What do we actually mean?
The Long Read,
First Part, Racism
Second Part, Whiteness
Third Part, Next Steps and Missteps
There has never been more thought and expertise deployed in this area of discourse in all of history. And, the audience for this conversation is at its most disparate too. In this cacophony of sound, there is plenty of opportunity for misunderstanding, confusion and tension, signified by the escalating levels of polarisation – Some of those misunderstandings have already turned ugly.
This modest project aims to steer a path through this complex and sensitive topic, illuminating moderate meanings for all the phrases that may be new for 70% of the listening and reading population.
Thanks to all the people who have written, spoken and researched on these topics. I am just skimming the surface of their gargantuan contributions, to shine a light on their great work and bring it to the attention of the new, wider, audience. And, if we can dampen down some of the misunderstandings-based escalations, we may be able to get back around the table to work out what can be done next.
First Part, Racism
The 3 ½ Racisms
1st Racism – Traditional – The pursuit of superiority by one group over another, promoted via negative speak, thought and action, and, targeting another group, specifically disrespecting their non-dominant group characteristics.
2nd Racism – Structural – Derived from Dr. Ibram X Kendi – One group exerting power via policy over another, creating inequity and, then, the racist bit, the contorting and “Othering” of that marginalised group, to justify the continuation of both the policy and the inequity, the policy produces.
3rd – Present Tense Racism – Any act or word, IN THE MOMENT, that can be seen as supporting 1. or 2. This could be called Present Tense Racist.
Anti-Racist – Any act or word, IN THE MOMENT, that can be seen as fighting 1. or 2. or reversing the effects of 1. or 2. This would be called Anti-Racist.
Not Racist / Non Racist – See also Racial Exceptionalism – The self-exempting by white folk via a variety of exclamations, e.g., “This does not apply to me…”
This category includes many forms of overt denial of the 1st definition.
Confusion – When we freely move between the various definitions, trouble is sure to follow. Top Tip – Be mindful of which Racism you or “they” are referring to, and, the difference between Present Tense Racism – That we are ALL capable of in our in-groups, under stress, in our thoughts, in a joke, or, through a lack of cultural awareness. This is different from being a traditional (full-time) Racist, something 97% of the population are not and would not like to be labelled as.
IAT – Implicit Association Test – You can get tested for racism, via a Harvard run global on-line testing initiative – This 15-minute test allows you to see what negative (or positive) associations you have when thinking about various marginalised groups. The initiative is open to everybody. 70% find a negative association with one of the main “other” categories.
Marginalized / Marginalised – Those people possessing non-dominant group characteristics that are not in the majority. Examples include being black or a POC, person of colour in the US, identifying as LGBTQ, being other abled, having an age outside the medium group, or, practicing a faith other than Christianity in the US or Europe, etc.
D,E,&,I – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion & Intersectionality too
Diversity – People or groups with characteristics that either represent the minority within a group or the exception. These diverse people manifest a non-dominant characteristic, and, this can lead to them being treated differently, marginalised or oppressed.
These characteristics are inherited, fixed and have social, political and financial consequences.
Intersectionality. Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s concept – When two or more marginalities stack up together for a person or group. Their interaction and lived experience can be dramatically different. I.e. the violence experienced by the average white man is very different to that felt by a black woman.
Inclusion – The proactive and mindful design of process that has everybody come to the table, have a say, engage in dialogue, be judged on their character, merit and experience and so, be heard and recognised.
Inclusion is to have all peoples be able to express all of themselves, and, to be part of the problem solving that gets diverse groups making the most of their full potential, and, inhabiting a place where we can all live a full life.
Equity – Rather than equality, this refers to the philosophy promoting a better distribution of opportunity, that enables everyone to have optimal access, inclusion, treatment and outcomes.
“Invited to the Party” – This metaphor can be useful. Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to DJ a music set of your choice and design during that event.
Monolithic Stereotypes – “All French men are…” These are group social constructs that are, often, pejorative, limiting and designed to simplify the rich variety and value of the target group, so diminishing their power and voice, and, simultaneously, unifying a less disparate population to form a “coalition of the superior.”
