Imagine a world where the legacy of U.S. racism against black people – the middle passage, slave labor, the rape of black women to reproduce a workforce, Jim Crow laws, the KKK, lynching, workplace discrimination, the massive over-incarceration of black folks – was erased. Where the legacy of racism against other groups – the genocide of indigenous peoples, laws explicitly excluding Asian populations from the U.S., Japanese internment, the current vilification of Latinos and Muslims, not to mention prejudice against Jewish, Irish, and Italian immigrants before they were brought into whiteness – imagine if this wasn’t even a consideration.
Imagine pretending massive inequality doesn’t exist in the U.S.,. Pretend there’s not a racial wage gap that intersects with the gender wage gap. Imagine wringing our hands about the plight of the white man in the great recession, when the recession really looks like this:
Imagine forgetting that when a white person says something racist, it is seated in this history, in generations of dehumanization and oppression, in continued marginalization and exclusion. Imagine forgetting that when a person of color says something against a white person, it is based in the same legacy, in the history of hurt the person of color has experienced and white people’s position of relative power and privilege along racial lines. Imagine a world where we forgot about the realities of race and racism.
You don’t have to try too hard. We’re there. This is where the national conversation, or lack thereof, around race is at, particularly among white people. And in a context where talking about race at all is the new racism of course people of color are the new racists, because they have to engage with the reality they live in.
We live in a world where a study can be published purporting to show that white folks feel anti-white racism is so powerful it’s eclipsed anti-black racism. The study only engages with racism along a black and white line, ignoring the rest of our complicated racial system. These grand distractions from the real conversation that needs to be had are considered important enough to inspire a round table discussion in the pages of the New York Times (which, to be fair, includes a lot of reality-based critique of this racial fantasy, but still offers a lot of legitimacy to these bizarre feelings).
I wish I was surprised by this study and the importance it’s been given. But we’ve been headed this way for a long, long time. Colorblindness is the rule on race, particularly among white folks. We’ve decided the way to not be racist is to pretend race away.
In this context, the tide can turn against affirmative action because it’s exclusionary to white folks, and we’re pretending there’s no racial hierarchy. White feminists try to avoid addressing race in projects like Slutwalk, more afraid to talk about it than of the dangers that come with not engaging in the complicated relationship between race and sexism. Hate crime laws, supposedly designed to protect minority groups targeted with bigotry, can be used to charge people of color with committing hate crimes against white folks. Fake controversy can be drummed up about Jill Scott and Common visiting the White House, largely because they engaged with the topic of interracial dating at all.
White folks have an extraordinary ability to make everything about us, and now we’ve even managed to do that with racism.The study on white people’s feelings on racism should come as a wake up call. We have to talk about race and racism. No matter how scary. We’ve made a world that’s shaped by race, where race is a very real thing and where the consequences are undeniably powerful. We can’t just pretend it away.