I used to equate racism and prejudice. Prejudiced people were those who wanted to deliberately deny my rights because of the color of my skin. They prohibited me from buying a home in White neighborhoods. They actively excluded me from certain jobs, especially in the private sector. They told me I couldn’t go to elite colleges. These were people who purposefully tried to hold me back, and in my judgment, they were prejudiced and racist.
The term racism has evolved during my lifetime to include a broader range of subtleties.
I have White friends who welcome me in their neighborhoods, invite me as a guest in their country clubs, applaud my level of education, include me in their social gatherings, have even had me officiate at their family weddings. They have rallied with their support during times of illness. These friends would and have turned heaven and earth for me. By no stretch of the imagination are they deliberately prejudiced and I would not label them racist.
But at a more subtle level, their life view is race-based.
Their perspective on life is measured by their whiteness, and the comfort and superiority that they take for granted. White is the standard by which they measure the nation’s population. With the exception of curling their hair, tanning their skin, or dancing to r&b, these folks would not aspire to take on the characteristics of red, black or brown. White is the standard to which they aspire: the standard by which they judge the rest of the world.
And they succeeded in passing this standard on to many of us Black folk. A large number of our parents and grandparents caught onto this quickly. They believed in the American dream and passed it on to us. We acculturated ourselves to the speech patterns, hairstyles, and dress codes of the majority population. We were admonished not to “talk colored” or to “act ghetto.” And yes, we found success, and many of us achieved the American dream, although not always at the level of Whites of equal education and training.
Many White people of good will have unwittingly participated in a racist system and reap the benefits without willfully committing racist acts. In a sense, they have become racists by default, because of the systemic racism that has shielded them from ever having to think about their whiteness as a source of inconvenience.
The comfort of being White in America is taken for granted.
If you are White and reading my blog, I assume you are a person of good will. I invite you to engage in a bit of introspection. Imagine a magic wand were waved over you today, would you welcome the opportunity to relinquish your white skin and spend the rest of your life as a Black person?
If your answer is no, think of the reasons. Then reflect on what societal norms you, yourself, may unwittingly be supporting that would make your life in a black skin so unthinkable.