What beliefs keep racism in play?
This blog was first featured as an article in our zine. It outlines some reflections on the different forms racism takes and what this means for how we measure it. You can download the zine for free here.
Why are we still here? Talking about racism again and discussing how it is still prevalent in today’s society. Here is a tongue-in-cheek view about what beliefs keep us very wedded to a society where racism is normalised and reproduced.
1. IT’S A FEW BAD APPLES
This relates to the perceptions that racism is based on the negative behaviour of a few individuals, that Britain has overcome the worst effects of racism, and we are now living in a post-racial society. Consequently, racism is seen as individual transgressions and the actions of a few ‘bad apples’.
2. IT’S NOT OUR PROBLEM, THIS IS NOT A RACIST COUNTRY
Despite a plethora of reports that name systemic racism (racism in the fabric of our society and institutions) as an issue that we need to address, we refuse to recognise the continued legacy of racism across our society. Instead, we offer analysis on racial disparity which is attributed to individual factors such as personal choice, parenting, aspiration, socio-economic status, or cultural difference. This belief fundamentally misunderstands and intentionally ignores the system of white supremacy, racial hierarchy, and white privilege. Those who subscribe to this belief argue that racism is not widespread or deeply embedded in society, and as a result efforts to address it through systemic change are unnecessary and misplaced. This perspective often refutes the role of history and the legacy of colonialism and Empire in shaping current inequalities.
3. YOU CAN GET IT IF YOU REALLY WANT IT
We live in a meritocracy, where hard work and efforts to succeed are rewarded fairly. These beliefs are reinforced by the high profile success of some Black and minority ethnic (BME) individuals across our society – and often referred to as the ‘Barack Obama effect’ or the ‘Unicorn effect’. Opportunity is seen as open to all and achievable if you just 'put your mind to it'. This ignores structural impediments and the role that class, and opportunity play in our society. Most worryingly, it positions so-called 'under-achievers' as lacking in motivation and capability.
4. STICKS AND STONES
People often describe racism as the behaviour of football hooligans uttering the worst obscenities, or as blatant displays of racial violence and hate. Many social media platforms, have also become synonymous with racist slurs. Although many of us are outraged by these comments, this type of behaviour is often positioned as ‘less hurtful’ and therefore, reactions to it are often dismissed as being too sensitive or ‘woke’. It is harder to name and identify unconscious processes or even covert discrimination as being drivers of this behaviour. These verbal misdemeanours are often referred to as micro-incivilities – but there is nothing micro about the beliefs that they expose, nor their impact on racialised minorities in our society.
5. IT'S NATURAL TO HATE
Our world history can be read as an atrocity of aggression between many different nations. Global Majority Nations are not free of hate or aggression against others – including towards groups who ‘look’ similar to them. This point is often used to dilute the history of racism. Although we all have it in us to hate - the historical manufacturing of ‘race’ and deliberate re-creation of racism in the here and now, goes beyond the idea of human likes and dislikes. Racial hierarchy is based on an unnatural and deliberately manufactured set of ideas, established to position the superiority of white people and the inferiority of the global majority for the purposes of colonisation, exploitation, and enslavement.
6. SEE NO EVIL, HEAR NO EVIL
It is important to understand the different ways we experience the world and what we value and count as knowledge. Since those who are in power, often see and experience the world through the lens of whiteness, it can be hard to convince them that another worldview and set of experiences exist, or even that what they express is a selective view. This builds on the idea that it is reasonable to ask for proof that racism exists – but hard (in many cases impossible) to provide evidence that is widely accepted, understood, or deemed relevant. This results in the continued exploration of whether racism exists, and the commission of numerous reports to repeatedly prove its existence.
7. IT IS WHAT IT IS
Racism is all we know. It is hard to imagine a world that has been free of it. As such we are wedded to the status quo and the benefits that this delivers. We find it hard to acknowledge disruption and too easily forget that we are where we are now because things have changed. Disrupting the status quo and convincing people that ‘racism is afoot’- is an ongoing challenge. White society benefits from the status quo – and as a consequence is invested in holding onto the beliefs that maintain it. This positions racism as permanent and unavoidable. We often question whether we doing too much on racism – what about the other issues in our society? We have managed to implement fundamental changes throughout our society, yet we have not addressed something as stupid as the invented beliefs we have about race. This does not bode well for the future of both ‘Black’ and White people in our society.