Like Real Change’s editor, all white people should have the opportunity to participate in an Undoing Institutionalized Racism workshop. (“I am white, and therefore, I am racist,” RC, July 1, Vol. 22, No. 26). There is much for white people to learn about the causes of racism and its impact on our society.
Even if they do not realize it, all white people behave, at least occasionally, in ways that are racist. However, as was described in the editorial, the foundation for racial inequity runs much deeper than individuals’ bad thoughts or racist conduct. Racism is systemic, with its roots in the institutions of society and the way our society works. It is a scar built up over centuries, benefiting one group of people at the expense of everyone else.
Whether they have chosen to or not, all white people benefit from this systemic racism. Those of us who are white — to a greater or lesser degree, depending on our social class and personal histories — benefit from being born with this privilege. Warren Buffett, of all people, calls it winning the “ovarian lottery.”
What is critical to any hope of dismantling the current arrangement is that increasing numbers of white people recognize that they have this special privilege, that they have done nothing individually to deserve it and that they are at least tacitly complicit in and benefit from it. White people are not necessarily “undeserving” of whatever we may have managed to accomplish in life. We simply began from a starting line that is ahead of other groups; we have run our race under far more favorable conditions.
Even though this is true, at least for me, feeling guilt, pain or self-loathing because I am a racist is not a good motivator to do my part to change the way things are. Beating ourselves up over an unjust arrangement we did not choose may not help activate white people or move them to action to change things.
Instead, white people should recognize the present set of social relations for what it is and join with others of all races in trying to improve or, perhaps in a more perfect world, dismantle it.
Real Change has recently taken a small step in this direction by adopting a vision statement that includes imagining a community where people are no longer marginalized by racism. We added taking action for racial justice to our mission statement. Also, our new strategic plan seeks to address racial inequity in a number of ways.
A fair and more equitable system is in the interest of everyone. But the current unjust system has existed for a very long time. It will take real determination to change it.