Is that racist?
The term “racist” is being thrown around a lot both during the election cycle and post-election. There have been numerous cases of people, including our president-elect, being called racist with adamant refusal that they are racist, or that their actions or behaviors are racist. There seems to be a real failure of understanding what racism is and how it manifests.
For example, when President-elect Trump stated that Judge Curiel could not be an unbiased Judge about his Trump University case because of his Mexican heritage, Trump was adamant that this was not racist.
When Clay County Development Corp. director Pamela Ramsey Taylor made a post in relation to Trump being elected stating “It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady in the White House. I’m tired of seeing a Ape in heels” to which Clay County Major Beverly Whaling responded “Just made my day, Pam,” they both denied that they are racist.
When David Sanguesa went on a tirade against a Starbucks barista yelling “We want nothing to do with you,” “you’re trash”, “…I voted for Trump! Trump! You lost! Now give me my money back,” he claimed that he was being racially discriminated against because his coffee was taking too long. He said that he isn’t racist, and that he was discriminated against.
Now, these are three very different examples, but they tie to an underlying point. All three, and many more cases, have people claiming their statements are not racist and that they are not racist when many people claim that they are.
I think that most people understand racism as “overt racism.” Overt racism can be understood as the intentional harmful attitudes or behaviors towards a minority group based upon their race. We think of examples of laws and legislations that prevented access to housing, education, employment, and voting solely based upon the racial group someone belongs to. We have images of Klansmen going out and killing black people just because they are black. If you don’t fit that image, then you must not be racist. “I don’t hate all black people. There are some good ones. So therefore I am not racist.”
Many people fail to recognize the existence of subtle, or covert racism. Diet racism, if you will. This is something that has been far more prevalent in America in recent years. These are unintentional attitudes and behaviors toward a minority based upon their race. People are sometimes completely unaware that they are doing this. There have been numerous studies that show subtle racism exits. For example, in a 2003 study, researchers found that white names receive 50 percent more callback for interviews than black names with the same resume. In a 2014 study, lawyers reviewing writing samples were harsher and more critical of samples they thought belonged to a black student and gave praise to the samples of the white student, even though they were the same sample.
This is not meant to be a literature review of subtle racism or unconscious bias, but we see a real disconnect between these types of actions and the acknowledgment of racism. While most people can agree that the phenomenon of racism is not new, we have only recently started calling it that. There is such a stigma associated with being called racist that people will consistently deny that they are racist even when their actions contradict that.
You may ask yourself, can a person do something or say something racist without actually being racist? I would say absolutely. However, failing to acknowledge the racist undertones of your actions does not move us forward in addressing why you said or did those racist or biased things. Just because you are not out lynching people because of the color of their skin does not mean you aren’t doing or saying something racist.
I think there is a wide range of what people would define as a subtle racism. This could be from complaining about the lack of a White Entertainment Television when BET exists, to thinking that welfare recipients are lazy, single, black mothers who are just trying to take advantage of the system, to thinking that minorities have it easy in America in comparison to white Americans.
To all the Donald Trumps, Pamela Taylors, Beverly Whalings, David Sanguesas and to the many other people who don’t want to acknowledge the racist undertones of your actions, I understand that this is a confusing time for you. You don’t think you are racist yet everyone is calling you that. It is time for you to take a hard look as to why people think that, why they are upset, and take the time to understand why you feel like you aren’t racist. The world isn’t picking on you just because you are white. Your actions and beliefs directly mimic those of overt racism. This is not an issue of being politically correct, but your failure to understand the complexities of why this is inappropriate and the historical consequences of those beliefs.
To everyone else, continue to call out those actions, but try to bring to light on how what they said or did can be racist without calling them racist. Facilitate that conversation without throwing heavy accusations because it will shut down the whole conversation. No one wants to be called a racist and getting people to realize that racism exists in other forms is the first step.