Patterns to Practice Seeing

Patterns to Practice Seeing

1. Think about all of the most popular television shows about friendship between women.

What race and class are most of the women? What activities organize these women’s days? What seems to be the most important aspect of life to them?

2. How often do you hear women speak up publically against sexism? How often do you hear men speak up publically against sexism? What response do they most often receive when they do speak up? How do these responses differ based on the gender of the person speaking up? Identify examples of the range of responses, with silence on one end and violence on the other.





Understanding the Structural Nature of Oppression Through Racism

“I was really lucky. I grew up in a good neighborhood and went to good schools. There were no problems with racism, I didn’t learn anything negative about

different races. My family taught me that everyone is equal.”

This chapter traces a specific form of oppression—racism—in depth. Racism within the U.S. and Canadian contexts is defined as White/settler racial and cultural prejudice and discrimination, supported intentionally or unintentionally by institutional power and authority, and used to the advantage of Whites and the disadvantage of peoples of Color. We illustrate aspects of racism through an examination of economic, political, social, and cultural structures, actions, and beliefs. We revisit the concept of intersectionality and describe how building an in-depth understanding of racism allows an entry point into building an in-depth understanding of other forms of oppression.

Vocabulary to practice using: racism; structural; institutional; peoples of Color

In this chapter we examine racism. One note before we begin: Race is a deeply complex sociopolitical system whose boundaries shift and adapt over time. As such, “White” and “peoples of Color” are not discrete categories, and within these groupings are other levels of complexity and difference based on the various roles assigned by dominant society at various times. For example, Asians and Blacks, while both identified as peoples of Color, have very different experiences under racism based on the roles dominant society assigns to each of these groups, as do Indigenous and multiracial peoples. When we use the term “peoples of Color,” we realize that not everyone would accept this term because (a) it conflates very complex dynamics among and between groups and (b) does




not deal adequately with the experiences of Indigenous and multiracial peoples. However, at the introductory level, we use this terminology because it is most widely understood as capturing the overall dynamics of White-settler dominance over Indigenous groups and groups of Color, and people perceived as belonging to those groups. The term “peoples” is used (rather than “people”) to signal the heterogeneity of groups’ experiences under this umbrella term. These terms indicate the two broad, socially recognized divisions of the racial hierarchy in the United States and Canada. Thus, when we use the terms White and peoples of Color, we are speaking in general terms about dynamics that occur at the group level and are pervasive throughout U.S. and Canadian societies. When we use the pronouns “we” and “us,” we are speaking specifically as White authors about ourselves and other White people.

Racism is among the most charged issues in society and is challenging to discuss for many reasons: pervasive miseducation about what racism is and how it works; a lack of productive language with which to discuss racism; institutional and economic interests in upholding racism; ideologies such as individualism and colorblindness; and an emotional attachment to commonsense opinions that protect (rather than expand) our worldviews. In order to meet these challenges, we offer the following reminders:

A strong opinion is not the same as informed knowledge. There is a difference between agreement and understanding: When discussing complex institutional dynamics such as racism, consider that “I don’t agree” may actually mean “I don’t understand.” We have a deep interest in denying those forms of oppression which benefit us. We may also have an interest in denying forms of oppression that harm us. For example, peoples of Color can deny the existence of racism and even support its structures. However, this still benefits Whites at the group level, not peoples of Color. Racism goes beyond individual intentions to collective group patterns. We don’t have to be aware of oppression in order for it to exist. Our racial position (whether we are perceived as White, a person of Color, Indigenous, or multiracial) will greatly affect our ability to see racism. For example if we swim against the current of racial privilege, it’s often easier to recognize, while harder to recognize if we swim with it. Putting our effort into protecting rather than expanding our current

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Patterns to Practice Seeing
Patterns to Practice Seeing

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