“To be white is to be racist, period.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/10/19/to-be-white-is-to-be-racist-period-a-high-school-teacher-told-his-class/

I stumbled upon this article, which appears to be causing a huge public outcry, while I was scrolling down my news feed page on Facebook. Naturally, being a person who identifies as white and who hails from Bulgaria, a country where the population is almost 100% white has no experience with racism whatsoever, I opened it just to regret doing so.

What struck me is the perpetual generalization that seems to be an inseparable part of racial disputes, a trend we see in all our readings for class. While it is true that genocide and the categorization of humankind is predominantly linked to the white race and this is a shame that should be exposed and continually reminded of, I do not believe in the notion that having fair skin makes me racist and that, more or less, white people today are monsters. I would therefore say that trying to extrapolate historical themes into the matters of a century in which people are transgressing racial and ethnic boundaries in order to help and be helped is a legacy of racism and a sure way to downgrade once again to it and all of its linked misconceptions.  Maybe what might have been meant was that being white means being considered racist, but not necessarily meaning that a white person is racist at heart.

I guess that the concept of implicit bias that the article mentions could be read the other way round with respect to that statement. Namely, we do not inherently think of diversity in a racist frame, but ourselves trigger conflict in our efforts to appease it without paying attention to the versatility our audience has. We are living in an era where we paradoxically create laboratories of our own – schools and law enforcement – by mispresenting or not giving the whole piece of information we intend to and by excluding diversity by leaving room for conflict through subtle opinions presented as legitimacy. This way “impressionable youths’’ are agitated and the gap between races and ethnicities starts to expand at a mind-blowing rate, so that mankind gets stuck in quicksand – we erase our own social accomplishments by trying to secure and promote them through a well-learned but not updated mindset, which I believe is the living laboratory of today: a school system which invests its resources into a bright future but in this deed does not account for the consent of students unconsciously being influenced by authoritative opinions for life, nor for the impact it has on its defendants and the way they and others think of them.

3 thoughts on ““To be white is to be racist, period.””

  1. I saw this article on on my Facebook page’s news feed as well and it was interesting to see the mixed reviews that the article enticed from readers. In many conversations that I have had about racism, I’ve noticed myself continually attempt disassemble this idea that all whiteness equates to racism. During these conversations, I like to point out that there is a difference between a person of fair skin color having what is known as “white privilege” and being inherently racist. An issue that I’ve realized this misconception promotes is the further division between people of color and people who are white. I appreciate how you articulated the fact that a misconception like this further promotes division between people of color and people of fair skin as it doesn’t create a space for dialogue or for there to be allies. The entire idea of whiteness equating to racism means that inherently there is no room for there to be a change in a white person’s perspective as it is as innate a trait as the color of a white person’s skin.

  2. I wish there was more context to this teacher’s presentation among social media articles. I want to challenge what has been shared in this post. Often times, I find myself engaging in conversations in which we are all using the word “racism” but mean very different things by it. I think on a personal level or I guess self-identification level being white does not equate racism. But on an institutional level being white does equate racism due to the unfair advantage that white bodies have accumulated over history through violent means. I guess I see the statement “to be white is to be racist, period” as communicating that white folks have the power to act on this racism in a way that creates institutional change. I also see the teacher’s presentation attempting to touch upon “latent racism.” I think folks always discuss racism in terms of interpersonal interactions or high profile events, hitting on everyday tasks that can make change without touching upon the larger-impact actions that can reduce the levels of inequity experienced by marginalized groups. For example, it’s a lot easier to not use a racial slur than to support reallocation of resources by giving part of your paycheck to organizations that are combating institutional practices. Or it’s a lot easier to listen to an individual’s problems with U.S. immigration than to set aside five hours of your day to stay on hold with them with U.S. immigration services to mediate racist behavior. I think of how marginalized bodies are constantly at points of violence and how we, with greater degrees of privilege, can consensually show up to deflect some of that violence. I also think of how this statement can also be applied to other situations, like “to be cisgender is to be cissexist, period,” or similar parallels.
    I also think of how there are also ways in which we profit off of bodies in varying degrees during our lives. Coming to college and having to redefine my racial identity as a light-skinned mixed Latinx showed me that I have a lot to learn in terms of balancing privilege and oppression. Off the bat, I realized that I had internalized a lot of anti-blackness from my family in their attempts to disidentify with our black ancestors and roots. There are ways in which I, as a light-skinned Latinx, have the power to act on anti-blackness–whether consciously or uncounciously– that does make my existence inherently colorist/racist within structures that we navigate (i.e. institutions of higher education, immigration, schools, etc). There is a reason why, when you take a look around on our campus, most of the Latinxs come from wealthier backgrounds, earlier generations of immigration, lighter complexions, etc. and there is a way in which I have contributed to this trend throughout my life.
    I guess I agree with you that being white does not mean being inherently racist, depending on how you define racism. I do think being white makes you inherently racist on an institutional level because that is how our world has been built over time.

  3. I think an important thing to distinguish is the language around “white people” and “whiteness.” Whiteness has historically been used to perpetuate racism, and can be done so by people who are not actually white or fair skinned. Whiteness as a concept is what has been used to justify the oppression and marginalization of certain bodies based upon race. From Atarah and Arlene’s comments, we can see how whiteness and its oppressive functions are the problem, not exactly white people. Whiteness has been institutionalized and ingrained so deeply into our society that it has been maintained not only by white people, but also by people of color who believe, whether they are cognizant of it or not, in anti-black and white supremacist ideologies. I do believe it is important, however, to still acknowledge white people’s immediacy to whiteness and, therefore, their inherent ability to engage in different forms of racism, whether they think or are aware that they are. A lot of the backlash against the article, as well as your criticism of the article, seem to be focused on the claim that white people are inherently racist, and how this claim is detrimental. While, yes, not all white people are racist, it is important to still call out the fact that their whiteness is one that allows them privileges that are not afforded to people of color who have darker skin, whether they know it or not. The backlash against this article is one that seems to be a reformation of the “reverse racism” narrative, the idea that white people can experience racism, too. This type of narrative is one that continues to perpetuate the very acts of racism that these people claim not to be a part of. When the concern about white people’s feelings and concerns over whether or not they are seen as racist because of their being white overshadows the actual institutionalized and systemic racist forces that are being enacted in our society, then we have come to yet another road block in the efforts to end such systems of oppression.

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