For me, discussions about racism most often involve other white people. Discussing racism itself doesn’t upset them. Considering the repercussions of racism for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) doesn’t cause much -if any- distress either.
But, more often than not there is one thing that upsets the majority of white people. The use of the inclusive word ‘all.’ As in all white people are racist.
This blog post will be a tough one for white people who are new to race issues. And white people who are working on strengthening their endurance around racial discussions. Stick with me, pause when you need to and come back when you’re ready.
What this racism looks like
It’s a difficult topic to broach because we white people never have to think about racism, not really. If we don’t want to, we can opt-out at any time. This is due to our white privilege. Acknowledging that, I am encouraging you to resist the urge to flee from the subject.
Let’s go back to the statement of all white people are racist. It’s a bold claim that is often particularly offensive to white people. In my experience, that’s because they haven’t realized the term ‘racism’ has many meanings. Well beyond the two-dimensional dictionary definition. They’re envisioning all white people screaming racial slurs at BIPOC and actively excluding them.
This is not the racism we white people all ascribe to. Our particular brand of racism, the one that applies to all of us, is much more subtle. The racism that all white people participate in is subconscious. The environment we’re raised in leaves us with no way around this.
All white people are socialized into racism and white supremacy. I understand this sounds offensive. I also recognize that the natural response is to reject what I’m saying. But if that statement is incorrect, how do you explain systemic racism?
If the ideologies of white supremacy and racism were not ingrained in us, how can we have systemic racism exist? How could we benefit from a system we weren’t indoctrinated into supporting? Who maintains the status quo within these systems? Who’s benefiting from racial privilege within institutions such as schools, health care, law enforcement, child care, etc?
We benefit so greatly that we don’t even THINK about the privilege our skin provides us. It simply wouldn’t be possible. The whole system functions this way because we accept it as normal, but it is fundamentally racist nonetheless.
Unconscious and conscious racism
To be clear, unconscious racism is NOT the same as racism in the traditional way we think of it. I touched on this earlier, but let’s think about it for a minute. Personally, I would boil the difference down to intent.
Unconscious racism doesn’t intend to be hurtful or harmful. However, racism in the traditional way we understand it does. It takes a conscious effort to unlearn a lifetime of unconscious bias and racism. Especially when we benefit from systemic racism daily. While the intention of the two is very different, the result is the same.
Given what I’ve researched, I couldn’t justify saying all white people are intentionally racist. That’s simply not true. But, we are all racist nonetheless. The difference is that most of us don’t mean to be.
You can hurt someone’s feelings without meaning to and it won’t result in them being less hurt. This is the same concept, just much more significant because it doesn’t impact one person. It impacts everyone who’s not white and the effect is much more severe than hurt feelings.
How can a white person disproportionately benefit from the systems due to their race and also not be racist? How can someone use a racist system and somehow not be racist at least by association?
If someone drives the getaway car for a robbery, are they not guilty of robbery by association? Legality and morality are two different things more often than not and in this example, I’m referring to the latter. Would the driver not be part of a robbery due to their participation in it?
What about BIPOC?
By this logic would BIPOC be racist as well? No. This is not to say they can’t be racist. But, BIPOC cannot be racist when it comes to institutional racism. How could they be when the system they’re forced to use directly disadvantages them?
To draw this conclusion indicates we’ve forgotten about the power dynamics involved. The ones that rest solely on the color of our skin. However, none of this suggests that BIPOC are not fighting for their own rights. Nor does it suggest that they’re somehow passive in all of this.
It merely illustrates part of the picture. This article focuses on the power dynamics that exist within institutional racism with a focus on white people’s role. Specifically, the role we play in maintaining and therefore supporting these institutions.
When it comes to dismantling systemic racism, everyone has work to do. But the work looks different for various groups due to power dynamics and lived experiences.
Isn’t that a double standard?
This is easy to overlook as a white person when first learning about systemic racism. Truthfully, I welcome any white person to ask these questions. It demonstrates that we’re slowly opening our eyes and observing the differences between life experiences due to race privilege.
It truly does impact each individual in every single facet of their life. So it should come as no surprise when it begins to feel overwhelming to think about.
When thinking about this, a lot of white people feel a sense of guilt and then become defensive. We aren’t used to being confronted with discussions on race and racism. It doesn’t impact our every day lives negatively, so we often don’t even think about it.
Therefore when we do think about it, it becomes impossible to ignore our part in the process. From there it’s hard not to reflect on all the ways we benefit and prop up racism in society.
