In all the conversations I had about it, I recognized a need for improvement. This week, I widen my angle.
Last Monday I made the assertion that discrimination is the personal act of treating someone differently and unfairly because of his or her race (or sex, religion, sexual orientation, etc.).
I also said racism only occurs when white people consciously or unconsciously discriminate against people of color. This is not because of some inherent difference between whites and people of color. It is because in our society white people have more power than people of color.
I am going to use this column to expand those statements.
First, it would be helpful to define, "people of color." Often when we talk about race in America, we tend to reduce the issue into one that incorporates only blacks and whites. But this ignores all the other nonwhite people who also experience discrimination because of their race. This discrimination is not experienced in exactly the same manner across races, though there are some important similarities. To talk about these similarities, it helps to use the term "people of color," which incorporates black people, Asian Americans, Native Americans and all other nonwhite groups.
Discrimination and prejudice are incredibly alarming. Nearly all of us agree that treating people unjustly because of their skin color is not only problematic but utterly wrong.
But racism involves more than just discrimination, and "racism" is not synonymous with "racial discrimination." Discrimination happens on more of an individual basis. Racism occurs on a systematic level and is based on power. It happens when a whole group of people has more power than another group. Because of this social, political, economic and interpersonal power, the dominant group can deprive subordinate groups of many essential rights and privileges, often unintentionally.
This systematic discrimination, or oppression, occurs on many levels. Often it involves the labor of one group going to benefit another group. It also limits access to the work force to the jobs with the least status and reward. It takes away many choices that are given to the dominant group. Worst of all, "-isms" are enforced by violence. Those in subordinate groups risk attacks because of their identity.
Systematic discrimination is also characterized by the double bind. This means that choices are often reduced to two options, both of which are equally undesirable. An often-cited double bind involves women's sexual choices. If women embrace their sexuality, they are whores, and if they hold back, they are frigid or prudish.