Speaking of Racism…

So, there's this article in The Guardian, which is headlined: "A $95,000 question: why are whites five times richer than blacks in the US?"

Can you answer that in one word? I know I can.

The article itself spends more than 850 words answering the question in its title, detailing many of the current and historical institutional inequities that have resulted in this racial wealth gap. But none of those 850+ words is "racism."

Even though the systematic denial of equal opportunities based on race is the very definition of racism.
"[T]here are greater opportunities and less challenges for low and moderate income families if they're white in comparison to if they're African-American or Hispanic," [Tom Shapiro, one of the authors of the report by the Brandeis University's Institute on Assets and Social Policy] said.
That's racism.
The report attributes part of the cause to the "powerful role of persistent discrimination in housing, credit and labour markets. African-Americans and Hispanics were at least twice as likely to receive high-cost home mortgages as whites with similar incomes," the report says.
That's racism.
Although many black families have moved up to better-paying jobs, they begin with fewer assets, such as inheritance, on which to build wealth. They are also more likely to have gone into debt to pay for university loans.

"African-Americans, before the 1960s, first by law and then by custom, were not really allowed to own businesses. They had very little access to credit. There was a very low artificial ceiling on the wealth that could be accumulated. Hence there was very little, if anything, that could be passed along to help their children get to college, to help their children buy their first homes, or as an inheritance when they die," said Shapiro.
That's the legacy of racism.

I'm not suggesting, of course, that there's something wrong with the article for exploring structural inequality—quite the contrary, it was unusually well done in that regard.

I do, however, question the reluctance (not unique to this article) to incorporate the word racism into discussions of structural inequality based on race. It would be like a medical paper talking about a cure for the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the human body without ever using the word cancer. I don't believe it's possible to properly address racism if we're unwilling to even call it by name.

This is part and parcel of privileged people trying to turn accusations of bias into an equivalent offense to expressions of bias; that is, we are now meant to regard being accused of racism as just as horrible an experience as being targeted by racism. (Poppycock.) Thus is any use of "the R-word" axiomatically treated as radioactive—or, conversely, the claim is made that its overuse will render it meaningless. These are straw-arguments of people who desperately want to avoid honest, sophisticated, productive discussions of racial injustice, lest that injustice which privileges them be replaced with an equality that robs them of their unearned advantages.

Racism is a word and a concept from which we cannot shy away if we are genuinely interested in challenging its effects.

I've been bombarded with racist messaging since the day I was born, everywhere I've been in the world, and it would have to be some kind of extraordinary bit of magic if I, a human being designed to be an intellectual sponge and socialized in a culture steeped with marginalizing narratives, had absorbed none of the racism (and other bigotries) pervading my environment. Like everyone else, I've internalized those negative messages so profoundly that even those biases of which I am a target get turned in on myself. The question is not whether any of us have internalized racism; the question is whether we leave that internalized racism unexamined.

And part of that examination, surely, is a willingness to call it by name. Again and again. Until we can discuss racism when we see it by using the word matter-of-factly, instead of treating it like a badge of shame, or a word/concept so radioactive it shouldn't be used in a straightforward conversation of structural inequality, but held under glass to be used only in cases of three-alarm racism.

Social justice is not the time for whispered tones and circumspect politeness, lest we offend the privileged.

Racism is why are whites are five times richer than blacks in the US. Let us not be shy. Let us speak about racism with the boldness that materially and enduringly subverting its grim consequences will require.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus