Over the several months, I have pondered how I, along with so many others have been taught to feel guilty about naming issues which reinforce the oppression, marginalization and subjugation of the groups we belong to; as well as our own relentless daily encounters. Analyzing this through the lens of race, many of us, African-American and black and brown-identified individuals are taught to maintain white comfort; which preserves white superiority, supremacy and racism – socially and structurally. White completely at our expense and overall demise, we wallow in angst to preserve comfort for those in mainstream society who are not comfortable naming racism, race-related issues and many other isms. While most times this pertains to European Americans who now identify as White, individuals, this can also be ascribed to people who are non-white-identified; yet have adopted traditional white mainstream ideals, beliefs, norms, ideological systems of oppression; and dismiss significant issues of racism that severely disenfranchise and disadvantage African-Americans and other black and brown groups.
Many of us do not name racism (and other forms of oppression; sexism, ageism, and genderism) as we should, due to internalized inferiority; though many of us experience it continually every day. We have been taught to maintain status quo, not be difficult, play the race card, sound like a broken record, complain and/or develop “angry black person” syndrome. Often, we will down play it – “Well, I don’t want to be too extreme by saying it was racist”, or “I do not want to sound like I am playing the race card,”; or even begin to assume guilt for alleging such what is deemed to be the worst insult (by mainstream standards) that could be levied about someone. All examples described here are direct results of internalized inferiority, resulting directly from our own subjugation, oppression and the lack of worth embedded into our DNA for generations; and we do not even realize how we reinforce it through perpetual self-harm by such acts. We passively and inauthentically give people the benefit of the doubt without naming, questioning and making attempts to inform and educate.
In previous times naming racism, sexism and the like has (and can still be the case in some instances) come at a cost. While some may ask “Why?”; I say, isn’t the answer clear? – Who has controlled (and still controls) government, Fortune 100 and 500 companies, Wall Street, Healthcare, Education, Employment, Housing, and all other institutions – as well as structural and cultural norms (for roughly 411 years)? Who rules U.S. Society?
For those willing to remain in solidarity with systems of oppression (i.e. racism and sexism), power and privilege are many times exercised by downplaying racism is “a thing”, and potentially seeing those of us who name it, as problems. Since many times the holders of power can jeopardize the careers, reputations, health and overall existence by characterizing us as “complainers”, “playing the race card”, “trouble-makers”, “difficult”, “problems”, “challenging”, “defensive” or “negative” (and many more uncharacteristic labels) which can lead to one’s demise, we remain silent, suffering in our own angst, humiliation and degradation.
We cower at the thought of what it would mean to give voice and value to continual daily happenings reinforced through systemic and social racism. Status quo means keeping oppressors comfortable in every situation and denying our own hostility, anger, sadness, frustration, depression and many other debilitating emotions. Yet, they often surface later in life through medical conditions (i.e. heart disease, diabetes, stroke, heart attack, etc.) or addiction (i.e. food, alcohol, sex, work, etc.).
While structural and systemic racism can be seen in mass outcomes, social racism (and colorism) produced in environments is more nuanced.
Several instances I reference throughout my career are:
Being overlooked, not taken seriously, or regarded considerably less than others. For example, I can recall is a series of events of which an employee (who happened to be an older white male) relentlessly antagonized others, exhibited abrupt outbursts of conflict with various members within the work group and was not held to account. By the same measure, an African American female exhibited some of the same characteristics, tendencies. Management’s urge to name and address the woman’s behavior was exponentially greater. Luckily, I was part of the management team and able to provide direct feedback. Both individuals were supported similarly through the process.
In another example, I personally requested an office for over a year (similarly to other managers who had been recently promoted). I was repeatedly told that the request could not be accommodated for various reasons). The privilege of being granted an office always appeared to happen based upon tenure. After 18 months of continual unsuccessful requests, I noticed a colleague (recently promoted; Japanese-American male) was moved into an office. This triggered much disappointment. Upon addressing the issue management was silent, did not know how to respond; and yet still, nothing changed.
