“100 Ways White People Can Make Life Less Frustrating for People of Color.” Simply take that title, switch the phrases “White People” and “People of Color,” and try to imagine the backlash it would receive. This was the title of an article released by Broadly – affiliate of Vice – that surfaced on my Facebook page. Even as a woman of color, I was agitated by much of the piece. While the list touched on some important issues, the author certainly had to stretch in order to reach 100 points. This wasn’t my first time seeing a list such as this one – berating white people for their mere existence – and I am sure it will not be my last.
The article was shared many times and there was no sign of outrage or backlash on my feed. Not one comment even questioning whether or not such a piece was tactful or constructive. Defending white people is not in fashion. Being white is even less in fashion.
Why is it socially acceptable to mock, criticize, and make generalizations about white people but define that same behavior as “racism” when it is directed at any other group of people? Because we have been made to believe that this treatment toward white people is justified retaliation against centuries of colonization, slavery, and segregation.
No one asks to be born into the skin that they were. For this reason, racism – in and of itself – has never made logical sense. There is no doubt that this country was built primarily on the backs of slave labor, with white men on the receiving end. And one could even argue that White America still benefits from that foundation. But it is high time we stop referring to white people, specifically white men, as “colonizers” and “invaders”, and treating them as descendants of slave owners. In fact, a large majority of today’s white Americans are descendants of immigrants who migrated here in the 1900’s. For whatever reason, it is perfectly acceptable to make assumptions about white people and their ancestry, but when done with people of color, it is considered racist.
White privilege – it exists. This is a known fact. But how far can we take that argument? The color of your skin still matters in America, but being white can only get you so far. White people are not exempt from poverty, trauma, disease, or even racism. They are not exempt from the human experience.
We have come to believe that even an impoverished white boy who was raised by a single mother on welfare still has more privilege than a middle class black boy who grew up with two parents in the suburbs, based solely on skin color. Perhaps one is more susceptible to racial profiling and discrimination, but certainly the boy who was raised in poverty is more susceptible to hardship. And regardless of one’s susceptibility to struggle, it should not affect the way we view them as a human being. A man who comes from the most fortunate circumstances should be treated with just as much respect as a man who comes from the most unfortunate circumstances.
We are often told that “only white people” can be racist because they are in power, they are the oppressors. But the actual denotation of the word would disagree with that idea. According to Merriam-Webster, racism is, “the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” This definition alone implies that a person of any color can be racist toward any other race of people. We as a nation are capable of showing white people just as much hatred as we once showed black people, and it would, indeed, be considered racism.
As a biracial woman who was raised by a black father, I have experienced and witnessed a fair share of racism in my short life. In no way should my thoughts on this topic be interpreted as apathy toward the minority experience in America. There is still work to be done and progress that can be made – but progress is nearly impossible in a state of such divisiveness. We cannot demand respect by disrespecting those we are demanding it from.
Number 9 on the list of “100 Ways White People Can Make Life Less Frustrating for People of Color,” ironically states, “Regard us as autonomous, unique individuals, not as representatives of our race.” A reasonable request that should apply to all races. While blacks and whites have had drastically different experiences throughout American history, we must work every day to learn from our history, disallow it to repeat itself, and move toward a more united nation.