Racism as a System

Institutional racism in US explained through a Michael Jackson song

Table of Contents

Defining Racism as a System

System Justification and the Myth of Meritocracy

Racism = Power + Prejudice and the Myth of Reverse Racism

Other Relevant People’s School of DC Pages

Defining Racism as a System

Cuomo on systemic racism in US economy: Here’s the proof

Aspen Institute: Glossary for Understanding the Dismantling Structural Racism/Promoting Racial Equity Analysis

Systemic/Structural racism: a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity. It identifies dimensions of our history and culture that have allowed privileges associated with “whiteness” and disadvantages associated with “color” to endure and adapt over time. Structural racism is not something that a few people or institutions choose to practice. Instead it has been a feature of the social, economic and political systems in which we all exist.

Institutional Racism: Institutional racism refers to the policies and practices within and across institutions that, intentionally or not, produce outcomes that chronically favor, or put a racial group at a disadvantage. Poignant examples of institutional racism can be found in school disciplinary policies in which students of color are punished at much higher rates that their white counterparts, in the criminal justice system, and within many employment sectors in which day-to-day operations, as well as hiring and firing practices can significantly disadvantage workers of color.

Robin DiAngleo Explaining Racism as a System.  Full Video Here

Scott Woods

The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes Black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you.

Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another, and so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe.

It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.

Screen Shot 2020-06-28 at 4.17.28 PM

Professor Tricia Rose

Identifies 5 social institutions that produce and keep racial inequality going, either intentionally, or unintentionally.  Each institution is interdependent, interactive and compounding on each other

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 1.30.42 PM

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 1.31.08 PM

James Baldwin talks about the different types of institutional racism on the the Dick Cavett Show

The Undefeated: Ibram Kendi, one of the nation’s leading scholars of racism, says education and love are not the answer

“Education, love and exemplary black people will not deliver America from racism, Kendi says. Racist ideas grow out of discriminatory policies, he argues, not the other way around. And if his new center can help identify and dismantle those policies in the U.S. and around the world, he believes we can start to eliminate racism. At least that’s the goal…

We have been taught that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas, lead to racist policies,” Kendi said. “If the fundamental problem is ignorance and hate, then your solutions are going to be focused on education, and love and persuasion. But of course [Stamped from the Beginning] shows that the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural.” Self-interest drives racist policies that benefit that self-interest. When the policies are challenged because they produce inequalities, racist ideas spring up to justify those policies. Hate flows freely from there.

The self-interest: The Portuguese had to justify their pioneering slave trade of African people before the pope.

The racist idea: Africans are barbarians. If we remove them from Africa and enslave them, they could be civilized.

“We can understand this very simply with slavery. I’m enslaving people because I want to make money. Abolitionists are resisting me, so I’m going to convince Americans that these people should be enslaved because they’re black, and then people will start believing those ideas: that these people are so barbaric, that they need to be enslaved, or that they are so childlike that they need to be enslaved.”

Kendi boils racist ideas down to an irreducible core: Any idea that suggests one racial group is superior or inferior to another group in any way is a racist idea, he says, and there are two types. Segregationist ideas contend racial groups are created unequal. Assimilationist ideas, as Kendi defines them, argue that both discrimination and problematic black people are to blame for inequalities.

Americans who don’t carry tiki torches react viscerally to segregationist ideas like those on display at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one young counter-protester dead. Assimilationist ideas are more subtle, seductive and coded.

“You can be someone who has no intention to be racist,” who believes in and fights for equality, “but because you’re conditioned in a world that is racist and a country that is structured in anti-black racism, you yourself can perpetuate those ideas,” says Kendi. No matter what color you are.

Anti-racist ideas hold that racial groups are equal. That the only thing inferior about black people is their opportunities. “The only thing wrong with black people is that we think there is something wrong with black people,” a line that Kendi uses like a mantra.

The Blue Lives Matter (the problem is violent black people) Black Lives Matter (the problem is the criminal justice system, poor training and police bias) and All Lives Matter (the problem is police and black people) arguments are extensions of the same, three-way debate (segregationist, anti-racist and assimilationist) that Americans have been having since the founding of the country.

“We’ve been taught American history as a steady march of racial progress,” but it’s always been a dual march of racial and racist progress, which we see from Charlottesville to “their Trump Tower,” Kendi says.


The Responsible Consumer: Systemic, Structural and Institutional Racism

Today most people in the US negatively affected by racism are affected by systemic (sometimes referred to institutional or structural) racism.  Systemic racism is forms of oppression and privilege that effects almost every aspect of our society to our laws, institutions, schools, justice system, media, culture, and everyday interactions.  This form of racism, although often more harmful than explicit racism, is less understood or even recognized by the white moderate majority, who often preserve and perpetuate this racism unconsciously through complicity and Complacency.

  • Racism Complicity
    • To consciously or unconsciously support, contribute or benefit from racism or racist systems
  • Racism Complacency
    • to support racism and racist systems by not challenging it
  • Possible effects of systemic racism on people of color
    • Lack of Access:
      • To equal education, political representation, economic opportunities, housing, social opportunities, healthcare, etc.
    • Exposure to things white people don’t experience:
      • Racism, prejudice, discrimination, racial brutality, racial trauma, internalize racism, etc.
    • Bias Treatment by:
      • Teachers, police, judges, juries, bankers, potential and current employers, unions, politicians, historians, doctors, store security guards, media, news outlets, etc.
    • White supremacy internalizations:
      • White people are culturally normal, good, judged as individuals, safe, part of history, etc.
      • People of color are culturally abnormal, bad, judged as group, dangerous, historic exceptions, etc.
    • Preservation of inequalities:
      • Wealth, wages, leadership, segregation, concentrated poverty, mass incarceration, etc.
  • Institutions that systemic racism may occur:
    • Justice system, police, housing market, employers, school system, academics, politics, healthcare, banks, media, news, religion, immigration, etc.
    • For example people of color
      • receiving longer prison sentences and expelled from school easier than white people for same crimes
      • schools and community resources receiving less funding than white communities
      • being denied home loans in white segregated communities or receiving more subprime loans
      • black sounding names receiving less job interviews than the same resumes with white sounding names
      • history taught as a special occasional while white European history is central curriculum theme
  • Past systems that help create our current institutions such as
    • Slavery, black codes, lack of reparations, legal segregation, legal housing discrimination, Jim Crow laws, racist court decisions

Screen Shot 2020-06-11 at 10.06.14 AM

Screen Shot 2020-06-11 at 10.09.11 AMGraphic by @ohhappydani

Act.tv: Systemic Racism Explained

Structural Racism vs Indvidual Racism

by The Conscious Kid

Racism is a systemic, societal, institutional, omnipresent, and epistemologically embedded phenomenon that pervades every vestige of our reality. For most whites, however, racism is like murder: the concept exists but someone has to commit it in order for it to happen. This limited view of such a multilayered syndrome cultivates the sinister nature of racism and, in fact, perpetuates racist phenomena rather than eradicates them. Further, this view of racism disguises its true essence, thus allowing its tenets to proliferate.

Racism conceived of in this way ignores the societal, systemic, institutional, and political institutions which both overtly and inherently ensure minority subjugation and protect white privilege. When racism is regarded in this way, it also helps white society to erect defense mechanisms to ignore its direct implication and involvement in the maintenance of white racism, white privilege, and the construction of “other.”After all, if racism is conceived of as the conscious employment of certain acts, using certain taboo terms (i.e., nigger, spic) and one does not consciously perform “racist” acts or utter certain taboo terms, then one can reasonably assert that one is not a racist.This notion suggests that racism is an abstract hypothetical that functions outside of our human and social systems and that without conscious human choice cannot occur.

Another view of racism in America, however, is that it is a phenomenon constructed by Americans socially defined as “White,” and that its primary role is to ensure that group’s primacy to the exclusion of all others at whatever cost. This view of racism refutes the notion that racism is an abstract hypothetical that exists outside of the social milieu that requires conscious and deliberate acts to manifest. Further, this view asserts that racism is integrally and inextricably bound to all of our “human” and social processes and that, in fact, American society itself is a function of racism and lies embedded in racist ideology.

Racism is thus perceived of as abstract hypothetical cause for the emergence of other fallacious syndromes. If racism is perceived as functioning outside of societal processes and as having to be consciously chosen and enacted to become concrete reality then racism in theory can be practiced by anyone. That is, “non-Whites,”too, may engage in practicing racism and thus Whites themselves may be victims of racism.

Such a notion is exactly how racism is mostly perceived in American society, so that the possibility of deconstructing White supremacy, the progenitor and true underlying problem of racism. and racist ideology, does not become the focus of racial investigation. That the entire infrastructure of American society is based upon and emanates from the Western canon; that European Americans raped the continent and decimated its indigenous peoples, instituted a system of society- and government sanctioned chattel slavery for over three centuries; that the present population that is deemed “White” is still benefiting from these systems and institutions; these, it appears, are all points to be ignored.

By ignoring the historical specificity of the construction of race by “Whites,” as a tool to ensure that group’s supremacy and subsequent degradation of”others,”and by promoting the concept of racism as abstract hypothetical, White society not only can ensure that the system of White supremacy remains intact but can, in fact, successfully create smoke screens that actually implicate “others” in the maintenance of such a system.

Given these assertions with regard to Whites’ perception of racism as abstract hypothetical, what does this mean in terms of our conception of race, racism, and multicultural education?

“By not seeing that racism is systemic (part of a system), people often personalize or individualize racist acts. For example, they will reduce racist police behavior to “a few bad apples” who need to be removed, rather than seeing it exists in police departments all over the country and is basic to the society. This mistake has real consequences: refusing to see police brutality as part of a system, and that the system needs to be changed, means that the brutality will continue.” Elizabeth Martinez, What is White Supremacy

“How Studying Privilege Systems Can Strengthen Compassion”: Peggy McIntosh at TEDxTimberlaneSchools

Dr. Robin DiAngelo: No, I Won’t Stop Saying “White Supremacy”

“For a clear example of what it means to have institutional control and use it to the advantage of your group, we can look to women’s suffrage in the U.S. Only white men could grant women suffrage because white men controlled the government (and all of the other institutions that allowed them to disseminate and enforce patriarchy across society). They still do. While women could be prejudiced against men and discriminate against individual men in isolated cases, women as a group could not deny all men their civil rights. Yet men as a group could deny all women their civil rights. Once white men finally granted women the right to vote, only white men could then deny access to that right for women (and men) of color. White people also write the history that tells us that “women” were granted the right to vote, and erases the reality that that access was not granted equally across race”

Josh Singer: The Difference Between White Supremacy and White Supremacists

Defining white supremacy in 16 quotes.

Many people today associate “white supremacy” with images of Nazis painting swastikas, the KKK burning crosses, or khaki-wearing white nationalists carrying tiki torches chanting “we will not be replaced” at Unite the Right rallies. Although these people are fighting for white supremacy and oft-referred to as “white supremacists,” they are just one of many symptoms of white supremacy.

Other symptoms of white supremacy can include:
  • Centuries of systemic racism, without reparations, that have caused a racial wealth gap today, where the average white household possesses 16 times the wealth of the average black household.
  • A housing market created by a century of legal and illegal housing discrimination against people of color that continues to produce an estimated four million cases of discrimination every year in an effort to prevent many people of color from moving into white-majority communities and accessing better public resources, such as quality schools.
  • A school system that is three times more likely to suspend black students than white students for the same infractions while teaching a Eurocentric national school curriculum that white washes important parts of U.S. history such as what caused the Civil War, the brutally of slavery, and how this brutality and oppression against blacks continued after the Civil War.
  • A 2007 U.S. Department of Justice report on racial profiling in our criminal justice system that found blacks and Latinos were three times more likely to be stopped by police as white people and that black people were twice as likely to be arrested and four times more likely to experience the threat or use of force during interactions with the police.
  • Politicians and pundits that scapegoat and demonize people of color for white votes, such as President Trump intentionally creating fear from a caravan of asylum-seekers of color to win votes in the 2018 mid-term election.
  • Subconscious internalized biases in white employers that cause white-sounding names on resumes to receive calls for interviews 50 percent more than black-sounding names with the same resumes.

White supremacy is not just the belief that white people are racially superior to people of color, it is the label given to systems—from institutions, to culture, to subconscious internalizations—that ensure white people are treated superior. This happens regardless of whether white people are aware of it or choose it. It does not matter whether whites are “good people.” These systems work in ways that privilege white people—often without their knowledge—politically, socially, and economically while oppressing people of color.

