In theory, I am the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Harriot, Ph.D., a great husband and father who gave up a lucrative career in music to spend more time with my family.
In reality, I have not been awarded a prize for my writing; I haven’t received a doctorate and my family would probably describe my singing as less than stellar (although Panama Jackson, Damon Young and Natalie Degraffinried are probably considering nominating me for a Grammy for my recent karaoke performance of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.”)
But in spite of the notes that come out of my mouth, the reality is that the Pulitzer people get to determine who wins the award and I’ve never done a doctoral thesis. But why should that matter? What counts is what’s in my heart.
While that may seem like nonsense, this is how white people define racism.
Of all the entitlements that fall under the umbrella of the oft-rejected term “white privilege,” perhaps the biggest is the opportunity to exist in theory. White people are afforded the freedom of living in a perpetual state of grand delusion which allows them, among other things, to create reality out of hypothetical thin air.
As the dominant members of society, they get to trade in false equivalencies and define their existence by dismissing everything that doesn’t fit their narrative. They preface sentences with “all things being equal” or “imagine if a white person said ...” They can vote for a white supremacist and call it “racial anxiety.” They can create a term like “reverse racism” out of whole cloth.
To them, reality isn’t important. What matters are the things that feel real to them.
On Tuesday, the conservative outlet, the Federalist posted an article by David Marcus entitled: “Americans Disagree About what Racism is, and It’s a Big Problem.”
The thesis of the article is based on the narrative of false equivalence that has been adopted by the conservative right. Specifically, that non-whites are allowed to play the race card at their leisure while white people are criticized and painted as racist for doing the same things.
From the outset, the author’s explanation of race and racism is misguided. At its heart, it illustrates the point that many white people don’t understand about racism. Marcus writes:
There are two basic definitions of racism in the United States, one roughly associated with progressives and one roughly associated with conservatives. The former describes racism as the failure to acknowledge and seek to redress systemic discrimination against select disadvantaged minority groups. It is very broad and captures everything from unconscious bias to white supremacy. The latter views racism as making assumptions about, or taking action towards, an individual or group on the sole basis of their race. It is narrow and generally requires belief, intent, and animosity.
These definitions don’t simply differ; to a great extent they actually contradict each other. Much of the contradiction stems from the fact that the progressive definition of racism requires that an advantaged individual or group must be attacking the less privileged. The more conservative and narrow definition of racism requires no appeal to power structures, only to bias, and can be committed by anyone towards anyone.
This oft-cited bullshit argument must finally be dismantled.
First, we must agree that racism has nothing to do with “belief,” intent or animosity. It is the result of actions and policies that create and perpetuate racism. The grand delusion that one can only be racist if there is hate in one’s heart is the biggest myth of white supremacy and one of the largest reasons it still exists.
The reason poor black children are more likely to attend underfunded schools is the result of the legacy of segregation, redlining and government policy. Black people convicted of the same crimes as whites receive longer sentences partly because of resource allocation disparities in legal representation. Implicit biases and lack of training are part of the reason black men are three times more likely to be killed by police.
Black children born to wealthy black parents have a lower chance at economic success than white children born to poor parents. Black students are punished more harshly than white students who commit the same offenses. Black workers with the same education and experience are paid less.
This. Is. Racism.
And none of this has to do with intent, belief or animosity. In theory, it might be useful to eliminate hate, intentional bias and anti-black sentiment. But it is impossible to measure the feelings of teachers, landlords, school administrators, judges, juries and employers. What matters is their actions.
Furthermore, non-white people could care less about how white people feel inside.
Dear white people: Feel free to hate me with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns as long as you feel free to treat everyone equally. The narcissistic Caucasian notion that black people have been fighting all this time so that white people would have positive feelings towards non-whites fuels the idiotic notion that perpetuates racism because it allows the people playing keep-away with equality to concentrate inwardly instead of actually doing the hard work required to correct the persistent problems of white supremacy.
But here is where Mr. Marcus (not that one) descends into the madness of false equivalency.
“A very current example of this disagreement over the term can be seen in the media’s treatment of white women after the 2016 and 2018 elections,” he writes, adding: “Many progressives have argued that white women voted in a racist manner in order to uphold their privileged place in the white male patriarchy.”
(For homework, you should read yesterday’s laughably tone-deaf column in the Federalist Stop Shaming White Women For Voting Republican begging people to stop castigating white women for doing something they actually did.)
Marcus later explains what he calls a “double standard” when it comes to racism by noting how many polls show that, despite all the data to the contrary, white people often feel like they’re being attacked, writing:
But under the narrower definition of racism, it makes perfect sense. These white people are reacting to the fact that they can be attacked on the basis of their race in ways others can’t. In addition, whites—and increasingly Asians —look at programs like affirmative action as inherently racist.
This is where the blithe obliviousness must stop.
While it might feel hurtful to hear white jokes or anti-white sentiment, the disconnect that Marcus and all white people who present the “reverse racism” argument are never willing to acknowledge is that their premise is rooted in white fragility and the subconscious belief in their supremacy.
In theory, making jokes about white people would be considered negative because, you know ... “If a white person said it, we’d surely think ...” But “Becky” jokes and school underfunding are not the same. Calling out white people for voting Republican, supporting a white supremacist president or not seasoning their chicken does not have any demonstrable effect on the quality of their lives.
It is their feelings they are worried about.
In addition to this, the belief that affirmative action discriminates against whites and Asians is based on the false notion of “merit”—that some people are entitled to jobs and college admission simply based on the numbers, ignoring the fact that they achieved this mythical “merit” in a system built to ensure their achievement.
White and Asian scholars aren’t being sent to the educational sidelines or being forced to pursue careers in bricklaying and pipe-welding. Every single top-tier educational institution in America is disproportionately white and Asian. White and Asian wages are higher than the wages of blacks and Hispanics with the same education and experience. White people are disproportionately represented in government. They use drugs at the same rate but are arrested at lower rates.
In fact, even if it might feel like it, there is not one segment of American society in which white people are disadvantaged because of their race.
Marcus ends his essay by explaining that the challenge of diversity requires “kindness, empathy, and tolerance” adding that “Many Americans of all races feel attacked and confused precisely because they don’t know what the rules are.”
To be clear, the narrative of defining the rules racism is often used to deflect from the actual work. Everyone knows racism. Those who pretend not to or who argue about the definition are only doing so in an attempt to mitigate their own racist actions—because “belief, intent, and animosity” will always be invisible.
The truth is, that America isn’t divided about what racism is. It is white people who are. The only problem with this is that, while racism is a problem that non-whites must deal with, there is nothing that black, Asians, Hispanics or any other race can do to end racism.
Regardless of how they define racism, it is perpetuated by white America. White supremacy is a measurable, tangible reality that is upheld by white people and it can only be dismantled by white people. And the only way white people will ever do that is to stop living in theory and face the harsh reality:
Racism is a white problem.
Take it from the Grammy-nominated, award-winning writer and scholar, Dr. Michael Harriot, Ph.D.