The institutions that govern American society all began during a time of racial and social inequality. Black people were seen as property to be exploited and subdued in order to support the economic systems that influenced White American prosperity. The Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the Civil Rights legislation of the second half of the 20th Century only made it illegal to enslave Black people and deny them personal freedom, but these pieces of paper did not inform the general public on matters of deep-seated hatred or the dichotomy of inferiority and superiority that exist within the hearts of most Americans and is passed down from generation to generation.
The passage of these laws were not followed up with a nationwide effort to reframe how Black people were perceived. In fact, after years of social conditioning enacted by the media and mainstream power brokers to perpetuate the belief that Black people were inferior and dangerous, general American society accepted this image of Black Americans and even some Black Americans view themselves as inferior to White Americans because of this conditioning.
“Racism is deeply embedded…”
Racism is deeply embedded into American culture and just a few Black history classes or guest speakers talking about White privilege cannot undo what is systemic because the people who lead and operate within such biased systems perpetuate racist behaviors unknowingly. The majority of people given the label, “racist” have a hard time accepting and owning that word because they don’t see their actions as promoting hatred, discrimination, or oppression on the basis of race. What they don’t understand is that racism isn’t just a slur or the burning of a cross on a lawn.
Racism is the deeply held belief that the power, wealth and opportunities for advancement in this country are only reserved, and should only be reserved, for White people. When an educated Black person is seen as the exception, when Black beauty is defined as exotic, and a group of Black men are met with suspicion, it is only because the very definition of Black is perceived to be a direct contradiction to people who hold White as the standard for what is normal.
“…we must cultivate a shared awareness of these dynamics…”
Unless there is an intentional effort to analyze the dynamics of the institutions that govern our society through lenses informed by the awareness of America’s racialized history, these same institutions and everyone within them will only continue to perpetuate racial and social inequality. For the health of our country and the longevity of our society, we must cultivate a shared awareness of these dynamics and form a new way of being in relationship together that advances Black Americans so that the playing field becomes more leveled.
There is an entire group of people who—regardless of their socio-economic status—have no idea that the average Black American is socially oppressed. Although it’s been nearly 150 years since Black Americans were enslaved, there has been no intentional effort in this country to make sure that every Black person has the same access to education, housing, and personal security as White people. Black people were set free but were not given the same tools as their White counterparts, and for those of us who continue to be the exception, we just want to be normal.
“…we just want to be normal.”
In order for a system to change, it must be intentional. Racism can only be eradicated when racist systems turn inside out, leaders risk being uncomfortable, and every person within the system commits to this work of building newly informed relationships across communities of difference for the long haul. These things cannot change overnight. If the systems in this country perpetuated racist ideologies for nearly 400 years, it will take at least that long for us to undo the harm that such thinking caused in order to redesign the lenses through which we see one another.
There’s still a long way to go, but I believe we can work together to bring about a more equitable and just environment for us all. We owe as much to our ancestors who built our institutions and our own children who will inherit the history we give to them.