Saturday, March 29, 2014

Where Does Racism Come From?

            Racism is something I’ve been blind to and never thought affected me or the people around me until I’ve recently been bombarded with the subject. It wasn’t until I reached my second year of attending a private Christian school (predominately white) that I realized I was different, and so were my circumstances. It wasn't until my last semester of college that I actually started caring about the subject of racism and discrimination. The main reason I have for writing this started with a tense discussion I had with a White female about racism and Affirmative Action.

            I was listening to two new acquaintances (both White and female), talk about reverse-racism toward white people. They posed questions such as, “Why can black people say the N word to each other, but a white person can’t? Why is it okay for minorities to say stuff about white people, but we can’t say anything about them?” This conversation was similar to ones I’ve heard from other classmates. Having a minor in Sociology, racism is a common topic discussed among my peers. I’ve heard white classmates say that they feel they can’t have an opinion about racism because they are white. Our classes make them feel like they are the problem and the great oppressor. Our classes, what we’re learning, and what professors tell us, make my white peers feel like they are horrible people just because of their race. This was similar to how my two acquaintances felt, who knew nothing about what I had been learning. It was simply their own experiences that made them feel this way. I ended up getting into an intense discussion with one of the girls. Honestly, neither of truly listened to the other, though we both tried to remain open. Our opinions didn’t change. She was against Affirmative Action and the victimization of white people, and I was for Affirmative Action and against the victimization of minorities.

           But that conversation did inspire me to write this. Minorities are greatly disadvantaged, racism still exists, but blaming white people today is not going to make things better. Racism is more than a hatred of another race. Plenty of people will believe they are not racist, because they don’t hate or even dislike another group. The dictionary defines racism as, “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.” 

            Though it may be hard for many people to admit, there are a hundred ways we think our own race is superior to others. It is also something we see statistically. The stereotypes –white people are successful and rule the world, Asians are smart, Mexicans and Blacks are lazy and are typically affiliated with gangs, etc. The reality is harder to see.

            When we look at the faults of other people and attribute it to their race, then that is being racist. Everyone (I believe with very little exception) has at least some racist beliefs and makes racist comments. Most of the time without believing it’s racist. It is not my goal to end racism. I personally don’t think it’s possible because it has always existed. But I think people should be more aware of it and the history of why and how it exists here in America. And just because something seems impossible, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything about it.

The history of racism in America:

- In the late 17th century, European indentured servants were the original source of unfree labor on tobacco plants in Virginia and Maryland. They were replaced by African slaves. The low-class Europeans won new rights, entitlements, and opportunities in exchange for their help in policing the growing slave population.
- The 1830 Indian Removal Act forcibly relocated “eastern American Indians to west of the Mississippi River to make room for white settlers.”
- “The 1862 Homestead Act [gave] away millions of acres of what had been Indian Territory west of the Mississippi. Ultimately, 270 million acres, or 10% of the total land area of the United States, was converted to private hands, overwhelmingly white, under Homestead Act provisions.”
- “The 1790 Naturalization Act permitted only "free white persons" to become naturalized citizens, thus opening the doors to European immigrants but not others. Only citizens could vote, serve on juries, hold office, and in some cases, even hold property.”
- In the 1700 and 1800s, “Alien Land Laws passed in California and other states, reserved farm land for white growers by preventing Asian immigrants, ineligible to become citizens, from owning or leasing land… Racial barriers to naturalized U.S. citizenship weren't removed until the McCarran-Walter Act in 1952, and white racial preferences in immigration remained until 1965.”
- “In the South, the federal government never followed through on General Sherman's Civil War plan to divide up plantations and give each freed slave "40 acres and a mule" as reparations… Government officials paid up to $300 per slave upon emancipation - not to the slaves, but to local slaveholders as compensation for loss of property.”
- “Jim Crow laws, instituted in the late 19th and early 20th century and not overturned in many states until the 1960s, reserved the best jobs, neighborhoods, schools and hospitals for white people.”
- The Social Security Act of 1935 guaranteed millions of workers an income after retirement. “But the act specifically excluded two occupations: agricultural workers and domestic servants, who were predominately African American, Mexican, and Asian. As low-income workers, they also had the least opportunity to save for their retirement.”
- “The 1935 Wagner Act… helped millions of white workers gain entry into the middle class over the next 30 years. But the Wagner Act permitted unions to exclude non-whites and deny them access to better paid jobs and union protections and benefits such as health care, job security, and pensions. Many craft unions remained nearly all-white well into the 1970s.”
- “The Federal Housing Administration made it possible for millions of average white Americans - but not others - to own a home for the first time. The government set up a national neighborhood appraisal system, explicitly tying mortgage eligibility to race. Integrated communities were ipso facto deemed a financial risk and made ineligible for home loans, a policy known today as "redlining." Between 1934 and 1962, the federal government backed $120 billion of home loans. More than 98% went to whites. Of the 350,000 new homes built with federal support in northern California between 1946 and 1960, fewer than 100 went to African Americans.”
- By 1990, “Black and Latino mortgage applicants are still 60% more likely than whites to be turned down for a loan, even after controlling for employment, financial, and neighborhood factors. According to the Census, whites are more likely to be segregated than any other group. As [of] 1993, 86% of suburban whites still lived in neighborhoods with a black population of less than 1%.”

