Thank goodness racism is over. Over the last couple decades we’ve all come to our senses and put this issue behind us. Since the Civil Rights moment took place in the mid-sixties, things have really changed in terms of equality between the races. Sure, it took a while for everyone to settle down after these laws were passed, but over the years we’ve managed to forget about color, race, and ethnicity. Now everyone is on the same level playing field, we all have equal chances and opportunity in life not matter what background we come from. If you look around, you can see that there are many more people of color in show business, higher level positions in the work place, and legal officials. The president of the United States of America is African American, how much more equal can we get? So as long as you work hard enough, and strive to be successful, nothing can hold you back!
Really???? Many who read the previous paragraph might agree. In this day in age people don’t take into consideration what race people are and they believe that everyone has a fair chance of becoming successful in life. Heck, they may even have a close friend that is black so they really understand the relationships between the races. Really??? What they don’t understand is they are suffering from a condition known as “color-blind privilege.” Unfortunately, racism is alive and well in this country.
“Color-blindness comes from a lack of awareness of racial privilege conferred by Whiteness.” (1) White people don’t understand what people of color endure on an everyday basis. Overt racism is easily recognized but the subtle differences in interactions and opportunities aren’t seen by people wearing the blinders. Having color-blind privilege makes you feel comfortable, you don’t have to worry about addressing racial issues because to you, there are no such things. You don’t have to feel guilty for any inequality. You don’t have to talk about it.
When you are really suffering from color-blind privilege you may even believe ‘blacks hold themselves back, not racism’ or ‘blacks need to pull themselves up from the bottom like everyone else.’ In fact, these thoughts can lead to reverse racism. White people may believe that people of color have more opportunities because of real, or suspected, racial quotas in hiring practices and entry to colleges. They may believe that people of color are getting more financial benefits because of their race. When a white student doesn’t get accepted to college and a person of color is accepted, in part, because of affirmative action, they and others may believe it is discriminating against white people. All of this leads to more anger and issues between the races. In this sense being privileged doesn’t mean you are a millionaire or live in the lap of luxury, it has more to do with day-to-day living. To understand privilege, take the following quiz and see how many questions you can answer with a “yes.”
- If you can chose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match your skin.
- I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
- I can turn on the TV. Or open the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
- When I am told about our nation heritage or about “civilization” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
- I can enroll in class at college and be sure that the majority of my professors will be of my race.
- I can go into a supermarket and find the food I grew up with.
- I can take a job or enroll in a college with an affirmative action policy without having my co-workers or peers assume I got it because of my race.
- I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, getting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
- I learned about my ancestor’s history in school.
- I can go on vacation and easily find a place to cut my hair.
- I can loiter in wealthy neighborhoods
- I can complain about racism.
Most white people, myself included, can answer “yes” to all of those questions. But for African Americans, they might be able to say “yes” to a few, but more likely to none at all. These are just the very few of the subtle differences that aren’t seen by people with color-blind privilege.
An example of unseen racism relates to education in our country. Eighty percent of the public school teachers in America are white, while forty percent of the student population are children of color. There was a young mother that went in and talked to her son’s teacher about a time-line of civilization they had made in class. She had a concern that they didn’t teach about where African Americans fit into the time-line. The teacher responded, “I ‘m just following the curriculum.” In essence the teacher was shifting the blame of racial insensitivity and taking no personal responsibility for including the African American students. In a separate incident the same mother asked for advice on how to help her youngster with a difficult project. The teacher responded by offering up less difficult work to make it easier on him. The mom refused. She wondered if the teacher thought her son didn’t have the intelligence to do the project just because he was black.
Another example from my own family involves my grandpa. He’s an African American with a Masters Degree in Engineering from the University of Michigan. In his job, he excelled to the upper levels of one of our State government departments. On two separate occasions he was denied access to the upper level positions because of his race. In the first one, one of the white leaders pulled him aside and advised him not to apply for a higher level position because it “wouldn’t be right for the organization.” In the second potential promotion he was deemed the most qualified but denied the position. In this case an external organization (made up of all white men) pressured the state to promote someone else so they did not have to work with an African American. Although both of these situations were resolved and he was ultimately given the promotion, this doesn’t eliminate the lack of respect, unfairness and assault to his dignity that will be with him forever. Examples like this could go on for more pages then anyone would want to read.
Although most white people do not see themselves as racist or don’t see the day-to-day racism that occurs, their own real blind spot is not seeing there own privilege and viewing the world through their white lens.
How do we move forward from here and truly work towards eliminating racism? Maybe we should follow the advise of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts who said “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race, is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” If it were only that simple! In researching this topic, the best solution I discovered was to change color-blindness to multiculturalism. This ideology acknowledges, highlights and celebrates our differences. The three main actions of this solution are: 1. recognizing and valuing differences, 2. teaching and learning about differences, and 3. fostering personal friendships and organizational alliances. (1)
My hope for the future is that we all take the blinders off and we really make significant strides to eliminate racism. I hope when my children are learning about racism and interracial relations, it will be as history and they will not be learning about this in the present tense.
Quiz questions adapted from: https://www.yahoo.com/parenting/7-things-i-can-do-that-my-black-son-cant-99408985077.html and http://www.nacurh.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/BeadsOfPrivilege_SamanthaHyland.pdf)
(1) Williams, Monica. “Culturally Speaking.” Psychologytoday.com, December 27, 2011. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/colorblind/201112/colorblind-ideology-is-form-racism