We Are All Racist
Damon Lee

Mr. Lee,

Thank you for a thoughtful and challenging read. I can agree with you that all Americans enjoy a certain level of privilege and most harbor a certain level of prejudice for what they would consider ‘other’. For example, many formerly incarcerated black males display prejudiced and cisgender-normative attitudes towards members of the LGBTQ community.

However, I struggle with your argument that ‘we are all racist’, which limits racism to a narrow definition of individually applied racial prejudice instead of encompassing the broader context of structure, privilege, and power that are the framework upon which institutional racism was built.

Your article seems to suggest that prejudice, bigotry, and racism are synonymous, when most modern scholars agree that prejudice is individual belief that one group of people is inherently greater or more valuable than another, bigotry is acting on that belief, and racism is a system of control created around the belief.

You completely ignore action and power and write solely about individual beliefs. Here’s the problem with that discussion — beliefs cannot be objective. They are feelings generated by thought, and feelings can’t be right or wrong — they just are.

You felt invisible next to Van Jones, as George Clooney once recalled feeling invisible when traveling with Brad Pitt. You resented the loss of the ‘Santa Monica Minority’ privilege you have become accustomed to (prejudice). You even may take steps to ‘regain’ that privilege and ‘remind’ Mr. Jones of your importance by hosting your next lunch in Santa Monica (bigotry). But you do not have an organized system behind you that will enact that belief (you cannot, for example bar all Black men named Jones from owning a home in Santa Monica), so your feelings have little impact on Van Jones’ quality of life, opportunities, or descendants.

To compare your desire for equal notoriety with Van Jones to black American desires for equal opportunities and fair treatment under the law is at best a false equivalency and at worst, Stockholm syndrome.

White people created a system that benefits white people and disadvantages everyone else. The system does not require individual prejudice to maintain itself, as it cannot be dismantled through individual achievement. Your personal success and status, your privilege, does not transcend the legacy of American racism you inherited as a birthright along with your melanin; as Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates can attest to — he was arrested in 2009 for ‘breaking into’ his own home.

I am all for finding common ground, but not at the cost of common sense. Until we live in a country where Blacks or any other people of color exert race-based power over white people which disadvantages and impacts them for generations to come, kindly refrain from calling me a racist.