Barriers to Understanding White Supremacy

One of the reasons most white people never fully understand white supremacy is that it’s not often taught in our schools or even talked about in white communities. The less white people know about white supremacy the more powerful it becomes. Hiding the true realities of white supremacy is a perpetual self-preservation tactic of societies founded on white supremacy.

Quote 1: Charles Mills described this invisibility in The Racial Contract:

White supremacy is the unnamed political system that has made the modern world what it is today. You will not find this term in introductory, or even advanced, texts in political theory. …

But though [white supremacy] covers more than two thousand years of Western political thought and runs the ostensible gamut of political systems, there will be no mention of the basic political system that has shaped the world for the past several hundred years. And this omission is not accidental. Rather, it reflects the fact that standard textbooks and courses have for the most part been written and designed by whites, who take their racial privilege so much for granted that they do not even see it as political, as a form of domination. Ironically, the most important political system of recent global history-the system of domination by which white people have historically ruled over and, in certain important ways, continue to rule over nonwhite people-is not seen as a political system at all. It is just taken for granted; it is the background against which other systems, which we are to see as political are highlighted. …Whiteness is not really a color at all, but a set of power relations.

Quote 2: Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, adds:

“While white supremacy has shaped Western political thought for hundreds of years, it is rarely named. In this way, white supremacy is rendered invisible while other political systems—socialism, capitalism, fascism—are identified and studied. In fact, much of its power is drawn from its invisibility—the taken-for-granted aspects of white superiority that underwrite all other political and social contracts. White resistance to the term white supremacy prevents us from examining this system. If we can’t identify it, we can’t interrupt it.”

Another barrier for white people understanding white supremacy is the difficulty white people have understanding any racism that’s not explicitly obvious. Scott Woods wrote the following about this dilemma:

Quote 3: “The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes Black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you.

Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another, and so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe.

It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.”

Defining White Supremacy

When looking up white supremacy in modern dictionaries, it’s hard to find a definition that goes beyond a personal belief held by an individual white supremacist. It’s unfortunate that dictionary definitions of white supremacy fall significantly short of capturing the all-encompassing nature and pervasiveness of this ideology. Many of the leading anti-racist activists, teachers, and authors are trying to fill in this void by attempting to capture a comprehensive definition for white supremacy.

If you Google the words “CEO, Congressman, or billionaire,” you will likely see a page full of white faces looking back at you. That’s not a coincidence. Many people have focused on defining white supremacy based on its economic, political, and cultural domination in our society. Below are several attempts to define all the different aspects of white supremacy.

Quote 4: Frances Lee Ansley, Stirring the Ashes: Race, Class and the Future of Civil Rights Scholarship

By ‘white supremacy’ I do not mean to allude only to the self-conscious racism of white supremacist hate groups. I refer instead to a political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings.”

Quote 5: Robin DiAngelo, No, I Won’t Stop Saying “White Supremacy”

Many people, especially older white people, associate the term white supremacy with extreme and explicit hate groups. However, for sociologists, white supremacy is a highly descriptive term for the culture we live in; a culture which positions white people and all that is associated with them (whiteness) as ideal.

White supremacy captures the all-encompassing centrality and assumed superiority of people defined and perceived as white, and the practices based upon that assumption. White supremacy is not simply the idea that whites are superior to people of color (although it certainly is that), but a deeper premise that supports this idea—the definition of whites as the norm or standard for human, and people of color as an inherent deviation from that norm.

Thus, when race scholars use the term white supremacy, we do not use it the same way as mainstream culture does. Nor, do we use it to indicate majority-versus-minority relations. Power is not dependent on numbers but on position. We use the term to refer to a socio-political economic system of domination based on racial categories that benefit those defined and perceived as white. This system rests on the historical and current accumulation of structural power that privileges, centralizes, and elevates white people as a group. If, for example, we look at the racial breakdown of the people who control our institutions, we see that in 2016-2017:

Congress: 90 percent white

Governors: 96 percent white

Top military advisers: 100 percent white

President and vice president: 100 percent white

Current POTUS cabinet: 91 percent white

People who decide which TV shows we see: 93 percent white

People who decide which books we read: 90 percent white

People who decide which news is covered: 85 percent white

People who decide which music is produced: 95 percent white

Teachers: 83 percent white

Full-time college professors: 84 percent white

Owners of men’s pro-football teams: 97 percent white

These numbers are not a matter of “good people” versus “bad people.” They are a matter of power, control, and dominance by a racial group with a particular self-image, worldview, and set of interests in the position to disseminate that image and worldview and protect those interests across the entire society.”

Quote 6: Ta-Nehisi Coates, The First White President

It is often said that (President) Trump has no real ideology, which is not true—his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power. Trump inaugurated his campaign by casting himself as the defender of white maidenhood against Mexican ‘rapists,’ only to be later alleged by multiple accusers, and by his own proud words, to be a sexual violator himself. …

To Trump, whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but is the very core of his power. In this, Trump is not singular. But whereas his forebears carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman, Trump cracked the glowing amulet open, releasing its eldritch energies. The repercussions are striking: Trump is the first president to have served in no public capacity before ascending to his perch. But more telling, Trump is also the first president to have publicly affirmed that his daughter is a ‘piece of ass.’ The mind seizes trying to imagine a black man extolling the virtues of sexual assault on tape (‘When you’re a star, they let you do it’), fending off multiple accusations of such assaults, immersed in multiple lawsuits for allegedly fraudulent business dealings, exhorting his followers to violence, and then strolling into the White House. But that is the point of white supremacy—to ensure that that which all others achieve with maximal effort, white people (particularly white men) achieve with minimal qualification. Barack Obama delivered to black people the hoary message that if they work twice as hard as white people, anything is possible. But Trump’s counter is persuasive: Work half as hard as black people, and even more is possible.”

Historical Legacy

White supremacy is a child of Western European colonialism nurtured in ideologies such as the Doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny (back when it was just called spreading civilization), and the dehumanization of people of color, before it even set foot in America. Once it took that first step into a continent that wasn’t ready for what author Jared Diamond refers to as European guns, germs, and steal, white supremacy quickly established itself as the dominant ideology steering most American institutions from capitalism to democracy.

Quote 7: Elizabeth Martinez: RACE: The U.S. Creation Myth and Its Premise Keepers

The roots of U.S. racism or White Supremacy lie in economic exploitation by the theft of resources and human labor. That exploitation has been justified by a racist ideology affirming the inferiority of its victims. The first application of White Supremacy or racism by Euroamericans was against indigenous peoples, whose land was stolen; then Blacks, originally as slaves and later as exploited waged labor; followed by Mexicans when they lost their land holdings and also became wage-slaves. Chinese, Filipino, Japanese and other Asian/Pacific peoples also became low-wage workers here, subject to racism.

In short, White Supremacy and economic power were born together. The United States is the first nation in the world to be born racist and also the first to be born capitalist. That is not a coincidence. In this country, as history shows, capitalism and racism go hand in hand.”

Quote 8: Martin Luther King, Jr.: Strength to Love

Men convinced themselves that a system that was so economically profitable must be morally justifiable. They formulated elaborate theories of racial superiority. Their rationalizations clothed obvious wrongs in the beautiful garments of righteousness

Religion and the Bible were cited to crystallize the status quo. Science was commandeered to prove the biological inferiority of the Negro

So men took the insights of religion, science, and philosophy and conveniently twisted them to give sanction to the doctrine of white supremacy. This idea was soon embedded in every textbook and preached in practically every pulpit. It became a structured part of the culture.”

Quote 9: Keith Boykin: Trading Hoods for Neckties

“Despite the progress of the past half-century, the struggle continues. ‘The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.’ So said baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron in an interview with USA Today this week, in which he seemed to compare the racist klansmen of the 1960s with the supposedly post-racial cynics of our current generation.

You see, today’s racists don’t wear white hoods and scream the N-word. They wear dark suits and scream about government handouts. They don’t set up racist poll taxes to deter Blacks from voting. They set up voter ID laws to do the same thing. And they certainly don’t defend lynch mobs, which legitimize vigilante justice. Instead, they defend Stand Your Ground laws, which achieve the same purpose.”

Racism as a System

The modern definition of racism is Racism = prejudice + power. While all people can be prejudiced, only those who have power can be racist. For example, black people can be prejudiced against white people and that prejudice can be hurtful and wrong, but their prejudice lacks the institutional power needed for racism such as denying white people housing loans, jobs, or safety from police brutality. To understand racism, we have to move past the explicit expression and understand it as a system of white supremacy.

Quote 10: Elizabeth Martinez: RACE: The U.S. Creation Myth and it Premise Keepers

White Supremacy is an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent, for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power, and privilege.”

The most common mistake people make when they talk about racism is to think of it as a collection of prejudices and individual acts of discrimination. They do not see that it is a system, a web of interlocking, reinforcing institutions: economic, military, legal, educational, religious, and cultural. As a system, racism affects every aspect of life in a country.

“By not seeing that racism is systemic (part of a system), people often personalize or individualize racist acts. For example, they will reduce racist police behavior to “a few bad apples” who need to be removed, rather than seeing it exists in police departments all over the country and is basic to the society. This mistake has real consequences: refusing to see police brutality as part of a system, and that the system needs to be changed, means that the brutality will continue.

The need to recognize racism as being systemic is one reason the term White Supremacy has been more useful than the term racism.

The Privilege Created in White Supremacy

A foundational tenet of white supremacy is creating a society that automatically privileges white people over people of color.  These privileges have been so automated and often carried out in racially segregated vacuums that most white people live their whole lives never recognizing that their experiences are not everyone’s experience.

Quote 11: Peggy McIntosh: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group …

I decided to try to work on myself at least by identifying some of the daily effects of white privilege in my life. I have chosen those conditions that I think in my case attach somewhat more to skin-color privilege than to class, religion, ethnic status, or geographic location, though of course all these other factors are intricately intertwined. As far as I can tell, my African American coworkers, friends, and acquaintances with whom I come into daily or frequent contact … cannot count on most of these conditions.

  1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.
  3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
  4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
  5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  7. When I am told about our national heritage or about ‘civilization,’ I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
  8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
  9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
  10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.”

Click here for the other 40 conditions

Quote 12: Michael Mark Cohen: Douchebag: The White Racial Slur We’ve All Been Waiting For

“White privilege is the right of whites, and only whites, to be judged as individuals, to be treated as a unique self, possessed of all the rights and protections of citizenship. I am not a race, I am the unmarked subject. I am simply man, whereas you might be a black man, an asian (sic) woman, a disabled native man, a homosexual latina (sic) woman, and on and on the qualifiers of identification go. With each keyword added, so too does the burden of representation grow.

Sometimes the burden of representation is proudly shouldered, even celebrated. But more often this burden of representation becomes a dangerous, racist weight, crushing and unbearable. Michael Brown was killed in part because of this burden (the stereotype of black male criminality), and his body continues to carry this weight as the protests mount (the martyred symbol that black lives matter).

But white men are just people. Normal. Basic Humanity. We carry the absent mark which grants us the invisible power of white privilege. Everyone else gets some form of discrimination.”

Internalizing Normal and Good vs Abnormal and Bad

No matter how “woke” you consider your family to be, all people who grow up in a society dominated by white supremacy will subconsciously internalize some white supremacist beliefs and biases. It’s not a question of if but a question of how much white supremacy you internalized, how it is subconsciously affecting your reactions to the world and the people around you, and to what extent are you able to course-correct these internalized beliefs.

Quote 13: Dismantling Racism: Racism Defined

White supremacy is the idea (ideology) that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions. While most people associate white supremacy with extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazis, white supremacy is ever present in our institutional and cultural assumptions that assign value, morality, goodness, and humanity to the white group while casting people and communities of color as worthless (worth less), immoral, bad, and inhuman and ‘undeserving.’”

Quote 14:  Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ): White Supremacy (sic) Culture

Question: Why do you call it white supremacy (sic) culture? Can we call it something else?

Answer: We get this question a lot when people plan to use the article on white supremacy (sic) culture with their groups and organizations. They express a genuine concern that the term ‘white supremacy (sic) culture’ will turn white people off, make us defensive and less willing to consider how this culture is reproduced. Part of this concern reflects how we’ve been taught by this culture to associate white supremacy with the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other people or groups that actively advocate a racist ideology and viewpoint. We believe it is important to use the term ‘white supremacy (sic)’ culture because the norms, values, and beliefs that our culture reproduces act to reinforce the belief that ‘white’ and people attached to ‘whiteness’ are better, smarter, more beautiful, and more valuable than ‘black,’ or people and communities indigenous to this land, brought here for the purpose of enslavement, or immigrating here from Asia, India, or south of our border. We think it is important to name what is really happening, which is that we live in a culture that reproduces—sometimes overtly and sometimes very subtly—the idea that white is supreme. Those of us who live in this culture, including those of us who fight against racism, swim in this culture and unintentionally and unwittingly reproduce these norms, values, and beliefs. One way to address the genuine concern is to explain why we use the phrase white supremacy (sic) culture to get people to think about it. We are not white supremacists and we are swimming in and affected by a white supremacy (sic) culture.”