           These facts are from the article “RACE - The Power of an Illusion; BACKGROUND: A Long History of Affirmative Action - For Whites.” This history is why Affirmative Action seeks to give minorities opportunities today, such as making schools and employers have a certain percentage of minorities working or attending.

            From these facts, and the experiences of many minorities, it is easy to blame white people for the problems of minorities. In fact, I would blame them too, but blame and accusations from either side only perpetuates the problem. This also overlooks something bigger. History shows that discrimination has always existed, and it’s not always because of race, and it’s not always people with lighter skin who are the oppressors. After watching the “The Canary Affect” which describes the history of genocide by white people toward American natives, a classmate (African American woman) and I had a similar question. Why do we (the minorities) let ourselves be discriminated against? It’s the wrong question to ask of course. This blames the victim and makes them responsible for being oppressed. The proper question is why do oppressors believe it is okay to discriminate, conquer, and impose their culture and beliefs on others?

            In the documentary, “The Canary Affect,” it was explained that the first white settlers came with the motto of Christian evangelism that sets out to convert the world. Though the Natives at first received them generously (giving them gifts) and with kindness, white settlers soon sought to convert or kill the Natives who wouldn’t – “Save the man, kill the Indian.” It was Christianity that prompted a lot of brutality toward the Natives. Religion has been a source of discrimination for as long as it has existed. It’s seen biblically, and historically. 

            The Old Testament teaches that the Hebrews were God’s chosen people. They were set apart, which can be interpreted as they were better than the rest of the world. I would argue that this is a terrible interpretation, but one that has been carried on by Christianity (including Catholicism) throughout the centuries. What I have always been taught is that God came to be among men in the form of Jesus Christ. He came to be the lesser among men and was born in a manger, not a place of wealth and power. He lived his life humbly, befriended outcasts and sinners, and loved all. He didn’t force anyone to convert, but instead invited any who would. There were no torturous consequences or judgments by him if they chose not to convert and continue their ways.

            Religion is not the source of racism, but it is one of the many ways that people justify discrimination. It is easy to be devout to your religion and believe you are superior. It is easy to be an outstanding citizen and believe you are superior. It is easy to gain success and wealth and believe you are superior. But to believe you are superior is to promote discrimination.

            Blaming a group, a racial group, a religious group, a class group, for racism does not solve the problem of racism. The fault can be in anyone. History and facts are what they are, and they cannot be changed, but something can be done about the future, and more importantly, the present. You can choose to be understanding. You can choose to be serving. You can choose to be loving and accepting. 

            Break out of your comfort zone, befriend those who are different from you, and learn about their experiences as you share your own. Listen with an open heart. And most importantly, don’t condemn those who have made mistakes or been ignorant to their own faults, because I can assure you that you have been ignorant to your own, too.

"The Canary Affect" directed by Robin Davey and Yellow Thunder Woman
"Race - The Power of Illusion; Background:A long history of affirmative action - for whites"

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