Black Monolith Stereotype – “All black youths are…” Here, the rich variety of people in a large range of places, and, from all sorts of backgrounds are reduced to a few over promoted examples that are, prevailingly negative. These negative tropes are then applied to “all.”
And there is a White Monolith Stereotype that denies that white-on-white prejudice also occurs daily – Often representing class difference that could show up, in say, an executive from a Northern state in the USA executive, hearing a Southern accent and making all sorts of negative associations.
Monoliths in Action
An example from sections of the hateful private British press – “A Black on Black crime epidemic has overrun London.”
This is NOT true but is believed because many people choose to have faith in what they read in the newspaper.
The facts are other;
*Black on Black violence is one part of the whole crime statistic of London and not the most significant.
*Biracial people are included in the numbers but only the “black side” is emphasised. *Violence in general, and youth violent crime in particular, has improved significantly over the last 5 or 10 years, so is not expanding and cannot not be characterised as an epidemic.
*Other towns in the UK are worse than London.
*Other cities in Europe are worse too.
This is an example that exemplifies Kendi’s theories, that the facts are contorted to form propaganda, designed to perpetuate an oppressive policy and continue the inequity that follows from this policy – In this case, the over-policing of black youth, underinvesting in helpful infrastructure in black areas, and the continued use of racial profiling.
This provides a bonus for those writing the policies – A free pass for the politicians to avoid having to deal with the complexity of what is really going on or to commit to improving it.
It continues because it pays off for the policy makers, the media and the unquestioning public. It serves to gather eye balls for the media, unify less disparate groups that can be formed into one unified group and effectively (with a lie) control the narrative and outcomes – Having a mildly racist British population unifies them and allows various moral shortcuts to be taken and to continue, unchallenged. E.g. Stop and search, over-convicting, over-sentencing, underfunding of preventative youth infrastructure projects, the elimination of urban green spaces for private profit and, (as a cynical bonus), getting out of helping poor white communities too.
Racialised. As with the monolith, we see the reduction of a multi-faceted 3D person with life experience & gifts – To JUST skin colour and the application of the monolith stereotype to this person. “They are probably X, because they all are Y.” Where X is a negative attribute and Y is their minority group label. Other richness, depth and variety is ignored.
Racial Essentialism – The philosophy that something has a fundamental essence and non-negotiable presence. The invented construct of race suggested black people had innate and constant qualities that were different. This has been played out and exaggerated over the years in support of the need to “other” black people in order to exploit them, sidestepping Christian guilt over perpetrating acts of injustice against equals.
BTW, Biologists do not find race useful!
Skin tone varies enormously, even within Africa. The geographical variation in hair texture has a different distribution from the geographical variation in skin tone. The variations in eye colour do not correspond to hair or skin. Finally, blood type varies in a different way to skin, eyes and hair, having a different geographical distribution too.
More to the point, there is vast variation in all manner of physical and mental attributes in ANY local population.
This means that, where your people were in the year 1492, does not make any significant difference, biologically speaking. The biological differences, superiorities and inferiorities are mostly made up.
Biologists gave up on race as a useful concept, dismissing its predictive value, many years ago.
One Drop – The practice in the US of inventing new, and, ever-changing categories of blackness and whiteness for political purposes. This was felt in local populations with such rules as the banning of inter-racial marriage. The definitions of these categories changed from state to state. The absurdity of is clear when you hear that, earlier in the 20th Century, a person could change colour when they crossed a state line and then became categorised in a different way.
This was political. E.g. Mexicans were white, then not, made white again during the war, and, then reversed to non-white afterwards. Absurd.
Expertise (Lack of) – Relatively few white people know about this stuff. And, the lived experience of a BIPOC person, Black, Indigenous or Person of Colour, does not make them an automatic expert or spokesperson on racism either. We all have to do the work.
Racism as a Business Model – Historically, marginalised black and poor white communities were kept apart to prevent them joining up, unifying, and, organising to fight for improved working conditions for all.
The commercial result of this “divide and conquer” initiative? Payrates continue to be cheap, working conditions for many people are unsafe and unhealthy, with job scarcity, and, the fear and risks associated with poverty, keeping the population in line – Eviction, illness, debt, prison, etc.
