Am I Racist? Part 3:
Acknowledgement & Responsibility
There is this meme that I like. I came across it while following #ArthurMemes on the twitters. Of course, by now, you know it is an Arthur meme; what you may not know is why I like this meme and what in the world it has to do with determining if you are being racist. In this meme, Arthur is on a carefree strut down the avenue – because we all know he’s not beating the block – with his chest puffed up and a slick smirk on his face.
When I first saw this meme, I laughed and immediately thought of the obliviousness some people enjoy with respect to racism. (Note: The ratio of people of color to whites, I would estimate, is about 3:1,000. LOL.) Before we go any further, let’s recap the first two parts.
Am I Racist? Part 1: What is Racism?
In short, racism is the belief that a race is superior to another race (or races) and/or the structural institution designed to create and maintain the racist ideology. At the end of Part 1, we departed with the question:
How does racism, as defined above, affect my ever day life?
Hopefully, you’ve had the chance to wrestle with this question at least a little bit. If not, please take a few minutes to consider the question.
Am I Racist? Part 2: What is a Racist?
A person that operates as a racist, therefore, is a person who subscribes to the ideology and/or system of racism either consciously or subconsciously. More directly, one might say “I am operating as a racist”, if I subscribe to the ideology and/or system of racism either consciously or subconsciously. In considering how this definition applies to our lives, I gave three things to consider:
What happened – How was this interaction different from other interactions?
Race as a factor – What are the possible factors, including race, that could change my perspective of the interaction?
The roles of each factor – How can these factors be accounted for in this particular interaction?
While I know how difficult it is to keep these three things in mind, I also know how important they are both when considering whether race plays a role in a situation as well as when considering our role, stake, and place in the system racism. Let’s unpack this and look at how we can be able to acknowledge and lessen our role in racism, whether ideological or systemic. But first, consider the stages of racial identity so that we can be sure where and how we are continuing this conversation.
Stages of Racial Identity
Helms’ White Racial Identity Development Model is widely accepted as the model of progression from racial obliviousness to anti-racism. These steps are integral when considering our role and stake in racism. The steps are as follows:
- displaying oblivious to racism,
- lacking an understanding of racism,
- and professing to be color blind;
- being conflicted over un-resolvable racial moral dilemmas,
- believing themselves to be non-racist and yet treating Blacks as second class citizens,
- not acknowledging oppression exists while witnessing it;
- initial resolution of dissonance often moves in the direction of the dominant ideology associated with race and one’s own socio-racial group identity
- and firming a more conscious belief in White racial superiority, and racial/ethnic minorities are blamed for their own problems;
- attempting an understanding of racial differences and may reach out to interact with minority group members
- and choosing based on how “similar” they are and the primary mechanism used to understand racial issues is intellectual and conceptual;
- questioning what it means to be White,
- searching for an understanding of the personal meaning of racism and the ways by which they benefits from White privilege,
- increasing willingness to truly confront one’s own biases and redefine Whiteness,
- and becoming more active in directly combating racism and oppression; and
- increasing awareness of one’s own Whiteness,
- lessening feelings of guilt,
- accepting of one’s own role in perpetuating racism,
- and determining to abandon White entitlement.
However, let me say this. I have been actively participating in conversations and activities trying to be more anti-racist and work against racism for close to 10 years now; only when I began to write this series did I even begin to consider that I vacillate between Immersion and Autonomy. (Let’s note that this is not reverse racism. There is no such thing as reverse racism.) Don’t forget the truth behind this a:
Hopefully, this model has given you some perspective into your own approach to the topic of racism as well as your role and stake in racism. We must be perfectly honest with ourselves and our place in the stages of racial identity. I am a black man, but I am speaking to white people. I would like to revisit a quote that I used in Part 1. In an article on HuffPost, Dr. Robin DiAngelo says:
I am white. I have spent years studying what it means to be white in a society that proclaims race meaningless, yet is deeply divided by race. This is what I have learned: Any white person living in the United States will develop opinions about race simply by swimming in the water of our culture. But mainstream sources — schools, textbooks, media — don’t provide us with the multiple perspectives we need. Yes, we will develop strong emotionally laden opinions, but they will not be informed opinions. Our socialization renders us racially illiterate. When you add a lack of humility to that illiteracy (because we don’t know what we don’t know [Contact Stage]), you get the break-down we so often see [White Fragility/White Narcissism] when trying to engage white people in meaningful conversations about race.
I placed this quote here, again, because it says three powerful things that I would like to point out:
- white people develop opinions about race no matter what stage of racial identity they find themselves,
- white people are socialized to be racially illiterate, and
- white people don’t know what they don’t know about race, racism, and equity.
This is the purpose of the “Am I Racist?” series. In short, Part 1 introduces the reader to a thorough definition of racism and asked readers to consider their stake and interaction with this definition; while Part 2, building on their stake and interaction, introduces the reader to a thorough definition of a racist and what to three things to consider when self assessing one’s part in racism or as a racist.
