Understanding the Global Organization of Racism Through White Supremacy

Understanding the Global Organization of Racism Through White Supremacy

“Why can’t we all just be human? Isn’t it this focus on race that divides us?”

This chapter continues the examination of racism by identifying a few of the ways in which racism adapts to and co-opts efforts to challenge it. We contrast multicultural education and antiracist education, introduce Whiteness and White supremacy, and end by addressing common misconceptions about racism.

Vocabulary to practice using: whiteness; white supremacy; colonialism; antiracism

As with other forms of oppression, one of the most tenacious elements of racism is its ability to adapt to and co-opt efforts to challenge it. Consider the example of multicultural education. Multicultural education is an educational approach that has taken root over the last several decades. Proponents of multicultural education recognize that schools are not set up to meet the needs of minoritized groups. While there are variations in approaches to multicultural education, Banks and Banks (1995) define it as:

a field of study … whose major aim is to create equal educational opportunities for students from diverse racial, ethnic, social-class, and cultural groups. One of its important goals is to help all students to acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to function effectively in a pluralistic democratic society and to interact, negotiate, and communicate with peoples from diverse groups in order to create a civic and moral community that works for the common good. (p. xi)

However, although it started as a movement to challenge the dominant norms, definitions, practices, and polices in education, multicultural education today all too often manifests simply as “celebrating diversity.”


This celebration of diversity is often done through activities such as sharing food from different cultures and celebrating holidays such as Hanukkah and Kwanza along with the traditional celebration of Christmas. Yet this approach does not acknowledge the history and politics of difference. In practice, this approach to multicultural education is the ideology of individualism applied to each unique ethnic group in a school. Celebrating diversity is important, but because it tends to occur without a study of power, this celebration actually reinforces structural inequality by obscuring unequal power between groups. This allows us to appear as though we are progressive and racially inclusive without actually addressing oppression. Contrast celebrating diversity as it is commonly practiced in schools with the Banks and Banks definition above. Clearly, much complexity is missing from the former practices.

Unlike mainstream forms of multicultural education, antiracist education focuses on the inequitable distribution of power, and racial power in particular. Antiracist education deliberately goes beyond the celebrating approach common to most multicultural programs. Instead, it centers the analysis on the social, cultural, and institutional power that so profoundly shape the meaning and outcome of racial difference. Antiracist education recognizes racism as embedded in all aspects of society and the socialization process; no one who is born into and raised in Western culture can escape being socialized to participate in racist relations. Anti- racist education seeks to interrupt these relations by educating people to identify, name, and challenge the norms, patterns, traditions, ideologies, structures, and institutions that keep racism in place. A key aspect of this education process is to raise the consciousness of White people about what racism is and how it works. To accomplish this, we must challenge the dominant conceptualization of racism as individual acts that only some bad individuals do, rather than as a system in which we are all implicated. Using a structural definition of racism allows us to explore our own relationship to racism as a system and to move beyond isolated incidents and/or intentions.

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