This course has made me re-evaluate my preconceptions about race and racism. It caused me to realize my comprehension of racism was incomplete, and what I thought I knew about race incorrect. By employing the sociological imagination I was able to challenge my old beliefs and gain a greater understanding of the social forces at work around me.
Racism has always been taught in a manner that ignores white privilege. We have been taught about the victims of racism, and how it puts them at a disadvantage, but never as something that puts White people at an advantage. From elementary school onwards we are taught that racism is the malicious act of a few “bad apples”. The focus has always been on the victim, while ignoring the true perpetrators; our social institutions. As Peggy McIntosh said, “My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture.” Racism is much more than a few hateful individuals, it is perpetuated by the system as a whole. Despite this, we are not taught to recognize that, we are not taught to examine our privileges or the system that keeps them intact. It becomes a vicious circle. By keeping silent about white privilege, those in power (white people) are able to oppress minority groups to ensure their continued dominance. “It seems to me that obliviousness about white advantage, like obliviousness about male advantage, is kept strongly inculturated in the United States so as tomaintain the myth of meritocracy the myth that democratic choice is equally available to all” (McIntosh 1989).
I always took it for granted that race was a real, tangible concept until I watched that video Race: The Power of an Illusion. It challenged my beliefs and helped me debunk the idea of race as a biological concept. The scientific evidence they provided demonstrating how there are no genes or genetic markers for ‘races’ made me realize how I had been mislead by the popular media, and societal attitudes who are insistent that race is a concrete and genetic. This is why myself and so many others have misconceptions about race. Even though race is a social construction and not real in a biological sense, we have defined it as real. Thus, it still carries enormous weight and has become a very ‘real’ “figment of the collective imagination” (Quist-Adade 89).
I realized that these concepts had real application in my life. My family immigrated from Portugal, and we have held on to many of our traditions. I identify strongly with my cultural heritage and consider myself more Hispanic than white. However, even though I do not identify as white, I too still benefit from white privilege in situations in which others perceive me as white. Thinking about privilege, I realized how, growing up, I had inadvertently internalized white privilege. I used to avoid the sun, because I was terrified of my skin getting darker as other kids used to tease me and tell me I looked ‘Mexican’. Even as a young child I unconsciously realized that when I am seen as white, I am treated better and with more courtesy. This ties in to the theory of race as a social construction. How I consciously identify is irrelevant, my “race” is determined by others’ perceptions of me, and the judgments they then make based upon them.
Race and Racism are interwoven threads, one an illusion, the other a painful reality. Only by confronting their irrationality can we begin to rebuild our societies and cast off the social hierarchies we assign to the concept of race.