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  • Akili

Are you sure that's racism?

Yes and no. This question always makes me chuckle. Black people typically know when we are being discriminated against, but sometimes it's just an intuitive feeling, and not one that will have a bunch of hard data, and that's ok. Here's why...


Racism takes many forms

It can show up in a lot of places, but what we all need to know is that it's an invisible system, and a set of ideas that we've all decided to believe in. These thoughts/ideas create feelings, and our feelings create actions - sometimes good, sometimes questionable, sometimes fatal...So let's talk about 5 ways White people exhibit racism.


Individual/Internal - You have negative or limiting thoughts about people of other races. America was built on Eurocentric values, with a desire to make sure that those of European descent, or descendants of slave owners, or white people would WIN. As White people have been brainwashed to believe their way of living is the "right" way, a superiority complex followed. Thoughts of other groups being inferior may not even be something you are conscientious of, but if you observe your own thoughts long enough, you may be surprised and appalled at what you find when you interact with, or think about people of color.


Interpersonal - This is when racism is displayed between people. A white person may choose to act on their thoughts and feelings in a way that negatively impacts a person of color. It could be in conversation, or in take on a more physical form. Maybe you use the police to allay some of your misplaced concerns or unfounded fears about people of color by calling them to step in whenever you find it necessary. Perhaps you make comments that are culturally insensitive, or even worse, simply rude/ignorant with a true lack of concern for what others feel.


Cultural - The culture of power in America is white culture. There are cultural norms, ways of being, values and ideals that have been put in place and all of us are expected to follow. Many times we see proof of cultural racism when other cultures attempt to highlight, celebrate or bring consciousness to their stories and experiences. There always seems to be a little backlash from those belonging to the culture of power, and an attempt to minimize or silence the voices of others. Consider your response to the award show titled, Black Girls Rock, or the movement Black Lives Matter. What thoughts immediately popped into your head? I've heard/read comments like:

  • "Why do they get their own show?

  • "We can't have a show called White Girls Rock, or we are considered racist."

  • "Why can't all women just be honored, why do they have to be Black?"

  • "All lives matter, not just Black lives!"


Institutional - Are there any institutions that operate with bias toward people of color. Creating more opportunities to oppress yellow, brown and black people, while focusing on the protection and advancement of white people? What is an institution? In our case, it's an organization. Perhaps they create laws, policies, rules, and other things that impact the way we live. Many believe the police do not operate to protect and enhance the lives of everyone. What do you think?


Systemic - It is so difficult to dismantle a system you can't see. The invisibility factor also makes it hard to prove. In our society we share a collective consciousness about things that create issues for people from marginalized groups. For instance, the criminal justice system. How many people are awaiting trial, in jail, for crimes that they have not been convicted of? How many jobs should require a high school diploma based on the skill required to do the job, but instead require a college degree? Why are men prevented from getting federal financial aid if they haven't registered for the selective service, and how is that impacted if you've been incarcerated? What systems are working against you, but work in the favor of someone who does things the "right" way?


When working with clients, or conducting workshops I present scenarios where racism is evident, and some where racism was felt by a person of color or even myself. I always have at least one white person that will describe the scenario or experience as being weird, and question whether or not it's truly racism. Know that everything does not have to be covered in a KKK robe to be considered racist. Before you question the person of color sharing their experience recognize whether or not your dismissal of their experience is rooted in individual racism.


I am pro Black, but i am not anti-white. I am pro love, because I can't fight hate with hate. I am pro woman, but I am not anti-man. I am pro me, but I am not anti-you. We become better together when we are open to having the conversation.