This is, in part, driven by the British / European / US population’s obsession with consumerism and its associated craving to buy only the cheapest goods and services available.
The enjoyment of the products, rituals or practices of another people, whilst distancing yourself from their authentic origins. I.e. taking the good and throwing out or covering up the donor group and their sensitivities and historical riches.
Micro – Discriminations – Othering, exclusion, cultural faux pas, aggressions.
This is a complex subject and has some correlation with age and generational perspectives.
These hurts and disadvantages can be many and frequent. Each one, alone, does not call for intervention but they accumulate, adding up to a pattern that has consequences.
Internalised Oppression – Rating the “Self” as less, following the psychological damage resulting from accumulated statements and discriminatory actions, that deliberately (or unconsciously) aim to make someone or a group less, less worthy, invisible, inconsequential, a burden, or, a threat, bad, and, of evil character. This can manifest in members of a marginalised group appearing to go along with the oppressive narrative, often wishing to avoid even worse outcomes that come with speaking out.
For Balance – Countering this – Critics say that setting up this phenomenon as MICRO-AGGRESSIONS, does not help with outcomes and that the “coddled” generations are, generally, too sensitive and too into their feelings. Their emphasis on impact over intention is not helpful. This proposition is seen by some as patronising to marginalised populations and unhelpful.
(I have just heard Bill Maher, US commentator and comedian, talk about his childhood – Cycling to the dentist, having 8 cavities filled without anaesthetic, and, cycling himself back home, in winter, his tears freezing on his face!!!) – He was making a humourous comparison to the over-protected and, sometimes, less resilient Gen Z.
So, whilst these offences happen, your view on their impact and consequences is likely to differ, according to your perspective.
Reverse Racism – The idea of a white person experiencing discrimination for being white, within an altered structure that is designed to actively affirm the “Other.”
Whilst this used to be dismissed, out of hand, as not possible, it is now seen that systems can reach a level where this occurs. The impossibility of reverse racism assumed that a BIPOC could never have power and go on to misuse it. This, of course, is entirely possible.
What is challenged in dialogue around inclusion, is the blanket use of this complaint in a gaslighting context, where the numbers are distorted to crash the debate – E.g. “We are upset because, all whites have to get to the back of the queue. That’s discrimination!”
Historically, overall, white repression represents a tiny part of discrimination. The false and politically amplified calling out of these incidents serves to divert attention away from the real conversation, so as to avoid having to deal with the actual complex issue of systemic racism within work, housing and society.
Second Part, Whiteness
The concept of whiteness developed alongside the Black Monolith Stereotype. The fundamental property involved in the concept of whiteness is that it provides better life options, more than 90% of the time for people who are read as white – How you are treated by authority, your chances of being employed, accessing better employment, gaining a promotion, receiving a pay rise, being awarded a bonus, etc.
It does NOT mean that every white person lives in a mansion, has a chauffeur and is upper class.
The normal, multi-generational, inheritance of wealth privilege associated with whiteness, may include cash, investments, property, land or businesses, i.e. unearned assets that will often afford the possibility of unearned income, less debt, or, more easily realised income for the next generation.
This is the Holy Grail of multi-generational privilege – Locked-in wealth (and protection from being challenged on the structures that created this positive outcome or the origins of that wealth – sometimes going back to Slavery.)
And, privilege is not all about cash in the bank.
With inheritance, comes entitlement, unquestioned advantage and a deeply woven through, sense of superiority. History and the present-day narrative are written by the people in power.
Social Rank – There is a fixed political and financial pecking order today that was established centuries ago by naturalists, pseudo scientists, politicians, religious leaders, historians, etc. that continues the narrative, leading to the othering of non-white populations. This continues to this day, behind closed doors in corporations, in the wider community, via social policy, and, in the treatment of say, BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) communities in restaurants, hotels, with the police, in healthcare, or, in courts.
Gaslighting – The deliberate messing with people’s heads to weaken their resolve and resistance. E.g. “You seemed to get upset in the meeting back there, but, really, nothing happened – It wasn’t racism. It was just good-natured humour. Can’t you take a joke?” Etc.
