Time and time again when you get into a discussion about race relations and you say, “white people”, rather than “some white people” or “most white people” you will inevitably get the accusation that you are “racist against white people”. This is laughable, particularly if you are in a country like the U.S. There is no possibility of white people experiencing racism. But before we can explain let’s talk about the word racism and who is defining it versus who should define it.
The earliest recorded use of the word “racism” was around the late 1800s/early 1900s in the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), and like our education system, it hasn’t evolved much since then. Dictionaries, with slight variations, share the same definition of racism. Racism is the belief/theory that race is the determining factor of characteristics, traits, abilities and, as such, there is a superior race. Of course this is defined by white people, which is why many minorities don’t subscribe to this definition. Here’s why.
First, having white people define “racism” is like when they tell our stories. They are going to phrase it in a way that paints them in the best possible light and us in a bad light or in a way that minimizes our intelligence, strength and grit. (Ex: In school I was taught that Rosa Parks was just a tired, black woman who sat at the front of the bus and, unknowingly, started a boycott. It wasn’t until adulthood that I learned this was far from the case.) Also, like Manifest Destiny, they use this as an excuse for their inhumane, vicious, corrupt treatment of other races. It’s all in the name of their God’s will and their progress.
So how can white people as oppressors get to define the word for the oppressed, when they are the ones inflicting the oppression and have no experience with living in the day-to-day world of the oppressed? To take this further, how can a white person cut a minority and then describe to them what they are feeling when they, as a white person, have never been cut? It may seem exagerrated but, for us, that is what racism is: it is a blade repeatedly making tiny cuts along our skin. We are reminded every time we move, shower, sit, exist that is there because we feel the sting. The answer is they do not and should not.
Thanks to them, the definition of “racism” is, at once, far too narrow and far too broad. It does not encompass the entirety of the experience because “racism” is fluid and mutative. It also allows any race to lay claim to the experience, ridiculously including white people.
In the U.S. racism is what white people use to maintain their power in the Executive, Judicial and Legislative branches of government. It is the system made to specifically give advantages to white people, whilst simultaneously limiting/eliminating possibilities for minorities thereby making it harder for minorities to achieve the same dreams and goals. It is the educational system built to indoctrinate and inundate all people into the white culture, societal norms, etc., and this system is so pervasive and insidious that even minorities will not see all the instances of it.
That is racism — both obvious and subtle, not seen but all-encompassing. The only people who can experience this are minorities. White people are not able to experience the horrors of this ubiquitous system because it was created for their benefit, for their ability to ascend to and maintain power.
White people, like all of us, can experience prejudice. Preconceived biases based on race, gender identity, religion, is possible and, unfortunately, common.
But again, racism — as a system built specifically for white privilege, power and supremacy — is not something you are able to experience no matter how many times you may hear the word “cracker”.
If you think you, as a white person, are a victim of racism ask yourself:
- How often am I pulled over by cops for being white?
- How often am I followed around in a store for being white?
- How often am I harassed/discriminated against at work for being white?
- How often are the cops called on me for standing outside being white?
- How likely is it that I will be deported, even with a passport and birth certificate, for being white?
- How often, when riding a train or bus, will people move away from me because I am white?
- How often will people ask, “What are you?” because I am white?
- How often did I get detention/suspension in school for disrupting a class — while white?
- How many times will I be brought in for “questioning” because I fit the description — white?
Next time when you (white person) argue with a minority about racism, rather than telling them what it is, listen to them tell you. After all, they have experience with it.