Assumptions (Convictions) About Racism in United States of America

Recently a friend who was writing a doctoral dissertation about racism, asked me to share some of my major assumptions about racism, how it functions, and how to work to eliminate it. My response is what you now have in hand.

Soon it became clear that what I have listed here are more accurately described as convictions to which I have come over the past twenty years. It also became clear that I’d never complete the list satisfactorily; and indeed as soon as this is done I am sure that I will think of more to add, or some more adequate way of restating what is here.

It has to stop somewhere! So here is a basic list, in no particular order of priority. If it helps you to define more clearly some of your assumptions about racism, it will have served its purpose.

– That our nation is founded on a terrible contradiction which on the one hand asserts the equality of people, but on the other hand assumes the superiority of white, propertied males.

– That the above contradiction was written into the laws and many judicial decisions of the colonies before we were a nation, and then into the Constitution.

– That beliefs, values, and norms built on assumptions of white superiority have been thoroughly ingrained into the cultural milieu which governs the way most whites perceive the world, decide, and act in the world.

– That racist ways of perceiving, deciding, and acting are often determinative of policies, procedures, and practices in white-controlled institutions.

– That the intersection of separate institutions and vast systems which are controlled by white people frequently result in disparate negative effects for people of color.

– That racism occurs sometimes by intention and sometimes unintentionally.

– That racism need not be perpetuated by any conspiracy of intention, but simply becomes a result of the ways in which society, institutions, and cultural norms function.

– That racism denies to people of color equal access to goods, services, resources, and power.

– That racism is often internalized with devastating personal results for individual persons of color.

– That the necessity to cope constantly with a racist environment, creates a burden of stress for people of color and drains energy and time which might otherwise be channeled into academic and vocational goals.

– That racism must be actively countered. That racism must be addressed directly as racism, and must be named for what it is … racism.

– That it is important to learn to use the word “racism” as a descriptive word, rather than as a judgment.

– That racist assumptions of white superiority are built on and perpetuate white privilege and power.

– That racism has negative long-range impact on white people.

– That racism encourages white people to believe a lie about their superiority.

– That racism results in the under education of people of color and the mis-education of white people.

– That racism can only be fully understood by examining the dimensions of institutional and systemic white power.

– That racism intersects with sexism, classism, anti-Semitism, and heterosexism, and its relationships to those forms of oppression must be understood in plans to eliminate any of the oppressions.

– That efforts to eradicate racism must be undertaken by whites and people of color in coalition; each group has distinctive roles to play in that combined effort.

– That efforts to overcome racism which are initiated by whites must include intentionally built-in mechanisms of feedback from people of color.

– That the systems which create racism will continue to perpetuate it unless there is an active, intentional effort to stop it.

– That language is a prominent carrier of cultural values and norms, and will actively contribute to racism unless it is continually reviewed for its racist effects.

– That guilt is a common and normal response for many whites when they discover their complicity in a racist system; moving beyond guilt into responsible action for the present and future is essential for white liberation.