Fatalism – When internalised oppression goes in deep, there is a tendency to take the majority worldview as an immovable norm. “Well, that is just how it is. There is nothing I can do to change it.”
This, of course, is helpful to perpetuating racist policy in any discriminatory business plan.
Incomplete Nostalgia – British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, talking about how great, Great Britain is, or Trump’s 1950’s MAGA vision. These partial and edited stories only focus on a cleaned-up part of white history. Many are happy to not dig further and accept these quaint narratives, finding them comforting and untroubling.
Intercultural Focus on Privilege – Linked to this, are some practices in intercultural coaching. When Interculturalists provide a commercial country briefing or relocation support for an expatriate executive, they will often focus on the white majority story and experience, leaving out the painful history of Colonialism, and, the inequities and injustices that occurred in the destination country.
White Tears – When a marginalised person is recalling an horrific chapter of hate, oppression or violence against them, sometimes, we see a white woman start crying. This diverts the conversation away from the crime and the pain of the person telling the story, and, puts the spotlight back on the majority person. And, they get a pass on owning their wider group’s part in the crime being described.
Historically, a white women’s tears have been deployed as a weapon, leading to a black man’s incarceration, sacking or lynching.
Assimilation – The, sometimes, false way out. Many concerned parents, having experienced a lifetime of put-downs and exclusions, wish a better life and career for their own children. Their teachings push their young to assimilate within the majority culture. The whiter their words, accent or behaviour, the better! – “Be less black in public, for more security and opportunity!” This is sometimes referred to as switching to, “White Code.”
The results of this are mixed. The more assimilated will “fit in” better, but this does not undo racist policy or visual bias leading to everyday inequality, or, the assimilating individual being required to sublimate the authentic culturally rich version of themselves. This can be a stressful and high price to pay.
“Pass” – Old word phrase – Children, light coloured BIPOC, and those adopting white culture, expressed though clothing, views, accent and behaviours, are allowed to participate within the majority group. They are granted club membership and assumed to be in on the white thing. They will not be as racialised.
The price for this membership can be high.
The probationary member may have to choose to let racist comments go unchallenged. They may have to support, even just passively, hurtful expressions of white superiority, and, they will not be encouraged or allowed to express an authentic version of their culture. Their representation will be limited to an assimilated, masked version of themselves.
“Read” – Today we use the phrase read to describe how the majority group see an individual and, then, decide how to treat them.
White Supremacy / White Superiority – Referencing Tema Okun & Kenneth Jones’s work, systematising white culture based on foundations of a constructed history of, enduring white, “betterness.” The assumption being, “They should continue to have the best as they are the best.”
This term of course, as with the label, “Racist”, promotes a very strong reaction. “You are a white supremacist” conjures up images of flaming crosses, swastikas and violence.
For balance – The Counter – The logic of the widespread use of the term, White Supremacist, runs counter to the aims and wishes of many within this alliance, of claiming reparations. They are simultaneously condemning the majority as awful and asking for their help via compensation. This represents a contradiction. The right sometimes criticises this position as the black myth of salvation, expecting the answer to come from the white majority. There are many problems with this position, that disappear when the black working-class community are minded to put their own house in order to achieve self-salvation. This area represents a strong point of contention.
White Comfort – The white and cosy club of winners – Where the majority group have each other’s backs – Also the sub-division, the white men’s club, where the in-group act to maintain their mutual advantage.
White Exceptionalism – For some, this represents the horror beyond all other horrors – Of being permanently locked in to the Racist category – (Like a Prince Philip, The English Defence League or Nigel Farage!)
This horror and fear may lead to an early explosive reaction during a conversation around inequality, if there is perceived to be a threat of this label popping up and coming anywhere close to them.
When we see a pre-emptive violent outburst, we are witnessing a symptom of that person’s discomfort with admitting to a racist thought, concept or word.
Many inhabit various contorted poses and positions within this space;
“I can’t be racist; I have a black best friend.”
“I don’t see colour.”
“I can’t be racist; I grew up in an all-white neighbourhood.”