Quote 15: Cornel West: Race Matters

White supremacist ideology is based first and foremost on the degradation of black bodies in order to control them. One of the best ways to instill fear in people is to terrorize them. Yet this fear is best sustained by convincing them that their bodies are ugly, their intellect is inherently underdeveloped, their culture is less civilized, and their future warrants less concern than that of other peoples.”

Final Thoughts

The last view to be shared on white supremacy focuses on the importance of understanding the role of “good will” white moderates—not white extremists—in the preservation of white supremacy in the U.S.  By ending this article with the following quote, I hope that white people will stop blaming white supremacy entirely on white supremacists and start realizing that it’s the responsibility of all white people to do the anti-racism work needed to dismantle white supremacy.

Quote 16: Martin Luther King, Jr.: Letter from a Birmingham Jail

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’”

Screen Shot 2020-06-19 at 5.24.38 PM

Guante: How to Explain White Supremacy to a White Supremacist

“Remember White supremacy is not the shark but the fish in the water” Guante

Vann R. Newkirk II: The Language of White Supremacy

Narrow definitions of the term actually help continue the work of the architects of the post-Jim Crow racial hierarchy.

Who or what is a white supremacist, exactly? The raging debate has resembled nothing so much as a classical ontological discourse on categorization. Are white supremacists considered so because they consider themselves so? Does one become a white supremacist by more Aristotelian means, expressing a certain number of categories of being—or swastika tattoos? Or is the definition something more slippery and subtle?The language of white supremacy has become increasingly central to understanding the argument over the broad currents of Donald Trump’s ascendancy. Long before ESPN anchor Jemele Hill famously referred to Trump as a white supremacist on Twitter, the questions of just who is a white supremacist, and just what white supremacy is, have dominated the analysis of how he came into power, and what that power means.Hill’s comments came as part of the general response to an essay from my colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates, one in which Coates says that Trump’s “ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power.” The bent of that essay is that whiteness—and in turn white supremacy—uniquely buoyed Trump’s candidacy, and that he has in turn openly wielded those energies to capture support and lead. Hill’s summation seemed to complete the square of that argument: “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists.” In this argument, white supremacy is framed as a broad concept, one where wielding racism or benefitting from it, even in its subtler forms, earns one the mark.

Opposition to this framing has varied, from conservatives who decry a tendency of liberals to see the hidden hand of racism in gosh darn everything, to those on the left who feel Coates downplays materialist analysis and unduly elevates Trump’s danger above that of other racist presidents. But one of the thought-provoking sets of analyses comes from those who roughly agree with Coates that Trump’s primary appeal has been racial—perhaps, racist—but disagree with labeling his ideology as “white supremacy” or with Hill’s assertion that he is an obvious white supremacist.

There are several shades of gray to those objections, but a column from Jonathan Chait in New York sums them up best. Chait does not agree with an expansive definition of white supremacy that would capture say David Duke, Steve Bannon, and Donald Trump, writing that “to flatten the language we use to describe different kinds of right-wing politics is to bludgeon our capacity to make vital distinctions.” Chait sees this labeling as a kind of language creep that in casting a wide net simultaneously cheapens some of America’s cherished institutions and in turn might tend to encourage radical acts against them.

This criticism of a broad definition of white supremacy isn’t new. Last November, Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum decried the “faddish term” wielded against members of the left and the right, and placed the genesis of that connotation with Coates himself. Jesse Singal, also of New York, and a frequent interlocutor of mine, tweeted yesterday expressing concern about the flexibility of the term as used by activists. “Don’t understand the utility of labeling a huge swath of things ‘white supremacist’ or ‘Nazi’ that simply aren’t,” Singal said. Our resultant conversation is threaded on Twitter and became the genesis of this essay.

To perhaps unfairly flatten these three arguments, which constitute the best of this school of objection, they tend to agree that the modern expansive definition of white supremacy is, well, modern. But that proposition is limited. The school of critical race theory, championed by scholars such as bell hooks, has been around in academic circles for at least 30 years, and its definition of white supremacy has long animated black activism. To quote scholar Frances Lee Ansley (taken here from a passage from David Gillborn, also, a critical-race-theory scholar):

“By ‘white supremacy’ I do not mean to allude only to the self-conscious racism of white supremacist hate groups. I refer instead to a political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings.”

The provenance of that definition of white supremacy does not alone guarantee its usefulness, and 30 years is still relatively new in the academia-to-modern parlance frame. Also, as my colleague Conor Friedersdorf noted last November, the critical-race-theory definition could very well be “the vernacular of a tiny, insular subculture,” one which is contested and has not reached the level of consensus.

But the idea of critical-race-theory’s insularity is belied by its deep communion with widely-read titans of black intellectual thought. James Baldwin’s work did nothing if not tend towards the idea of “white supremacy” as a collective effort that went well beyond the work of self-avowed members of hate groups, and his 1980 essay in Esquire titled “Dark Days” crystalized that tendency. “To be white was to be forced to digest a delusion called white supremacy,” Baldwin wrote. In that essay, which itself was written in parallel with the nascence of critical race theory, Baldwin ties the very concept of whiteness to white supremacy.

Lest Baldwin be counted along with Frantz Fanon and Malcolm X as more radical “fringe” voices on the topic of white supremacy, the idea of white supremacy as a shared culture has been floated by many of the establishment voices of the civil-rights-movement, including none other than Martin Luther King, Jr. In his 1967 book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, which is itself concerned with hope and building interracial solidarity, King wrote that  “the doctrine of white supremacy was imbedded in every textbook and preached in practically every pulpit. It became a structural part of the culture,” one that persisted to the present day.

“However much it is denied, however many excuses are made, the hard cold fact is that many white Americans oppose open housing because they unconsciously, and often consciously, feel that the Negro is innately inferior, impure, depraved and degenerate,” King wrote. “It is a contemporary expression of America’s long dalliance with racism and white supremacy.”

King saw that white supremacy was a structural pillar of America equally important to democracy itself. In that work, King also analyzed “white backlash” not as an insurgency responding to proximate political factors or politicians, but as a visceral, enduring autonomous response guided by white supremacy. In other words, King used “white supremacy” in a way that might have seen him scolded today, by many who do the scolding in his name.

The example of King is important, because a funhouse-mirror view of his philosophy tends to dominate the modern liberal view of race. King was famously conciliatory—in 1964 he refused to call Barry Goldwater “racist,” instead settling on saying the candidate “articulates a philosophy which gives aid and comfort to the racist,”  a restraint that even many modern journalists might not have—but in his late life he often dealt with the effects of that conciliation, and with an advancing conspiracy that would eventually consume him. By the time of his death, the country had turned on King. And one major driver was a concerted effort among conservatives to take “white supremacy” and flip it on its head, and to gaslight black activism.

Chait mentions that subversion, noting that “political appeals to racism had to use some level of symbolic remove” after the civil-rights movement, but his treatment doesn’t quite do justice to the musculature of the effort. The repackaging of Jim Crow into a “race neutral” set of policies didn’t just arise as a wink-and-a-nod deal in southern political backrooms a few years near the end of the civil-rights movement, but was a half-century-long project forged by thousands of lawyers and mainstream political leaders that costs millions of dollars, and was played out in every arena across the country from the Supreme Court to town hall meetings.A recent investigation in the New York Times Magazine by Nikole Hannah-Jones illustrates how this process took shape in the court room arms race over education after 1954’s Brown v. Board, but similar neutralization occurred in housing policy, public health, criminal justice, and voting rights. Richard Rothstein’s recent book The Color of Law in particular is a primer in the ways that even the least sophisticated white political actors moved away from explicitly racist and even subtly racist justifications for their laws to escape the scrutiny of watchful courts.Correspondingly, as new policies intersected with public opinion and genuine policy victories won by the civil-rights movement, expressing racism became gauche, and then taboo. That taboo itself crystallized a self-conceptualization of whiteness as innately anti-racist. In turn, charges of racism themselves became epithets, and the mantle of white supremacy was relegated only to the ranks of those white folks foolish or ideological enough not to abide by the taboo. As both Chait and Drum implicitly outline in their work, now the only way to be identified as a white supremacist is to say you are one.It goes without saying that this realignment almost exclusively benefitted white supremacists, who did not suddenly die with the passage of the Voting Rights Act. In no small bit of class warfare, whites who most often carried out direct violence in white supremacy’s name took the heat, giving space to the white men in suits who did their work quietly with litigation and city-planning maps. Those people of color who critiqued white supremacy were cemented as malcontents and agitators, themselves racists or “race-baiters” who sought to exploit white guilt to upend American racial harmony.

The development of critical race theory and its definition of white supremacy strike me as a reaction against that post-King status quo. The idea of “white privilege” came about not as a mid-aughts term for Tumblr teens, but during that reaction as a way to identify the latent benefits of white supremacy during a time when white liberals, moderates, and conservatives alike promoted a fiction of progress that denied their collective benefit from it, and to recover the language of responsibility lost in the mainstream with King’s death.

Additionally, calling out white supremacy and calling people white supremacists functioned as a provocation. The provocation necessarily came from a tiny, insular group of people—as the rest of the country had convinced itself that white supremacy was a grievously offensive slander. That provocation has been continued by today’s black activists, who often see themselves not as mere instruments in building big tents under the status quo, but as awakening people to the reality that the status quo is still white supremacy. Thus, their provocation appears designed to probe and assault consensus, an endeavor that always risks enraging people who are part of that consensus.The media likewise should not be merely a mirror of consensus; rather it should challenge groupthink any time it runs up against truth. And if consensus is that white supremacy is a thing that only exists in the hate-group fringe, that claim should be held in skepticism against the reality that many of the racial outcomes—income gaps, housing and education segregation, police brutality, and incarceration—of the era of naked white supremacy persist, or have even worsened. And when it comes to Trump, or any other politician for that matter, the knee-jerk consensus reaction that a mainstream politician cannot possibly be a white supremacist should be balanced with the truth that many or most American politicians have been, and that they were voted in by real Americans, many of whom are alive, well, and voting today.These demands are difficult to square in today’s polarized, litigious environment. But, to counter Chait, while a more expansive view of white supremacy in media’s contemplation of politics may seem to “flatten” political discourse, perhaps the difficulty here is facing the possibility that things might actually be flat. Politics might actually be trapped in the black box of white supremacy, and people very well might be on a historical treadmill, fighting the fights their parents fought, and maybe losing. If that version of reality is true, then the panic brought on by that flattened language might be justified.

Ryan Honeyman: White People: Let’s Talk About White Supremacy

One question has consumed me recently: “what is the role of a white person in conversations about racial justice (especially a white, cisgender, heterosexual, non-disabled, upper middle class male who is a U.S. citizen)?”

I used to think that the appropriate role for a white male of my status and privilege was to stay out of conversations about race. I believed that the best thing I could do was to keep my mouth shut and make space for others.

However, after learning from anti-racist leaders like Dr. Tiffany Jana, Debby Irving, Robin DiAngelo, Chris Crass, Ijeoma Oluo, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Nwamaka Agbo, and more, I have realized that white people staying out of conversations about race is not the right answer. It should not be the burden of people of color to educate white people about systemic racism, equity, privilege, and structural oppression.

So, my fellow white people, let’s talk about white supremacy–a system that we (i.e., the people reading this article) did not invent, but that we inherited and continue to benefit from, regardless of whether we believe we are “good,” or “definitely not racist,” or “don’t see skin color,” or “marched in the sixties.”

You may be thinking “Ok, I’m fine talking about diversity and inclusion. But ‘white supremacy’? That seems unnecessarily provocative and offensive.” If you are thinking this, I completely understand. I would have thought the exact same thing a few years ago. Let me explain.

As a white person (or for any person, for that matter), the term white supremacy is often jarring and cringe-worthy. It can conjure up images of neo-Nazis and Klu Klux Klan members marching down the street with torches—leading to feelings such as shame, defensiveness, or anger.

However, I am not proposing we discuss the bigotry of individuals who identify as white supremacists. I want to discuss the system or organizing principle of white supremacy in which white domination of society is seen as the natural order of things.

For white people like me, it is important to discuss this system because it goes largely unnoticed and operates by default in the background of our daily lives.

