Friendships alone are not enough to overcome all of our socialization;


Friendships alone are not enough to overcome all of our socialization;

Whites still experience White privilege and maintain institutional control. Having a friend of Color does not, in and of itself, mean that you are educated about the complexities of racism, that you have worked to address your internalized dominance, or that you consistently treat your friend with cross-racial sensitivity and awareness. In addition, how much knowledge you have about the history of your friend’s racial group and your receptivity to hearing about their personal experiences of racism will also impact the depth of your relationship.

“I went to school with a lot of people of Color. In fact, I was the

minority at my school.” What seems like a racially diverse environment for Whites does not always appear diverse for peoples of Color. But if you are White and went to school with a lot of peoples of Color, you probably grew up in an urban environment, and possibly urban poor. Even so, most schools with a racially diverse student population are still segregated within the school, mirroring the racial segregation of wider society. In addition, as you progress through life, upward mobility will often move you away from these schools, neighborhoods, and friends. We often find that White people who had a lot of childhood friends of Color rarely keep them because our schools, workplaces, and other environments channel us in separate directions. This illustrates the power of White solidarity to trump early cross-racial friendships.

Some Whites experience being a minority when they travel to another country. These experiences are important because they can provide some understanding of what peoples of Color experience here in Canada and the United States. However, being a minority in these contexts is not the same, because for most Whites, this is a temporary situation. While you can experience prejudice and can be discriminated against as a White person in the minority—and that is of course hurtful—it is not racism. First, to be in the minority as a White person is usually a situation Whites have chosen to be in and can easily escape. Second, in the larger society we are still affirmed as more valuable than peoples of Color and we receive White privilege.

In the context of another country, keep in mind that most of the countries in which a White person would be a minority have a history of being colonized by White people and of being forced to defer to Whites. Further, our movies and media have been exported globally and Whiteness has worldwide currency. For example, blepharoplasty, a surgical technique to make the eyes appear more “Caucasian,” is the most popular cosmetic


surgery in Asia and the third most frequently requested procedure among Asian Americans (Motapharthi, 2010); light skin is advertised in countries such as India as the most beautiful, and skin-lightening cream is a huge industry around the world (Li, Min, Belk, Kimura, & Bahl, 2008). While Whites might feel like outsiders when traveling in non-White countries, they are still elevated in myriad ways.

“People of Color are too sensitive. They play the race card.” “Playing

the race card” is a common accusation Whites make when peoples of Color bring up racism. To accuse a person of Color of playing the race card is to assert that the person’s claim of racism is false. This is insulting to peoples of Color because it suggests that they are dishonest and that they lie about racism. This expression also reveals the lack of knowledge Whites have about racism and our arrogance that we could understand it better than peoples of Color.

Because of the factors we have discussed, there is much about racism that most Whites simply don’t understand. Yet in our racial arrogance, we don’t hesitate to debate the knowledge of people who have lived or studied these issues for many years. We feel free to dismiss these informed perspectives rather than to acknowledge that they are unfamiliar to us, reflect further on them, or seek more knowledge. Because of our social, economic, and political power within a White supremacist culture, Whites are in the position to legitimize peoples of Color’s assertions of racism. Yet we are the least likely to see, understand, or be invested in validating those assertions, and the least likely to be honest about their consequences.

Because most Whites construct racism as specific acts that individuals either do or don’t do, we think we can simply look at a specific incident and decide if “it” happened. But racism is infused in every part of society and in our perspectives. It is reinforced every day in countless and often subliminal ways. Our inability to think with complexity about racism, as well as our investment in it, makes Whites the least qualified to assess its manifestations. Our investment in denying racism also ensures that we will most often determine that “it” did not happen. The very concept of a race card at all, in a society so deeply divided by race, is a cogent example of White denial. Ironically, it’s not much of a card to play since raising racism rarely gets peoples of Color anywhere with Whites. Very few Whites believe that structural racism is real or have the humility to engage with peoples of Color about it in an open and thoughtful way.

“This is just political correctness.” Charges of political correctness

often surface when Whites are being challenged to acknowledge racism.


Like other terms that originate as a challenge to unequal power, the concept of political correctness has been co-opted by dominant interests. Political correctness originated as a term to describe language, ideas, policies, and behavior that seek to minimize social and institutional oppression. Now, it has come to mean cultural sensitivity that has been brought to absurd levels. As soon as the term political correctness surfaces, discussion ends, for no one wants to be accused of being “PC.” Take for example the word feminism, which is simply the idea that women should have equal status and opportunity, but has now become a derogatory term with insulting variations such as “femi-nazi.” Consider how conservative pundits have managed to take the idea of equality for women and equate it with Nazism, and how such absurd perversions of the term have been so normalized that many young women today don’t want to be associated with feminism. We might reflect on whose interests it serves to position political correctness as something to be avoided.

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