Racism Isn’t Just Open Hatred; OR I Grew up Racist

(I’m talking about race today. Please note that I am a white person and far from being an expert on race theory. If I got anything wrong/confused here, please feel free to correct me.)

So I heard some stuff on twitter about the Donald Sterling thing. This is what I have gathered happened: the owner of the clippers, Donald Sterling, made some really racist remarks (and already had a history of being a jerk apparently) and was caught on tape. After a few days of deliberation, he was banned from the NBA for life and is being forced to sell his team.

This got me thinking about racism in my life growing up. I was raised in a very racist culture, though most of the people spouting subtly racist remarks would, in all likelihood, look at those comments by Sterling and decry it as disgusting racism. But the very blatantness of it allows people to ignore their own racism, and to ignore the systemic racism of which they are a part.

They can reject Sterling’s dehumanizing comments and feel good about themselves for it, while simultaneously mocking those who are against racist team names like ‘the redskins’ for ‘political correctness’, because they consider racism to be outspoken hatred, or things like not allowing a black person to drink at your water fountain.

But while that form of racism does exist, racism is so much more than bluntly hating on people of color.

Racism is black workers getting paid 65% of what white workers get paid. Racism is black people comprising 39.4% of the prison population in the US, while only comprising 13.6% of the general population (as of 2009 and 2010, respectively). Racism is explaining that by saying ‘well, they’re just culturally more violent’.

Racism is when you tell yourself it’s statistically justified to be more nervous about a black man approaching in the dark than a white man, or saying ‘stereotypes exist for a reason’.

Racism is when you say that racially mixed marriage isn’t ‘unbiblical’ but it is still unwise because of ‘cultural differences’.

And dare I say it, racism is a white savior complex, deliberately going to ‘minister’ where you know the population will be almost entirely people of color, because ‘they need jesus’.

Racism is saying that adopting a black baby is more worthwhile for ‘the Kingdom’, because you’re ministering to the heathen africans.

Racism is saying music with a certain beat is evil because it’s used in Africa to worship demons.

Racism is saying that slavery in america wasn’t all bad.

Racism is the magical negro trope in Christian movies, and having most roles in movies filled by white people.

Racism is laughing at something just because it was said in African American Vernacular English instead of English you consider ‘standard’.

Racism is all the subtle ways people consider people of color to be less than white people, even without recognizing it as such. You can be against Donald Sterling’s remarks and still be racist. Racism is something we were raised with, it’s embedded in our culture. Racism is something we white people benefit from, even if we don’t like it. We have privilege because we have white skin. Racism is something we have to actively combat; it’s not enough to call for Donald Sterling to be punished; we have to inspect ourselves.


3 thoughts on “Racism Isn’t Just Open Hatred; OR I Grew up Racist

  1. carmen

    That’s exactly it, Lana – racism IS embedded in our culture; you’re absolutely right. All those people who are objecting to Sterling’s punishment and saying, “You should be able to say anything you like to your girlfriend without repercussions!” don’t get it. The fact is, the things we say and do reflect the way we think – we all need to dig a little deeper into the ‘why’.

  2. fiddlrts

    Great post.

    Let me just note that Sterling has more than a history of being a “jerk.” He has paid millions in fines for proven housing discrimination against people of color. That’s more than jerkishness, that’s actively evil racism. I obviously won’t condone his moronic statements, but wish that the NBA would have cared back when he was actually denying people housing.

    I’m completely with you on the cultural ubiquity of racism, so don’t get me wrong. These are important things you are saying. But let’s also not miss the fact that guys like Sterling continue to abuse their positions of power by causing active harm to people of color. The cultural aspects you have pointed out allow us to look the other way when these things happen.

  3. delagar

    Yes. What fiddlrts said — this is not a free speech issue. Racism matters because racists beliefs have racists consequences. Someone who will say a racist thing, or believe a racist thing, will commit a racist act — in renting, in hiring, in arresting or leveling sentences, or even just in deciding who to call the police on.

    Even teachers in our schools tend to punish young black males (four year old males, five year old males) much more harshly than white children, for the same acts. A young white child is seen as just being a boy; a young black child is a troublemaker or a thug. One gets told to sit down; one gets sent to the office, or expelled.


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