Two Key Challenges to Understanding Racism
Dominant society teaches us that racism consists of individual acts of meanness committed by a few bad people. The people who commit these acts are considered racists; the rest of us are not racist. These ideas construct racism as an individual binary: racist/not-racist (Trepagnier, 2010). As we have discussed, a binary is an either/or construct that positions a social dynamic into two distinct and mutually exclusive categories. As with the gender binary, virtually all people know how to fill in the two sides of the race binary: If you are a racist, the discourse goes, you are ignorant, prejudiced, mean-spirited, and most likely old, southern, and drive a pickup truck (working class). If you are not a racist, you are nice, well-intentioned, open-minded, progressive, and “don’t have a prejudiced bone in your body.” Most of us understand, at this moment in our cultural history, which is the right side of this binary to be on. But these categories are false, for all people hold prejudices, especially across racial lines in a society deeply divided by race.
Racism: White racial and cultural prejudice and discrimination, supported by institutional power and authority, used to the advantage of Whites and the disadvantage of peoples of Color. Racism encompasses economic, political, social, and institutional actions and beliefs that systematize and perpetuate an unequal distribution of privileges, resources, and power between