Racism is not a topic for debate

We must accept the reality of systemic racism so that we can begin to address it

Chloe Guillot, Guest Writer

Illustration by Micky Flores-Nieves

It is difficult to conceive that almost 250 years after the words “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” were written unironically by a slaveowner; after centuries of genocide, slavery, internment camps and segregation were perpetuated on the foundations of this American ideology, people are still using those words as proof that systemic racism in America is impossible.

Systemic racism is a form of racism that is expressed in the foundations of the American system, affecting every aspect of life from economics to public perception. In her book “Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria”, Beverly Tatum refers to this concept of wide-reaching racial prejudice as a “racial smog;” even though it’s polluted, we cannot help but breathe it in because it is the only air we have.

Some people will argue that this smog does not exist, mainly white Americans. They will say that discrimination against BIPOC is the result of individual actions that exist in a vacuum. Many claim that any demographic that fails to succeed is simply not working hard enough. Opponents preach a bootstrap mentality that ignores that fact that they had their boots passed down to them through generational wealth and power. They use statistics that support their cause, quote slave owners who could not be bothered to look a Black man in the eye, and tell people to stop complaining about biased institutions and structures.

But what lies at the heart of this denial of systemic racism for white people is not always malice or prejudice, though it can be. Sometimes it is simply an unconscious fear. Fear that those very institutions that have always benefited them will no longer be reliable, fear that the power and position that they have always been afforded will be questioned, and fear that the foundation of hardwork and individualism that they have attributed their success to will be exposed as fraudulent.

In his letter “My Dungeon Shook,” James Baldwin writes “the Black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundation.” White people cannot have power without a powerless minority to rule over. As America grows more diverse, white Americans are facing the approaching reality that they will no longer be the majority. For some white people, this change is welcome, and they have come alongside as an ally. But others are mourning the loss of what once was a nation founded on white values and upheld by unquestioned white power, and so they react to any threat to their worldview with hostilty and denial and claim it’s in the name of “national pride.”

Denial of these structures comes in many forms. Statistics are often used as a weapon rather than a tool. Objectors to systemic racism may use data that lump together all BIPOC groups, ignoring the diversity of experience within racial groups. Asians in America have historically been used as a prop by those wishing to prove that BIPOC do not face inequality, but even within that demographic, there is no singular experience. For example, people arguing against racial economic inequality may point to the fact that Asian-Americans have one of the highest median incomes, even above whites. But according to Pew Research, the average median household income for Koreans in America is a full $40,000 less than the average for Indian Americans, which skews the statistics. Not to mention that these arguments still fail to acknowledge that the experience of one racial minority group cannot be applied to all others, as Black, Indingeous and Latinx populations all have different experiences with economic inequality based on everything from hiring discrimination to generational wealth.

Arguments against systemic racism that rely on these kinds of cherry-picked statistics from Asian-Americans or other groups, or any statements that hinge on the idea that if one Black person can be successful than any Black person can be successful, don’t hold up when examined for more than a few seconds. It is simply like a waste of time and energy for white Americans to debate the existence of inequality when people of color are being affected by it every day. A Black woman who is denied proper treatment at the hospital or a Mexican man who is overlooked for another job opportunity are not suddenly going to be afforded their “unalienable rights” because somebody decides their experiences are nothing more than a fluke in a system that was designed by their oppressors.

Those who must face the reality of systemic racism in every breath that they take and step that they walk should not need to throw around facts and figures to prove their oppression to white people. The fact that the struggles of BIPOC communities are often treated as a topic for debate instead of a problem to be solved is proof enough that America is still a fundamentally racist country, and it will continue to be until we face our history with honesty and address the present with intention. Ignoring this reality is not going to make it go away, and now more than ever, we need white Americans and others to join in this fight to topple these longstanding institutions of injustice.

White fear of a changing world can no longer control our national narrative. It is time to stop arguing over the reality of systemic racism and actually get to work addressing it. White people must come to realize that a society cannot progress while half of its citizens are still trying to catch up, and debating the existence of where everyone is on the racetrack is not going to get anyone to the finish line.