Thursday, September 9, 2010

Race: Not a Level Playing Field

Recently I was talking with another white person about race. I mentioned the study discussed in my last post, which demonstrates that white prejudice against black males is a factor in job hiring in New York City.  That part of the conversation went fine.  But we went on to discuss prejudice in our own neighborhood. In us.

Immediately, my friend got defensive.  "People of color do that, too," she insisted.  "They can be just as racist as anyone."  That argument is called "Parallelism".   Parallelism suggests that the playing field is level. The blue team can commit a foul, so can the red team.  I think it's erroneous.  Here's how the blog Resist Racism puts it: "An experience you have as a white person that you think is similar to an experience related by a person of color is not a valid proof that racism doesn't exist."

Here's an extreme example of parallelism:  In Germany in the late 1930s and early 40's, Jews didn't trust Germans.  Germans didn't trust the Jews, either.  But in those days, Europe was hardly a level playing field.

No, I am not saying that for people of color, America today might as well be Nazi Germany. And I'm not saying that people of color can't be prejudiced against white people.

But if we're willing to admit that "racism against people of color still exists out there in our society"--and most white people are--we also must take an additional step. Where is it in my life? In my neighborhood? In my heart?  My white friend's defensive attitude posed the question:  Are you accusing ME of being racist?  No. But we need to talk about race.  We need to examine our attitudes, because to avoid the race issue proves my point.  Who can afford to ignore racism against people of color?  Who can pretend it doesn't exist?  Only those who aren't affected by it.  It's called white privilege.


Catherine Stine said...

White privilege means partly that we can afford to live in a neighborhood filled with people who look like us. But can we really afford that? As Obama said, "We all have a reptilian part of our brain that we must fight against on a daily basis." Luckily, we have the rest of our brain too. And prejudice isn't just against Black folk these days. Some of the most despicable racism is against Muslims. Against building a peaceful social center in lower Manhattan, with no real knowledge that its founders have run a mosque in that area for a good fifteen, twenty years with no problem. Racism is burning the Koran, which will only encourage Al Qaeda operatives and suicide bombers. If Americans used their cognitive abilities more, or as Obama puts it, "Listened to their higher angels" more often, some of this impulsive, fear-centered BS would hopefully be "checked and balanced."
Resist your inner reptile!

HelenQP said...

Great comment!! Yes, and using your brain means being willing to admit your prejudices. We had an interesting conv. at dinner last night about that Mosque...