King Beauregard, a frequent contributor to this blog, made an interesting point about Bernie Sanders in particular, but really about privileged white people more generally:
I don’t think Bernie has a single drop of malice towards blacks or Hispanics in him. It’s not just the decades of not interacting with blacks, but (I suspect) the much subtler failing of not personally feeling their pain and therefore not feeling any motivation to investigate their issues.
He then followed up with this:
It’s about realizing that racism manifests in all sorts of subtle ways, sometimes through what DOESN’T happen, and it’s the easiest thing in the world for white people to ignore it because it doesn’t happen to affect them. Worse, the measures to do something about that subtler racism WOULD affect them, and that’s where a great many progressives fall down on the job. Not just because (for example) prioritizing BLM issues means not talking about single payer for a minute, but the very humbling awareness that white progressives and white racists are all used to benefiting from an unfair system.
It is always useful to remind white folks, across the ideological spectrum, that our system, despite the progress we have made, still tolerates and in some cases encourages discriminatory and racist practices. And because whites need to be reminded—again and again—I thought I would post here my response to King Beauregard:
It’s very easy for white people to criticize obvious manifestations of racism in our society. Heck, there are still some Republicans left who will do that. But you are right that a system contaminated by a more subtle form of race-based discrimination is harder to get white people, even white Democrats, to care about. Your point about “what DOESN’T happen” is exactly right. That’s harder to detect and then explain. When people of color are negatively affected by the subtle racism you suggest, white people tend to think those particular negative outcomes are solely or largely the result of a lack of effort or talent, as opposed to something in the system itself that helps determine those outcomes.
Worse, though, than missing or ignoring the more subtle forms of discrimination in our society is this sad and depressing fact: today a significant majority of white people think it is they who are suffering from discrimination! You’ve probably seen this already by way of Vox, but when I saw it the other day I was sort of not surprised:
That “white working class” result probably explains Trump’s mystifying appeal to 40% of the population better than any one factor, perhaps even better than innate preferences for his clownish authoritarianism. Just think about it for a minute. Members of the white working class—who have in large numbers supported Republicans for years now—think their existing problems aren’t because (or just because) they have embraced right-wing economics and anti-union fervor through the ballot box, but because people of color are “taking” their jobs or getting into the best schools and so on. It’s really amazing.
But more amazing is the “white college educated” response. More than four in ten white people with a college education think the system is essentially “rigged”—a term Trump uses with some effectiveness—against them! That result makes me think some college degrees aren’t worth all that much.
And we shouldn’t ignore the responses from blacks and Hispanics. I can think of some legitimate reasons why those numbers are higher than they should be, but it still is troubling that around one-third of minorities in this country think white people’s problems are related to reverse discrimination. When you put all of this together, it illustrates your point about subtle racism and how it is built into our system in ways even some people of color don’t immediately recognize.
That Vox article also recognizes and explains an important distinction between discrimination and racism:
Discrimination refers to the biases one exhibits against a racial group. Racism, by contrast, reinforces discriminatory attitudes with social, political, cultural, and economic institutions that have historically disenfranchised a group of people simply because of their racial identity.
Using the terms without the necessary distinction (as the study did that produced the graph above), racism simply becomes “a set of attitudes without the power dynamics that give certain biases salience over others.” Those power dynamics that favor whites are what white people either purposely fail to see or are culturally conditioned to ignore, despite the fact that, as the article points out, there is so much evidence out there to prove some forms of racism are still very much with us, whether it be in hiring practices or in our criminal justice system or in redlined neighborhoods or in our education system’s tendency to overlook intellectual giftedness among black students.
Finally, the article notes how belief in “anti-white bias” has been on the rise among white people since the beginning of the civil rights movement in the ’50s, which is no surprise. And Vox asks a question at the end that is very easy to answer:
How will white Americans adjust to an America that cannot and does not focus on their rights alone?
For a big chunk of them the answer can be expressed in one word: TRUMP!