Dear 100 Hour Board,
I'm trying to do my part combatting racism by (tactfully) calling out racist comments I see on social media. This led to a dialogue with a friend when I pointed out that there is a systemic bias against black men that causes police officers (and others) to almost automatically assume they're criminals, whereas they'd ask a lot more questions if a white man was involved before they made that assumption
He wanted to know what causes that systemic bias. I'm pretty new to this cause and don't even know where to start or find helpful information to answer him! Can you answer the question and/or point me in a good direction to find the answer? He's previously expressed ideas like white privilege isn't real, so preferably pretty
basic "entry level" stuff would be the most helpful.
~Love one another
Here are two really good videos that do a great job of explaining subconscious biases, and systemic racism.
I think these videos do a really good job at explaining some of the phenomena behind subconscious biases and systemic racism. Hopefully understanding these will make it easier to see examples of these things in real life. If you need more examples there are plenty you can find with a quick google search about racism in education, employment, criminal justice, etc.
Dismantling personal and systemic biases takes time. This has been an issue in the US for 400+ years. Progress is coming, but it's going to be slower than we want, and it's going to take hard work and patience. So don't lose hope! Keep pressing on!
Hope this helps,
Dear Love one another,
One easy starting point might be to watch the documentary 13th on Netflix and then read the work of literally any of the black activists that appear. It's maybe an hour and a half and it gives a good beginner's version of how some of that systemic bias got built into the system.
You may also want to google studies on implicit bias. Psychology, social psychology, and sociology all have some really interesting things to offer here.
- The Black Sheep
Basically, America's history shapes its present, and this shouldn't surprise us. It's clear in other ways too! Like how the values of independence and freedom were part of the American Revolution, so those things are still really important to us today. It's part of the culture of American society. You know what else is part of our history and thus part of our culture? Racism. But we're trying to change that.
Originally, many of the workers in American were poor whites that came over as indentured servants. The thing is, if you run away from your "master" as a white indentured servant, you could probably hide and "blend in" and start a new, free life. On the other hand, if you were an escaped Black slave, the oppressive structure made it impossible for you to really escape and be free because you would be presumed a criminal, just because you weren't white. Chattel slavery took over because it was economically advantageous. To me, that's where the "presumption of criminality" begins.
Of course, then slavery became illegal. Sort of. That's what we're told in school, anyway. Except, the 13th amendment was passed in 1865, and it reads:
"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
And that's really where it comes down to. That loophole that I've emphasized. If a society believes that Black Americans are not fully human and wants to ensure the maintenance of the power structures that exist, the easiest way to do that is through this loophole. To keep Black Americans oppressed, to keep them as slaves, you vilify and criminalize them. If they're criminals, then white Americans racism was justified all along.
So the stereotypes were engineered. They were built and reinforced according to a narrative to ensure the continuation of oppression. To ensure those with privilege and power never had to "compete." Never had to apologize. Never had to admit they were wrong. Never had to make reparations.
This loophole was a creation of white America. It led to convict leasing. 14-year-old boys would be hanging out in their own neighborhood and could get arrested for loitering, then made to work the fields. It led to the prison industrial complex, aided by the (also racially motivated) war on drugs. It led to the "1-in-3 Black men will go to prison in their lifetime" America. Not because 1 in 3 Black men are dangerous criminals, but because we've made a world where we presume they are.
It's part of a narrative. White Americans would justify lynchings by saying that Black men were hypersexual and would rape white women if left unchecked. They justified murder that was purely racist by relying on the stereotype that Black people are criminals. Emmett Till was 14 years old and was murdered and brutalized because he was accused of *whistling* at a white woman. His death was unjustifiable. But if white America tells themselves these people are criminals, then... it's their own fault and there's no problem to be fixed.
It's an invented avenue to assure moral impunity for white America.
Are you ready for a brief history lesson? I'm a history teacher, so I hope your answer is yes!
As writer Ashley C. Ford said, "When people don't know the history of racist violence, every act is a one-time-thing. The 'system' in systemic racism becomes invisible." To understand our current situation, and why racism is still absolutely a prevalent and pressing issue, we have to understand more about the way Black people have been treated in the US since the beginning. The first Africans were brought to what is now the US as slaves in 1526, although they soon fled and sought refuge from the local Native Americans. Enslaved Africans were once again brought over in 1619, after which point slavery of Africans and African Americans legally continued until 1865 (and it took a WAR to get to the point where we finally abolished slavery). That's over 300 years of slavery on this soil, a full century longer than we've even been an independent country, and much as we say, "But that was so long ago!" it left lasting scars in the way Black people are perceived and treated.
