The terror attack in Charlottesville last Saturday, in which Heather Heyer was killed while protesting against racism, and Trump’s subsequent blaming of “many sides” and apparent sympathizing with white supremacists, has spurred a spirited back-and-forth about the topic of racism in America. And, you know what that means. Lotta bullshit making the rounds on social media.
One thing I see being said whenever a topic like this is brought up, often by racism deniers, is that there are racists in minority groups as well as among white people. The point being that it sort of “cancels out” the racism of Neo-Nazis and other assorted tiki-torch wielding assholes, since minorities can hate too. As a rebuttal to that flawed argument (which I will get to in a moment,) there are also some people who say things like “black people can’t be racist.” Which, while I understand what they mean when those people say that, I disagree with. At least in a literal sense of the word, in a hypothetical, neutral universe (and not the current American reality in which we live.)
The sad truth about racism is that yes, anyone can be racist. Anyone can be a bigot. Anyone can view and treat others differently (often worse) based on their skin color. As a Latino, some of the most racist stuff I have heard has been said by Latinos about other races, including about other Latinos. I remember when I worked as a waiter, talking to one of my co-workers and hearing her refer to “wetties,” and thinking that it was kind of weird to hear a Latino disparaging other Latinos in such a manner. That kind of self-hate helps to explain the fact that there are some minorities who embrace and defend racists like Trump. That fact is often pointed to by Trump apologists as a means of demonstrating “see, he’s not racist, minorities like him too.” But that’s bullshit too.
However, while everybody can be racist, it carries much more weight when white people do it. And that is due to the fact that our society is still dominated by a white patriarchy. We often have the illusion of diversity, on television and in the corporate world, but at the core, America has a long way to go when it comes to different races being represented equally and having comparable influence. For example, you can look at professional sports. The NFL and NBA in particular are dominated by players of color. But the situation is much different when it comes to the makeup of the mega-wealthy owners. Same with corporate America. Yes, the workforce might be made up of seemingly diverse assortment of races, religions, genders and sexual orientations. But take a look at the profile of the upper levels of management and CEO’s. Different story there. Progress is being made, but we’re not there yet.
When white people are racist, it potentially resonates with a far greater number of people, including people in power or of influence, who can set policy that affects millions of lives. Keep in mind, this is not simply a “white people thing” in the abstract sense. It’s simply because numerically, America is still dominated by whites. When black people or other minorities are racist towards white people, it might be repugnant and offensive, but the difference is, they’re “punching up,” not down. And that’s the key distinction. The ironic thing is, white supremacists like the ones in Charlottesville often indirectly make this argument. Because one of their fears and grievances is that they’re becoming outnumbered. As if that’s somehow a bad thing (it is.) The truth is, they know that they are privileged and they’re pissed off because they see minorities making gains, and see it as a threat to their dominance.
Racism is an ugly thing, and people often don’t like to talk about it. But I think it’s critical that we not only talk about it, but do so with honesty and without fear of saying stuff that makes people uncomfortable. So yes, in the abstract, anyone can be racist. But in the actual American society we live in, not all racism is of equal weight. Far from it, in fact.
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