“Racism does not exist in Europe – Slavery was American -That is where the problem is.”
The Puppet / Representation – A cynical move by people in positions of power, promoting a BIPOC representative into a community leadership role, with an agenda often negatively impacting their own, local and marginalised ethnic group. This can, short-term, appease local anger, and set up community hope, at least, initially, that their voices will be represented. Then, when this new authority figure begins to articulate the majority policy, the one perpetuating inequality, there follows a crisis and a change in the community’s reaction to that representative.
The newly placed and promoted person initially enjoys the power, trappings of office and the cash too. It is when they begin to lose the respect of the audience and work out that they have been “played” as a goon or stooge, that their conscience starts to sting.
Who’s at the top? Those that seem to be well adjusted to injustice.
The 3 most wealthy white people in the US have the equivalent riches to 160 million US citizens.
And, the top 1% of the black population in the US, have the same as 70% of the whole black population in the US.
Many commentators reference the benefit of this representation as helping ordinary BIPOC US citizens to feel great freedom, being able to live vicariously through the manifest success and power of these celebrities at the top.
This of course, has no relation to their day-to-day circumstances and is weaponised against marginalised groups – “See, there is opportunity for everybody.”
Alibi Candidate – The “one and done” token hire that gets an organisation out of the “all white board” sinbin but is carried out with cynicism and without the positive intent of deep cultural change.
Third Part, Next Steps and Missteps
Next Steps and Missteps
Virtue Signalling / Performative Behaviours – “I was racist but now I am woke. See, I am nice to people in the black community.”
White Self-Flagellation and White Shame – “I am sorry I am white. I am disgusted by my unearned inheritance and privilege.”
This confession may feel sincere in the moment, but without follow up, it only serves to make the privileged individual feel virtuous and better. When they stop feeling bad, often their activism subsides, along with their distress. Again, this represents an egocentric focus on “me, me, me.”
White Saviour – Acting to “help” the Other. E.g. The film – Green Book – It is Viggo Mortenson that allows Mahershala Ali to do his job and navigate through a distant and unpleasant world. Hollywood films, set in the1950’s, represent a safe way to explore the topic of race, but subtly portray white folk, not as the authors of racist policy but as warm human beings, doing their best to help black people get an even break. A classic distortion of history.
Allyship – A person from a dominant group mindfully working to intervene when they witness proximal injustice, aiding in the distribution of opportunity, improving organisational processes to enable wider inclusion, being mindful to treat all peoples with respect, and pushing hard for the ending of policies that lead to inequity and the contorted justifications that support continuing racism.
False Ally – An example would be some of the many anti-racism statements issued by corporations during the summer of 2020, whilst these same firms benefit directly from some modern forms of oppression, or, derive income from racist policies.
Social Justice – Aiming at overturning power differentials and giving voice and representation to the marginalised. The moderates of this movement represent the voice of reason aiming for constructive change and opportunities for all.
Counter Position – This is a sometimes, problematic area (with the right-wingers using the now pejorative label SJW – Social Justice Warriors, to amplify the missteps of the few, portraying isolated incidents of violence and extremism as the philosophy of the many). Some actions of this group do manifest in shutting down the debate or worse. Examples include cancelling / no platforming, taking over a university campus, or acts of violence, i.e. invoking undemocratic means to close down the opposition, or, get someone fired from their position.
These actions are rationalised as being a means to an end and leading to a greater good.
At the extreme edge of this movement, debate and discussion are seen as white / boomer mechanisms of oppression and a way of protecting established power, and, this is experienced as threatening.
The 2 Safe Spaces – The two meaning of this phrase could not be more different. The intellectual use of Safe Space (Brave Space) – To create an offence-LESS zone where provocation and debate are actively encouraged to move people with different positions, toward synthesis, reconciliation of difference, and, to a constructive 3rdway. These fully fuelled sessions have rules regarding respect or direct attack, (play the ball, not the player) and can represent a way out of polarity, generating solutions that have been co-created by the participants taking part in the debate.
