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

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


worldview prevents our intellectual and emotional growth.

Many of the dynamics of racism that we explain here will be familiar to peoples of Color. However, they may find this discussion useful in that it provides language and a theoretical framework for everyday experiences that often go unacknowledged by dominant culture.

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