Tag Archives: Americanah

Day Six: Yes, You’re Racist; or Don’t Be an Asshole.

(image via KOLR, h/t Gawker, Mediaite)

(image via KOLR, h/t Gawker, Mediaite)

Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you have to say “it’s not racist to…”, it is absolutely, positively racist. But in case some folks need reminding: yes, white pride is racist.

The question most racists love to ask is something along the lines of, “well, if blacks and Latinos and Asians can have their own associations, why can’t whites?” And the answer to that requires an understanding of the concept of racism, as it is experienced in American society.

Racism is an institution whereby one group in the majority asserts social, political and economic power over others. That power is wielded outwardly to oppress minorities through policies such as red-lining or various immigration acts that allowed for more European immigrants than ones from Africa or Asia or South America, but also through subconscious decisions born of xenophobic, racist pathologies. (And, it should be mentioned, it is because of the systemic nature of racism that whites can never experience racism in this country. They can certainly experience anti-white biases, but nothing systemic or institutional in the same manner that non-whites experience racism. Okay, glad I got that off my chest. Let’s continue.)

As Sendhil Mullainathan pointed out in the TimesThe Upshot this weekend, these pathologies have infected every inch of American society:

■ When doctors were shown patient histories and asked to make judgments about heart disease, they were much less likely to recommend cardiac catheterization (a helpful procedure) to black patients — even when their medical files were statistically identical to those of white patients.

■ When whites and blacks were sent to bargain for a used car, blacks were offered initial prices roughly $700 higher, and they received far smaller concessions.

■ Several studies found that sending emails with stereotypically black names in response to apartment-rental ads on Craigslist elicited fewer responses than sending ones with white names. A regularly repeated study by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development sent African-Americans and whites to look at apartments and found that African-Americans were shown fewer apartments to rent and houses for sale.

■ White state legislators were found to be less likely to respond to constituents with African-American names. This was true of legislators in both political parties.

■ Emails sent to faculty members at universities, asking to talk about research opportunities, were more likely to get a reply if a stereotypically white name was used.

■ Even eBay auctions were not immune. When iPods were auctioned on eBay, researchers randomly varied the skin color on the hand holding the iPod. A white hand holding the iPod received 21 percent more offers than a black hand.

You don’t have to be racist to have been influenced by a racist pathology – locking your doors while driving is not racist in and of itself, but purposely doing so while driving through Newark is racist because society has been trained to fear young black men. Again, it doesn’t mean that you are racist, it just means that society has taught you to subconsciously act on racist sterotypes. What those studies show is that racism affects the lives of people of color every day in some of the most benign ways, regardless of the intentions of whites.

The reason why black or Latino or Asian associations exists is precisely because ethnic communities feel the need to work together to better one another, to achieve a level of privilege that WASPs have enjoyed in this country for centuries.

So whiteness is the thing to aspire to. Not everyone does, of course, but many minorities have a conflicted longing for WASP whiteness or, more accurately, for the privileges of WASP whiteness. They probably don’t really like pale skin but they certainly like walking into a store without some security dude following them. Hating Your Goy and Eating One Too, as the great Philip Roth put it. So if everyone in America aspires to be WASPs, then what do WASPs aspire to? Does anyone know?

That quote is from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s phenomenal novel, Americanah (which I named my favorite novel of 2013), and it perfectly describes why minorities find the need to associate with one another and employ one another: we’re trying to get on your level. (If you also need to know why people of color need their own magazines and publications, there’s also this quote from Americanah.) We do these things because these aren’t privileges we’re afforded in society, at large; we have no representation in local, state or federal government and so we look to one another for help and opportunities.

White pride organizations are racist because there’s nothing left for white people to accomplish in this country – you have all of the privilege and security one could ever need. You’ve faced no oppression in your lifetime. (Yes, Irish, Italians and Jews have all been oppressed at various times in our history, but they’ve all now been accepted into the greater construction of “whiteness” [though, of course, anti-Semitism still exists in some pockets of society]. You’re not losing out on job opportunities in 2015 because your last name is Murphy, but you are if it’s Muhammad.) You’ve inherited wealth, sometimes for generations. You’ve even got advantages in online dating. None of this is necessarily your individual faults, but this is a level of privilege that no one else is afforded. We should all be given the same opportunities, and that’s not happening if white pride organizations – through which whites continue to assert their social, political and economic dominance by hiring and electing other whites or by segregating communities – continue to exist.

Listen, we get it. Being white is AWESOME; it doesn’t mean you’re inherently better, but it’s pretty clearly better to be white in America. I mean, you can’t dance and your rappers suck (and still benefit from the privileges of whiteness), but I understand why you love it. Thing is, you’ve already won, white people. You’ve achieved a level of privilege and security that everyone else aspires to. That everyone else is fighting for. Congratulations.

Just don’t be assholes about it.

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Filed under 365 Days, Essays, Race