In my work as a diversity consultant, I often run into people who assert that racism no longer exists in the United States; that this is an issue we have completely addressed and that we are indeed living in a “color-blind” society where people are no longer judged based on their race. And these same people say that everyone in today’s USA has truly the same opportunity to succeed, and some even further claim that with equal opportunity laws, Blacks may even have an advantage of over the White majority.
But as a white man and a diversity consultant, I strongly disagree. Yes, there has been tremendous progress in racial civil rights over the past 50 years, but truly there is so much more hard diligent work needed to continue to address and eliminate racism.
What is racism? One simple definition I like is that racism is “the belief, often accompanied with behavior, that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” And racism can be categorized in two ways: personal racism and institutional racism.
Personal racism is when an individual acts maliciously against another individual or groups of individuals primarily based upon their race. Two examples of personal racism:
• The very well publicized recent story (link) of fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma exuberantly singing a racist song which included the N-word and references to lynching.
• A professional black colleague of mine recently shared that earlier in the year, when stopped at a traffic light, a car of three young white men pulled up beside the car, rolled down their window and repeatedly yelled the “N-word” at her. I supposed they were obsessed that a Black professional could work hard, succeed, and drive a nicer can then they.
Institutional racism occurs specifically in institutions such as governmental bodies, corporations and universities where systemic policies and practices within the institution have the effect of disadvantaging certain racial or ethic groups. Evidence of institutional racism across the USA includes the facts that:
• The 2010 US Census showed that 15.1% of Americans live in poverty, but the rate is almost double for Blacks (28%). Over the past two decades, there are been virtual no improvement in income disparity between Blacks and Whites.
• African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rates of whites, and even though Blacks and Hispanics only comprise 25% of the American population, 58% of all prisoners are Black or Hispanic. Causes of this include a racially bias justice system and the lack of economic opportunities for Blacks. (link to details from the NAACP).
Not all racist acts are as blatant or intentional as the example provided above. Many racists acts come as a result of unconscious bias or the naïve offender who may not even be aware of what they are doing. Unconscious bias and naïve offenders who are open to learning and personal growth provide opportunities for great teaching moments and constructive dialogue that enables understanding in these sensitive areas.
This short blog only briefly touches on this issue so I encourage my readers to admit that racism certainly is still present in the USA and that we all need to continue to advocate and diligently strive to build a more just and fair society that truly treats and values all equally.
# # # #