“Umm,” you may be wondering, “how is this possibly related to me? I don’t see the connection.” It is related because many of the structural systems that we participate in, such as the economy at large, are based upon—and tightly intertwined with—the legacy of white supremacy.

“I use the term white supremacy specifically because there is a lot of confusion around the term racism. White supremacy makes it clear as to who runs the system, who controls the system, who it benefits, and who it exploits.

— Sharon Martinas, Anti-Racist Activist

How White Supremacy is Intertwined with Our Economy

Consider the GI Bill.

The GI Bill was enacted after World War II to provide support for returning veterans. Many white people I know love the GI Bill. Both my grandfather on my mom’s side and my grandfather on my dad’s side directly benefited from the free college and low-interest home loans provided to veterans.

In fact, the benefits were so helpful that the GI Bill almost single-handedly moved both sides of my family from lower middle class to upper middle class economic status in one generation.

What about returning African-American veterans? Did they benefit as well?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the GI Bill’s benefits were not realized across racial lines. Only a very small percentage of returning African-American GIs were able to take advantage of the free education or housing benefits due to systematic discrimination.

There were not enough historically black colleges to educate all of the returning veterans, and many other colleges were only willing to accept a small, token amount of African-American applicants.

In addition, redlining was a formal, legal, and intentionally designed system that was written into the GI Bill to block subsidized home loans to African-Americans and other marginalized groups.

My family accumulated generational wealth that we still benefit from today. Does my family have a certain level of socio-economic status because we “worked harder” than other families? Nope. I can point directly to the racist policies and practices that forever altered my family’s path and continues to provide a level of comfort, status, and privilege that my family enjoys.

See African Americans and the GI Bill and Slavery And American Capitalism for just a few examples of how white supremacy continues to affect our everyday lives.

The Unspoken Values and Norms of White Supremacy

White supremacy implies a number of unspoken norms. It describes the social order in which one kind of person is superior: a white, Anglo, cisgender, christian, heterosexual, wealth-oriented, non-disabled, male.

People who do not fit neatly into each of these categories and want access to power and privilege are often forced to Anglicize their names, hide their sexuality, play up their wealth, act “male,” and hide their religion.

The culture of white supremacy also elevates a certain attitude and approach to life.

Many of the values I learned and internalized growing up as a young white male included things like, “Work hard. Keep your nose to the grindstone. Be productive. If you see a problem, fix it. You can do anything you want if you just try hard enough. Everyone gets a fair shot. You are responsible for your own success in life. Suck it up and don’t complain. Always be polite. Avoid conflict. Don’t rock the boat. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.”

For years I assumed that the values imparted to me by my family were somehow unique to us. It shocked me to realize that these messages are part of a cultural lineage and belief system that is handed down by white families to their children over many generations.

These internalized values play out in subtle and pernicious ways. For example, if a white child sees a poor black child at school, they might think, “well, maybe their family just needs to work harder,” or “we should help those poor people who obviously haven’t figured it out and need the assistance of people like me.”

Based on the narrative that everyone gets a fair chance and working hard is the answer, the white child may assume the black child’s family is solely responsible for the circumstances in which they find themselves.

In addition, white children are taught to avoid conflict. “I’m confused why this black child is poor,” the white child might think, “but I’m not going to ask about it. It seems like a sensitive topic. It must just be the way things are.”

Nothing in the previous example was consciously or purposefully racist on the part of the white child. If anything, the white child thought they could be helpful. The cause of the damaging conclusions is the unexamined belief system—the default order of things—that has been passed down to white people and perpetuates institutional bias.

What Can We (White People) Do About It?

I have learned that when white people (like me) first get interested in racial justice, we tend to want to “do” something about it immediately. We want to create a toolkit, or a 5 step action plan, or conduct an 80/20 analysis to determine critical next steps.

Anti-racist activists have told me to be wary of these impulses, because “being productive” and trying to “solve” white supremacy is part of the problem itself. When we seek to solve problems quickly, we tend to skip over the pain, shame, and guilt we feel, and unintentionally recreate the old patterns of dominance and oppression we are trying to dismantle.

I can only speak about what has been helpful for me in my own process. Taking these with a large grain of salt, here are six things you can “do” to take the next step:

1. Learn, Learn, Learn.

Here are several resources that were shared with me, and that I have found to be particularly helpful in my thinking about white supremacy:




Next Economy Now Podcasts:

2. Educate Other White People About White Supremacy.

Anti-racist educators have helped me understand that most white people have no idea that there is a system of white supremacy that is distinct from the KKK or Nazis. This is very problematic. It means that we think it only applies to “those bad people” and not us.

For example, as a straight white male, it is the privilege of people like me to NOT think about white supremacy. We can mostly ignore it, or expect people of color (or other historically marginalized groups) to figure things out for themselves, or indefinitely kick the conversation down the road without any apparent negative repercussions.

It should not be the burden of people of color, women, or other marginalized groups to educate folks with privilege about institutional racism, institutional sexism, and other forms of systemic bias.

“I believe that white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color. I define a white progressive as any white person who thinks he or she is not racist, or is less racist, or in the ‘choir,’ or already ‘gets it.’

“White progressives can be the most difficult for people of color because, to the degree that we think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure that others see us as having arrived. None of our energy will go into what we need to be doing for the rest of our lives: engaging in ongoing self-awareness, continuing education, relationship building, and actual anti-racist practice.

“White progressives do indeed uphold and perpetrate racism, but our defensiveness and certitude make it virtually impossible to explain to us how we do so.”

― Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

3. Stay Engaged–Even if it is Super Uncomfortable.

One reason privileged people like me avoid this topic is that many of us feel like we don’t know where to start—even if we are interested in addressing systemic bias.

Another reason is that conversations about the abuses caused by white people often bring up feelings of shame, guilt, hopelessness, anger, and sadness.

I have taken solace in the advice I have received from racial justice educators and social justice activists over the last few years. Their comments have generally followed along the lines of:

  • “Yes, you are a privileged white male. However, you did not invent racism, sexism, and other forms institutional oppression. You inherited them.”

  • “It is ok to feel awkward and uncomfortable when talking about white supremacy. Try to stay engaged. If you choose to walk away from an uncomfortable conversation, you are exercising your privilege, because people of color, women, and others cannot walk away from their identity.”

  • “Do not doubt that you will make mistakes and feel embarrassed. Perfection is not the goal. Stay engaged long enough to give yourself a chance to recover from your mistakes, make a breakthrough in understanding, and strengthen your ability to have difficult conversations.”

4. Stop Siloing The Conversation.

There is no such thing as a conversation about business and/or the economy and a separate conversation about race, privilege, and white supremacy. I have learned that they are the same conversation. Siloing white supremacy into something separate is one of the main barriers we face to creating a more equitable society.

5. Seek to Dismantle White Supremacy Instead of “Helping Others.”

Until recently, I had always believed that the answer to many social and environmental problems was to “help” historically marginalized groups bring themselves up to par with white communities. I had never considered that challenging and unraveling the norms, assumptions, and culture of white supremacy itself could be part of the solution. Reframing this problem is difficult and uncomfortable because it shifts the focus to me–where it belongs.

6. Seek to Understand Your Own White Fragility.

Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragilitysays that the most common response to giving feedback to a white person about race is outrage, such as “how dare you suggest that I could have said or done something racist!” DiAngelo says that outrage is often followed by righteous indignation about the manner in which the feedback was given.

From her experience facilitating hundreds of trainings on this topic, she has found that there is apparently an unspoken set of rules for how to give white people feedback on racism, which she calls “The Rules of Engagement.” She has found that the only way to give feedback correctly is not to give it at all. Thus, the first rule is cardinal:

  • Do not give me feedback on my racism under any circumstances. If you break the cardinal rule:

  • Proper tone is crucial – feedback must be given calmly. If there is any emotion in the feedback, the feedback is invalid and does not have to be considered.

  • There must be trust between us. You must trust that I am in no way racist before you can give me feedback on my racism.

  • Our relationship must be issue-free – If there are issues between us, you cannot give me feedback on racism.

  • Feedback must be given immediately, otherwise it will be discounted because it was not given sooner.

  • You must give feedback privately, regardless of whether the incident occurred in front of other people. To give feedback in front of anyone else—even those involved in the situation—is to commit a serious social transgression. The feedback is thus invalid.

  • You must be as indirect as possible. To be direct is to be insensitive and will invalidate the feedback and require repair.

  • As a white person I must feel completely safe during any discussion of race. Giving me any feedback on my racism will cause me to feel unsafe, so you will need to rebuild my trust by never giving me feedback again. Point of clarification: when I say “safe” what I really mean is “comfortable.”

  • Giving me feedback on my racial privilege invalidates the form of oppression that I experience (i.e. classism, sexism, heterosexism). We will then need to focus on how you oppressed me.

  • You must focus on my intentions, which cancel out the impact of my behavior.

  • To suggest my behavior had a racist impact is to have misunderstood me. You will need to allow me to explain until you can acknowledge that it was your misunderstanding.

DiAngelo notes that each of these rules are rooted in white fragility.

In sum, anti-racist leaders have helped me understand why it is critical for me and my fellow whites to more explicitly name white supremacy and examine its negative effects. I am beginning to learn that only by naming it, disrupting it, and dismantling it can we successfully create a world that works for the benefit of all life.

If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend checking out the Dismantling White Supremacy Unconference on June 14–15 in Oakland, California. You can also sign up for the LIFT Economy newsletter to get tips, advice, and free resources about building the Next Economy.


Ben and Jerry: 7 Ways We Know Systemic Racism Is Real

Systemic racism is about the way racism is built right into every level of our society. Many people point to what they see as less in-your-face prejudice and bias these days, compared to decades past, but as Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

While fewer people may consider themselves racist, racism itself persists in our schools, offices, court system, police departments, and elsewhere. Think about it: when white people occupy most positions of decision-making power, people of color have a difficult time getting a fair shake, let alone getting ahead. Bottom line: we have a lot of work to do.

Race Forward: What Is Systemic Racism? – Wealth Gap

Click here for 9 other Race Forward: “What Is Systemic Racism?” Videos

Image result for mlk jr we must be concerned not

“Most white people believe that a racist is: one, an individual, two, one who holds conscious and aware dislike of people based on race, and three, intentionally seeks to be mean to them.  Individual, conscious, intentional. And by that definition, virtually all white people are exempt from racism. We do not understand that this is a system that is infused across all institutions, traditions, politics, practices, language, norms. It is the system we are all in and none of us could be exempt from its forces.

White people apparently don’t understand socialization because we believe that we can be exempt from this system just because we say we are or see ourselves that way.

What white people need to do is start from the premise that you have been shaped by the forces of racism. That you could not have avoided that, and therefore, the question you ask is very different. The question we ask now from the dominant framework is if its racism.  But, understanding that it’s a system whose forces have shaped us, changes that question to how was it racism?  So that’s the question I would always ask: What does this look like in my life?

When you stop with the defensiveness, and the denial, and the deflection, and the explaining, you can see that, of course I have this.

I would never march in Charlottesville. But I still manifest internalized superiority. And it is on me to try to identify how I do that. And that is actually incredibly liberating. When you stop with the defensiveness, and the denial, and the deflection, and the explaining, you can see that, of course I have this. I actually don’t want it, but how about I be open to people helping me see how I have it. The worst fear of a white progressive is that we’re going to say something racist, but don’t you dare tell me I just said something racist!”

Dismantling Racism: Three Expressions of Racism

The ways in which the dominant culture is founded upon and then defines and shapes norms, values, beliefs and standards to advantage white people and oppress people of color. The ways in which the dominant culture defines reality to advantage white people and oppress People of Color. The norms, values, or standards assumed by the dominant society that perpetuate racism. Examples: thin, blond, white women as the basis for our society’s standard of beauty; women on welfare assumed to be Black or Brown and portrayed as irresponsible while white collar fraud in the business community is costing the US hundreds of billions of dollars a year; requiring people to speak English historically (Indigenous peoples) and today (people from Central and South America) as a way of deliberately destroying community and culture.

The ways in which the structures, systems, policies, and procedures of institutions in the U.S. are founded upon and then promote, reproduce, and perpetuate advantages for white people and the oppression of People of Color. The ways in which institutions legislate and structure reality to advantage white people and oppress People of Color. The ways in which institutions —  Housing, Government, Education, Media, Business, Health Care, Criminal Justice, Employment, Labor, Politics, Church – perpetuate racism. Examples: People of Color under-represented and misrepresented on television, racially biased standardized tests used to determine who will be admitted to higher education programs and institutions, historic and ongoing breaking of treaties with indigenous Native American communities, reliance on low-paying undocumented immigrant labor by farms and factories.

