Today’s generation is encountering another Civil Rights movement in regards to equal treatment of African Americans. The “Black Lives Matter” movement is sweeping across the nation and getting world press through protests, marches, speeches, and boycotts. Not too long ago, the world watched the 2016 Superbowl in which Beyonce purposefully choreographed a dance and wore iconic outfits that symbolized the Black Panthers of the 1960s, the words of Black Nationalist pride leader Malcolm X, and the known King of Pop artist Michael Jackson. The “Queen B” received some criticism for her political expression; however, it continues to build awareness for this powerful movement.
This movement started to create waves and awareness in 2013 during the George Zimmerman case with the death of Trayvon Martin and continued to grow with the police brutality of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The Ferguson protests continued to shed light on racial inequality and police discrimination. While the Black Lives Matter movement was circulating around the country, the social networking sites were exploding with comments. I read comments from various people criticizing the movement for they felt as if their nationality/race didn’t matter as to suggest that only Black Lives matter, not Hispanics, Asians, Middle Easterners, or Whites. In all truth, I was shocked to hear this type of rhetoric because I felt that a handful of people, especially White people, were missing the message.
Now, let me begin by stating that I am White person. My family’s background is a melting pot of European descent as I have Norwegian, German, Swedish, French, and English ancestry. That being said, I am familiar with all of the White people responses when discussing a topic featuring racism. However, in my own studies of ancient, medieval, and modern-day history, I have found that today’s Americans cannot be racist towards White people. Now, I am speaking as an American in today’s context, not the context of the past. And how I arrived at this decision was through a series of discussions, textbook readings, and self-reflections.
In the words of Webster’s dictionary, racism is defined as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” Or for a more simple definition, ” the belief that some races of people are better than others.” Now, if we examine the past, particularly at America’s beginnings on the east coast, we see that many of explorers and settlers were of European decent: Spanish, English, Dutch, and French. These settlers retained their heritage and at times followed the traditions and customs of many Europeans back home, such as conquest. For these groups claiming and settling on pieces of land, they were not concerned about the other’s skin color, but mostly whether or not they were of the same race. As defined in Webster’s dictionary, race is “a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock” or in other words, “a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics.”Race does not necessarily mean skin color but rather shared interests such as being French, Spanish, English, Germans, Swedes, or Dutch. To these explorers and settlers, if you were not from their country, you were a threat and would either be eliminated or conquered. We see this with all of these European conquerors who invaded Native American lands and claimed the land for their country. We also see the violence among other European groups. The Spanish massacring the French Protestants at Fort Caroline, FL in 1564. The Dutch colony of New Netherland (near Hudson River Valley) attacking the Swedish colony of New Sweden (near Delaware) in 1655. The English taking over the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in 1664. Overtime, the English colonies grew in which they allowed people of other ethnicities and races to live in their conquered regions as long as they submitted to English rule, such as the Quakers, Germans, French, Dutch, Jews, Scots-Irish. In time, we see an American Identity begin to emerge in which a group known as the Patriots felt that they have a right to break with Great Britain and create their own nation.
Even after the American Revolutionary War, many Americans retained their cultural heritage; however, the sense of nationalistic pride that was festering in Europe began to trickle over into North America. We cannot deny that even with nationalistic tendencies, there were many groups that were being discriminated against because of their heritage and racial backgrounds. To many, the Irish come to mind when discussing racial prejudices against White people. The Irish flooded the United States in the 1840s and when they arrived, many were uneducated. Many Irish went to New York for work but with an ever-emerging city, the Irish were in competition to “natives” (or native-born Americans) which resulted in such hated and violence for the Irish.
Now, there is a sufficient evidence to see how racism has been prevelent throughout the United States since its very founding. We can also see how White people have been racist towards White people as race is defined by “a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics.” But I argue that the term “race” took on a new meaning after the American Civil War. We are all aware that many African-Americans were slaves in the southern states and territories. The events leading up to the Civil War were racially motivated as the Southerners wanted to keep their slaves to turn a profit and many Northerners did not want to compete for their jobs against enslaved people. Economically, socially, and politically the issue regarding slavery was racially incentivized. Once the Civil War was over many members of the South wanted to assert their racial dominance and created the KKK (Ku Klux Klan). The KKK were known to bully, harass, destroy African Americans homes, property, belongings, businesses, and even lives. Now, it is of my opinion that from this moment till today, America’s definition of race became warped and wrote out its own new meaning. The new meaning of race could be identified as having “genetic variations that create different physical appearances, such as variations in skin color.” Again, this is of my opinion in which, as we begin to see more racist incentivized behavior towards people who are not of the same skin color in timeline leading up to today. Looking at immigration charts, until the 1890s many of the immigrants came from northern and western Europe. In the 1900s, many immigrants from China, Mexico, and Eastern Europeans were coming into the United States. Perhaps, it could be understood that many White people were less concerned about racial differences among Whites but more concerned about racial differences among non-Whites.
I watched a movie recently entitled, “Dear White People” in which one of the main characters makes an argument saying, “Black people can’t be racist. Prejudice yes. But not racist. Racism describes a system of people being disadvantaged based on race. Black people can’t be racist since we don’t stand to benefit from that system.” I probably watched that scene at least three more times, taking in what the character had to say. And as I pondered this character’s thoughts and connected it to the history books, I find this quote to be true. To my understanding, racism in a economical, social, and political realm does produce a hierarchy in which society clearly sees which racial group absorbs all of the benefits. In many cases, White people have far greater benefits than any other ethnicity when looking at the workforce, educational advancement, political influence, and social mobility. I followed the Bundy brothers and their anti-government organization take over of the federal building in Oregon this past January. I read how this armed militia took over the Wildlife Refuge and held onto this area for days. In the end, people were arrested and one was killed in a shootout. This situation would have been drastically different if the Wildlife Refuge was overtaken by Black people or anyone else who was not White. In a situation like this (and many others), White people do not have much to lose in a system that White Americans have created. Yes, many White Americans can lose their jobs, position, family, and lives; however, on a larger scale they have more to benefit. In fact, I am not saying that that White people cannot be discriminated against or face injustices as clearly they can; but racism as defined by America’s current definition…no.
My boyfriend has Dominican-Republican heritage. To many on the west coast, he looks Black as many of his features have similar looks to a West African ancestry. Only when he identifies himself by his name is it apparent that he is Hispanic. We once had a conversation about traveling around the United States. As a child, my family frequently drove from state to state exploring the major cities and enjoying the sites. When discussing our next vacation, my boyfriend was quick to say where he did not want to visit and expressed a strong notion that he wouldn’t ever want to live there as well. Many of the places he expressed were located in the southern part of the United States. Before him, I had never considered parts of the United States unsafe or unwelcoming, especially since I have traveled there myself. But, hearing his stories and concerns created a more vivid, racial picture of how segregated and disadvantaged he would be in traveling to some parts of the country. With all of this said, I can see how torn and divided our country is over race and how there are major disadvantages between racial groups. As a result, my question of can people be racist towards Whites? My conclusion is that they can’t.