Racism 101 Asked And Answered: Why Is Racism Portrayed Mostly As A Problem Between Black And White People?
WHAT IS RACISM 101?
The country erupted into protests, unrest and a renewed dialogue about systemic racism following George Floyd's killing. We held the first round of a virtual conversation event series, Unheard LA: A Deeper Listen, with a tie-in to Race In LA. The discussion repeatedly returned to how Black and Brown people were being asked for their opinion, for resources and to answer questions on racial issues -- and how exhausting it can be.
In response, we created Racism 101 to help our audience facilitate their own thought-provoking talks around race, with a conversation "starter kit," and extensive anti-racism resource guides to inform and educate.
We also solicited questions from our audience -- awkward, silly, tough-to-ask questions -- that they've perhaps wanted to ask people unlike themselves, but have been too shy, embarrassed or afraid to ask. We assembled a panel of Angelenos willing to answer these questions so folks didn't have to ask their friends, or even strangers.
Here are several of our panelists' responses to one of the questions that we received.
WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND?
"When will we stop portraying racism as something that primarily happens between white and Black people?"
The answer is simple and complex all at once.
In the pre-colonial and pre-Civil War eras, Black people were largely indentured/enslaved, while wealthy white landowners built vast fortunes and white men in general were free to choose their own paths and given latitude to rise or fall on their own merits. We're still grappling with this legacy of oppression.
A recent essay by Race In LA contributor, Brandi Carter, explores reparations for Black Americans in which she examines how today's wealth gap was exacerbated by slavery's legacy. The chasm between the average white American family's net worth versus their Black peers -- 10 times more -- is just one example of how slavery has played a prominent role in Black people being discriminated against by white people in America.
Here are a few other examples.
From 1865 to the end of the 19th century, whites profited from a bevy of advancements in technology and industry: steel production which fueled the railroads, electric power and petroleum refinement, the bicycle and automobile. Meanwhile, newly freed slaves hoped to build a life despite having little to no education, no money, and at times, no full names or any documentation proving who they were. Reconstruction's policies shut Blacks out of opportunities which could have helped them establish roots to thrive. The ensuing 80-90 years was beset with Jim Crow's intimidation and violence, which continued to physically and socioeconomically distance Blacks.
The New Deal and the GI Bill were pivotal for both white and Black America, but far from in the same way. The benefits of these laws enjoyed by Black America were counterbalanced by racist policies that ensured they would not rise at the same rate and to the same level as white Americans. These laws helped create the stark wealth gap we see today.
White Americans became the face of the Greatest Generation, whose economic success established the suburban middle class. With the support of the GI Bill, they went to college, built businesses, and took over the C-suite, while raising their Baby Boomer children in the wholesome, "Leave It to Beaver" 1950s, into the socially-redefining 1960s, and seeing to the rise of the second generation of successful Americans becoming the money-making powerhouses of the 1980s.
Restrictive covenants and redlining relegated Black GIs and their families to the renting class. They became the primary tenants of public housing projects that were once populated by white GIs and their families before they "moved on up" to the newly built all-white suburbs. Racist hiring policies excluded them from the sound retirement provided by the Social Security Act because the jobs that Black people were legally and socially permitted to hold weren't covered.
States rights were used to give state bureaucracies, especially in the South, the power to deny Black GIs the right to attend the colleges of their choosing or even attend college at all, putting up yet another barrier to the kind of education needed to secure a footing in middle to upper middle class America. According to scholars, only 12% of Black GIs used the GI Bill to attend college, compared with 28% of white GIs. And, Black GIs were disproportionately dishonorably discharged, which made them ineligible for GI Bill benefits. Countless others suffered the mental scars of fighting a war in a segregated military, crippling their ability to fully function as family men and contributors to their community.
Here's the bottom line:
It's so easy to default to Black and white when discussing race in America because systemic racism, which is rooted in whites' enslavement of Blacks, permeates every American institution: criminal justice system, educuation, health care. It's an ugly, brutal past that's surfacing more and more in conversation and spurring some to action in this moment of racial reckoning.
HOW OUR RACISM 101 PANELISTS RESPONDED
Carene describes herself as a proud Black Armenian Angelena. As a multiracial person herself, she's clear that Blacks aren't the only ones who suffer from discrimination. But she argues that, because our society's institutions are steeped in "systemic white supremacy" resulting from whites' enslavement of Blacks, white and Black Americans today bring a lot of historical baggage into any modern-day conversation about race.
Donna, a local artist who proudly identifies as Black and queer, breaks down race's connection to power and background and how it influences a person's perceptions of race and racism.
(Note: Our newsroom follows AP Style on the use of Black and white to describe a person's race.)
MORE FROM RACE IN LA
- Racism 101 on Take Two: How to Be an Ally, Code Switching for Survival, Deconstructing 'Defund the Police', Legacy of Slavery
- The 8%: Exploring The Inextricable Ties Between L.A. And Its Black Residents
- On Being Black In LA: Being Bused Across Town Opened Up City As 'A Place Of Possibilities'
- On Being Black In LA: Code Switching To Survive Crossing Racial Lines