Saturday, December 24, 2016

Membership Has Its Privileges

Racism isn’t just politically incorrect, it’s wrong. And sadly, this still has to be said as 2016 comes to an end.

I’m not an expert on racism, but sooner or later we all end up in conversations about it, and like it or not, we end up speaking our mind. I’ve done so before on this blog and after watching a disturbing video recently, perhaps this is a good time to say something about it again—in particular, “reverse racism” since it is gaining traction in light of our new President and his followers.

Over the years, I’ve heard my share of White folk now and then talk about “reverse racism”—stating events where they or someone they know (also White) have experienced it. It kind of makes sense if you don’t think too hard about what they are saying, but I’ve never bought into this fabricated concept, and here’s why.

Racism is something that is dealt out by a majority. Now, if you are White and living in a neighborhood where a minority of our country’s citizens are the majority, you might experience racism at the local level, but you won’t have much to worry about beyond that neighborhood. However, if you’re a minority of our country, you probably have plenty of stories in your life where you have experienced the ugliness of racism no matter where you live.

Many see minority and majority in terms of numbers only. But, those who possess the greatest power easily become the majority as well—see Apartheid South Africa circa 1960s. Here in the United States, Whites make up over 60% of the population and the closest contestant to that are Latinos at a paltry 16%, with Blacks coming in at 12.2%. Given this math and the excessive distribution of power doled out to Whites in government and business, it’s safe to say that Caucasians are indisputably safe as our country’s majority.

It’s also important to keep in mind that racism is based on two important concepts that minorities don’t have much of, and therefore can not exercise: power and privilege. Look no further than the disproportionate arrest and sentencing for people of color vs. Whites when it comes to… say, drug crimes. Further, Whites are certainly less likely to experience racial profiling and when arrested, will almost certainly have superior legal representation compared to those of color. Finally, the odds favor Whites when it comes to talking themselves out of an arrest—especially if it is a White police officer.

The bottom line is this: you can’t make a legitimate claim as a victim of racism providing you’re a member of the majority. 

And while you’re at it, don’t get confused when it comes to angry words, protests or fights for equality as some form of racism. This is simply (and understandably) an unpleasant response from centuries of White privilege and power. Civility is nice if you can get it, but not everyone who has experienced racism is going to be nice about it when it comes up in discussion. Being a pollyanna about such discussions will only confirm how comfortable you truly are in your White privilege—which probably means you are a racist.

Lastly, I read this not long ago:

Making a racist statement is a manifestation of racist culture; being “mean” isn’t. For Whites, it can be difficult to be confronted with the reality of racism, and with comments from people of color about how privilege and power operate. It’s tempting to take such comments personally and to insist that people of color are being “mean,” which is often a hop, skip, and a jump away from an accusation of reverse racism. —S.E. Smith

I’m unsure if there will ever be a time in the future when being a member of the majority won’t be a privilege. However, as long as that’s the case, along with your privilege you should include several good measures of accountability, compassion and an ability to absorb criticism or insults that may not be as personal as you think. It’s a puny price to pay.

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