disguised and shows up in subtle ways (covert racism) such as implicit biases, microaggressions, and racially coded language. Often, people who say and do these things are unaware of the racism that informs them.
White silence—Often, white people feel that racial issues are not their concern, or that they don’t have the expertise or the right to speak out about racial injustice. In fact, many blame people of color and white allies when they challenge racism, claiming that racism would go away if people wouldn’t call attention to it. Because racism is a function of institutionalized racial discrimination, privilege, marginalization, and even violence that supports and protects white people, it is essential that white people who are concerned about justice work with People of Color AND teach other white people to recognize and interrupt racism. Here’s an example of a white person NOT being silent, who uses her voice and her skin-color privilege to challenge a racist situation.
Racial profiling—Making negative assumptions about People of Color and acting on those assumptions personally and institutionally. Example: The police department instates a “stop-and-frisk” policy targeting Black and Brown men in order to “reduce crime” because of the white community fears and prejudices about People of Color. Another example: Because most U.S.-born white people only speak one language—American English or American Sign Language—we don’t value the skill of speaking more than one language and wrongly associate a lack of English fluency with lower intelligence. (“She can’t even speak English!”) Learn more about racial profiling here.
Denying institutional racism—Assuming that racism is only at work when an individual white person or white group uses a racial slur, commits a hate crime, or vandalizes a house of worship, etc., with racist symbols and words. However, systemic and institutional racism are in the very bones and foundations of U.S. society. The wealth gap between white people and People of Color (specifically Black, Brown, and Indigenous) is considerable. The median household income for a white U.S. family is $65,000, while for a Latinx family it is $50,000, and for a Black family it is $40,000. This gap is due to historic racism in the labor unions (which protected workers and insured higher wages), in banking and mortgage lending laws, and legalized racism practices in housing, education, etc. Overt racial violence is but one expression of institutional racism. Learn about the history of redlining in the housing industry and watch this TEDx talk by Dr. Hephzibah V. Strmic-Pawl.
Police brutality against People of Color—Armed and physical aggression by law enforcement officials against People of Color date back to actions by the U.S. Cavalry against Native Americans and Mexican people, and legally sanctioned violence used against Black people during and after enslavement. The “armed militia” mentioned in the U.S. Constitution was as much about keeping Native Americans and enslaved Blacks “in line” as it was about keeping the British at bay. Until recently, police training included specific lessons on how to “deal with” Black people in their communities. Today, Black people are three times for likely to be killed by the police than white people, and they are 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed when they are killed. Black people made up 38 percent of people killed by police, although they are only 21 percent of the population. Further, in 99 percent of cases where a person was murdered by police, no officers were charged with a crime. (Statistics from Mapping Police Violence website)
Tone policing—A set of tactics, tools, and catchphrases used by white people holding privilege to prevent marginalized people from sharing their experiences of oppression. Tone policing works by derailing a discussion (usually about a topic about which the “policer” is NOT central or an “expert”) by focusing on the emotions of the speaker rather than the message itself. It serves to allow privileged people to define the terms of a conversation about racism and other injustices before they are willing to talk about it. Or, it can be as simple as a white customer in a restaurant walking over to a table of Korean American customers and asking them to lower their voices because their “loud accent” is disturbing her dinner. Some other common examples: “Black people are so angry; that’s why we can’t have a conversation about race,” “Calm down, so we can discuss this like Christians should,” or, using reverse policing, “It is really refreshing to meet a Latina activist like you who isn’t constantly expressing outrage at white people like me.” Check out this video on tone-policing by vlogger Emily Joy.
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