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Judith Ellis Headshot

Understanding Racism

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The burden of the minority to explain to the majority the system under which power has been exercised to denigrate, humiliate and confiscate their very right to exist alongside others equally is most certainly not merely a thing of the past. While we have advanced in many ways, if we consider our justice system, prison system, educational system, and work environments, despite a black president -- as if his presence alone can change centuries of institutionalized racism or the hearts of many -- it will become evident that we still have a long ways yet to go.

Since the Zimmerman verdict, I have been trying to explain to mostly white Facebook friends that racism is not simply about calling someone out of their name or speaking despairingly about another. That is prejudice, something that we all need to work through. Racism is a systemic and systematic structure of oppression upon a race by another that provides privilege exercised through means of power. Where this does not exist, neither does racism to alter the means by which the race of one holds unjust privilege over another.

A white Facebook friend wrote this post yesterday evening that she is "sick of racists of all colors and creeds" to which another sought to bolster with this definition:

racism [rey-siz-uhm]

noun

1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.

2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.

3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

The definition was followed up with this comment: "Based on the third definition, anyone can experience racism." My response: "Based on the third definition, the person who experiences 'racism' should simply exclaim, 'sticks and stone may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.'" If calling me a nigger was not institutionalized systemically and systematically in ways that disavowed my humanity, the name nigger itself would have been meaningless and powerless to harm me.