The ways in which we perpetuate a nd/or assume the idea that white people are inherently better and/or People of Color are inherently inferior on an individual basis. The ways in which white people act out of racist implicit bias. Examples: calling someone a racist name, making a racist assumption.

According to Truthout: “Any National “Conversation About Race” Must Include Black Radical Tradition”

“Racism is a system of power that oppresses people of African descent and other non-European peoples within the United States and around the world. Systemic racism manifests itself in the judicial system, the national and global economies, policing, the education system, religion, popular culture and a war machine that predominantly kills non-European peoples around the world.

The foundation of this system as it exists in the United States was laid down by the trans-Atlantic slave trade, in which black African people were stolen from Africa by European colonizers to work as slaves. Slaves worked in mines, rice fields or  construction or on plantations. Their labor would be used to produce commodities that were later sold in international markets for profit, which helped create modern global capitalism. Slavery was protected by robust political and legal systems that designated slaves as property to be bought and sold, rather than human beings. The system curtailed the rights of all African-Americans, including those who were not enslaved. Slaves were brutally treated with torture, lynchings, whippings, rape and other forms of cruelty inflicted upon them. This created a system of racial hierarchy that put whites on top and blacks – free and slave – on bottom.

Slavery transferred wealth from black labor to white property owners because African slaves were not paid for their work. For centuries, slavery allowed whites – including those who did not own slaves – to amass wealth for their communities, while blacks were politically and economically oppressed. This laid the foundation for a massive wealth gap between blacks and whites that persists to this day, more than a century and a half after slavery’s demise. A 2013 study by the Urban Institute found that in 2010, white families’ average wealth was $632,000, black families’ $98,000 and Latinos’ $110,000. Redlining (the practice of denying or making it difficult for residents in poor, non-white communities to receive financial services like getting a mortgage or insurance or borrowing money), gentrification, discriminatory lending practices, no access to credit, low incomes and the recent recession have all prevented – and continue to prevent – African-Americans from accumulating wealth in their communities.

Moreover, slavery had dismal repercussions for the African continent. A 2007 Harvard study by Dr. Nathan Nunn analyzed the impact of the trans-Atlantic and the older but smaller trans-Saharan, Indian Ocean and Red Sea slave trades on Africa’s economic development. Nunn found that “the slave trade caused political instability, weakened states, promoted political and social fragmentation and resulted in a deterioration of domestic legal institutions.” Additionally, the “countries from which the most slaves were taken (taking into account differences in country size) are today the poorest in Africa.” Nunn concluded, “if the slave trades had not occurred, then 72% of the average income gap between Africa and the rest of the world would not exist today and 99% of the income gap between Africa and the rest of the underdeveloped world would not exist.”

After slavery ended in the 1860s, racism still persisted through the establishment of Jim Crow laws, a system that legalized racial segregation in the United States. This lasted for about a century. Jim Crow has been replaced by a mass incarceration system that disproportionately imprisons black people for nonviolent drug offenses, even though blacks and whites use drugs at roughly the same rates. Oppressive policing reflects similar entrenched racism: Every 28 hours, a black person is extrajudicially killed by a police officer, security guard or self-appointed vigilantes such as Zimmerman.

Systemic racism manifests itself in multiple facets of society. Patterns of racial inequality exist in the judicial system, the national and global economies, policing, the education system, religion, popular culture and a war machine that predominantly kills non-European peoples around the world.

As a political tradition, black radicalism would look at these phenomena and diagnose them as consequences of a racist power structure that oppresses black people. Its critique of white supremacy is radical in that it does not look at individual bigots, prejudiced beliefs, individual privileges or one political party as the root cause of black people’s suffering. The root cause of black people’s misery, to the black radical, is a racist power system, the purpose and design of which is to keep their people miserable. Reforming, improving or integrating into the racist power system is not enough for a black radical because the system is irredeemably rotten at its core. That is why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., near the end of his life, worried that black people were “integrating into a burning house”.

Racism Is Real • BRAVE NEW FILMS



Wikipedia: Critical Race Theory

“Critical race theory (CRT) is a theoretical framework in the social sciences that uses critical theory to examine society and culture as they relate to categorizations of race, law, and power. It began as a theoretical movement within American law schools in the mid- to late 1980s.

…According to the UCLA School of Public Affairs:

CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures. CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color.


African American Policy Forum: The Unequal Opportunity Race

Note to My White Self: One Last Try At Explaining Racism To White People

“Finally, no thorough discussion of racism can avoid questions of power.  While any person of any color can be inconsistent, inattentive and careless in their attitudes and behaviors toward people of a different color, only those with power can systematically damage and diminish the lives of those whom they disdain.  In a society where white people have controlled the levers of power, racism is a direct product of white society.

White people can be inconsistent, inattentive and careless in their behavior toward people of color with little risk or consequence.  We can treat a Latino worker with disrespect without censure.  We can be inattentive to a police officer without danger.  We can be careless about racism without any effect on our quality of life.  This is not true for people of color.  A person of color who complains about disrespect is often fired.  A person of color who is inattentive to a police officer can be killed.  A person of color who is careless in their interactions with white people will eventually be punished.  This power differential turns common bias and prejudice into an uniquely white ailment – systemic racism.”


David Wellman, Portraits of White Racism

Culturally sanctioned beliefs, which, regardless of intentions involved, defend the advantages whites have because of the subordinated position of racial minorities

The Daily Dot: White people need to confront systemic racism, not ‘alt-right’ extremists

White nationalists and blatant racists have become the perfect scapegoats—a group that the rest of white America can righteously point to as the “true racists.” A group that most white Americans are willing to mobilize in large numbers against and express moral outrage about. A group, when in action, can make other white people hear what people of color have been saying all along—that race continues to be a problem.

But when presented with this difficult reality that racism has always been in the very fabric of everything this country does, whites collectively offer little more than simple, self-serving solutions: Denounce the racist act, distance oneself from blatantly racist individuals and groups, maybe march. These “answers” only fuel the white pride/white hero narrative, however—the assumption being that through such basic acts, white people can bring “equality and justice for all.”

Meanwhile, systemic racism rages on…

…today, the KKK, neo-Nazis, and Stormfront members are far from Black people’s greatest immediate threat. The prison industrial complex, which has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Black people for-profit, is. The predatory banking system, which has decimated the Black middle class and wiped out the collective hope for the growth of generational wealth, is. White liberals, who claim to be “colorblind” while simultaneously gentrifying neighborhoods of color, are. Individuals, both right- and left-leaning alike, who become rich from these racist systems and use their money to influence politics, definitely are.

For example, there was a prison population boom between 1980 and 2015 that saw the number of people incarcerated in America increase from roughly 500,000 to over 2.2 million. Of that 2.2 million, Black people account for 1 million of the inmates, making up nearly half of the prison population, despite comprising only 12-13 percent of the American population. Stats like these prompted Michelle Alexander to write the book The New Jim Crow, which likened the modern incarceration of Black people to the racist Jim Crow era. She proved that a deeply racist structure was at work in the American justice system that preyed on Black people. And this deeply racist structure, which has claimed the freedom of thousands, made members of both sides of the political aisle rich…

…Benefiting from systemic racism isn’t just for white executives, either. Cities that have become the beacons of white liberalism and progressivism have outpriced most Black people, pushing them to the fringes. Though white liberals seem open to addressing racism, race-based income inequality and the absence of affordable housing drives this trend. Despite the white liberal desire for diversity, media rooms, classrooms, and workplaces remain deeply segregated. And then there is the plain fact that both white liberals and conservatives often deny the racism (and the impact of that racism) that Black people face on a daily basis, just to assuage their own guilt.

In truth, if more were being done by whites as a whole to dismantle systemic racism, a few hundred men carrying tiki torches would be inconsequential in the grand scheme of equality. Liberal and conservative America needs to know that Black people do not need saving from white nationalists. We need to be saved from the systemic racism being perpetuated by all of white America. The subtle, often-unowned racism that requires white self-reflection, culpability, true allies, and hard work to dismantle.

Image may contain: 1 person, text

The Power of Racism as a System
Forces people into situations where they have to perpetuated racism

  • Bacon’s Rebellion
    • Black and white indentured servants/slaves united against colonial governance
    • Fighting for the ability to ethnically cleanse Natives and steal their land
      • Only way to protect/grow in settler colonialism
  • Buffalo Soldiers
    • Moved out west after Civil War to help ethnically cleanse Natives
    • “As Southern Black citizens were killed over the next few decades to make way for Jim Crow, Buffalo Soldiers killed indigenous communities in the West to make way for White settlers.” Ibram Kendi, Stamped From the Beginning
    • “Buffalo soldier(s) only reflected the overall values of the culture in which he struggled for a place, hoping to ally himself with the dominant group” Frank Schubert – Black Past
  • Courts enforcing Racist laws
    • Slavery, black codes, Jim Crow, miscegenation, War on drugs, etc.
  • Housing Discrimination
    • Jim Crow caused capitalistic housing markets to devalued communities of color
      • no matter if bankers were racist or not
  • Police Brutality
    • Studies show when police departments increase diversity with no reforms
      • They still produce similar police brutality stats
    • Police often incentivize oppression (quotas, promotions)
      • And are forced to protect each other first (Blue Shield)
  • Teacher Curriculum
    • Teachers are incentivize/required to teach racist curriculum
      • Lost Cause, Texas School board, ethnic studies battles, etc

Screen Shot 2019-05-15 at 12.59.00 PM.png

5 Things You Should Know About Racism | Decoded | MTV News

Further Readings

Aspen Institute: Glossary for Understanding the Dismantling Structural Racism/Promoting Racial Equity Analysis

Ben & Jerry: 7 Ways We Know Systemic Racism Is Real

The Daily Dot: White people need to confront systemic racism, not ‘alt-right’ extremists

Korbett Mosesly: 10 Ways to Practice Institutional Racism at your Non-profit

Huff Post: 15 Charts That Prove We’re Far From Post-Racial

Bill Moyers: These Eight Charts Show Why Racial Equality Is a Myth in America

Everyday Feminism: Why Reverse Oppression Simply Cannot Exist

Note to My White Self: One Last Try At Explaining Racism To White People

Citizenship and Social Justice: Curriculum for White Americans to Educate Themselves on Race and Racism–from Ferguson to Charleston

Atlanta Black Star: 10 Quotes That Perfectly Explain Racism To People Who Claim They’re Colorblind

EdChange: The Undergirding Factor is POWER Toward an Understanding of Prejudice and Racism

Coffee, Current Events & Politics in Luqman Nation: Power vs. Morality – The Different Responses of White and Black People In Conversations About Racial Issues

Vogue Teen:  How “Nice White People” Benefit from Charlottesville and White Supremacy

Back to Top

System Justification and the Myth of Meritocracy

Screen Shot 2020-06-11 at 2.25.04 PMSource: the.mirror

Atlantic: Why the Myth of Meritocracy Hurts Kids of Color

“If you’re in an advantaged position in society, believing the system is fair and that everyone could just get ahead if they just tried hard enough doesn’t create any conflict for you … [you] can feel good about how [you] made it,” said Erin Godfrey, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of applied psychology at New York University’s Steinhardt School. But for those marginalized by the system—economically, racially, and ethnically—believing the system is fair puts them in conflict with themselves and can have negative consequences…

The findings build upon a body of literature on “system justification”—a social-psychology theory that believes humans tend to defend, bolster, or rationalize the status quo and see overarching social, economic, and political systems as good, fair, and legitimate. System justification is a distinctively American notion, Godfrey said, built on myths used to justify inequities, like “If you just work hard enough you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps … it’s just a matter of motivation and talent and grit.” Yet, as she and her colleagues discovered, these beliefs can be a liability for disadvantaged adolescents once their identity as a member of a marginalized group begins to gel—and once they become keenly aware of how institutional discrimination disadvantages them and their group…

…“I do think that there’s this element of people think of me this way anyway, so this must be who I am,” Godfrey said, adding that the behaviors—things like stealing and sneaking out—reflect stereotypes perpetuated about youth of color. “” he explained. Stovall said it’s critical to guide young people from “defiant resistance”—defying what they’ve learned to be untrue regarding a just and fair system for all—to “transformative resistance”—developing a critical understanding of the historical context of U.S. society. Educators, he said, play a crucial role in this work.

