In recent years, “racism” has become quite a hot button term. Uttering it in the wrong company can quickly earn you a title of “race baiter” or “reverse racist” – and an accusation of creating division by playing the race card when unity is what is needed.
What is racism, then, this thing which often we are afraid to explore?
According to Oxford Dictionary, racism means “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.”
If you ask most anti-racist activists, they’ll tell you that racism = prejudice + power. In other words, the state of being racist or behaving in a way that can be described as racist goes beyond an interpersonal conflict or individual bias to dwell in the realm of a power differential.
Yet another definition of racism in the collective conscience is that a white person has a conscious, intentional perception that they are inherently better than people who are not white, and that they act on this perception in reductive, diminishing, or even violent ways.
Add to conflicting definitions of what exactly racism is the emotional tension so many adjacent terms now carry with them as they saturate our daily news and social media feeds:
- All lives matter
- Anti-affirmative action rhetoric
- Building a wall
- Making America great again
- Reverse racism
- Critical Race Theory
- Respectability politics
- Sea lioning
For many of us, just one of these terms is enough to elicit traumatic mental images of men in white hoods and robes or shackled Africans forced into race-based chattel slavery.
By contrast, other folks hear these words and imagine nostalgic technicolor recreations of sprawling plantation homes flanked by acres of orchards and crop-laden fields.
The fear and apprehension around the topic of racism is so palpable that it’s no wonder we often shrink back from discussing it, let alone working actively toward eradicating it.
If the end goal of our efforts is to treat each other well, then agreeing on the precise definition of racism isn’t entirely necessary. Rather, what’s more important is to focus on our actions and the reasons behind them – always with an open mind that is ready to interrogate our own flinches, our quickenings of pulse, our instinctive defense of that which we have believed to be true when a person with different lived experiences presents an alternative point of view.
No matter how we choose to define racism, we can chip away at its impact by holding up a mirror to ourselves, our communities, and our elected leaders. A healthy dose of vulnerability and accountability for folks at every rung of our society can yield a more honest and peaceful space for us all.
Rather than suggesting new resources for you this week, I encourage you to revisit the pieces in this series that have impacted you most. Take note of lessons you gained and changes you implemented as a result of your efforts to unlearn racial biases you have held.
As you peruse and revisit #peacebypiece, I hope you’ll spend some time reflecting on the following questions:
- Often, when a person of color point out an action, policy, or other instance of racism, white people will pivot the conversation from the person of color’s lived experience and observation to focus instead on one of these topics. Why do you think this kind of counterproductive pivot exists in these conversations? What purpose does such a pivot serve?
- Times they themselves have felt they were treated differently than someone else and thus were discriminated against,
- Pressuring the person of color to forgive a white person who wronged them, or
- Bogging down the conversation in semantics like nailing down an exact definition of “racist,” “racism,” “stereotype,” etc.
- DARVO refers to a reaction perpetrators of wrong doing, particularly sexual offenders, may display in response to being held accountable for their behavior. DARVO stands for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.” The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim — or the whistle blower — into an alleged offender. This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of “falsely accused” and attacks the accuser’s credibility and blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation.
- When you have found yourself in conflict or in tense conversation with someone from a marginalized cultural or ethnic group, have you employed any aspect of this tactic? How do you think deflecting or reversing victim and offender roles impacts relationships?
Keep showing up here to this space, with an open mind and honest intent. Together, we will continue the hard work of unlearning racial biases as we endeavor to construct more peaceful communities, one piece at a time.