So, a bunch of folks have declared it International Blog Against Racism
I have never, ever heard a racist or ethnic-ist slur come out of anyone's mouth at any family gathering ever in my thirty years, not once. This isn't to say that someone in my family isn't racist - I've no idea what most of them might say in their own homes, away from the make-nice atmosphere of family gatherings - but considering the South that many of the older relatives were raised in, I'm supremely grateful for that. I'm not saying any of us deserve a cookie for that; I'm simply saying that I read about other people's families and the fact that they were raised not knowing that what was being said was wrong, and I'm glad that I never had to negotiate that particular minefield. The closest anyone is ever gotten to saying something untoward in front of me is when my mom and I had a running joke about me marrying a pygmy when I was younger, and mom one time said "As long as they're a white pygmy." And even then, I knew she didn't mean it; if I'd brought home a person of color, they might have blinked a bit, but they would have been fine, quickly.
So I was raised to treat everyone the same, and to get along with everyone, and that everyone was equal. And I'm grateful for that. But, perhaps because of that, I also grew up thinking oh, it's all better now
, that any incidents of racism were just personal level incidents from people that were raised not knowing any better, that they're dying out, that our generation is better. And as an adult and as a social scientist, I know better. I know that racism is still institutionalized deep in our society and our laws and our customs, that we're sending generation after generation of young black men to prison unless they're lucky enough to be able to play ball because their economic opportunities systematically just aren't there, that black men make less money than white men and black women, even less than that. There's three people of color (all black, no Hispanics or Asians or anyone) currently in classes in my program (there may be a couple of more kicking around who only have their thesis left). There are a lot more white people than that.
It's easy to flop about when you don't know how to fix things, when you don't have the first clue how to fix things, and I think that's the problem with a lot of white folks. (I'm not seeking to make excuses here, just pick apart the situation.) It's easy to say Well, I'm not racist, my family isn't racist, I love my black friends and my Asian friends and I'd love my Hispanic friends if I had any of those, I'm going to vote for the black guy next year, I'm not part of the problem.
But, until things are fixed - decades and centuries from now - we're all part of the problem; the problem is bigger than any one of us. Which also means that we don't know how to fix it, but we need to figure it out. And most of the fixing is going to have to come from white folks, because we're the ones who still have the privilege and the power and the sheer numbers, in government and law and society.
We live in a black neighborhood. It's something I'd hadn't explicitly mentioned before, because, well, it hasn't been relevant. There's the old white couple across the street that's like, 800 years old and has probably seen the demographics of the neighborhood change 27 times over the years, and there's a family on the corner with the teenage girl that's always mowing the lawn, and that's it. There's projects at the end of our road. We got a few funny looks when we moved in, and it took awhile for people to start talking to us, but now our neighbors say hi to us and we say hi to them and they ask me how school's going, and when my family pulled up on July 4th, our next door neighbors saw the big surgical boot on one of them and asked if they needed help inside, and we get along. And I like to think that I'm making my corner of the world a little better, just by being here and getting along, by smiling brightly at people who ask me how the neighborhood is and saying Oh, it's fine, we love our neighbors, it's a very quiet place, good folks
, but, it's just one little drop in the bucket.
What I don't understand - what I don't understand that I hear a lot of people talk about, not just you - is how The Problem is Institutionalized. How? The laws are there, the policies are there, the social atmosphere of equality is certainly there, so how is racism an "institutionalized" problem? If it were institutionalized, wouldn't it be a comparatively easy fix? Fix the institution. So what institution is it that's promoting racism?
and suddenly, there the whole cycle goes again. Or, if you're the kid who didn't go to college (college is not the band-aid we all make it out to be), you got a crappy education, so you can't add and can't string together a coherent sentence, so you're not hireable for the kinds of jobs where you can work up and make a decent living without that piece of paper.
So, for me, it starts with education.
Women make only a percentage of what men make in this country, even when controlling for hours worked, education, and type of job, across the board, in all parts of the country. Despite the laws and policies and social atmosphere of equality. Something is obviously systematically wrong, despite all that.
You know, it's not specifically about race - though, again, class issues and race issues in the U.S. often correlate - but there's a fantastic book put out by the NYT called Class Matters that you might want to check out. I think you'd find it chewy and interesting.
1. We all know exceptions; these are general trends.
I've tried to help a few downtrodden folks and families through my church. One in particular springs to mind (no details for the sake of their confidentiality, of course), who the children were in good schools and all... we had a pretty good idea which kids were doing well and which were doing poorly, but the mother placed almost no value on education since she didn't have one herself and didn't see the point. All her kids were 'doing just fine' in school, even the ones who weren't, and she didn't want us to bother getting tutors for the ones who needed 'em...
*bangs head on desk*
'course, it's very weird trying to suggest gently that a different lifestyle is what somebody really wants. Middle class Americans probably spend as much time worrying about money as the dirt-poor--not because they think they won't eat, but they raise their blood pressure over what kind of house they can buy and whether they can keep up with the Joneses. Having done this support thing a couple times already, it's very much not straightforward to figure out where the line is between helping someone be capable of taking care of themselves instead of ending up homeless again, and trying to tell them how to run their lives.
my 2¢, same as ever...
When you talk about women and men... I've heard those statistics before, and always wondered how much of that is also due to societal mores of gender development (as opposed to societal mores in hiring practices). Men, I think, tend generally to be more self-confident and to be less afraid of failure, and so they'll do things like-- when they get a job-- negotiate the salary. I did a little bit of that when I got my job, but mostly only because I had been extensively coached beforehand that it did not matter one bit whether I did or not. A friend of mine, who had not been coached, but who had a good idea what he was worth, got not only a salary increase but also increased vacation. I wonder how much of the salary gap, especially in white-collar jobs, can be explained by that sort of thing.
 I'm mostly thinking of some things from my pre-S&M HS, some of which were anonymous, but all of which were greatly frowned upon by everyone I knew.
Back to the topic:
Well, one thing that always signals "institutional" racism for me is the judicial system. Black men tend to get heavier sentences than their white counterparts for similar or lesser crimes. Why?
I took a class one summer at Carolina about gender issues. One day, we read about education and race. The way the teachers treat certain students based on gender and race. It's scary how true it was. There are expectations of each type of person that are perpetuated. Even when kids get good educations, the system isn't always set up for them to succeed. As a black girl, I was supposed to do as I was told and keep my mouth shut except when spoken to. That didn't usually happen.
Even though I was a smart kid in school, it took a while before some of my teachers would take me seriously. I remember distinctly in 1st grade that my teacher would NEVER call on me even when I was the only one with my hand raised. I finally told my parents about it and I'm not sure what happened, but after that, she called on me all the time. I may never know what changed her mind about me, and I don't think I want to know, but I'm glad she did.
Sorry I went off on a tangent. Anybody else have something coherent to say about institutionalized racism?
Oh, well, thank you. And thank you for putting up with my 16 year old self; I was a little crazy, if you didn't notice at the time...
The judicial system worries me (there's understatement for you.) Like you said, same laws, same system, theoretically equal, but longer sentences and more death sentences for black men. That's actually part of what flipped me on the death penalty; until we can apply it fairly, what are we doing?