Unconscious Racism & Bigotry

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Unconscious Racism & Bigotry

Hey, you, yes YOU, have you owned your unconscious racism and subtle racist conduct?

What are signs and examples of unconscious racism?

Racism and bigotry are not always overt and explicit. Sometimes, they can be subtle and unconscious, meaning that people may not be aware of their own biases and prejudices, or how they affect their behavior and attitudes towards others. Subtle unconscious racism and bigotry can manifest in various ways, such as:

- Microaggressions: These are small, everyday acts or comments that convey negative or derogatory messages to people of marginalized groups, based on their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or other aspects of their identity. For example, asking a person of color where they are really from, complimenting a woman on her intelligence as if it is unusual, or assuming that a person with a disability needs help without asking them.  Another example would be “joking” comments that minimize the impact of racial attitudes, such as finding humor and fun in misusing the word “white” or “black” such as mockingly suggesting that we can no longer call abstract studies written for academic audiences “white papers” or at a poker table “white chips don’t matter, only black chips do.” This kind of dog whistle racism, and dealing with confrontation about such conduct as simply “woke” over-sensitivity is harmful. And accepted a team mascot like “The Savages,” doing the tomahawk chop to encourage their efforts on the field, are thoughtless at least and degrading. Immediate dismissal of subjects like the teaching of CRT without any real investigation from objective sources of what such education is about, or rejection of the implementation of Diversity and equity programs as no longer necessary. Considering any continued affirmative action programs as racist towards white people, shows not only ignorance of the cultural realty in which POC live, but also of one’s inherent biases and ignorance about the real definition of racism.  

- Stereotyping: This is the act of making generalizations or assumptions about a group of people based on their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or other aspects of their identity. For example, assuming that all Asians are good at math, that all Muslims are terrorists, or that all gay men are feminine.

- Implicit bias: This is the unconscious association of positive or negative attributes with a group of people based on their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or other aspects of their identity. For example, having a preference for hiring white candidates over candidates of color, being more likely to perceive a black person as threatening or aggressive than a white person in the same situation, or having lower expectations for the academic performance of students from low-income backgrounds.

- Colorblindness: This is the denial or disregard of the existence of racial differences and inequalities in society. For example, claiming that racism is no longer a problem, ignoring the historical and systemic oppression of people of color, or refusing to acknowledge one's own privilege and advantages as a white person.

- Cultural appropriation: This is the act of taking or using elements from another culture without proper respect, recognition, or consent. For example, wearing a Native American headdress as a costume, using sacred symbols or rituals as decoration or entertainment, or profiting from the cultural products or practices of marginalized groups without giving them credit or compensation.

Subtle unconscious racism and bigotry can have harmful effects on the mental and physical health, self-esteem, and opportunities of people who experience them. They can also reinforce existing stereotypes and prejudices, create divisions and conflicts among groups, and prevent social justice and change. Therefore, it is important to recognize and challenge subtle unconscious racism and bigotry in ourselves and others, and to promote diversity, inclusion, and respect for all people.

What are the major issues noted by people of color seen in their white friends and colleagues?

This is a question that many people of color have asked themselves, especially in the wake of the recent social movements and protests against racial injustice and police brutality. As the father of  a person of color (POC) myself, I have experienced and witnessed many instances of microaggressions, ignorance, and insensitivity from some of my white friends and colleagues, who may not even realize how their words and actions affect me and others like me, much less how these behaviors impact the lives of POC.

Some of the major issues that I have noted are:

- The assumption that racism is a thing of the past, or that it only exists in extreme cases. Some white people seem to think that because we have laws that prohibit discrimination and hate crimes, racism is no longer a problem in our society. They fail to acknowledge the systemic and institutional racism that pervades every aspect of our lives, from education and health care to employment and housing. They also ignore the everyday racism that people of color face, such as being followed in stores, harassed by police, or stereotyped by media.

- The lack of empathy and understanding for the experiences and perspectives of people of color. Some white people seem to have a hard time putting themselves in our shoes, or listening to our stories without judgment or defensiveness. They may dismiss our feelings as being too sensitive or overreacting, or try to invalidate our opinions by saying things like "not all white people are like that" or "I don't see color". They may also try to compare their own struggles with ours, without recognizing the privilege and power that they have as white people in a white-dominated society.

- The expectation that people of color should educate them on racism and diversity issues. Some white people seem to think that it is our responsibility to teach them everything they need to know about racism and how to be anti-racist. They may ask us intrusive or inappropriate questions, or expect us to provide them with resources and recommendations. They may also rely on us to call out and correct their mistakes, or to speak for all people of color. They do not realize that this puts a lot of emotional labor and burden on us, and that it is not our job to educate them. They should take the initiative to learn on their own, and seek out reliable sources of information and guidance.

- The reluctance to acknowledge and challenge their own biases and prejudices. Some white people seem to think that they are immune to racism, or that they are already doing enough to fight it. They may deny that they have any implicit or explicit biases, or rationalize them as being harmless or justified. They may also resist any feedback or criticism that points out their blind spots, or avoid any situations that challenge their views or comfort zones. They do not realize that being anti-racist is not a static state, but a continuous process that requires self-awareness, reflection, and action.

These are some of the major issues that I have noted by people of color seen in their white friends and colleagues, the most egregious and outrageous blind spots. I hope that by sharing them, I can raise some awareness and spark some dialogue among white people who want to be allies and advocates for racial justice and equity. I also hope that they can understand that these issues are not personal attacks, but opportunities for growth and learning.

What are the best things for white people to do to correct their own racist problems?

This is a question that many white people may be asking themselves in the wake of the global movement for racial justice and equity. It is not an easy question to answer, but it is a necessary one. Racism is not only a system of oppression that affects people of color, but also a mindset that shapes how white people see themselves and others. It is not something that can be changed overnight, but rather a lifelong process of learning, unlearning, and relearning.

White people, you can take to start or continue your anti-racist journey by educating yourself. Read books, articles, podcasts, and documentaries that explore the history and impact of racism, especially from the perspectives of people of color. Learn about the different forms and levels of racism, such as individual, interpersonal, institutional, and structural. Learn about the concepts of white privilege, white fragility, white supremacy, and white allyship. Be open to new information and perspectives that may challenge your existing beliefs and assumptions.

You can reflect on yourself. Examine your own racial identity and how it has shaped your life experiences, opportunities, and worldview. Recognize the ways that you have benefited from or contributed to racism, intentionally or unintentionally. Identify your biases, stereotypes, prejudices, and blind spots. Be honest and humble with yourself, and avoid defensiveness or guilt.

White people, listen to others. Seek out and listen to the voices and stories of people of color, especially those who are different from you in terms of culture, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, class, ability, etc. Listen with empathy and respect, without interrupting, judging, or centering yourself. Acknowledge their pain, anger, frustration, and hope. Learn from their insights, experiences, and wisdom.

Perhaps most importantly, white people, speak up and act. Use your voice and influence to challenge racism wherever you encounter it, whether in your family, friends, workplace, community, or society at large. Call out racist jokes, comments, behaviors, policies, or practices. Support anti-racist causes, organizations, movements, and leaders. Amplify the voices and needs of people of color. Donate your time, money, or resources to racial justice initiatives.

Let’s keep learning and growing. Anti-racism is not a destination but a journey. It is not something that you can achieve once and be done with it. It is a continuous process of learning from your mistakes, seeking feedback, improving your skills, expanding your knowledge, deepening your relationships, and taking action. It is a commitment to being a better person and a better ally for people of color.

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