That’s a terrible feeling. No one likes feeling like that and thus we’re left with only two options. We can deny the information or we can accept it and look to grow from it. This is why all white people are at least unconsciously racist.
Measuring the results
Let’s go back to the specific white people who are offended by the statement all white people are racist. Or variations of ‘all white people’ and approach it from a different angle. I won’t mince words on this one. Individuals who are offended are caught up in semantics. One word…all.
Let’s temporarily put aside our understanding of racism and all that it entails. And instead, consider the impact on white people of saying all white people are racist. What’s the short and long term damage?
An upset white person, nothing more. Despite what Nationalists and Fascists like to believe, no one will come to take our privilege away. There will not be protests or marches focused on marginalizing white people.
The impact is negligible because all it amounts to is hurt feelings. And truthfully, we’ve got bigger things to worry about than a white person being offended by the truth. Admittedly this sounds harsh, but let’s keep perspective.
The greatest injustice white people are experiencing with this statement is hurt feelings. Compare it to the impact of BIPOC experiencing racism. Systemic racism at the hands of white people, and wanting nothing more than equality. There’s a stark difference. The results end with one group having hurt feelings, the other group having dead bodies.
This is why it’s not enough to do nothing. Our default, unfortunately, it a racist. Which is why we must work to be actively anti-racist.
I dug around online to see how others explain this concept. Here’s a thread I found useful, hopefully you will too…
Person A; All white people are racist. But the caveat is that everyone is racist to at least one degree or another. Even if it’s just very tiny. It’s not possible to be void of even a single drop of bias towards another group or culture. These biases are so far rooted in our brain, they’re impossible to completely erase.
Person B; But isn’t that just an example of the slippery slope fallacy? For example, “All people have at least one hair on their body, therefore, no one is actually bald”. It’s stretching the definition to the point of absurdity.
Person A; I don’t think that analogy applies here. Countless studies have proven that every person on this planet is racially biased internally to at least some real degree. To be perfectly unbiased would mean you’re superhuman. It’d mean your brain wouldn’t group things into categories. Instead, it would analyze every situation on an individual level, no matter what. And note I’m not even talking just about “bad” racism. We often will even slightly associate races with positive traits too.
It’s worth pointing out that I have known many white people who aren’t offended by ‘all white people’ comments. The reason is that they understand the remark doesn’t apply to them.
They know they’re doing everything in their power to change the systems. To dismantle and rebuild it without discrimination. To educate people, share their privilege and self reflect to reduce their unconscious bias. WIn these ways, they consistently practice anti-racism.
Coincidently, the white people offended about ‘all white people’ comments are the same ones who aren’t bothering to practice anti-racism. When you consider the gravity of the situation, it really snaps the whole issue into focus.
One group being murdered due to racism and the other group being offended at being generalized. I’m not comparing pain, I’m simply calling a spade a spade. Hurt feelings are not the same as dying.
Think about the definition of White Guilt for a minute. It’s the guilt felt by some white people for harm resulting from the racist treatment of ethnic minorities by other white people. Both historically and currently in the United States and to a lesser extent in Canada, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
White guilt has been described as one of the psychosocial costs of racism for white individuals. Along with empathy (sadness and anger) for victims of racism and fear of non-whites. Doesn’t the issue with ‘all white people’ sound a lot more like White guilt than anything else?
Listen to BIPOC share their experiences with racism. Take the time to grasp how racism permeates their entire life. Reflect on all the ways in which systemic racism stacks the odds of success against them compared to their white counterparts. Research not only the statistics but the socioeconomics behind them. Then you will start to lose patience for white people being upset about a three-letter word: all.
The Next Step
I’m not writing this post angrily, but I recognize that tone is hard to read online. My fellow white people who aren’t on board with equity for everyone are tiring. Tiring for everyone else. It’s exhausting listening to people insist on preoccupying themselves with semantics instead of change.
Doesn’t it seem like the word ‘all’ is much less significant than the experience of racism? Getting preoccupied with the word ‘all’ prevents us from actually talking about racism in an educational, useful, and productive way.
It also undermines the reality of the situation. All white people are racist. But that doesn’t mean we can’t also be actively anti-racist at the same time.
Question of the Week
Should the internet be selectively censored?
Studies have proven that exposure to certain forms of online content leads to an increased likelihood to dehumanize a specific group of people or even commit violent acts against them. Two significant examples to point to are violent porn and hate crimes. What are your thoughts on online censorship for some types of content? Should censorship exist? If so, who controls it, and to what extent? Can we trust them to remain ethical with this control? If not, how do we justify the harm that comes to people as a result of a lack of censorship? Who would be most negatively impacted and why?
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