Wikipedia: System Justification

According to system justification theory, people desire not only to hold favorable attitudes about themselves (ego-justification) and the groups to which they belong (group-justification), but also to hold positive attitudes about the overarching social structure in which they are entwined and find themselves obligated to (system-justification). This system-justifying motive sometimes produces the phenomenon known as out-group favoritism, an acceptance of inferiority among low-status groups and a positive image of relatively higher status groups…

Belief in a just world

This theory broadly explains that people are inclined to believe the world is generally fair, and that the outcomes of people’s behavior are subsequently deserved. Ideologies that relate to belief in a just world have to do with maintaining a sense of personal control and a desire to understand the world as non-random. Such ideologies include the protestant work ethic and belief in meritocracy. Essentially, belief in a just world feeds an epistemic need for predictability, order, and stability in one’s environment. System justification theory, while keeping the perspective that people are inclined to believe the world is just, extracts the underlying epistemic needs of the just world ideology and uses them as support for why people are motivated to uphold the system. In other words, preference for stability, predictability, and the perception of personal control, over random chance, motivates one to see the status quo as fair and legitimate.[3] This can be an issue, however, due to the fact that disadvantaged people can easily internalize their low position and blame themselves for ‘shortcomings’ or lack of ‘successes…

Another way people rationalize the status quo is through the use of stereotypes. When people perceive threats to the predominant system, they are more inclined to cling to and back the existing structure, and one way of doing so is by means of endorsing stereotypes that rationalize inequality. If one considers oneself a member of a higher social status group (economic standing, race, gender) he or she will hold favorable stereotypes about their group and less positive ones toward lower status outgroups. As perceived legitimacy of the system or threat to it increases, members of both disadvantaged and advantaged groups will be more motivated to utilize stereotypes as explanatory rationalizations (no matter how weak) for unequal status differences. Those that belong to disadvantaged groups will tend to associate positive characteristics (favorable stereotypes) to high status members and lead low status group members to minimize negative feelings about their low status. Thus, stereotype endorsement as system justification is consensual and holds a palliative function. This is true for both the ingroup and outgroup. Stereotypes also deflect blame of unfair status differences from the system and instead, attribute inequality to group traits or characteristics

The Progressive: The Myth of White Meritocracy

The recent college admissions cheating scandal involving parents accused of committing bribery and fraud to get their children into elite schools raises two issues: the myth of meritocracy for the privileged and the continued denigration of affirmative action for the less-privileged.

While most of society will publicly denounce what these parents did, it is in some ways nothing new. People with power and privilege have always done whatever they can to maintain it, while claiming that they simply worked hard and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Then they tell everyone else to do the same, a message specifically targeted toward historically oppressed groups.

As a black woman, I have experienced misapprehension and resentment about affirmative action firsthand.

Meanwhile, affirmative action has been called everything from welfare to reverse discrimination. It is more accurately defined, to quote the National Conference of State Legislatures, as “admission policies that provide equal access to education for those groups that have been historically excluded or underrepresented, such as women and minorities.”

As a black woman, I have experienced misapprehension and resentment about affirmative action firsthand. When I was in graduate school, a white male student and I were having a discussion on race. He told me he couldn’t get a scholarship when he was an undergraduate because undeserving black students were taking all the scholarship money. He blamed this on affirmative action.

Having myself received one of these academic scholarships, I proceeded to inform him of the reasons this occurred: “I took College Prep classes in high school that gave me honors credits, so I graduated with a 4.075 GPA. What was yours? My class ranking was 32 out of 857 seniors in my graduating class. What was yours? I was named in Who’s Who Among American High School Students. What about you? I was in the National Honor Society, the National Spanish Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, the National Beta Club, a service club, and I took Advanced and Advanced Placement classes. What about you?”

By the time I finished, he just stood silently. Then I said, “So please explain to me again how I supposedly took your scholarship away from you.” He said nothing further.

My story is not an anomaly. All of my close friends and many colleagues did just as well or better than I did. The problem is that our stories are not told, and this continues to perpetuate the racist stereotype that when blacks succeed, it can only be due to an affirmative action program that gives unqualified blacks the privileges that rightfully belong to whites.

Sojourners: When White Privilege Is Disguised as Meritocracy

“America’s current educational structure produces greater results for the upper middle class and the rich than other demographics, yet they manipulate the system to their advantage. Despite decades-old practices of admitting underqualified white students or legacy applicants, black students have undeniably grasped the concept of “you must work twice as hard as they do.” This statement is shared universally within black households as parents and children alike understand how the system is stacked against them. After the civil rights movement, families with privilege vehemently opposed school integration. They formed their own private institutions, today known as private schools, that kept segregation alive. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, a silo was created and further separation by virtue of education continued. These practices are still thriving today, seen throughout state legislatures and school districts through redistricting and rezoning based upon zip code, disabling fair and equal education to be accessed by all.”

Fast Company: Meritocracy doesn’t exist, and believing it does is bad for you

Perhaps more disturbing, simply holding meritocracy as a value seems to promote discriminatory behavior. The management scholar Emilio Castilla at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the sociologist Stephen Benard at Indiana University studied attempts to implement meritocratic practices, such as performance-based compensation in private companies. They found that, in companies that explicitly held meritocracy as a core value, managers assigned greater rewards to male employees over female employees with identical performance evaluations. This preference disappeared where meritocracy was not explicitly adopted as a value.

This is surprising because impartiality is the core of meritocracy’s moral appeal. The “even playing field” is intended to avoid unfair inequalities based on gender, race, and the like. Yet Castilla and Benard found that, ironically, attempts to implement meritocracy leads to just the kinds of inequalities that it aims to eliminate. They suggest that this “paradox of meritocracy” occurs because explicitly adopting meritocracy as a value convinces subjects of their own moral bona fides. Satisfied that they are just, they become less inclined to examine their own behavior for signs of prejudice.

Meritocracy is a false and not very salutary belief. As with any ideology, part of its draw is that it justifies the status quo, explaining why people belong where they happen to be in the social order. It is a well-established psychological principle that people prefer to believe that the world is just.

However, in addition to legitimation, meritocracy also offers flattery. Where success is determined by merit, each win can be viewed as a reflection of one’s own virtue and worth. Meritocracy is the most self-congratulatory of distribution principles. Its ideological alchemy transmutes property into praise, material inequality into personal superiority. It licenses the rich and powerful to view themselves as productive geniuses. While this effect is most spectacular among the elite, nearly any accomplishment can be viewed through meritocratic eyes. Graduating from high school, artistic success, or simply having money can all be seen as evidence of talent and effort. By the same token, worldly failures becomes signs of personal defects, providing a reason why those at the bottom of the social hierarchy deserve to remain there.

This is why debates over the extent to which particular individuals are “self-made” and over the effects of various forms of “privilege” can get so hot-tempered. These arguments are not just about who gets to have what; it’s about how much “credit” people can take for what they have, about what their successes allow them to believe about their inner qualities. That is why, under the assumption of meritocracy, the very notion that personal success is the result of “luck” can be insulting. To acknowledge the influence of external factors seems to downplay or deny the existence of individual merit.

Despite the moral assurance and personal flattery that meritocracy offers to the successful, it ought to be abandoned both as a belief about how the world works and as a general social ideal. It’s false, and believing in it encourages selfishness, discrimination, and indifference to the plight of the unfortunate.”


Quotes from Eduardo Bonilla-Silva: Racism without Racists

“Another tenet of liberalism whites use to explain racial matters is the Jeffersonian idea of the cream rises to the top,” or meritocracy (reward by merit). And whites seem unconcerned that the color of the “cream” that usually “rises” is white. For example, Diane, a student at SU, expressed her dissatisfaction about providing blacks unique opportunities to be admitted into universities: “I don’t think you should admit anyone. It’s gotta be, you’ve gotta be on the level to do it. If they were prepared beforehand to handle the college level to succeed in it, then there you go, anyone can.” Diane then added, “They’ve gotta have the motivation to do well before you get there, I mean, I can’t imagine being unprepared to go [to college] like just barely getting by in high school and then coming here to take the classes, you just can’t go, ‘OK, we want to put minorities in here so put anyone in, you know.” Diane also used the notion of meritocracy to explain her opposition to affirmative action.

That’s so hard. I still believe in merit, you know, I still believe in equality, you know. If you did have two people with the same qualifications, one’s minority and one’s not, you know, I’d want to interview them and just maybe a personality stands out that works with the job, I don’t know. Just find something other than race to base it on, you know? Let that not be a factor if they qualify.

How could Diane maintain these views and remain reasonable”? Diane could say these things and seem reasonable because she believes discrimination is not the reason why blacks are worse off than whites. Instead, she relied on the cultural racism frame to explain blacks’ status. This view can be seen too in her response to a question on why blacks fare worse academically than whites: “I don’t know why. Mine was a personal motivation so, you know, I don’t know. I don’t want to say they weren’t personally motivated to get good grades. but that’s what it was for me.” Diane expanded on this matter and said, “Maybe some of them don’t have parents to push them or … maybe the schools are not equal.” She also speculated, “Maybe, you know, they’ve got in their mind that they can’t succeed because they’re a minority and they don’t try, you know, no one there to tell them “You can do it, it doesn’t matter who you are.”

Whites from the Detroit metro area used the meritocratic frame as extensively as college students. For instance Jim, a thirty-year-old computer software salesperson from a privileged background, explained in the following way his opposition to affirmative action:

I think it’s unfair top to bottom on everybody and the whole process. It often you know, discrimination itself is a bad word, right? But you discriminate every vanna buy a beer at the store and there are six kinda beers you can get, Natural Light to Sam Adams, right? And you look at the price and you look at the kind of beer, and you … it’s a choice. And a lot of that you have laid out front of you, which one you get? Now, should the government sponsor Sam Mams and make it cheaper than Natural Light because it’s brewed by someone in Boston? That doesn’t make much sense, right? Why would we want that or Make Sam Adams eight times as expensive because we want people to buy Natural light. And it’s the same thing about getting into school or getting into some place And universities it’s easy, and universities is a hot topic now, and I could hug you, you know, Midwestern University I don’t think has a lot of racism in the admissions process. And I think Midwestern University would, would agree with that pretty strongly. So why not just pick people that are going to do well at Midwestern University, pick people by their merit? I think we should stop the whole idea of choosing people based on their color. It’s bad to choose someone based on their color; why do we, why do we enforce it in an institutional process?

Since Jim posited hiring decisions are like market choices (choosing between competing brands of beer), he embraced a laissez-faire position on hiring. The problem with Jim’s view is that discrimination in the labor market is alive and well (e.g., it affects black and Latino job applicants 30 to 50 percent of the time) and that most jobs (as many as 80 percent) are obtained through informal networks.25 Jim himself acknowledged that being white is an advantage in America because there’s more people in the world who are white and are racist against people that are black than vice versa.” However, Jim also believes that although blacks “perceive or feel like there is a lot of discrimination, he does not believe there is much discrimination out there. Hence, by upholding a strict laissez-faire view on hiring and, at the same time, ignoring the significant impact of past and contemporary discrimination in the labor market, Jim can safely voice his opposition to affirmative action in an apparently race-neutral way.”

It’s Just the Way Things Were”: Whites’ Interpretation of Their Own Racial Segregation

From Eduardo Bonilla-Silva: Racism without Racists

“Thus far I have shown that whites have very little contact with blacks in neighborhoods, schools, colleges, and jobs. But how do whites interpret their segregation and isolation from blacks? How do they feel about this racial reality that seems to contradict their endorsement of color blindness? The most significant finding in this section is that whites do not interpret their hypersegregation from blacks as a problem, because they do not interpret this as a racial phenomenon. Instead, they normalize this crucial aspect of their lives by either not regarding it as an issue or interpreting is as “normal,” as “just the way things are.” For instance, most respondents who lived in segregated neighborhoods described them as “all white,” predominantly white,” or “primarily white,” but when asked how they felt about this fact, few stopped to think this was problematic at all.” Eduardo Bonilla-Silva: Racism without Racists

Back to Top

Racism = Power + Prejudice and the Myth of Reverse Racism

Racism = Power + Prejudice

Patricia Bidol-Padv: Developing New Perspectives on Race: An Innovative Multi-media Social Studies Curriculum in Racism Awareness for the Secondary Level.

Racism = Prejudice + Power

This definition was first proposed by Patricia Bidol-Padva in 1970


SJWiki: Prejudice Plus Power

Racism is prejudice plus power. On the basis of this definition, while all people can be prejudiced, only those who have power are really racist. African Americans, Latinos, Asians and American Indians the powerless in American society can be and often are most prejudiced toward Whites on an individual basis, but they are not racists at the structural, institutional level. Within this understanding of racism, to be a racist you have to possess two things:

  • 1) socioeconomic power to force others to do what you desire even if they don’t want to, and
  • 2), the justification of this power abuse by an ideology of biological supremacy.

