In the last 18 months, conversations about race, racism, and critical race theory have intensified in frequency. The murder of George Floyd sparked a global shift. Communities of color, and Black people specifically, have been the focus of these discussions in nearly every industry. There used to be a time when diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practitioners who discussed white supremacy, systemic racism, and anti-blackness were labeled as radical. Now these same topics are being requested by organizations and institutions. With increased conversations comes a persistent question: why does everything have to be about race? Racially marginalized people who bring up the topic of racism are often labeled as too sensitive, too divisive or playing the “race card.”
So why must we make everything about race? Well, for one, race affects every aspect of our lives. Racialized communities are more likely to live in food desserts, polluted areas, and have lower-quality healthcare. What neighborhood you live in and what school your child goes to are influenced by race. K-12 schools, for example, with higher populations of Black and Latino students are more likely to be underfunded. Race impacts likelihood to be stopped by police, graduation rates, salary, and opportunities. Racism is embedded into every facet and crevice of America. Rather than questioning why racialized individuals “make everything about race,” we should instead be interrogating how these gross inequities are able to continue.
Adopting an “I don’t see color” or “all lives matter” mindset erases the difficulties and challenges that different communities have had to face. When trying to understand which communities experience the harshest forms of subjugation, Isabel Wilkerson provides many insights that should be considered. The Pulitzer prize-winning writer argues in her New York Times best-selling book Caste that Black Americans have been the most marginalized group throughout the nation’s history. The impacts of slavery are still being felt in a myriad of ways for descendants of enslaved people. Contrary to what some may believe, calling attention to the unique challenges that a group has experienced is not divisive but is a necessary step towards racial reconciliation and healing.
Throughout global history, the darkest skinned communities have experienced the harshest forms of marginalization and oppression; it’s not just an American phenomenon. One can look no further than the treatment within different sub-cultures and ethnic groups. Within Indian culture for example, the most marginalized in the racial caste system are the Dalits, who tend to be the darkest-complexioned group within society. There is a long history of skin color being used to determine social class and status within India—skin color and shade plays a crucial role in which caste a person will be subjected to. Another ethnic group that experiences oppression is the Siddi people. Siddis are an ethnic group of African descent mainly found in India and Pakistan. Siddis continue to experience racism and rejection within India. One community that is no stranger to subjugation is Afro-Palestinians. Though Afro-Palestinians played an instrumental role in the Palestinian resistance movement, many continue to experience “double racism” for having darker skin and being Palestinian. A final example of note is in Latin America, where the most pervasive racism and colorism is felt by the Black Latin Americans. Within any non-homogeneous culture you examine, those with the darkest skin experience the most severe forms of injustice and oppression.
Conversations about race and racism must continue. There is a lack of understanding regarding how marginalized individuals continue and perpetuate oppression. An example of this occurred recently, when former U.S. Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice stated that teaching children about the history of racism in America was somehow making “white kids feel bad for being white.” Modifying the way that history is taught so as to coddle white feelings, absolve guilt, and mitigate shame continues a worldwide practice of prioritizing and centering whiteness. Prior to 18 months ago, people in the U.S. weren’t even being taught the full history of oppression and racial marginalization. The fact that 18 months of conversation is causing so much fragility is a sign that more conversations are actually needed. The avoidant strategy that we’ve been utilizing for the past few centuries hasn’t worked out so well. When people from racially marginalized backgrounds are dismissive of the impacts of systemic racism, it furthers white supremacy. Personal feelings, experiences, and anecdotes do not negate the wealth of data that confirms the persistence and pervasiveness of systemic racism. Rice presents a clear example for why more conversations about race and its impacts are necessary to continue. Acknowledging how history has shaped the experiences of different groups is imperative. There is no way to heal or move past these transgressions without a) studying what has happened and b) identifying the role that systems and structures play in continuing racism. They say those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Sweeping a nation’s history under the rug is guaranteed to cause the same issues to re-emerge.
There has been a concerted effort to stifle, silence, and distort history. Hundreds of years have been spent running from conversations about race within society. The global backlash against critical race theory and the efforts being made to ban conversations about race are evidence of this. History books often neglect these conversations; this erasure is a common theme for marginalized communities. There is an attempt by the powers that be to rewrite these histories to release us of the guilt that is felt when reflecting on these gross atrocities. This revisionist history coddles us into the comfortability that leads to our complacency, then we fall back into our sweet slumber. Ignoring the fundamental role that race plays in each of our lives will not lead to any progress; we will, as a country, and as a world, continue to stay stagnant if we keep neglecting the role it plays within our systems and structures. Without conversations, recognition, and acknowledgement, no interventions can be created to interrupt and mitigate these oppressive structures, and communities will continue to experience harm. We must understand that racism harms us all. “Making everything about race” is necessary until we reach a point where we have reckoned with our racism. Until then, we will remain at an impasse that will prevent our society’s evolution.
by Janice Gassam Asare
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