(Trigger warning: violence, rape, brutality.) Here's the thing about slavery. We like to pretend like it was just forcing people to do work without pay, but it was so much worse than that. It was white men raping Black women, and then selling their own children for money. It was iron collars and white men's initials branded on Black men's foreheads. It was families being ripped apart, and women being forced to reproduce with certain men, as if they were animals to be bred, so that they would have more children who would then also be exploited for labor. It was people being whipped to death to prove a point. It was limbs being ripped off or mangled in machinery, with no proper care or recovery time. It was kidnapping free people and selling them. It was forcing human beings to stand naked on auction blocks while other people stuck fingers in their mouths and prodded their bodies. It was literally stacking human beings in the holds of cargo ships, forcing them to lay in their own and others' excrement and vomit for weeks as they were brought across the Atlantic. It was complete dehumanization, to the point white people believed Black people were incapable of feeling pain. I cannot overstate how completely horrific slavery was, and while I don't enjoy talking about these facts, if we never confront them it's easy to brush under the rug some of the attitudes that became prevalent in white America because of them. Because in order to treat people like that, thousands and thousands of people had to collectively agree that Black people were somehow not quite human, and definitely not deserving of being treated with dignity and respect. And even though laws changed, people continued to hold those attitudes, which they passed onto their children, who in turn passed it to their children, and on down. And not only did they pass these beliefs onto their children, they also made laws and set up systems that enshrined these beliefs. So if you're white, no matter how much you believe that Black people deserve the same rights as white people, you've benefited from systems that have been set up in your favor, and you haven't been pulled down by systems set up against you.
Even after slavery was legally abolished in the 13th amendment, it functionally continued for years afterwards. Guesthouse does a great job talking about how we used the legal system to imprison people of color, and then force them to do free or nearly free labor, and that's something that still happens to this day. I was horrified at the start of the school year when the admin gave us all teacher mugs, and announced that they had been inscribed with our school mascot by prisoners at the federal prison here in Utah. (Apparently a lot of schools actually use prison labor for all their various needs like t-shirts, mugs, hats, etc., because schools are so underfunded that prison labor is all they can afford.) And even beyond that, after the 13th amendment was passed, many many people remained functionally enslaved. A lot of formerly enslaved people, with no money, no ability to read or write (because it was illegal to teach them), and nowhere to go, ended up staying on as sharecroppers with the people who formerly claimed to be their owners. As sharecroppers they had to do the exact same work they had previously done while enslaved, while their employers paid them next to nothing, often making up fake debts that the sharecroppers would have to repay to force them to work for free. Laws were also passed to make it so Black people were not truly free--look up Black Codes (here's a very rudimentary introduction to them, and here's some more basic info on them). These laws continued until the 1960s, but once again, the attitudes behind them persisted. But still, it was not long ago that the laws themselves existed. I saw something recently that said, "If white people want to learn about Jim Crow they open a textbook. If Black people want to learn about Jim Crow they call their grandparents." This history is closer to the present than we often want to believe.
Black people today still need to deal with the same issues that started centuries ago. The idea that Black people can't feel pain, or don't feel it as much as white people, has led to them being dangerously ignored in hospitals. Both Serena Williams and Beyonce have opened up about their difficult experiences giving birth, and how they were ignored by doctors about life-threatening issues. If that happened to super famous celebrities, imagine how much worse it is for normal people. In fact, you don't have to imagine it, here's a personal account that also talks about Serena and Beyonce's experiences.
For some more resources, check out Race: The Power of an Illusion--The House We Live In (it can be found on Youtube here). It talks about redlining and the creation of a racial wealth gap. I would also recommend this article that does a really good job explaining what white privilege is and isn't. You can also take a test on your own implicit bias toward various different groups here.
Good on you for looking to educate yourself and others! Keep up the good fight, my friend.
If you're talking to someone believes racism is wrong, it helps to know what they think racism means. Maybe ask them some questions about that.
If they believe it is wrong to
-be mean to someone because of their race
-judge/hate someone based on race
-generalize based on race
then you might have a good foundation once you show them some statistics and ask some questions.
Some facts and articles:
- Around 20% of black people in the US live below the poverty line, compared to the white 8%.
- Black mothers die in childbirth 3-4 times more than white mothers. Babies born to black mothers are 2 times more likely to die than those born to white mothers. This has been linked to stress.
- The black imprisonment rate is 5 times higher
Here's a favorite report from Pew about policing in the U.S.
My favorite graphic from that report is this one:
If you can, establish the existence of these facts. It could take a while if they don't like your sources. If they don't like your sources, ask for theirs. If both people are sincere, the truth tends to come out in the wash and you can work from there. If your friend is not sincere, you probably won't get far anyway (unless you make it difficult for them to ignore you. You know. Like a protest.)
Once everyone understands that there is a significant difference in well-being for black and white people, we have to try and explain why. What is happening here? The easiest, most comfortable "explanation" for white people is that there is something wrong with black people: that they're complaining or making excuses, that they commit more crime, that they aren't working hard/smart enough to get the same jobs/education/houses as white people. In order to reject the notion of white privilege and still explain these differences, we have to make it about character. (Writing like this feels so nasty. Like I'm writing the Screwtape Letters of racism.) We say "Everyone has the ability to achieve greatness. I'm not racist because I believe in black people!" But coupled with the fact that white people have more, this implies that black people, as a group, have less because they don't measure up ethically. And just like that, "well-meaning" people who "don't see color" have said "white people are superior, black people are inferior, and everyone has what they deserve." Which is exactly the kind of mean, hateful, generalizing, violent, racism we grew up thinking no longer exists.
Here are some other nice resources:
Here are some helpful terms to know starting out: https://www.aspeninstitute.org/blog-posts/structural-racism-definition/
Here is a list of privileges we might take for granted: https://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/mcintosh.pdf
Welcome to the good fight, I guess. It's overwhelming at first but you'll find immersion in black issues is very edifying.