Keep in mind that what often is described as racism in society today, is really nothing more than prejudice and discrimination. While a Black or Latino person, through the use of a gun and/or intimidation, can force a White person to do as he as an individual desires, this is an individual act of aggression, not a socially structured power arrangement. At present, however, only Whites have that kind of power, reinforced by a belief in an ideology of supremacy, both of which constitute the basis of racism in America today…

…The concept of prejudice plus power frames forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, and other positions of societal disfavor as perpetrated by those in power against those that are not in power. Just disliking someone or not favoring someone because of their race, gender, or other trait is not enough to oppress them; some form of power has to back the opinion that reflects it into multiple aspects of an environment rather than just a relational conflict.

The manifestation of prejudice when installed by those in power into social systems or institutions is called institutional oppression

…A common assertion is that this definition of oppression disqualifies those with less social privilege from criticism, eg. only white people can be racist, only men can be sexist, only cisgender people can be transphobic, only able people can be ableist. However, this is a very simplistic understanding and focuses on distasteful concepts i.e. the “right” of those with more privilege to call reverse racism or misandry or protest being called cis. The words of an oppressed class have very little power to cause any sort of detriment to those with social privilege; calling a white person a “cracker” doesn’t impact their chances of being hired in the USA, identifying a cisgender person is not linked to the murder rate or medical care denial rate of cisgender people, and a woman proclaiming that men are encouraged to act irresponsibly doesn’t change the amount of boys entering higher science or computer education or bear implications for the rape statistics of men and boys. However, for people of color, trans people, and women these things are provably true.

Singling out a person with a major axis of privilege may be rude, but the major impact of it is limited to some hurt feelings. Singling out a person without that axis of privilege for systematically disfavored traits supports and normalizes vast systems that take away their life opportunities and often lead to acts of violence against people of their same demographic. These acts, for less privileged individuals are the bulk of microaggressions, or cumulative, frequent small expressions of oppression that can result in internalized oppression and damage to mental-health and well-being that those on axis of greater privilege do not experience.”

Myth of Reverse Racism

PRRI: Diversity, Division, Discrimination: The State of Young America | MTV/PRRI Report

More than 1 in 3 white young people believe “reverse” discrimination is a serious problem.

  • About one-third (36%) of white young people say discrimination against white people is as serious as that experienced by minority groups. Only 16% of black, 19% of API, and 28% of Hispanic young people agree.
  • White young men are more likely than white young women (43% vs. 29%, respectively) to say discrimination against whites is as serious a problem as discrimination against other groups.
  • A majority (55%) of white Americans overall—including roughly equal numbers of white men (55%) and white women (53%)—agree that discrimination against white people has become as big a problem as discrimination against black people and other minority groups.

Nearly one-third of young people, and almost half of white young men, say efforts to increase diversity harm white people.

  • About one-third (32%) of young people, including 38% of white young people, believe efforts to increase diversity almost always come at the expense of whites.
  • White young men are more divided. Nearly half (48%) believe diversity efforts will harm white people, while more than half (52%) disagree. Only 28% of young white women believe efforts that promote diversity harm white people.

Young men and women have starkly different views on gender discrimination.

  • More than six in ten (63%) young women believe that women face a lot of discrimination in the U.S., while only 43% of young men say the same.
  • A majority (56%) of young men, including nearly two-thirds (65%) of white young men, say that women do not confront a substantial amount of discrimination in the U.S. today.

Market Place: Half of white millennials say discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against people of color

Screen Shot 2019-05-03 at 1.41.55 PM

Gen Forward Survey: The “Woke” Generation?Millennial Attitudes on Race in the US

Screen Shot 2019-05-03 at 1.44.57 PM.png  Screen Shot 2019-05-03 at 1.45.56 PM.png

According to Everyday Feminist: Here’s Your Proof That White Americans Don’t Face Systemic Racism

For one, a startling number of Americans – 49% – think that “discrimination against whites” is “as big a problem as discrimination against” black people and other people of color. Research by The Washington Post corroborates this poll: “Whites now think bias against white people is more of a problem than bias against black people.”

Before you start blaming Trump supporters for these results, a recent poll of 16,000 Americans revealed that Clinton supporters, too, have some serious work to do. For example, 20% of Clinton supporters described Black Americans as “less intelligent” than White Americans. And, not so long ago, two Black women exposed the racism of “progressives” when they dared interrupt Bernie Sanders at a rally in Seattle.

This is a problem all across the board.”

Rolling Stone: 75 Percent of Republicans Say White Americans Are Discriminated Against

The victimization of white America put forth by conservatives and right-wing media has taken hold, according to the results in a new poll from Hill-HarrisX. A whopping 75 percent of registered Republican voters said that white Americans face discrimination.

A majority of Independents, 55 percent, sided with Republicans and said white Americans are discriminated against. Meanwhile, only 38 percent Democrats agreed, and sixty-two percent of Democrats said that white Americans face little or no discrimination at all.

However, the poll did find some agreement among the different political spectrums. Seventy-eight percent of Republicans, 82 percent of Independents and 95 percent of Democrats said that African-Americans are discriminated against. And, in total, 81 percent of the registered voters polled said Hispanics also face discrimination.

Interestingly, only 19 percent of white respondents said they personally faced racial discrimination, proving the point that the fear tactics of Fox News and other conservative media who sell the myth of “reverse racism” are working.

The Root: Is Reverse Racism A “Thing?”

Cultural Bridges to Justice:  Training and Resource for Building Just Communities

Reverse Racism

(a)            “People of color are just as racist as white people.”

(b)            “Affirmative Action had a role years ago, but today it’s just reverse racism; now it’s discriminating against white men.”

(c)            “The civil rights movement, when it began was appropriate, valuable, needed. But it’s gone to the extreme. The playing field is now level. Now the civil rights movement is no longer working for equality but for revenge.” or

(d)            “Black Pride, Black Power is dangerous. They just want power over white people.” (Include here any reference to pride and empowerment of any people of color.)

Reality Check and Consequence

(a)            Let’s first define racism:

Racism = Racial Prejudice (white people and people of color have this)


Systemic, Institutional Power (white people have this)

To say people of color can be racist, denies the power imbalance inherent in institutionalized racism.

Certainly, people of color can be and are prejudiced against white people. That was a part of their societal conditioning. A person of color can act on their prejudices to insult even hurt a white person. But there is a difference between being hurt and being oppressed. People of color, as a social group, do not have the societal, institutional power to oppress white people as a group. An individual person of color abusing a white person – while clearly wrong, (no person should be insulted, hurt, etc.) is acting out a personal racial prejudice, not racism (by this power definition.)

(b)            This form of denial is based in the false notion that the playing field is now level. When the people with privilege and historical access and advantage are expected to suddenly (in societal evolution time) share some of that power, it is often perceived as discrimination.

(c + d)            c is a statement by Rush Limbaugh. Though, clearly he is no anti-racist, both c + d follow closely on the heels of “reverse racism” and are loaded with white people’s fear of people of color and what would happen if they gained “control.” Embedded here is also the assumption that to be “pro-Black” (or any color) is to be anti-white. (A similar illogical accusation is directed at women who work for an end to violence against women and girls. Women who work to better the lives of women are regularly accused of being “anti-male.”)

Atlantic: The Myth of Reverse Racism

“The usage of “reverse racism” and “reverse discrimination” arose in direct response to affirmative and race-based policies in the 1970s. Even as outright quotas and more open attempts to equalize the numbers of minority enrollees were defeated, the term stuck. A 1979 California Law Review article defines reverse discrimination as a phenomenon where “individual blacks and members of other minority groups began to be given benefits at the expense of whites who, apart from race, would have had a superior claim to enjoy them.”

Reverse racism—or any race-conscious policy—became a common grievance, one that helped shape a certain post-civil-rights-movement view of America where black people were the favored children of the state, and deserving white people were cast aside…

…Fears of reverse racism fly in the face of data. White students still make up almost three-quarters of all private external scholarship recipients in four-year bachelor’s programs, almost two-thirds of all institutional grants and scholarship recipients, and over three-quarters of all merit-based grants and scholarships, although white people only make up about 62 percent of the college student population and about half of all people under 19. White students are more likely than black, Latino, and Asian students to receive scholarships.

Also, existing data suggest that race-conscious admissions policies are the main factors keeping overall enrollment roughly representative of America’s racial demographics. A FiveThirtyEight analysis from 2015 found that colleges in states with affirmative-action bans are less representative of the state’s demographics than colleges that are still allowed to consider race. Other simulations suggest that replacing race-conscious policies with colorblind policies that take into account applicants’ socioeconomic status yields less racial diversity on college campuses.

Privilege as a Zero-Sum Game

“to the extent that white people believe that racism against blacks has decreased, they also believe that racism against whites has increased. They really see it as kind of a fixed pie of resources, a zero-sum game. One job for a black person equals one job that a white person didn’t get” Michael Norton, Harvard

“When a person of color receives a benefit, like a scholarship, it feels like feels like something is taken away from white people” MTV Look Different: White People

  • 21 million people apply for financial aid every year
    • Among undergraduate college students
      • 62% are white students but receive 69% of private scholarships
      • 38% are minorities but receive 31% of private scholarships
    • Even with affirmative action
      • Whites students 40% more likely receive financial aid
      • Blacks and Hispanics are more underrepresented at top colleges than 35 years ago

Affirmative Action

  • Policy that ensures qualified minority applicants
    • Are given the same employment and college opportunities as white people
  • It is a flexible program:
    • No quotas or preferential treatment for people of color
    • No one is required to hire/accept an unqualified person of color
  • Companies and schools are suppose to explain why they didn’t hire/accept a qualified applicant of color
    • Rarely ever enforced
    • Only applied to public companies and college
  • White women have been the greatest beneficiaries of affirmative action

The History of Affirmative Action | The New York Times

Racist History of Standardize Testing

“Since segregationist had first developed them in the early twentieth century, standardized tests, from the MCAT to the SAT and IQ exams, had failed time and again to predict success in college and professional careers or even to truly measure intelligence. But these standardized tests had succeeded in their original mission:: figuring out an “objective” way to rule non-whites (and women and poor people) intellectually inferior, and to justify discriminating against them in the admissions process.” Ibram Kendi, Stamped From the Beginning

  • 1920s, Carl Brigham, an Eugenicist, design the SAT
    • Meant to identify white people as superior
    • Bad at determining academic success
    • Good at determining wealth of family students
      • Good scores directly correlate with wealth of family
      • This is true among IQ and other tests

“The bill (No Child Left Behind) professed that its purpose was to keep children from being left behind, but it simultaneously encouraged funding mechanisms that decrease funding to schools when students ware not making improvements, thus leaving the neediest students behind… it was the latest and greatest mechanism for placing the blame for funding inequalities on black children, teachers, parents, and public schools.” Ibram Kendi, Stamped From the Beginning

NY Times: The Easiest Way to Get Rid of Racism? Just Redefine It.

On its face, inviting a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan onto your radio show is a risky proposition with very little upside. The situation gets even more precarious when you’re inviting this ex-wizard to dole out opinions on race. But these are wild times we’re living in, which is why David Duke — who has emerged as a top cheerleader for the Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump — appeared on N.P.R.’s “Morning Edition” two weeks ago and defended the candidate from charges of racism.

The surprise was that Duke, now running for a Senate seat, actually had some perceptive things to say. The rising tide of buttoned-up Republicans who have spoken out against Trump’s ethnic belligerence, he said, were betraying both “the Republican Party and certainly conservatism.” He then managed to dismiss those Republicans and swiftly parse a complex national paradox. “These are just nothing more than epithets and vicious attacks,” Duke said. “Donald Trump is not a racist. And the truth is, in this country, if you simply defend the heritage of European-American people, then you’re automatically a racist. There’s massive racial discrimination against Euro­pean-Americans, and that’s the reality.”

In positioning Trump as the victim of a smear campaign, Duke was defending him against claims of deep, personal, cancer-of-the-soul racism. Trump isn’t racist, said the ex-Klan boss (who, of course, also isn’t racist), because he doesn’t harbor hate in his heart for America’s racial minorities. But then he pivoted. The real problem, he claimed, is systemic racism, directed against European-Americans.

This is how David Duke, who most diverges from the stereotypical Klansman in that he wears suits, revealed an understanding that systems of race are more important than one person’s motives, reputation or emotional health — that there is racism, and then there is racism, and the two are not the same.

