Eliminating the Hurts of White Racism
Racism is one of the key issues in our world today. The economic and cultural domination of people of Caucasian descent over people of color has infected cultures the world over. People of color of varying races and backgrounds must contend, in general, with fewer resources and more limited access to power over their environments than white people. They also must do battle with disrespectful and limiting stereotypes about them that are passed down from generation to generation among people of the dominant culture. We parents have an opportunity to preserve our children's interest and delight in people whose skin color and culture may differ from theirs. To make the best of this opportunity, we can begin by widening our view of who is hurt by racism. In this article, I'm not going to talk about the deep damage racism does to people of color. There are numerous excellent books and resources on this subject. This article is a quick introduction to the perspective that racism hurts white people, too.
White people world-wide have been hurt by white racism, a conditioning which limits their lives and locks them into the oppressor role vis-a-vis people of color. No white person ever volunteered to become a racist. These patterns of hurt and fear are set in place when they are quite young, after they have been intimidated and attacked by adults many times to teach them "their place" as children.
Children know instinctively that each person deserves respect. But when they see the people they love acting out patterns of white racism, they are generally unable to speak up or change the situation. They must collude with it in order to keep their parents' favor. The racist actions of adults stick in the child's mind, and become patterns of behavior which they themselves fall into when they are upset or afraid.
Each white person gets hurt by white racism in a unique way, through unique incidents. But the larger societal pattern, which plays itself out in individuals' lives and actions, has these main aspects to it. First, racism has as its backbone the economic oppression of people of color. Racism prevents white people from getting accurate information about other people, and makes white people afraid of great numbers of people. White people are also severely isolated by racism. It corrals them into a very narrow world, the boundaries of which are enforced by an automatic, unthinking "we are better than" or "we don't go near" attitude which flares any time a white person is afraid.
Reprinted with the permission of Hand in Hand Parenting. © 1997-2011 Hand in Hand
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