Monday, April 06, 2015

Confederate "Heritage" Month, April 6: Making white racism invisible through "diversity"

Jamelle Bouie did a thoughtful column last year on how a superficial ideology promoting "diversity" can still include a gigantic blind spot for real existing white racism: Why Do Millennials Not Understand Racism? Slate 05/16/2014. Referring to a poll of 14-24-year-olds commissioned by MTV:

What’s more, for all of their unity on tolerance and equality, white and minority millennials have divergent views on the status of whites and minorities in society. Forty-one percent of white millennials say that the government “pays too much attention to the problems of racial minority groups while 65 percent of minorities say that whites have more opportunities.” More jarring is the 48 percent of white millennials who say discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against racial minorities. With that in mind, it’s worth a quick look at a 2012 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute, where 58 percent of white millennials said that discrimination against whites was as big a problem as discrimination against minorities.
This is striking because Republicans today strongly articulate the notion that the absence of racism means colorblindness, and that colorblindness in law means that it's illegitimate for the government to pass laws to combat racial discrimination because that means that the government is officially looking at race.

It's such a transparently cynical argument it's hard to believe even most 14-year-olds in the MTV survey actually believe it. But it does reflect the diffusion of that ideology, or at least of that kind of framing.

It's also a strong reminder that nothing substitutes for an understanding of white racism as a system of social interactions and social power. Bouie makes the point this way:

The problem is that racism isn’t reducible to “different treatment.” Since if it is, measures to ameliorate racial inequality—like the Voting Rights Act — would be as “racist” as the policies that necessitated them. No, racism is better understood as white supremacy — anything that furthers a broad hierarchy of racist inequity, where whites possess the greatest share of power, respect, and resources, and blacks the least.

And the magic of white supremacy is that its presence is obscured by the focus on race. When a black teenager is unfairly profiled by police, we say it’s “because of the color of his skin,” which - as a construction - avoids the racism at play, from the segregated neighborhood the officer patrols to the pervasive belief in black criminality that shapes our approach to crime. Likewise, it obscures the extent to which this isn’t just different treatment— it’s unequal treatment rooted in unequal conditions.

Millennials have grown up in a world where we talk about race without racism—or don’t talk about it at all—and where “skin color” is the explanation for racial inequality, as if ghettos are ghettos because they are black, and not because they were created. As such, their views on racism - where you fight bias by denying it matters to outcomes - are muddled and confused. [my emphasis in bold]

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