Racism: 8 things you need to know

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Ending Racism is a mission that is very dear to my heart. I am a 6 6 tall white man and could easily walk through life never even thinking about it. However, Racism really pisses me off. In the last years, I went through a deep learning process about the topic, that was mainly triggered through being in a long-term relationship with a trans woman of color. During this journey, I learned many things through listening to her experience and reading about the topic.

This fueled my long-term mission to give to as many people as possible their birthright of inner peace, connection to the divine, and to live from its guidance – in order to elevate the worlds-consciousness to such a high level, that human rights violations and exploitation of nature stop as a side effect.

 I personally believe that three things are necessary to move to a racism-free world:

  • More knowledge about the topic
  • A higher level of consciousness 
  • Action 

Through this article, I want to contribute to bringing more knowledge about racism into the world. Let me share the eight most crucial things I learned about racism: 

1. White Privilege

When we got together I did not really know what „White Privilege“ is. 

I have not to spend a lot of time and attention learning about it. Why? Because I did not have to. This is White Privilege in action. White Privilege is about going through the world thinking that everybody goes through the world as you do as a white person. But this is not true. For example:

  • As a white person, I don’t have to be afraid of law enforcement authorities just because of my outer appearance. But people of color (POC) have to. They are more prone to be bothered by the police, border control, and even store detectives. 
  •  As a white person, I don’t have to think that the reason I did not get the job, the promotion, or the flat is my skin color. But POC have to. In Berlin for example a Turkish surname is enough to not even get invited to certain Job Interviews and flat viewings.
  • As a white person, I see myself everywhere in media and advertisements. As a POC you mainly see people who look different than you do.
  • As a white person, I do not get asked where „I really am from“. 
  • As a white person nobody wants to touch my hair.
  • As a white person, I am not prone to be imprisoned more.
  • As a white person for products with the color„skin tone“ fit my actual skin tone.

Besides white privilege, there is also male privilege, straight privilege and many more. Depending on who you are it is important to reflect on all your privileges.

2. What came first: Racism or the international slave trade?

I asked this question a lot of people and they gave the same answer as I did: Racism came first. However, it is the other way round. The transatlantic slave trade was a triangular trade between Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. Europeans went to Africa, bought African slaves from slave traders, shipped them to the Caribbean, exchanged them for local goods such as sugar, cotton, tobacco and rum, shipped those goods back to Europe and made a massive profit selling them.

This went on for many years until the collective guilt reached a threshold. At this threshold, more and more Europeans realized that what they did was not aligned with their Christian values, for example treating all humans equally. The cognitive dissonance between how they saw themselves and what they did got too big to handle.

Did they stop? No. They resolved their guilt by declaring POC as sub-human. They saw themselves as their saviors bringing them culture and humanity. They even thought that they help them through enslaving them – since they clearly can not be responsible for themselves. Through this, they resolved the cognitive dissonance.

3. Slavery in the US did not end – it is just hidden

Most people know that slavery in the US was forbidden after the civil war between the North and the South. But this is false knowledge. After the civil war, POC got imprisoned for everything that white men could come up with. In prison men of color were forced to labor.

This goes on until this day. In the article „The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic disparity in State Prisons“ (2021) Ashley Nellis, Ph. D. writes: „Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at nearly 5 times the rate of white Americans. […] In 12 states, more than half the prison population is Black.“ Global brands such as Victoria’s Secret abuse this by letting their stuff be produced from prisoners. 

This is part of structural racism. Read more about it in point 6.

4. Microaggressions

Even when POC are not imprisoned, they often suffer from what is referred to as „microaggressions.“ In point one „White Privilege“ you can get some ideas of what POC have to endure on a daily basis. Do you think that is not so bad and can be handled? I think the Chinese proverb „dead by one thousand paper-cuts“ shows how small aggressions add up over time …

5. Cultural Appropriation

Colonization is not only about taking other people’s territory. It is also about taking their culture. I am a musician and know a lot about music. This is why I can write about what happened in this department. Fact is: Basically everything we listen to today has its origins in black culture: Blues, Jazz, Rock, R&B, House, Techno, EDM … All of those genres go back to musicians of color.

But: Most of the time white musicians stole their intellectual property and made a fortune with it. Elvis, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and many more  – they all did it. And even worse: They did not refer to where they got it from.  Today most of the so-called electronic musicians have no idea where the roots of what they copy actually are.

