Every once in a while I read about a phenomenon which is described as the “new” racism. That sends my thoughts racing, trying to figure out what is “new” about the action being described. Soon my thoughts go in two contrary directions: one direction tells me that there is no such thing as a “new” racism, and the other acknowledges that maybe there is.
My first thoughts are skeptical about any “new” form of racism, because my reading of history indicates so many forms that have already been given to racism that it is hard to imagine that there can be anything “new.” If people think there is a “new” form of racism, that may be a measure of what they do not know about the old forms.
Then my thoughts go in the other direction, affirming the possibility of some “new” forms of racism. The very fact that our society has been so creative and innovative in perpetuating racism, leads me to expect some “new” forms today.
These two sets of contradictory thoughts, led me to list some of the major forms which racism has taken; not surprisingly, it went for several pages of penciled notes. What follows here is a categorizing of things which appeared on my list. There is no particular order, and it certainly isn’t exhaustive; every glance at it reminds me of other forms of racism which ought to be added. Read it, and then judge if there is anything “new” about racism today.
– Racism has consistently offended the personhood of people of color: name-stripping, slurs, jokes, stares, destroying self-respect, creating expectations of limited ability.
– There has been physical violence in many forms: rape, castration, beatings, lynchings, bombing churches and homes and organizations, shoving dung into the mouths of children, stoning buses in which children ride.
– Psychological violence to people of color has resulted in internalized oppression taking many devastating forms-words such as “sudden-death syndrome,” “survivor guilt,” and “post-traumatic stress” remind us of these phenomena.
– We passed laws to define an “inferior” place for people of color: colonial laws and judicial systems did it before we were a nation; we wrote it into our original founding Constitution, and created legal precedents to give it continuing credence.
– The denial of the right to vote has been another form racism has taken. Once the right was granted, we subverted it through literacy tests, “grandfather clauses,” poll taxes, gerrymandering, controlling places of polling, and other manipulative devices.
– Our criminal justice system is tilted against people of color and all poor people from the arrest, arraignment, bail, charges, defense, jury selection, all the way through the system and, most notably, to the death penalty.
– We created testing procedures in education and job recruitment loaded with cultural and racial bias.
– We developed segregated facilities early in our history and then, when “separate but equal” became the law, we found ways to make sure “separate” was not “equal.”
– Our art and cultural standards of beauty have been defined by European, white standards, which eliminated people of color and the contributions of their cultures from serious consideration.
– The movement and mobility of people of color has been regulated to meet governmental or corporate interests-note the frequent relocation of Native peoples, and the 1942 internment of Japanese Americans.
– Immigration laws and policies have been passed, annulled, revoked, and subverted to the disadvantage of people of color to suit the labor needs of white employers and white laborers.
– For decades unemployment figures have been approximately twice as high among people of color as among whites. Slavery, sharecropperism, denial of job opportunities, low wages, “last hired, first fired,” are all words which point to forms of racism manipulating labor.
– Restricting interracial marriage has been a form of racism.
– N. Medical experimentation has been a sordid part of our racist history, remember the Tuskegee experiment?
– In education we have developed both formal and informal tracking systems which have served to channel a disproportionate number of students of color away from higher education.
– Spying, phone tapping, room bugging, infiltration into organizations of color have been ways to co-op, undermine, and divide communities of color for racist ends.
– Complex systems intersecting housing, job opportunities, tax structures, transportation, and school aid formulas have often created options more limited for people of color than for whites.
– Our maps have projected a northern hemisphere (largely white) of distorted largeness as compared to the southern hemisphere populated mostly by people of color.
– Pseudo-sciences such as phrenology and physiognomy have given support to racist views.
– Sociological studies, psychological theories, understandings of how people learn have been developed without accounting for different methods, styles, and norms among people of color.
– Systems of communication in radio, TV, movies perpetuate stereotypes and lies about people of color.
So that’s a partial list to begin with. . . I’ve run out of steam! It displays a remarkable ability on the part of our dominant white society to create almost innumerable forms of racism. Maybe that should make us alert for the “new” racism.
So . . . What is new?