Safe Space is not “Unsafe” – The mechanism allowing for a shout out or anonymous complaint from for a member of a protected group, stating that they feel uncomfortable or upset, after hearing a negative comment about their protected class identity. A reporting of a feeling can now be mobilised to have real world consequences for, say, a visiting right-wing speaker on campus or a college lecturer. This is a controversial area.
Mistakes – We will ALL make plenty of mistakes along the way. For the listening and learning Anti-Racist student, there will be many traps to fall into along the journey.
On the extreme fringes, it is, one mistake and you are gone – Gone from social media or, maybe your job. In the centre, it is about doing the work, and learning to become more aware. Associated with this are self-compassion, self-forgiveness, helping the student continue along a developmental path to becoming a more mindful person.
Agency – On the right of centre, for the marginalised, this means not internalising all the talk of victimhood or blaming all of today’s inequity on white supremacy, slavery and 1619 but finding the inner power, group power and political power to create equity, opportunity, wealth, a voice, and, the change needed for the non-dominant group to rise and prosper. On the right, the issues are seen as US issues and not just owned by BIPOC or blamed on white supremacy.
Extremists – At either end of the political spectrum, the actions of both polar groups, at their most extreme, are remarkably similar – Bullying, shouting down, harassing named groups, persecuting, excluding, discriminating, disrupting, threatening, harming, being violent and disregarding the law.
The extreme left’s actions provide the right with an opportunity to shut down many reasonable progressive conversations. This is an example of one contortion that keeps racism going, around the world.
Group Addiction to Racism or Post-Modern Extremism – There is a thrill that comes from running with a gang of fellow travellers, all holding positions at the outer edges, and, those extreme views being comfortably reinforced, praised and encouraged by all in that club. This is akin to joining a cult. The feelings of new worth and the sense of belonging become addictive and they reinforce the habit of racism or aggressive activism. This dynamic soon becomes very hard to kick or live without.
Sustained Group Racism – Logic breaks down and is avoided or repressed. Dialogue with other voices is censured, forbidden and ceases, and, it is only a fellow traveller’s voice can be listened to or trusted.
Reparations – This is a hotly debated subject. The free labour provided by Slavery, built much of the foundations of wealth that are evident in modern USA, (UK and Europe). Should compensation be paid to the descendants of chattel slaves? How should this money be distributed? Who should receive it? And, who should pay?
Or, should there be infrastructure investment over the next decades to enhance the chances of the marginalised?
And, what would happen if reparation took place? Would it let the white beneficiaries of Slavery off the hook forever? Is it just too demeaning to black descendants, who should find their own ways and means toward wealth and power? The debate continues.
Common End Goal – The two sides seem to agree on what a healthy outcome will look like – Everybody living up to their full potential and everybody living a full life.
Both sides differ significantly in their view on the starting point and the route to this outcome.
The right-wing view is developmental; that black society, at the lower income level, has to change and bring itself up by re-establishing stable family structures, reengaging with education, and, playing a more active part in the workforce.
The progressive view sees white supremacy and the powerful continuing to endorse harmful policies not out of hate and fear but self-interest. They see the dismantling of the systems of power and policy as the way forward.
Another difference is whether the push should be for representation through affirmative action – Bringing down one sided incarceration rates or boosting minority representation in Ivy League universities, etc. Others would see optimal equality of outcome for BIPOC not starting with representation but different initiatives that are less generalised.
We hope you managed to stay on the narrow path through all of these terms and were able to fill in some of the blanks in your knowledge and understanding.
If you have learnt something and this has filled in a few of your gaps, then please, like, share and forward this post on social media or to someone you know.
Recognition goes to…
Thank you to the true experts in this field; the inspiring people that have put lived experience, research and thought into this work include; Ibram X Kendi, Akala, Glenn Loury, Robin DiAngelo, Natasha Aruliah, Kelli McCloud Schingen, Tamara Thorpe, Patricia Malidor Coleman, Del Bruce, Cherry Steinwender, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Jane Elliott, Tayo Rockson, Cornel West, James O’Brien, Chuck Allen, Dawn Butler MP, Kennetta Hammond Perry, Kmele Foster, John McWhorter, Chloe Valdary, Elmer Dixon & Colman Hughes.