I sent the following message to Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, in response to her comments suggesting that racism is a thing of the past:
I recently became aware of the comments you made during a hearing before the Nevada Assembly’s Legislative Operations and Elections Committee. These comments indicate that you feel racism is over. It is not, and the fact that you think so worries me. I also feel that you have a very limited understanding of racism.
Racism is not just “discrimination or bigotry towards an individual or individuals based on their actual or perceived race”. The sociological definition of racism is ‘power plus prejudice’ and is inclusive of individual acts of bigotry as well as systemic race-based discrimination.
Racism is more than lynching (have you read about the hanging of Otis Byrd yet?).
It is more than calling black people, American Indians, Latinos, or Asians one of the many bigoted slurs used to deny them their basic humanity (slurs which continue to be used to this day).
Racism is more than making black people sit at the back of the bus or enter the back door of an establishment.
Racism isn’t limited to the US imprisoning Japanese Americans in WWII.
It’s more than the Tuskegee Experiments.
It’s more than ‘Birth of a Nation’.
Racism is more than just the way people act, or the things they say. Racism is also about institutions. Institutions like the USAmerican criminal justice system which treats white people more fairly than people of color, disproportionately targets Blacks and Latinos for stopping and frisking, and imprisons African-Americans at an alarming rate.
Racism is also the War on Drugs. Despite the fact that White Americans use drugs at roughly the same rate as African-Americans, the War on Drugs has had a far greater impact on Black people.
Racism is about people failing to realize that ‘People of Color’ and ‘African-American’ are not interchangeable terms.
Racism is also the way politicians speak about and craft legislation concerning undocumented immigrants.
Racism is also the way people refer to African-Americans as thugs (which is a stand-in for N*gger). Or the way political pundits drone on about “black on black” violence while ignoring the fact that white people commit almost as much violence against other white people.
Racism is also about politicians fighting to end or reduce the effectiveness of government assistance programs. Many political figures think that those making use of government assistance are all unemployed, lazy black people who shouldn’t be supported by the government. They’re ignorant of the facts that show that huge numbers of low-income people *have* jobs and still need government assistance to survive. They’re ignorant of all the poor white men and women who use government assistance, as well as the children of poor families who need it and the senior citizens who need it. Meanwhile, corporations across the country get tax breaks–i.e. government assistance–and there’s not a peep from these politicians.
Racism is also about voter ID laws which disproportionately target People of Color.
Racism is also the way people think of Muslims as being a threat (yes there is a racial component to anti-Muslim bigotry; these bigots likely don’t have white Muslims in mind when they talk about the threat of Muslims and Islam).
Racism is also about the implicit racial biases that float around in the back of the minds of even those people who think they aren’t racist. These biases affect us on subconscious levels and can be difficult to detect, but they are there. Subconscious biases lead people to make snap judgments about others, such as when a woman clutches her purse as she walks past black people.
Racism is also respectability politics. African-Americans are routinely admonished to pull their pants up,
Racism is not over. It is still alive and well. It manifests in both subtle and overt ways and can be seen in individuals or institutions. It affects African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos, and American Indians. While White Americans can be indirectly affected by racism (for instance, white friends or family members of PoC), they are not the target of it. It is American Indians, not White Americans, who are directly impacted by the continued refusal of the Washington Redskins’ owner to change the teams’ name. It is Latinos and Hispanic-Americans, not White Americans, who have to deal with racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio. It is Asian-Americans, not White Americans, who face labor market discrimination. It was African-Americans, not White Americans, who were horribly treated-for decades-by the racist Ferguson Police Department. And rather than White Americans, it is African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Latinos, Asian-Americans, and American Indians who are routinely face discrimination at all levels in the motion picture film industry. As a White American, you do not get to decide when racism is over. You are not the target.
I hope the pushback you’ll inevitably receive prompts you to learn more about racism in the U.S. There is a wealth of information available attesting to the continued existence of racism. That it permeates our culture is a fact. Unlike People of Color, that is a fact that you have the privilege of not acknowledging. As racism doesn’t affect your everyday life in any meaningful way, you don’t have to live with the daily realities faced by People of Color. By denying the existence of racism, you erase the stories of people across the country. And that in itself is racist.
So was referring to your colleague as ‘colored’.
A Person of Color who continues to be affected by racism