Acknowledging Your Own Racism

White man with hand on friend's shoulder.

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Discussions about racism can often make folx uncomfortable. It can bring up feelings of guilt and defensiveness. For a long time, BIPOC folx have been implicitly expected to suffer both the harms of racism as well as the responsibility of not making White peers uncomfortable by talking about its impact on their communities.

With growing awareness of health inequalities, police brutality, etc, there has been a greater willingness to confront this topic, including acknowledging your own racism.

Understanding the Insidiousness of Racism

Thankfully for BIPOC folx, there have recently been strides towards understanding the insidiousness of racism. While it no longer looks like stolen land at the expense of Indigenous communities and profit made from the enslavement of Black folx, as it did in past centuries, racism continues to harm BIPOC folx with systems that maintain the status quo.

In a 2013 journal article, Color-Blind Racial Ideology (CBRI) is deconstructed in terms of color-evasion, as racial differences are minimized, and power-evasion, which propagates narratives of equal opportunities.

While this has been the norm in the U.S. for a long time, CBRI is an example of how racism has evolved to appear like progress with the denial of racial injustice.

According to a 2019 report, the wealth gap between Black and White families increased from approximately $100,000 in 1992 to a $154,000 in 2016, so the impacts of generational wealth built from stolen Black labor persists.

Unfortunately, despite the magnitude of these advantages, White folx have often promoted narratives of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps as if these jarring racial inequalities are not based on highly rigged systems.

The Inevitability of U.S. Racism

When you grow to understand how you have been socialized by the norms in a country that was built on racism, you are better able to acknowledge your own racism.

If you are a member of the dominant group, i.e., White folx, you continue to benefit from racism, while BIPOC peers may struggle with internalized racism based on how they have been mistreated.

From a 2018 journal article, it becomes clear that even when an academic institution studies racism, it can continue to perpetuate it, as in the case of the University of Washington's school of public health.

In this way, despite how long it has taken for many institutions to be willing to acknowledge racism, this act alone will not improve the lives of BIPOC folx.

While it is challenging to acknowledge your own racism, BIPOC folx need their White peers to move towards dismantling inherently white supremacist systems that harm them, from education to healthcare.

Unfortunately, myths like reverse racism have long been used to gaslight, silence, and derail communities of color to maintain white supremacy.

In the same way that cis heterosexual men in a patriarchal society are not harmed by sexism, White folx do not experience any form of racism, as both are examples of the dominant groups who benefit from these systems.

Beyond Acknowledging Your Own Racism

In a 2020 journal article, structural racism is described as how American systems of discriminatory policies enforce experiences of privilege and oppression based on race, through practices like redlining, whereby banks would deny mortgages to Black folx in primarily White neighborhoods.

While this may be one example of how racism persists, these homes in White areas are sold for significantly more, which are mostly inherited by descendants, thereby widening the racial wealth gap as time progresses.

If you can understand the long-term consequences of redlining, you may be able to grasp how similar patterns apply to other industries beyond banking. Many Black households often continue to reside in areas that were not predominantly White, given how they were denied mortgages there.

Over time, a major impact of redlining has been the ever-growing racialized wealth gap, largely as a result of homes that have been inherited as generational wealth in White families.

For example, regarding education, racism is evident with adultification bias, whereby a 2017 study demonstrated that Black girls are perceived as less innocent than their White counterparts from the age of 5 years old.

Such patterns of racism continue to be demonstrated in research in healthcare, publishing, employment, etc. When you understand how pervasive racism is, you can take the steps necessary to challenge it.

Anti-Black Racism From Non-Black People of Color Folx

While you may have begun to think that BIPOC folx cannot be racist, anti-Black racism continues to be perpetuated by Non-Black People of Color (NBPOC) folx.

Unfortunately, anti-Blackness is a reality among NBPOC communities, and requires at least as much work to challenge biases, much like how White folx need to interrogate their racist beliefs about others.

While such investment in change may be uncomfortable, it is necessary to ensure that Black folx receive the equitable outcomes that they have fought to obtain from times of slavery through the civil rights movements until now.

A 2016 journal article states, "if systems of oppression are all interconnected and none of us can be liberated until all of us are free, then caste, race, anti-Blackness, Indigeneity must all be considered to understand South Asians’ situational complicity here and to affirm that our narratives of resistance are not resting on other forms of violence."

In other words, by understanding your complicity with systems that privilege White folx and proximity to whiteness, you are able to disrupt the problematic status quo.

Although not widespread, researchers are also looking into how psychotherapy can help folx address racism and prejudice.

A Word From Verywell

While you may not have grown up thinking about racism, it is necessary to confront your own racism for the folx whose survival has always been threatened by white supremacy.

In particular, NBPOC and White folx should think critically about how to challenge anti-Blackness. While Black folx may also benefit from unpacking the racism that they have internalized, that work often has little impact in comparison to the negative actions of professionals with such biases in positions of authority in the U.S.

If racism did not have such a daily negative impact on the lives of BIPOC folx, it would be far less necessary to confront your beliefs if you benefit from it.

Unfortunately, the reality of disproportionate health outcomes and police killings provides a clear indication of why this work is necessary. For far too long, the comfort of White folx has come at the expense of BIPOC outcomes, but hopefully, there is a greater willingness to dismantle racism now.

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