Racial inequality still commonly exists in America
I’m writing in response to the column “Recognize infrequency of racism,” which appeared on Oct. 31 in The Daily Targum. It was disappointing to hear such a misguided opinion on race, especially at the University, one of the most diverse schools in the country.
The author maintains that “true racism” in the United States is not nearly as commonplace as people think and holds that what passes as racism is actually a form of classism. He starts by attempting to debunk a supposed “classic example” of racism, namely that people irrationally become frightened by the presence of a black or Hispanic person while walking in a low-income neighborhood. Although the author’s designation of the potentially frightened person isn’t specific, one could assume that they are not black or Hispanic.
The author suggests that fear caused while walking through a lower socioeconomic neighborhood is instead the result of encountering a “person … probably dressed like a thug in a neighborhood known for thugs.” It’s unclear what these frightful “thugs” wear, but the author succeeds in inadvertently expressing his prejudice toward the way they dress. Instead of finding fault with class prejudice, he apparently justifies it, maintaining that what passes as contempt for “low-class black or Hispanic culture” is also held for “low-class white culture” as well. What the author seems to be telling us is that it’s not racism, but classism — we don’t like poor whites either.
The author goes on to contrast stereotypes and inferences about people’s race with what he identifies as “true” or “real racism,” of which he offers Nazism and the Ku Klux Klan as examples. I’m not sure of the author’s background, but I could guess that it has not been extremely difficult, or else his opinion would be tempered with his experience.
As a white male from a comfortable middle class environment, I’ve spent my life becoming conscious of my privilege, through my experience with female colleagues who earned less than me or through seeing black coworkers unfairly passed over for promotion. But one need not even go that far to see that racism is an integral part of how we live. The continued segregation of our education system largely denies blacks and Hispanics opportunities for class mobility. Larger numbers of blacks, immigrants and other people of color are under- or unemployed compared to their white counterparts. Blacks and Hispanics are too often the victims of deadly police violence. It would be silly to go on because the list would be too long.
The only argument that could assert that this institutional racism is not “real racism” would have to rely on some version of the “Horatio Alger myth” of social mobility. The problem is that this myth maintains that because we’re all born equal as human beings, we have the same access to opportunities and the system treats us equally as well. We already know that this is not the case, which is why affirmative action programs, which grew out of an anti-racist movement and which the author ironically derides as “technically a form of racism,” are still so important.
Though I do agree with the author that progress has been made, there is much work to be done. Perhaps the author would be surprised to find out that the Klan and neo-Nazis, examples he offers of “real racism,” are both still alive and well in the United States. Often our privilege blinds us to the realities of our sisters and brothers who have had to suffer real racism, sexism and classism to make it to where they are today. It is important to learn about their experiences so we do not deceive ourselves into believing that everyone is already treated with equality.
Zach Campbell is a graduate student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.