This is a very sensitive topic and if you want to dive deeper I can recommend the article by Ruka Hatua-Saar White: https://online.berklee.edu/takenote/cultural-appropriation-in-music/

Cultural Appropriation

6. Structural racism as a resource

This is a tough one to get our heads around. We all benefit from structural racism. Vini Lander (2021) writes: „Structural racism shapes and affects the lives, wellbeing and life chances of people of colour. It normalizes historical, cultural and institutional practices that benefit white people and disadvantage people of colour. […] Structural racism is enforced through institutional systems like seemingly neutral recruitment policies, which lead to the exclusion of people of colour from organisations, positions of power and social prominence. It exists because of white supremacy: A pattern of beliefs, assumptions and behaviours which advance the interests of white people and influences decision-making to maintain their dominance.“

Structural Racism and was consciously created and maintained. This is why colonization and racism are rarely properly taught in schools. This is why POC are paid less than white people. This is why many people never thought about what I am writing about in this article. But: This form of racism is hidden behind institutions and governmental structures and leads to white people thinking that there is no racism in their culture.

Author Tupoka Ogette (2019) calls this „Happy Land“: We are all living in a beautiful land where everybody is treated equally. The States had a President of color. A woman of color such as Oprah Winfrey is hugely successful. Racism can’t be a problem any longer after that, right? Sadly it is. The fucked up thing is: Even if we are aware of it, we still benefit from it. Sure, on a superficial level things seem to move in the right direction: For example, more models of color walk for fashion shows. Companies talk about diversification.

But: The companies behind this are still owned and run by white folks. Similar to greenwashing, where companies such as Mc Donalds sell you a „fair trade image“ without actually being it, many companies and countries try to „diversity wash“ themselves. The more you are aware of this, the more you will discover structural racism in your all-day life.

7. Racism: we can never understand how it feels – so do not compare it with something you have experienced.

I did that at the beginning of my process of learning more about racism. When my girlfriend told me about her experience, I compared it with things I experienced. For example when I moved to Switzerland without speaking the local dialect and got excluded and even bullied because of it. I compared her experience to this. BUT: It is fundamentally different. For example, I did not got treated differently as long as I kept my mouth shut or I could have learned the dialect. For a POC there is no escape. Never compare this to your own experience. George Pransky’s Relationship Handbook was of tremendous help for me.

He writes: „Human connectedness comes in two forms: sympathy and compassion. When we sympathize, we identify with another person’s specific plight. We relate it to a similar event that happened to us and re-experience all the same emotions. When we are compassionate, however, we connect with the general human feeling of the other person. The following example illustrates the difference between these two forms of human contact.

Assume you are listening to a friend whose son just dropped out of high school. Sympathy requires that you recall a time when you experienced a similar hardship. This recollection is bound to bring back the painful feelings that accompanied that event. Now you are both troubled, and you feel distant from the speaker because your attention is on your memories, not on him. Were you to listen to the same story with compassion, you would identify with the general feelings of caring and concern the father feels for his son. You would realize how valuable such caring is.

You would feel close to both father and son. Sympathy is emotionally bankrupting. Even the bittersweet, pleasant experience of watching a soap opera is draining unless you watch it with understanding. Certainly, we all want to feel a connection with others. We don’t want to be turned off to others in their hour of adversity. These feelings of identity and understanding allow us to be appropriately patient with the frailties of others (and ourselves.) Sympathy and commiseration, however, are undesirable forms of human connectedness. Other forms of connectedness exist that work much better.“

8.  Reflect on yourself and find your own barriers

From my experience, every white person has internal barriers when it comes to racism. Getting more aware and understanding is not an easy process. Even if you think „I am not a racist at all and I disgust racism“ – you probably have some blind spots. I certainly did. And a lot of people I talked to. If you get called out on something that reflects racism, do not instantly neglect it.

Don’t say: „I did not mean it like this.“ This just makes it worse. Be open to seeing something new about you and the topic. It is OK to make „mistakes“. Through them, we can get more sensitive and develop ourselves. In this process, it is totally normal that feelings of anger, resentment, fear and sadness are coming up. 

These are just a few points of what I have been learning in the last few years. Racism is a deep topic that needs time and attention to really understand. What do you think about all of this? Do you have personal experiences? Do you know people who are experts in the field I could talk to? I would love to know more!

exit RACISM

Ressources

Nellis, A. (2021). The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic disparity in State Prisons.  https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/color-of-justice-racial-and-ethnic-disparity-in-state-prisons

Lander, V. (2021). Structural racism: what it is and how it works. https://theconversation.com/structural-racism-what-it-is-and-how-it-works-158822

Ogette, T. (2019. exit RACISM: rassismuskritisch denken lernen. Unrast Verlag. Münster. 

Pransky, G. (2017) The Relationship Handbook: A Simple Guide to Satisfying Relationships – Anniversary Edition. Pransky & Associates. La Conner.

White, R. Cultural appropriation in music. https://online.berklee.edu/takenote/cultural-appropriation-in-music/

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