It's Time To Stop Acting Surprised That America is Racist
If Dr. Seuss were alive today dropping sick rhymes about social issues, he’d almost certainly have given us something like, “Grass is green, the sky is blue, and racism in America in alive and true.” But then again, Dr. Seuss was super racist. CNN just released the results of a new nationwide poll conducted alongside the Kaiser Family Foundation, and—shocker—nearly half of the U.S. said that racism is a “big problem.”
Whether you read the results of the poll, watch the news, or just step outside of your front door, it’s uncomfortably clear that we are in the midst of a new wave of racial tension. When the biggest grassroots political organization operating in America is called Black Lives Matter, it’s a pretty good indicator that Ebony and Ivory aren’t living in perfect harmony.
In all seriousness, racial tensions have escalated to a point where news stories about police officers killing people of color have become the norm. Meanwhile, the racially-charged terrorism by white students against people of color at the University of Missouri has all but disappeared from media outlets, and the systematic burning of black churches often goes uncovered. Despite the inspiration that Obama brought to the country as the first African American to win the presidency (and be reelected, no less), people of color are still discriminated against in every aspect of life. From classrooms, cars, and even pool parties, the levels of melanin that make up your skin tone matter just as much now as they have since 1776, when the phrase “all men are created equal” actually meant “as long as you are white, male, heterosexual, and cisgender.”
Yes, racism exists in America and no, it isn’t shocking. I mean, slavery in America was only abolished 150 years ago, and the Civil Rights Act that ended legal segregation only happened 51 years ago. Most grandparents were alive when segregation was still legal, and even today, we live in a time when school systems are more segregated than they were in 1968. One of the deadliest hate crimes against black people that one could ever imagine happened this year. There have been more unarmed black people killed by police this year than were lynched in any year since 1923. Students of color are making headlines not for their academic achievements, but rather for the videos and images of them being arrested and brutally beaten by campus police.
The epidemic of racism is widespread and uncomfortably clear, yet headlines still feign outrageous shock over results from polls declaring that racism is, in fact, still around. If you want to be shocked about something, choose to be shocked that Justin Bieber successfully staged a comeback, or that an estimated 480,278 American households did not have complete plumbing facilities last year. Those things are crazy. The fact that being a person of color in America doesn’t afford you the same experiences as white people is not crazy.
The CNN poll reinforced the fact that most white Americans don’t think racism is a big problem. According to their statistics, only 43% of white people said that racism is a big problem, compared to 66% of the black population, and 64% of the Hispanic population. The sad fact is that unless you actively work to educate yourself on the struggles of someone who is different from you racially, ethnically, religiously, sexually, or any other combination of identities, it can be difficult to grasp their experience in America. We need only look at the ridiculous and horrifying “White Student Unions” popping up online, which are connected to over thirty college campuses.
The Facebook pages for these groups appear to have originated on the dirtiest underbelly of the Internet–4chan, where a post called for users to create “European students union” pages for “the most leftist colleges and universities in the western world.” It comes at a time when racial tension across college campuses have combined with the Black Lives Matter movement, with communities of color taking a stand against racial injustices–the same injustices that seem to be completely disregarded by about 57% of the white people in CNN’s poll. While it’s a relief to know there aren’t actually white student unions on college campuses, it does dig into a deeper problem inherent in American culture: there are people who believe that reverse racism is real, and that white people are being oppressed.
America was built on the backs of people of color for white people. From Native Americans and Africans to the Chinese and Hispanics, this country has been a haven for whiteness. The new Civil Rights movement featuring Black Lives Matters and other initiatives isn’t a new development. Rather, these activist groups, which are focused on enriching the lives of people of color and ensuring their safety, have come around decade after decade because they’re necessary.
Racism is about power hierarchies, constructed on the basis of skin color, that place whiteness above all other pigments. There is no reverse racism, because no matter how much prejudice white people may feel, the fact is they are still the most powerful race in the country—and the world. We don’t need polls to know that racism hasn’t gone away. But we do need to wake up and speak out.
Photos via Helium Factory/Flickr and Scott Olson/Getty Image News