Race consciousness is key to how we learn to perceive ourselves and the people around us.

There aren’t too many who want to claim to be racist, and most people would like to believe they are “colourblind” when it comes to matters of race. But race and racism are integral and inescapable parts of our culture and social history.

Race consciousness is key to how we learn to perceive ourselves and the people around us (even if we don’t always want to admit it); just think of how we describe people—“an elderly asian woman, about five foot three; a tall black man in his thirties, wearing a leather jacket”. In these “identifying descriptions”, race, along with gender, is essential, especially if it is other than white.

Given the importance of race to our society, it’s remarkable how difficult it is to talk about and how complex the definitions of race and racism can be. In fact, the issues surrounding the definitions of race and racism are themselves a product of racism’s long and conflicted history in our society.

“Racism involves the subordination of people of colour by white people. While individual persons of color may well discriminate against a white person or another person of color because of their race, this does not qualify as racism according to our definition because that person of color cannot depend upon all the institutions of society to enforce or extend his or her personal dislike. Nor can he or she call upon the force of history to reflect and enforce that prejudice. . . . History provides us with a long record of white people holding and using power and privilege over people of color to subordinate them, not the reverse.”

(Paula Rothenberg. Defining Racism and Sexism)

Institutionalized racism: Because racism is an ideology that is entwined within the cultural ideology of this society, at some level, everyone who is a cultural member shares many aspects of the ideology of race. That belief system plays out in our day to day interactions with each other – whether we are blatantly (or consciously) racist or not. The system of race sets up certain hostilities and conflicts that are played out in our lives.

Institutionalized racism is the structuring of benefit for the group with power. Institutionalized processes carry multiple generational effects and are sometimes called “past in present” discrimination.

Privilege: The structures of racism work in two ways: to discriminate against and subordinate people of color, and to privilege white people. Privileges are unearned benefits from the structuring of inequality, and as such are intimately tied to discrimination. Privilege (unearned advantages) is sometimes difficult for those receiving them to see.

This is particularly true in a societal environment such as the United States, when we think that we get things because we are nice people, or because we worked for them. Molly Ivins once alluded to privilege with the analogy of baseball – a person is born on third base, but thinks they hit a triple.

Institutionalised Racism: The Housing Market

A good example of how institutional racism works is the housing market. The creation of the suburbs in the United States was driven by public policy and tax payer money. The GI Bill through the VHA opened the opportunity to purchase a home to millions of veterans after World War II. However of all the home loans made in those boom years, less than 2% went to non-whites. Meanwhile, the federal government set up lending standards and created “red lining.” “Red” districts had low insurability because people of color lived in those areas. White communities were seen as “good risks,” and hence lenders did not offer mortgages in red lined districts. These practices excluded people who were not white from the home ownership market.

The implication of this one set of policies has had (and still has) massive ramifications. For the majority of people in the United States, their home is their single most important form of wealth. The exclusion of people of colour from the housing market meant that only whites had that access to this form of wealth. Getting and owning a home became a “privilege” of being white.

Meanwhile, much school funding is still financed through local property taxes. Since people of colour were concentrated in areas where they could not own homes (or the homes they owned were devalued) there was less money for schools – degrading educational opportunities. Meanwhile, for whites who had moved “out and up,” their schools had more funding and were seen as better schools. Quality of education relates to economic opportunity, and those who were left behind ran even further behind. None of this has anything directly to do with individual bias. Rather it is the consequence of a social policy where whites, acting rationally in their own best interests, participated in increasing levels of inequality between the races.




 source: Race and Racism - Illumination Project Curriculum Materials By Dr. Rowan Wolf, Sociology Instructor and Caroline Le Guin, Writing Instructor Portland Community College Oregon. c/f https://www.pcc.edu/resources/illumination/documents/race-and-racism-curriculum.pdfaccessed 24/09/16-http://www.azquotes.com/quote/1223084-accessed 24/09/16

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