How does racism hurt white people?

Question: How does racism hurt white people?

Answers:

  1. Racism sharply reduces white people’s chance opportunities in life to acquire new knowledge or new perspectives from intelligent or wise people.*
  2. Racism causes white people to overestimate their abilities and to underestimate their own weaknesses. It prevents them from knowing themselves and stunts their personal growth.
  3. Racism reduces white people’s chances of receiving help from others in times of desperation.
  4. Racism compromises white people’s physical safety.**
  5. Racism prevents white people from empathizing with and understanding human beings.

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Anti-racism is not human relations programming.

White people often associate antiracism training with learning about and respecting the differences between white and non-white cultures, between Western culture and non-Western cultures. The goal behind this “cultural sensitivity” training is to ensure that white people do not unintentionally offend people of colour. I will refer to this type of training as human relations programming.

Essentially, for whites, the purpose of human relations programming is to minimize the possibility that people of colour would file a racial discrimination complaint against the company, or on the societal level, its purpose is to prevent a racial revolt or “race war”. Sometimes, a white person who feels guilty about racism attempts to be antiracist by being extra-nice to people of colour. In other cases, a white person who realizes that she did something racist to a person of colour will try to ameliorate the transgression by, again, being extra-nice. If the white person and the person of colour become on friendly terms, the white person may perceive that her racial transgression has been forgiven. If the white person believes that her racial transgression has been forgiven, it usually relieves her of her guilt and restores her self-identity as a “good person”.

However, the problem with this model is that racism is more than cultural misunderstandings between whites and non-whites; racism is more than just acts that offend people of colour. Racism is inequality, inequity, and injustice that are built into our society which values whites over non-whites. Racism is not “subjective”; it is “objective”. That is, racism is not perception; it is reality. There are real inconsistencies between how society treats whites and non-whites, and these inconsistencies are due to conscious and unconscious in-group/out-group categorization.

Racism is not just about personal relationship problems between white and non-white individuals due to racial differences. Racism is systemic. The problem is not difference; it is inequality. The solution to the problem is not to accept differences; the solution to the problem is to eliminate inequality.

White people use human relations programming to protect themselves from racial anger.

Some white people’s focus on and preoccupation with human relations programming appears to indicate a deep-seated, subconscious fear of an oncoming “race war”, in which people of colour will eventually revolt violently in response to centuries of white oppression. For white people who conflate antiracism with human relations programming, the worst outcome of systemic racial oppression is racial violence. In other words, white people who focus on human relations programming are concerned (subconsciously) with their own safety as a racial group, and their goal is to maintain social order. The current social order, of course, is the status quo that upholds white supremacy. Thus, to focus on human relations programming is to protect the white supremacist system from being overthrown, to placate people of colour with kind words and prevent them from rebelling.

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How Whites benefit from fighting White privilege #1: Self-Esteem

A White person may benefit from fighting White privilege, because if she accepts the existence of White privilege, she will develop a healthier self-esteem.

High self-esteem is not always healthy self-esteem.

High self-esteem is not the same thing as healthy self-esteem, according to psychology research from the University of Georgia. Those with “fragile” high self-esteem are more likely to be verbally defensive compared to those with “secure” high self-esteem.

According to the news release, people with fragile high self-esteem:

  • compensate for their self-doubts by engaging in exaggerated tendencies to defend, protect and enhance their feelings of self-worth
  • are verbally defensive; they lash out at others when their opinions, beliefs, statements or values are threatened
  • feel that potential threats are more threatening and work harder to counteract these threats

This behaviour differs from individuals with “secure” high self-esteem:

On the other hand, individuals with secure high self-esteem appear to accept themselves “warts and all,” and, feeling less threatened, they are less likely to be defensive by blaming others or providing excuses when they speak about past transgressions or threatening experiences.

One reason the study’s findings are important, Kernis said, is that it shows that greater verbal defensiveness relates to lower psychological well-being and life satisfaction.

What does this have to do with Whites and White privilege?

Defensive Whites have a fragile high racial self-esteem.

The study is not about race, but the idea of distinguishing between “secure” high self-esteem and “fragile” high self-esteem can be applied to Whites’ view of themselves. Whites with secure high racial self-esteem can accept themselves “warts and all” and can accept that society confers privilege on them due to their skin colour, while Whites with fragile high racial self-esteem will “lash out” at the mere possibility that our society is not a meritocracy.

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