In this concluding part, we will discuss the necessity of acknowledging and being responsible for one’s own part in racism. But be ye forewarned, I was told by someone that I’m similar to Morpheus-sama training Neo to dissect racism. If white people fully understand what is at stake in terms of racial equity and reconciliation and address the sordid and terrible American history, the nation’s citizenry can experience another Great Awakening and heal its deep and widening wounds.
In addition to this, there is another purpose for this series. While I’d like to engage all people, this series is specifically meant to engage white people’s understanding and self assessment of racism, both ideological and systemic. Both I and many people across the interwebs are tired of explaining this, so I wrote this series.
On to Part 3: Acknowledgement & Responsibility
Before one can acknowledge racism, they must first address white guilt. In the article White Guilt is actually White Narcissism, Emma Lindsey said:
Despite being raised in a highly liberal “progressive” environment, I learned some toxic things around race relations. One was that it was unacceptable for me to state, plainly, my observations or questions around race so I kept quiet on topics that confused me. I learned there were certain things I was “allowed” to say, and certain things I wasn’t “allowed” to say, and these rules seemed arbitrary. I also learned that white people would say things they weren’t “allowed” to say when they were around other white people, but to repeat such things in larger groups was unacceptable and would lead to denial, and attacks on my person. I also grew to feel that I was inherently bad because a) I was personally blamed for repeating racist things from my environment and I lacked the maturity to understand where these ideas were coming from and b) I was implicitly included in groups that were obviously exhibiting racist behavior, so I assumed I was like them.
Again, Emma is stating the same thing that Dr. Robin DiAngelo stated before, white people learn some very toxic things concerning race that they unwittingly force and enforce upon other racism no matter how hard they might try. This is what must be acknowledged. This is what cannot be denied.
Now, I am not trying to offend; however, everyone that knows me personally knows that I am nothing if not direct, honest, and reasonable. It is for this reason that I decided to write this series. But, if you’ve calmed down enough to read this far, or were not angered by my statement, it does get better with diligence, practice, and honesty with yourself. Here’s what Emma Lindsey had to say about getting better:
As I matured, these feelings of inherent badness persisted, but my sophistication with respect to my own denial increased. I realized I was able to fend off these feelings of shame by acting in overtly “not racist” ways. If I complimented black people, for instance, or expressed outrage at racial injustices, my feelings of shame around my own presumed racism would be lessened.
Sometimes when this is highlighted people are assumed to be acting on “white guilt” but I think that is a misnomer. Guilt implies an understanding of the harm you have caused someone, and a desire to act in a way to mitigate its effects. I think a closer definition, and I mean no offense by this, would be “white narcissism.” Narcissistic behavior (at least as I understand it from reading the last psychiatrist) is basically defined as behaving in ways to create a positive story about ones self in order to maintain high self image. So, if someone volunteers at a homeless shelter so she can tell herself and others what a good person she is, she is acting out of narcissism.
However, narcissism is usually a cover for a fundamentally poor self image. Someone who secretly believes she is a bad person will be more motivated to do things to convince herself she’s a good person. Additionally, when confronted with evidence that something she did makes her a bad person, she is likely to act out in rage or denial (see narcissistic rage). The big problem with white narcissism, is while it may motivate some positive behavior, it also serves as a massive defense system that preserves subconscious racist behaviors.
While this post is neither about white guilt nor white narcissism, these are two very important concepts with respect to both acknowledgement and responsibility. The purpose for putting them here is to name the reactions that typically happen when the issue of race comes up around white people. You’ve seen it time and time again. Someone mentions race and white people begin talking about race and racism. Just like Emma said, there are feelings of “inherent badness.”
I have had enough of these conversations to know that this leads white people to do the things that Emma is pointing out. I have also had enough conversations with people of color to know that it is blatantly obvious when a white person is trying to overcompensate for some internal feeling of badness. It is very condescending to think otherwise, which is part of the problem. Remember, “ideological racism is the belief that a particular race is (or certain races are) superior or inferior to another race or races.” To think that people of color do not realize when good deeds come from a place of “inherent badness” as opposed to a place of genuine concern or empathy.
This is the subtle complicity that white people must acknowledge and take responsibility for. If you are looking for an answer to the question “Am I Racist?” and have not put together that the answer is “yes,” then you need to read the series again. However, it is not a clear and simple “yes” as in “yes, my heart is beating.” This is a part-time yes as in “yes, I am breathing.” For the most part we breathe without knowing, unconsciously, but there are times when we are definitely aware of our breathing. We fight to breathe when we exercise; we struggle to breathe when we are underwater for too long; and we control our breathing when we have been surprised or frightened.
Point is, we must all work on acknowledging and taking responsibility for the ways in which we are complicit in both ideological and systemic racism. It is imperative that we work on acknowledging and taking responsibility until it is as simple as breathing. Only then can we begin to work on racial reconciliation, equity, and healing our racial and historical wounds. But that’s my perspective; care to share yours?
The following meme has no purpose; I just enjoy that he’s balancing his gun with his espresso. Hope you enjoy it as well.