In a recent interview, David Leonard argued that white people do not suffer from the structural violence that white supremacy creates. He contends: “As it relates to the criminal justice system, health, economic security, wealth, or education, white people are not hurt by racism.”
I have tremendous respect for David Leonard as a scholar and critic, and have learned a great deal from his writings. Moreover, I greatly appreciate most of what he has to say in this insightful interview, conducted by activist and writer, Suey Park. And, the arguments that racism primarily affects people of color and that whites benefit from structural racism are hard to disagree with.
However, I take issue with the claim that racism does no harm to white people. Racism is a scourge on our society, and white people are part of our society. Moreover, eradicating racism will require a multi-racial coalition. If white people are not hurt by racism, why would they fight against it? It is from this standpoint that I felt compelled to write this piece on racism and white America. Once we see the harm that racism causes all people in our society, it will be easier to form multi-racial coalitions to eliminate racism.
What is Racism and How Does It Affect Us?
Racism refers to both (1) the belief that races exist and some are better than others, and (2) the practice of subordinating races believed to be inferior. For example, an employer can think African Americans are less competent than whites – this belief constitutes racial prejudice. When that employer decides to hire a white person instead of an equally qualified black person, that decision may be considered racial discrimination.
Both racial prejudice and discrimination are widespread.
In one study, sociologist Joe Feagin found that three-quarters of whites agreed with prejudicial statements about blacks, such as “blacks have less native intelligence” than whites. In 1995, researchers conducted a study in which they asked participants to close their eyes for a second and imagine a drug user. Fully 95 percent of respondents reported imagining a black drug user. The reality is that African Americans account for only 15 percent of drug users in the United States and are just as likely as whites to use drugs. However, Americans have an unconscious bias toward blacks and imagine them to be more likely to use drugs. These and other studies show the widespread nature of racial prejudice. They also show that many white Americans believe racist lies: blacks are not inherently less intelligent than whites nor are they more likely to use drugs. One way racism affects white people negatively is that racism distorts whites’ worldviews. When you buy into racism, you are buying into and propagating a set of harmful lies.
Researchers have also consistently found that racial discrimination is pervasive. One study of Department of Defense employees revealed that nearly half of the black respondents had heard racist jokes in the previous year. Another survey revealed that 80% of black respondents had encountered racial hostility in public places. An African American secretary interviewed by sociologists Joe Feagin and Karyn McKinney details the consequences of constant discrimination: “I had to see several doctors because of the discrimination, and I went through a lot of stress. And, then, my blood pressure … went on the rise.” This woman, like many other African Americans they interviewed, displayed high levels of stress due to mistreatment in the workplace and consequently had health issues. A recent study from the University of Maryland even shows that black men are likely to die earlier than whites because racism speeds up cellular aging.
It is undeniable that racial prejudice and discrimination are widespread and that these beliefs and practices negatively affect non-whites. But, do they negatively affect white people?
READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: Does Racism Help or Hurt White America? » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names.