A Simple Explanation of Racism in America (for White People Who Think They’re Being Oppressed)
This originally appeared as a response to a comment on my article You Can’t Be Racist Against White People.
Thank you so much for your response, it is clear that you have spent much time thinking on the subject.
You’ve struck close to my heart- I hate how easily people will throw out terms like “red-neck” “hick” or “hill-billy”. Basically, if you’re around me IRL and that comes out of your mouth, I challenge it. “You think those hills are filled with dumb hicks? Like Mr. Tyson or Mr. Walton? How bout that good ole boy who ran our country? Guess who makes a dollar every time your dumb ass has some chicken, pork, or rice?”
But The South is a complicated subject. The ruined economy harkens back to a war that half the country made the wrong choice about- and could have prevented by ending or never commencing the cruelty and oppression to begin with. But, after the slaves were ‘freed’ white folks still had a lot of control- even poor, uneducated ‘hicks’. They could report a black person for any arbitrary crime and have them thrown into a work program- the one that built many rail roads and highways we use today.
So, many of the frustrated whites struck out at blacks any time they felt inferior. It became “I might be poor, but at least I’m not black”.
We still live in a country that has never fully recovered from this senseless cruelty. Black folks are far more likely to be pulled over or arrested- six times that of a white person according to popular research. Hundreds of thousands of families are missing their fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles and more recently their mothers, sisters, aunts and daughters- if you look at the prison system in America you will see nearly half (1 million of the 2.3 million) are black people. How many families shattered is that? Can you even quantify the effects?
But the big problem that we can’t seem to work out is how these things intersect. How income and location change these statistics drastically- but black people are almost always at the bottom of the pile- getting the worst of all treatment.
That doesn’t mean that white folks don’t face problems. I was born in prison- my mother arrested and convicted. My mother a subject of police brutality. MY FUCKING WHOLE SELF- as it was being formed, a subject of police brutality.
But, at the end of the day, I can say without hesitation, that my journey would have been much harder had I been wearing black skin instead of white skin this whole time- assuming I was still in America.
In American culture, the ‘norm’ has been seen as white for the entire history of our country. People get all up in arms over super heroes (fictional characters ffs) being played by black actors instead of white ones. Representation is a big deal.
It may be really shitty for some white people but that doesn’t excuse years of rape, torture, slavery, imprisonment, and racism that black folks have had to endure.
No, my family didn’t own slaves or ever really much of anything, but that doesn’t excuse me from this equation. I walk around with a mantle of protection, with 1/6th the likelihood of getting caught doing something petty that might get me arrested.
And even if people judge me for being poor (which I was born into) or having a bad education (49th in the nation!) I know I can shed these things. I can become a rich and famous author, A scholar, a lettered and honored member of society. I can leave every bad name in the dust if I fight hard enough- but black folks can’t.
No matter how educated, how accomplished, they will still face racist old bastards who haven’t died off yet. They will still face uneducated folks (some would call hicks or hillbillies) that would do them harm at the first oppurtinity. They still carry a mantle of shame, hatred, loss, and history that we cannot appreciate fully behind our light eyes.
Words carry what weight we give them. We can argue exact definitions only to have them changed a few years or decades later. But, this was never really about which definition for the word is right, but getting people to think.
Clearly, you thought a lot about the subject, so thank you for making me feel like what I do matters too.
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