The white community's first racial victim is its own child.
These days, fewer and fewer white people think that non-white people suffer much racism at all anymore. They often think as well that if and when racism does happen to non-white people, it's a mere, temporary annoyance, and not the major set of hindrances it often is instead. And so, white people rarely consider the racism endured by non-white people worthy of much attention at all.
The "racism" that most white people attend to instead is that which they think they themselves suffer. They commonly call their grievances of this sort "reverse racism" -- the supposed slings and arrows flung at white people by affirmative action, for instance, or by the "real racists" who insist on keeping the idea of racism alive by "crying" about it so much.
What very few white people realize, beyond the fact that racism against non-whites remains insidiously pervasive, is that white racism has costs for white people -- a lot of them. But these costs of racism are not the ones that many white people think they suffer.
In his book Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice, Paul Kivel writes that while "racism does produce material benefits for white people . . . the costs of racism to white people are devastating":
They are not the same costs as the day-to-day violence, discrimination, and harassment that people of color have to deal with. Nevertheless, they are significant costs that we have been trained to ignore, deny, or rationalize away. They are costs that other white people, particularly those with wealth, make us pay in our daily lives. It is sobering for us as white people to talk together about what it really costs to maintain such a system of division and exploitation in our society. We may even find it difficult to recognize some of the core costs of being white in our society.
Here's a summary of the costs of racism that Kivel says white people commonly suffer.
Kivel points out that because of racism, white people tend to:
- lose contact with our ancestral traditions and cultures (and often romanticize other cultures as a result)
- receive and believe a false sense of history, one that glorifies and sanitizes white actions and leaves out non-white contributions
- "lose the presence and contributions of people of color to our neighborhoods, schools, and relationships"
- feel "a false sense of superiority, a belief that we should be in control and in authority, and that people of color should be maids, servants, and gardeners and do the less valued work of our society"
- live, work, and play in settings that are largely white, and are thus "distorted, limited, and less rich" environments
- suffer in our relationships, with both white and non-white others, because of racial tension and/or bigotry
- suffer stress and anxiety induced by unrealistic fears of non-white people (and suffer at times as well from injury at the hands of certain white people, whom we'd been led by racist fear of non-white people into perceiving as relatively trustworthy)
- fail to see that we're being economically exploited by those who divert our aggrieved attention and energies into mistrust and hatred of racialized scapegoats
- suffer spiritually, to the extent that we've lost touch with our people's original spiritual traditions -- and thus suffer morally and ethically, to the extent that those traditions no longer encourage us to intervene when we "witness situations of discrimination and harassment"
- feel a lowered sense of self-esteem, due to our "feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, or inadequacy about racism and about our responses to it"
- become cynical, despairing, apathetic, and pessimistic when we do acknowledge the ongoing existence of white racism, and then realize that it "makes a mockery of our ideals of democracy, justice, and equality"
Again, as Kivel points out, to say that whites suffer from racism is not to say their suffering is anywhere near the devastating effects that it still has for many non-whites. Also, there is at least one danger in this method of eradicating racism: it could be taken by white people engaged in discussions of racism as an invitation to make everything all about themselves again.
What do you think? Is it worthwhile to encourage white people to also think of white racism in terms of the harm that it does to themselves and other white people?
If you have additions to the above list, please let us know in a comment -- are there other ways that white racism costs or harms white people?
After offering an extensive checklist that white people can use to examine the costs of racism to themselves and other white people they know, Kivel ends his chapter on the topic this way:
Realizing what those costs are can easily make us angry. If we are not careful, we can turn that anger toward people of color, blaming them for the problems of white racism. Sometimes we say things like, “If they weren’t here we would not have these problems.” But racism is caused by white people, by our attitudes, behaviors, practices, and institutions.
How is it that white people in general can justify retaining the benefits of being white without taking responsibility for perpetuating racism?
How do you justify it for yourself?