Growing up white in a white system, I was systematically taught to look down on those who were different from me.
I do not blame my parents or my teachers or my peers for teaching me racism. This is absolutely not the case. Most of them did the best job they could in teaching me to love all different kinds of people. Unfortunately, the system was not set up so they would always succeed.
Let's define our terms so there is no confusion here.
Discrimination is the personal act of say, not hiring someone because they are black, or even because they are white.
Racism, however only occurs when white people, consciously or unconsciously, discriminate against people of color. This is because in our society white people have power. People of color do not. Don't believe me? Keep reading.
Of all the forms of racist discrimination, systematic racism is the most menacing. We're carefully trained not to see it. When you were in elementary school, did you notice that the vast majority of pictures in your history texts were of white people and almost always of men?
Have you ever stopped to question why we have never had a president or even a Congress that truly reflected America's diversity?
Systematic racism works two ways. The most obvious component is that blacks are excluded and discriminated against. What is harder to see, however, is that white people have privilege over people of color that allows them to often unknowingly perpetuate the exclusion and discrimination of them. This white privilege is what we white people need to focus on giving up if we want to truly end racism.
Paul Kivel was here last semester. I went to his workshop on building alliances across race and gender. One of the most memorable parts of this workshop illustrated the way white privilege works. He read a series of statements and asked the white people in the room to stand when the statement applied to us. He also requested that if the participants did not know if the statement applied to us, that we think about why we did not know. The people of color were asked to remain seated and observe the exercise.