"My fellow white people: if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
Munroe Bergdorf’s assertion that all white people are racist has upset many,
but society is skewed in our favour and it is right to acknowledge that."
"For the record, I’m white. I don’t hate other white people. Lots of my friends are white.
Yet the statement “all white people are racist” doesn’t make me angry.
It makes me sad, because I believe it’s probably true.
Just to be clear: I unequivocally oppose all forms of racism. As a human rights lawyer,
I’ve brought cases against individuals, companies and governments for
racial discrimination. I’ve attended protests opposing racist policies.
I’ve boycotted companies that made racist statements or behaved in a
discriminatory fashion. I’ve laid wreaths in the slave dungeons of west Africa
and gas chambers of eastern Europe, and I have called out racist language,
including when it meant placing myself at risk. I have supported community
groups and organisations championing rights for people of colour, and
have tried hard to serve them with humility. And, yes, I have lots of black friends.
But that doesn’t mean my thoughts or actions have never been tarnished
by a subconscious, racially prejudicial thought.
Too often, we seem to think that racism means actively doing or saying something racist. Not so.
We live in a society that is built on the spoils of racism, and that continues to
benefit from inequality in all its forms. Or, as Bergdorf put it: “Slavery and colonialism,
at the hands of white supremacy, played a huge part in shaping the
United Kingdom and much of the west, into the superpower that it is today.”
“Why does that make me a racist?!” I hear you ask. It comes down to this:
in western society we are all taught (explicitly or implicitly) that lighter is better.
Those racist narratives are particularly prevalent in the US, but you’re
kidding yourself if you think we Britons don’t suffer from the same prejudice."
"As Bergdorf said “…western society as a whole, is a SYSTEM rooted
in white supremacy – designed to benefit, prioritise and protect white
people before anyone of any other race”.
There’s a lot of evidence to support that claim. For example, you’re six
times more likely to get stopped by the police if you’re black."
"Our society has structural inequalities that benefit white people over
people of colour (in the same way that structural inequalities around
class, gender, sexuality, age and disability benefit certain groups over others).
I benefit from that white privilege, and if you’re white, so do you.
It’s not a choice we made, but it is a fact. And, significantly, we benefit
from that at the cost of people of colour. If, as a white person, I am more
likely to get hired than my equally competent BAME counterpart (something
that has been amply documented), then I am benefiting from my white
privilege as part of a systemically racist society. When there is only so
much of the pie to go around, getting more than your fair share inevitably
comes at the cost of someone else.
"As Bergdorf states: “Institutionalised, systemic racism is just as damaging as a violent, racist attack.”
Bergdorf didn’t cause offence because she was wrong. She caused
offence because she highlighted an uncomfortable truth: that being
un-racist is not the same as being anti-racist."
"Any white person who is serious about racial equality has to be anti-racist.
This requires us to actively acknowledge our privilege, because that
privilege – even though we never asked for it – is the very cause of the
inequity suffered by others. Only then can we be part of a meaningful
solution to institutional racism. We have a choice: be offended, or be
part of the solution. But we can’t be both. I’ve learned not to bristle at
the statement “all white people are racist”. Instead, I learned to listen
to the pain, injustice and – yes – the accuracy in that statement.
Just like I learned to recognise those subtle situations where my race
made my life easier, and someone else’s life harder. Every day, I am
still unlearning subconscious prejudices, and checking my thoughts,
actions and language for hidden bias. Because I would rather acknowledge
those faults now than look back in years to come and know that I could
have done more to be on the right side of history."
This is generally a useful and thought-provoking article for white people.
Critically speaking, I would say that, like most Britons and nearly all Americans,
Katherine Craig puts too much emphasis on racism as a narrow black-white binary.
In Western societies, there has been and continues to be ample racism
against peoples who are neither of white European nor black African ancestry.
Sometimes this racism is even worse than that against black people.
But all too often the non-black peoples afflicted by this racism struggle
in vain to get their experiences and grievances heard by the people
who are convinced that racism is an exclusive black-white binary.
Even fewer white people seem ready to stand up on behalf of some
politically marginalized minorities when they struggle against racism.
I would add that 'the West' (particularly the UK) no longer is the colossus
astride the globe that Munroe Bergdorf seems to imagine in her rhetoric.
Non-Westerners no longer tremble at the sight of gunboats with Western flags.
This changing dynamic of power may have trickle-down consequences for racism in the West.
For instance, while Hollywood remains deeply racist toward East Asians,
there's some evidence that Hollywood has begun softening its overt racism
against Chinese, for instance, because it wants its films to sell in China,
which is potentially a lucrative market. I doubt that the white men who run
Hollywood have become any less prejudiced; they simply prefer to put
the bottom line (money) ahead of their prejudices more of the time.
But it would be foolish to expect that racism will disappear--effortlessly
and without white people needing to examine themselves and change--
simply because global capitalism may make it less profitable.