Pro/con: Is Un-Fair Campaign unfairly targeting only white people?No: Racial prejudice is experienced by all races
By: Sheryl Boman and Jane Gilley, for the News Tribune
We are writing to respond to accusations of reverse racism that have been leveled at the Un-Fair Campaign and its message that, “It’s hard to see racism when you are white.” Some critics claim whites are being singled out as the only race that has trouble seeing racism, and that this constitutes reverse racism.
We believe definitions are important and at the root of our differing perspectives.
Our perspective is that racial prejudice is experienced by individuals of all races. Racial prejudice occurs when an individual of one race hates, fears or is bigoted against people of a different race. An individual white person can certainly experience racial prejudice (hate, fear or bigotry) from a person of another race. However, we wouldn’t consider this “racism” or “reverse racism” because it is between individuals. Racism, in our perspective, is not something experienced by or between individuals.
Racism is perpetrated by institutions and systems. It requires that one group of people have the power to control resources, laws and institutions (the “systems”) in society to their advantage. As a result, this dominant group experiences privileges. For the other groups in society, who do not have this kind of power, their experience is one of disadvantage. They receive unequal opportunity or treatment.
Although the accusation of “reverse racism” talks about the white race as a group being unfairly singled out, we don’t see this as racism. Again, as individuals, we all have the capacity for racial prejudice. However, from our perspective, whites are the dominant group and the only group with the power to control our society’s systems for their own advantage. Other racial groups have no power or capacity in our society to impose a “reverse racism” on white people.
Our personal experience as white people tells us that being in the dominant group is what makes it hard to see racism. That’s why we with the Un-Fair Campaign used the words we did on the billboards and elsewhere. Growing up in our culture means the white experience is what is defined as normal; if you are white, your own distinct racial experience can be almost invisible and entirely outside your personal awareness. Without anything to prompt it, you just don’t think about race.
Most of our K-12 educational systems do not help us see it; rather they perpetuate the perception that the white experience is universal. The history often taught is predominately from the white perspective rather than from the reality of our shared history. Schools do not provide the various racial groups with a common language with which to discuss race and racism as it operates in our culture and impacts us all. Unless and until you have some experience to help you begin to see the white experience as distinct and privileged, you are more likely than not to be blind to the many forms of oppression and inequality that exist in our society.
The Un-Fair Campaign has five goals to help whites in Duluth on their journey to understanding racism: providing opportunities for white people to see white privilege, creating dialogue throughout the community on white privilege, breaking the silence around white privilege and racism, moving white people to accept their role and responsibility for racism, and building a base of white allies to work together with people of color to eliminate individual racial prejudice and institutional racism.
Sheryl Boman and Jane Gilley are members of the Un-Fair Campaign. Gilley has worked more than 30 years for St. Louis County in public health and human services and in planning and evaluation. She’s a past board member of the YWCA, a partner of the campaign. She has completed Cracking the Shell of Whiteness and other training opportunities. Boman is a member of the Duluth Human Rights Commission, also a partner of the campaign, and a past board member for the YWCA. And she is a core trainer with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.