LEARN: GENERAL DEFINITIONS & FAQS
Updated: Jun 9
COMMON QUESTIONS & DEFINITIONS
The resources below are a good starting point so that you can remove your fears and educate yourself. This is a starting point. We have a lot to learn and un-learn -- consider this part of our lifelong journey of anti-racism. Let’s get started!
View my post for a glossary of terms for more definitions!
1. What is White Privilege?
It’s the level of societal advantage that comes with being seen as the norm in America, automatically conferred irrespective of wealth, gender or other factors. It makes life smoother, but it’s something you would barely notice unless it were suddenly taken away — or unless it had never applied to you in the first place.
Taking it for granted that when you’re shopping alone, you probably won’t be followed or harassed.
Knowing that if you ask to speak to “the person in charge,” you’ll almost certainly be facing someone of your own race.
Being able to think about different social, political or professional options without asking whether someone of your race would be accepted or allowed to do what you want to do.
Assuming that if you buy a house in a nice neighborhood, your neighbors will be pleasant or neutral toward you.
Feeling welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.
You can’t see yourself as perpetuating white supremacy because you have been conditioned to believe that the way you see the world is the way that everyone else sees the world too. But that just isn’t true.
White supremacy centers and serves whiteness, while de-centering and oppressing people of colour (POC).
You as a white person are seen as normal, and non-white people are seen as ‘other’. White-centric programs/summits/conferences are seen as being for everyone. Non-white centric programs/summits/conferences are seen as being exclusively for POC.
It is not as simple as not using racial slurs.
We are socialised into white supremacy from the moment we are born. So it’s not enough to say ‘But I love black people!’. It is about completely dismantling how you see yourself and how you see the world, so that you can dismantle how white supremacy functions as an institutional and ideological system of oppression.
2. What is systemic racism?
It wasn’t too long ago that a lot of people were talking about a post-racial America. We had elected a Black president for the first time, and then went ahead and re-elected him four years later, and the country was feeling pretty good about itself. While Barack Obama’s presidency was indeed a profound and meaningful mark of true progress, racism, of course, never really went away. The presence of a black president, hockey sta, or movie-franchise superhero, however welcome and exciting, cannot reverse centuries of racial injustice.
In fact, racism is built right into every level of our society in ways that might surprise you.
SYSTEMIC RACISM: Racism of this kind, racism that infects the very structure of our society. And at first glance, it may be difficult to detect.
Since the election of Donald Trump, hate crimes have been on the rise. White supremacists have been emboldened. Anti-immigrant rhetoric has intensified. We condemn these awful examples of prejudice and bias and hate, but systemic racism is something different. It’s less about violence or burning crosses than it is about everyday decisions made by people who may not even think of themselves as racist. As sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has said, "The main problem nowadays is not the folks with the hoods, but the folks dressed in suits."
Systemic racism persists in our schools, offices, court system, police departments, and elsewhere.
Why? Think about it: when white people occupy most positions of decision-making power, people of color have a difficult time getting a fair shake, let alone getting ahead.
“The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.” - Scott Woods
Racism = race prejudice + social and institutional power
Racism = a system of advantage based on race
Racism = a system of oppression based on race
Racism = a white supremacy system
Racism is different from racial prejudice, hatred, or discrimination. Racism involves one group having the power to carry out systematic discrimination through the institutional policies and practices of the society and by shaping the cultural beliefs and values that support those racist policies and practices.
3. What is white fragility?
“Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue.” - Robin DiAngelo
“Accountability feels like an attack when you're not ready to acknowledge how your behaviour harms others.” - Tamara Renaye
4. What does it mean if you stay silent about racism?
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” - Desmond Tutu
“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
5. How does White Feminism exclude women of color?
6. How do I talk to my kids about racism?
Children’s Books About Race / White Privilege:
Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness, by Anastasia Higginbotham
7. How do I talk about this stuff with people who disagree / are racist?
8. What are microaggressions and how are they harmful?
An Asian-American student is complimented by a professor for speaking perfect English, but it's actually his first language. A black man notices that a white woman flinches and clutches her bag as she sees him in the elevator she's about to enter, and is painfully reminded of racial stereotypes. A woman speaks up in an important meeting, but she can barely get a word in without being interrupted by her male colleagues.
Microaggressions: when biases against marginalized gorups reveal themselves in a way that leaves their victims feeling uncomfortable or insulted
Microaggressions are more than just insults, insensitive comments, or generalized jerky behavior.
They're something very specific: the kinds of remarks, questions, or actions that are painful because they have to do with a person's membership in a group that's discriminated against or subject to stereotypes. And a key part of what makes them so disconcerting is that they happen casually, frequently, and often without any harm intended, in everyday life.
"It isn’t about having your feelings hurt. It’s about how being repeatedly dismissed and alienated and insulted and invalidated reinforces the differences in power and privilege, and how this perpetuates racism and discrimination," said Roberto Montenegro.
Each time Montenegro experiences one of these subtle slights, his body reacts. Anger and anxiety produce a stress response, and he argues that, over time, chronic exposure turns these microaggressions into "micro-traumas."
"Experiencing this kind of discrimination prematurely ages the body," he said. "And that’s a pretty scary concept."
Racial discrimination accelerates aging at the cellular level, according to a 2014 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Although the disparity in death rates between blacks and whites narrowed from 1999 to 2015, it still remains, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many African Americans in their 20s to 40s experience conditions that white people suffer from when they're older, such as heart disease and stroke.