Good article today at Crooks and Liars regarding racism - what it is and what it isn't. As a sociologist, it's a subject I have studied in depth and watched in the media with great frustration. My favorite quote from this post is Hilary Shelton of the NAACP responding to Bill O'Reilly's attempt at a gotcha. O'Reilly had said, referring to Reverend Wright in a discussion of racism, claiming:
"...that Wright was a racist -- based on his belief that the federal government had created the HIV virus as a way to harm black men. This, BillO claimed, was "hate speech."Shelton then responded by saying:
"Bill, I think you should look up the definition of the word "racist." It might help you understand what is racism and what is not."As pointed out in the article, the conservative perspective of racism is that it is "the outright hatred of people of other races" which allows them to attack any and all for whatever they choose to see as "racist" behavior.
What happens, is that a member of a marginalized group such as women, persons of color, immigrants, the elderly, the poor, and others with limited voice in our society, are accused of racism or "reverse" racism when they attempt to stand up for themselves.
From a sociological perspective, racism is institutional and is not based on a particular situation or individual (although it can be demonstrated by such), but is a belief that the inherent characteristics that place an individual within their group make them less than the dominant culture. These characteristics are features that are inherent, or present from birth and something that cannot be changed. Poverty is probably the only characteristic that can be altered, but the fact of it cannot. An individual may move out of poverty, but their membership in that group at some point in their life - usually childhood - is a fact and the need to overcome the lack of social capital has had a profound effect on his or her life.
For others, color and gender, sexual orientation, and country of origin are inherent. In the dominant culture, hundreds of years of white, male supremacy cannot be overcome by a few years of legislated equality no matter how much we would like it so. It is a fact as well, that in many countries of color that the "advanced" countries of the world and their colonialism of the third world has spread this attitude of white paternalism to the point that even in those countries, skin color is a significant factor in an individuals' success in life.
A close friend several years ago shared her experience growing up in rural Mexico and how those with lighter skin fared compared to those with darker skin - a conversation later confirmed by those from other countries. Just spend a little time watching Univision or another Spanish language station - most of the news anchors or TV stars have blond hair and light skin.
While today it is those from the Middle East who are feared and hated, and those from Mexico who are attacked for the illegality of their presence here, earlier in the 20th century it was those from southern Europe who were considered "less than" and restricted in their access to this country. Prior to that, it was the Irish and the Germans, and not so many years ago that a Presidential candidate was attacked for his Catholicism.
There is always a group that is feared and hated and considered to be the interloper here. We bring them in for our own needs, then blame them for all our own ills when they decide to stay. We brought the Chinese to build the railroads, the Mexicans to work the fields, and somehow thought that "Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free..." only applied to white, northern Europeans and then wanted to send them home when we were done with them.
Now, we use Iraqi and Afghani citizens to help our troops as translators, guides, and service workers. We know that just being seen talking to Americans by the wrong person can label them collaborators and put their lives and those of their families at risk to the point that the American government has instituted a plan to allow Iraqi and Afghan civilians who have aided our troops to relocate to the U.S. We bring them here (in numbers far fewer than we should, by the way) as thanks for risking their lives on our behalf, and deny them safety and the right to practice their religion not because of who they are, but what they are.
"O'Reilly, it seems, wants to define racism as "inflammatory remarks based on cockamamie conspiracy theories." Another example of the right-wing extremists creating their own reality to sell to the ignorant.
That, is racism.
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