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Monday, May 5, 2014

The Problem With Overt Racism: #BringBackOurGirls

Donald Sterling. Cliven Bundy. Paula Dean.
Phil RobertsonMichael Richards.
It's a good thing we're not like them.

We know not to use racial slurs. We know not to show prejudice. Racism that is on full display is easy to pick on. It's obvious. It's clear cut. We like being on the right side of indignation. 

But the problem with overt racism is that it serves as a distraction. It lets us point the finger at anything other than our own culpability. It lets us ignore lives lost and families destroyed, while we exalt our own moral superiority. 

How many hours of news coverage has Sterling received? Why do we give him so much attention, while ignoring 276 kidnapped girls in Chibok, Nigeria? I'd rather our outrage and airtime focus on Boko Haram and an unresponsive government than on a rich bigot who simply recognized our society for what it is, and took advantage. 

The Missing White Woman Syndrome
How many months and years did we obsess over JonBenĂ©t Ramsey and those like her? Didn't we clamor for every little detail of their lives? We knew their hobbies, we interviewed their friends, we left no stone unturned. Yet, three weeks after the kidnapping of hundreds of school children, we are too distracted by our our self-congratulation to raise the alarm. It seems we don't care to empathize when when it comes to 'the least of these.' Khaled Bey asks, "Poor, Black, Muslim, African, girls. Is there a more vulnerable intersection?"

This is selective outrage. It lets us condemn individuals without looking at the system that produced them --indeed, a system that lets such folks thrive. It lets us take comfort in our unexamined biases, knowing that someone else always sounds worse. It lets us scapegoat those that took it all a little too far--who didn't obey the rules of 'post racial' racism

Listen as Bomani Jones explains it all
We like making grand statements of condemnation when it comes to the racist remarks of public figures. We enjoy feeling like we know better. Publicly shaming folks like Sterling helps us affirm our our superior morality. It helps us feel righteous, having proved our 'good person status.' 

If Sterling's racism is unacceptable, it implies there is a certain kind of racism that is acceptable. A more discrete racism. A racism that says we want 'the most qualified' candidate for the job. A racism that says we don't want to invest in 'high risk' loans and mortgages. That says 'double check twice that they qualify to vote.' That says 'surely you couldn't afford that nice car' (or house). The racism that says we are more deserving of good fortune than others. The racism that says if you just work hard enough, you will surely succeed.  

When we point at public bigots and say 'this is what real racism is,' it helps erase the reality of the structural injustice that pervades our daily lives. It allows us to think that things like overturning affirmative action, Stand Your Ground, and mass deportations are no big deal, or just in their heads, or not actually dangerous at all (indeed, not life threatening).

We have always prefered to talk about the loud, external sins than to sit quietly with the insidious reality of our hidden brokenness. We think that if perhaps no one sees our hearts, that there are no real victims of our sinfulness. We pat each other on the back for pointing out the obvious, but are unwilling to examine how we contribute. 


  1. Hannah HeinzekehrMay 6, 2014 at 5:11 PM

    You are spot on here. I see your comment below about Instagram and it's an indictment. Truthfully, it's so cathartic to call someone else out, and way less easy to unpack my own baggage. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Years ago i shared with a family member that racism is more sophisticated today than it was during the civil rights era. And the family member said he didn't understand what i was talking about. I meant that it was more subtle and not as overt, the family member still looked at me as though i had two heads with horns sticking out. And he told me i didn't know what i was talking about. This was twenty years ago, I started to doubt myself and wonder if the family member was right about me not knowing what i was talking about. It is now 2014, I remembered that conversation with my now deceased family member, and i think i was right and that i knew what i was talking about. Racism is alive and well in America.

  3. Yes, skewed beauty standards definitely play a big role in these issues

  4. The evolving subversive nature of racism makes it tricky to pin down and combat. It's always finding new was to survive and thrive.


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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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