The first cited use of “racism” in The Oxford English Dictionary comes from 1902, during the well-intentioned Lake Mohonk Conference of Friends of the Indian. There, a white man, Richard Henry Pratt, criticized government policy toward Native Americans. “Segregating any class or race of people apart from the rest of the people kills the progress of the segregated people or makes their growth very slow,” he said. “Association of races and classes is necessary to destroy racism and classism.” Pratt was what we might call “progressive” for his time; his version of destroying racism involved forcibly assimilating Native Americans into white culture. (As he put it, “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”) Both of these options — segregation by force or assimilation by force — had disastrous effects for Native Americans. But for Pratt, racism was a matter of policy, not malice.

“Racism” spent the first half of the 20th century in competition with an­other word, “racialism,” though neither featured prominently in our national conversation. Then came the civil rights era, when the word took on for many a convenient new meaning, one that had more to do with the human heart than with practices like redlining, gerrymandering or voter intimidation. In 1964, Gov. George Wallace of Alabama — who just a year earlier promised “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” — explained the clear difference, in his mind, between a racist and a segregationist: “A racist is one who despises someone because of his color, and an Alabama segregationist is one who conscientiously believes that it is in the best interest of the Negro and white to have a separate educational and social order.”

Soon, nearly everyone could agree that racism was the evil work of people with hate in their hearts — bigots. This was a convenient thing for white Americans to believe. Racism, they could say, was the work of racists. And wherever you looked, there were no racists: only good men like Wallace, minding the welfare of their black fellow citizens, or the segregationist South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond, defending states’ rights. Racism definitely existed, at some point — no one was out there denying that slavery had happened — but its residue had settled only in the hearts of the most unsavory individuals. Society as a whole didn’t need reform for the sins of a few.

Racism ceased to be a matter of systems and policy and became a referendum on the rot of the individual soul. Calling people racist was no longer a matter of evaluating their opinions; it was an accusation of being irrevocably warped at the very core. We can see how this plays out in news coverage of things that are, in fact, racist. “Racist” is seen as such a deep personal attack that it’s safer and more civil — particularly in the eyes of mainstream media organizations — to refer to things as racially charged, or tinged, or explosive, or divisive, or (when all else fails) just plain racial.

In May, Trump made news by railing against Gonzalo Curiel, the Indiana-born Mexican-American federal judge presiding over litigation against Trump University. Trump called him “very hostile” and suggested that he recuse himself. “This judge is of Mexican heritage,” Trump explained to CNN’s Jake Tapper. “I’m building a wall, O.K.?”

Soon after, the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, materialized to make a rare sort of public statement, actually agreeing with charges of racism against a candidate he still endorsed. “Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment,” he said.

Ryan then appeared on the “Kilmeade and Friends” radio show. “Are you saying that Donald Trump’s a racist?” Brian Kilmeade asked. “No, I’m not,” Ryan replied. “I’m saying the comment was. I don’t know what’s in his heart.”

Here, in a nutshell, is the public evolution of this word. Sure, Trump appeared to be suggesting a race-based test of judicial fitness. But the House speaker couldn’t speak to the state of Trump’s soul. He’s not God.

Trump, with his years of practice fielding such charges, had a different response. He seems to understand that charges of racism are essentially toothless, because the bar of proof is now so high that it’s impossible to clear. But he also understands that the seriousness of the accusation can have a paralyzing effect upon its target. So he coached his surrogates on how to respond. “The people asking the questions,” Trump told his proxies, “those are the racists. I would go at ’em.”

This is the end result of redefining racism to mean malice in one’s heart. Once whites moved the goal posts, anyone could be the victim of racism, and anyone could be racist. Activists opposing racism could be racist. President Obama casually mentioning that he, like Trayvon Martin, is black — this could be a deeply racist act. Advocates of busing programs or affirmative action could be racist. Minorities resentful over their treatment in America could be the real racists, the ones whose hearts insist on “making everything about race.” Al Sharpton is a racist. Beyoncé Knowles is a racist. Kanye West is definitely a racist.

A recent Justice Department investigation into the Baltimore Police Department unearthed rampant racial discrimination and routine violations of civil rights that specifically targeted the city’s black residents. And yet nonviolent movements like Black Lives Matter, which emerged three years ago to combat these exact issues, have instead been identified as bad actors, thugs and outside agitators — just last month, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York said, “When you say ‘black lives matter,’ that is inherently racist.”

Someone, after all, must be racist: More than half of white Americans now believe that they’re discriminated against as much as minorities. Who, then, is doing the discriminating?

It’s not that anyone denies that institutional racism once existed. But the belief now is that systemic racism is a national cancer that was excised long ago, in an operation so successful it didn’t even leave lasting effects. All that remains is individual hatred in the souls of the most monstrous among us — or else, depending on whom you ask, in vengeful minorities who want to nurse grievances and see whites suffer for the sins of past generations. Through the willful perversion of shared history, whites have been able to appropriate the victimhood of minorities and, in an audacious reversal, insist that an obvious thing isn’t real — otherwise known as gaslighting. And as in any case of sustained abuse, gaslighting is integral to institutional racism.

“Everybody’s walking on eggshells,” Clint Eastwood said, in a recent interview with Esquire. “We see people accusing people of being racist and all kinds of stuff. When I grew up, those things weren’t called racist.”

Even delivered by an 86-year-old Hollywood tough guy, the absurdity of these words astounds. Here is a white man telling minorities what real racism looks like. He’s not alone, either: It’s common for white Americans to position themselves as the neutral arbiters of what is or is not racist and what other Americans are allowed to be angered by. Lo and behold, the answer is always the same — real institutional racism always ends up being something from the past, something dealt with, not an ongoing system of policy that afflicts minorities and profits white people to this day. Offer any objections, any other experience of the world, and the response you’ll get is the same one Eastwood offered in Esquire:

“Just [expletive] get over it.”


“I Did Not Get a Job (or a Promotion), or Was Not Admitted to a College, Because of a Minority”

from Eduardo Bonilla-Silva: Racism without Racists

This story line is extremely useful to whites rhetorically and psychologically. When whites do not get a job or promotion, it must be because of a minority. If they are not admitted into a college, it must be because of a thinority. This story line allows whites to never consider the possibility that they are not qualified for a job, promotion, or college. Curiously, the number of actual cases filed on reverse discrimination before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is quite small and the immense majority of them are dismissed as lacking any foundation, 18Furthermore, as I will show, most versions of this story line lack substance, are based on limited data, and rely on less than credible information.” This lack of specificity, however, does not detract from the usefulness of this story line, since its sense of veracity is not based on facts, but on commonly held beliefs by whites. Hence, when whites use this story line, precise information need not be included. And because this story line is built upon a personal moral tale, many whites vent personal frustrations or resentment toward minorities while using it.

Almost a quarter of the students (ten of forty-one) and more than a third of the DAS respondents used this story line. For instance, Bob, the SU student cited above, opposed providing unique opportunities to minorities to be admitted into universities. After anchoring his view in the abstract liberalism frame (“you should be judged on your qualifications, your experience, your education, your background, not of your race”), Bob added,

I had a friend, he wasn’t–I don’t like him that much, I think it’s my brother’s friend, a good friend of my brother’s, who didn’t get into law school here and he knows for a fact that other students less qualified than him did. And that really, and he was considering a lawsuit against the school. But for some reason, he didn’t. He had better grades, better LSAT, better everything, and he-other people got in up above him, I don’t care who it is, if it’s Eskimo, or Australian, or what it is, you should have the best person there.

This is a classic example of this story line. Bob “had a friend” (who was not his friend, but his brother’s friend and whom he did not “like that much”) who claimed to know “for a fact” (facts he never documents) that minority students who were less qualified than his brother20 were admitted into SU Law School. Bob uses the story line here to reinforce his view that admission to colleges ought to be strictly based on merits.

Kara, a student from MU, inserted the story line when she was asked if she had been a victim of “reverse discrimination”:

I think applying to schools. I know a couple of people, like, schools like Notre Dame that are, you know, very, like, competitive to get into. Like, I was put on the wait list where this kid in my school who was black was admitted and, like, for me, you know, like, I almost had a four point, you know, I did well on my SATs, and he was kind of a slacker, grade-point wise, and I always thought it could have been something else, but it didn’t make sense to me and that was the only thing I could put it to.

When asked if she knew of other cases of “reverse discrimination.” Kara added, “Yeah, especially my friends that applied to the Ivy League schools.” They really felt that they were discriminated against.

Kara claims that while she was not admitted to Notre Dame, a black “kid” in her school who was “kind of a slacker” was. She believes the only logical explanation for this is “reverse discrimination” and that many of her friends experienced it, too. But we do not get any data on how she did on her SAT (she reports doing “well,” but does not indicate her score) and, more significantly, we get absolutely no information on how well the black student did on the SAT. Regarding her friends’ claims, Kara provides even less information.

This story line was also important for white DAS respondents, since more than a third of them used it. One example is Ann, a young, unemployed woman. She used the story line in her answer to the question, “Do you think that being white is an advantage or a disadvantage in contemporary America?”:

No. It’s, I don’t know. (Interviewer: Why do you think that?] I don’t know it’s (laughs), it’s weird because my friend that is there, she went for a job interview with two of her white girlfriends. It was her and those three white females and the rest were black. Well, when they were done with the testing they took their scores and they all had the same scores, the three white girls. And they come out and they hire, they said that the two white girls didn’t pass their math test, but they said that she passed hers and then they hired her.

Ann claims that a black friend of hers experienced preferential treatment in a job search. As usual in the iterations of this story line, the story is very fuzzy and refers to third parties. In Ann’s narrative it is very difficult to assess any of the particularities of the case. How many people went for the job? How many tests did they take? What scores did all the applicants get? Were the applicants interviewed after they were tested? What kind of job were they applying for? The answers to all these questions are uncertain.

Marie, a homemaker in her late thirties, used the story line to explain her position on affirmative action:

Ah, I’m puzzled a little bit by that. I’m for making sure everybody gets equal opportunity. I think that there are points, though, where it is inappropriate. Just as an example, my sister has a good student that applied for a teaching position at a university and was told that she was one of three final candidates for the position, but the other two candidates, one was a Mexican American and the other was a black female. Unless she could prove she had some active minority in her background, she could not be considered for the position because they had to hire a minority.

Although Marie’s story seems more robust than usual, the details do not square with what we know of the academic job market. First, based on the peculiar list of final candidates (peculiar because it is very unusual to have two minority scholars as finalists in a job search), it seems this job required expertise on racial matters. This does not disqualify the white applicant, but it adds some complexity to the story. Second, the argument that she had to prove some minority background to qualify for this position (after she made the final cut) is not credible. Had that been the case, this applicant could have successfully sued this university for discrimination. An alternative reading of the events is that this white applicant lost out to a minority candidate and explained this to herself, her professor, and her peers as many whites do, case of reverse discrimination.

Many of the workers in the sample vented lots of anger against what regarded as “preferential treatment” for minorities, although few knew affirmative action was. Not surprisingly, many used the story line in its generic sense. The following two cases illustrate my point. First is Darren, bus driver in his late forties. He opposed affirmative action by stating that “two wrongs don’t make a right” and used the story line to supply evidence on which to base his opinion:

Ah no, other than I have applied at jobs and been turned down because I was white. Now, I have nothing against the black person [if he) was qualified better than I was. But when the guy comes into the interview and I’m off on the side and I can hear them talking and he can’t even speak good English, he doesn’t know how to read a map, and they’re gonna make him a bus driver and hire him over me. I’ve been doing bus driving off and on since 1973 and I know the guy well enough that [I know] he’s a lousy driver. I know why he got the job, and I don’t think that’s fair.

Darren believed he was turned down for a job as a bus driver because he was white. Furthermore, he claimed that he overheard the interview and that his black competitor could not even speak good English” But his story is as loose as the others. Both applicants now work in the same company, which suggests Darren got the job there at some point in time. And Darren failed to mention two other factors that may account-besides driving skills, which we cannot ascertain based on the information he provided-for why this other driver may have gotten the job before Darren did. First, this company is located in Detroit and it makes business sense to hire black bus drivers. Second, and more important, Darren has moved a lot in his life and has had more than twelve jobs. Hence, any rational manager must look at his record with some trepidation and wonder why this person has moved so much and whether he would be a reliable worker.

Tony, a carpet installer in his twenties, used a very unusual version of the story line to explain why he believes being white is no longer an advantage in America: “Oh yeah. Like when my girlfriend went to get on aid, the lady told her if she was black, she could have got help, but she wasn’t black and she wasn’t getting no help.” Tony’s account can be translated as “I did not get welfare because of blacks.”

Further Reading

Screen Shot 2020-06-11 at 2.39.33 PM

Back to Top


Other Relevant People’s School of DC Pages

White Supremacy

Back to Top