Thinking about race and racism

Given the current climate we are living in regarding racial injustice, I’ve been thinking a lot about the book I just finished reading by the historian Ibram X. Kendi called How to Be An Antiracist and about my own experiences as a person of color in White America. One of the ideas that Kendi discusses in the book is that people oftentimes think that racism came after race was defined, but he argues that actually, racism came first, which was what brought about the need to categorize people in different racial groups. White people saw people on the African continent and thought they looked different, therefore they pillaged and made them slaves simply because of skin color. When Asians tried immigrating to the U.S. and tried to define themselves as “white” (so as not to be considered the “colored” or “Negro” folks, as they called them then), the white ruling class shot them down and said, NOPE! You’re colored, too! We don’t want to employ you because of how you look; you need to be below us. All human beings’ DNA is 99.9% the same, and this is a scientific fact. So if we know this, the desire to then take what is 0.1% different is based on a need to create a hierarchy of socially constructed groups to elevate some and oppress others. The saddest part about this reality is that whoever is the majority, whoever is the “dominant” group then has to “approve” whether the oppressed group can get their rights. That was the way it was with women’s suffrage — men had to grant the right to vote to women. Yes, women fought for it and weren’t handed it on a silver platter. But the “ruling party” had to “approve it.” It was the way it was in 1865 when slavery was abolished; black slaves didn’t “free” themselves and make the law; they fought for it, and they had white allies (well, sort of. This is more complicated) fighting for them. It will continue to be the way we live until… forever. It will require a lot of protesting and a lot of noise to get there, as all these changes did, but that “white approval” actually has to happen. That is such a depressing thought.

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