Such issues would and may not be such a big deal if they were not linked to a plethora of like experiences which occur daily; both in and outside of work.
As Eduardo Bonilla-Silva asserts in his book, “Racism Without Racist,” no one is racist anymore – yet the disparities in outcomes for African American and black and brown people across all institutions (healthcare, housing, employment, criminality, wealth/economics, education, etc.) and mistreatment of the various ethnic groups and races is pervasive. While much of this can be attributed to unconscious bias, as “we have been taught that the only thing happening is what we are consciously aware of, and agree with (Di Angelo)”, many times individuals know exactly what they are perpetuating and perpetrating. Rhetoric of progressivism, respect for all, fairness, equality and equity are unaligned with deeds. As my mother always reinforced, our actions and practices speak louder than our words.
Systemic and institutional racism are reinforced by all who are aligned with white superiority and white supremacy; which is embedded in the foundation into the DNA of this country; every aspect of our existence as citizens in this country (i.e. all established systems – government, religion, criminality, capitalism); and transcends ethnicity and race. White people, unadmitted, take full benefit from the legacy of institutional, structural, hierarchical and systemic racism, subjugation and oppression, optimally – consciously and unconsciously supporting perpetual systems of oppression (though it is never named as racism); while people who may identify as other races or ethnicities (African American, Latino, Chinese, Japanese) also benefit in ways that are not as comparable; yet are compelled to adopt values, rules, norms, beliefs and ideologies as the result of such experiences. As a result, they began to align with white supremacy in every way imaginable. Carter G. Woodson does a great job of outlining this in his book, Mis-Education of the Negro (written in 1933).
Such individuals never questioning what it would mean to be who they are independent of whiteness. For example:
- What would it mean to be a black outside of not only a white lens, but in a non-white supremacist society?
- What would that mean in an inclusive society, created, sustained, controlled and maintained by all participants in the environment, where everyone has equal regard, value and support – symbolically, psychologically, emotionally and economically?
That said, this is not a post intended to attack or isolate; yet, it is intended to highlight the reckoning we must deal with in terms of historical and current day ills of society based upon racial privileges in our society, and the lack thereof.
There are so many parts to this equation. All cannot and will not be addressed in one post. However, as I continue to evolve on this journey of identifying how I collude and comply with the oppression and suppression of groups I belong to, as well as my own individual experiences – I am committed to learning ways to bravely confront injustice.
Two of the strategies and skills I continue employing are naming and questioning. Some examples of how to do this, are:
- I notice that there are not as many African American and/or black and brown women in this trade. What do you think is affecting such outcomes? What has been, and is currently being done to address this?
- It appears that African American and black and brown employees are treated a bit different than other employees. Here are several observations……………….What are your thoughts? What do you think might be helpful and valuable for others for them to reflect on this also?
- Based on the result presented here, there does not seem to be a lot of attention geared toward the recruitment of African American and Black and Brown individuals; and the results/outcome here are inherently and implicitly racist; due to mere inattention or lack of consideration and concern. What do you think can be done to change this?
- I’ve noticed that when Paul speaks, everyone in the room is attentive through eye-contact, posture. However, when Gwen is speaking, people start to engage in their phones, leave the room, refrain from making as much direct eye contact by putting their heads down, etc. Has anyone else in the room noticed this?
Although these examples may appear somewhat simple, raising issues that disrupt the status-quo of being comfortable requires a certain degree of bravery and courageousness. It is also important to acknowledge that this process can be both uncomfortable and risky, naming and questioning racism, sexism, (or any other isms) and other types of injustice; yet it is necessary break with solidarity and disrupt status-quo.
Supporting status-quo means preserving oppression and marginalization to maintain comfort, which leads to the destruction of human lives. The reality is racism kills and I do not think that any sensible, well meaning person in 2018 wants the death of others on their hands;
Or, I could be wrong.