Tag Archives: LinkedIn

Defining Racism in the United States: A Starting Point

29 Jul

racism_logo_sqThere has been an amazing amount of discussion after I posted my Paula Deen/ Trayvon Martin story.  While I am so appreciative of much of the conversations, I have to admit a few items gave me pause.  I shared this article on LinkedIn’s Diversity A World of Change group and I’m not sure that several people, while prolific in their comments, truly understand the definition of the word Racism.

Sadly, Racism, Prejudice, Discrimination, and Bigotry seem to be used a great deal as though they are interchangeable.  These words are not interchangeable — they are not all synonyms for Racism.  Racism has to contain an institutional and structural power dynamic.  Here in the United States that power dynamic is held primarily by white, heterosexual, middle-aged, Christian, well educated men; these are the people who establish norms in our society and have a great deal of unearned privilege because of the color of their skin.  This group, called the dominant culture, creates laws and policies — laws and policies that have an ugly history and were designed to help white folk while oppressing folks of color. Thus, Racism is: structural, institutional and systemic power that allows for discrimination and bigotry affecting someone’s health, well being, safety, and livelihood based on real or perceived racial or ethnic affiliation.

Perhaps a bit of a history lesson might be useful here.  Let us keep in mind the multi-generational impact of these laws both economically and emotionally.  1857 the Dred Scott Decision: The Supreme Court said that all people of African dissent were not and could not be counted as citizens of the United States.  Let us jump to 1935 with the start of Social Security — a great act to be passed, but sadly it did not initially apply to anyone who was not white, a significant economic impact.  Now let us move to the 1945 GI Bill — great opportunity for soldiers returning from WWII. Sadly, this bill did not initially apply to any of the soldiers of color returning from WWII.  Here we see a HUGE economic impact for generations of whites with great advantage and thus a huge disadvantage for multi-generations of people of color.  The GI Bill allowed for white soldiers to buy their first home and get a college education; this would qualify as unearned privilege due to one’s skin color.

Let us jump to 1954 when we witness the Termination Act.  The Termination Act stripped ALL Native Americans from their identities as our government told all of these people: “Okay, you are white now, so you must live in the cities and turn over your lands to the U.S. government.”  The cultural and financial impact on Native Americans was and remains profound.

Even more recent and disgraceful is SB1070 adopted by Arizona in 2010 and then adopted by Alabama in 2011, which demands that ALL Latinos/Hispanics must have proof of citizenship on them at all times.  If someone with dark skin that is, or is perceived, to be Latino/Hispanic and cannot provide documentation of citizenship, they can be put in jail.

I approach the work of equity and marginalization as a gay man.  Working as an agent of change means I am also obligated to know about the start of Gay Liberation in 1969.  The LGBT community has a long history of being targeted and imprisoned.  Until 2003 with Lawrence v. Texas, it was against the law to be gay in the United States.  Sadly, regardless of Lawrence v. Texas, it is still against the law in most states in the south.  In fact, the LGBT community have zero rights and protections in almost all of the South.  My personal call to action is to stand in solidarity with all those that are oppressed by the dominant culture and to honor their narratives–to understand how LGBT people of color are targeted and why.

This history is carried with all targeted people and passed down from generation to generation, much like if you are Jewish your family knows about the Holocaust because it affected your family for many generations.  Of course, the impact is more severe if one carries more than one of these identities.  For example, if you are a woman and a woman of color or if you are a man and a gay man of color, the impact is far worse.

Finally, let us illustrate the sad state of racism in the United States with the belligerent, bellicose, bigot Ted Nugent.  As of late, Nugent seems to be the appointed spokesperson of the GOP.  In response to the Zimmerman verdict, Nugent went on a racist tirade:

Why wasn’t Trayvon [Martin] educated and raised to simply approach someone he wasn’t sure about and politely ask what was going on and explain he was headed home? Had he, I am confident that Zimmerman would have called off the authorities and everything would have been fine.Why the nasty “creepy a– cracker” racism and impulse to attack? Where does this come from? Is it the same mindless tendency to violence we see in black communities across America, most heartbreakingly in Chicago pretty much every day of the week?…When you live in a fog of denial, usually inspired by substance abuse — you know with all the lies about dope being a victimless crime, I think you’re listening to the victims of this dopey crime, because their brains are fried. They’re either fried on substance abuse, and all of them know who I’m talking about.

The fact that the severely misguided and undereducated Nugent feels justified making these very public racist comments, along with people like Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson makes it quite clear that we still have a long way to go around issues of racial and gender equity.

Call to action: Imagine how powerful we could be if all of the targeted populations joined together to stop this type of oppression and even more powerful if we enlist the support of all of our allies that are within the dominant culture?

My hope in publishing this article is to encourage and invite people to engage in a meaningful dialogue around the issues of race, gender, power, and equity.  I hope many will contribute to this conversation in a respectful manner and also correct me if I have committed any trespass in my exposition here.  That being said, I certainly appreciate all of the comments people offer on the Facebook and on LinkedIn; might I invite you to also share those comments here on the blog, so as to reach a larger audience?

Hero of the Week Award: May 24, Eileen Peterson

24 May

RacismI need to say a huge thank you to friend, activist, and LGBT ally, Bruce Kestelman for nominating Eileen for HWA.  Honestly, Bruce needs to also be celebrated as HWA also for many of the same reasons we are celebrating Eileen.

Standing up for Social Justice seems like it would just be obvious and easy.  Working to ensure space for equity and equality and treating all humans with dignity and respect feels like it should be a no brainer.  Sadly, this is not the case.  I suspect all of us have too often witnessed very ugly behavior on different social media sites around human and civil rights issues.  I know I have seen my fair share of awful, nasty, ugly behavior on Facebook and on LinkedIn around the issues of racial equity and marriage equality.  Garbage that I will not bother to repeat here spews forth from the foaming mouths and frantic fingers of bigots everywhere.

Delightfully, within all of this muck there are gems I find that need to be celebrated.  People with tenacity, grace, and perseverance that gracefully — and at times with great wit — work hard to interrupt oppression.   Eileen Peterson is someone who does not shy away from social justice issues.  I admit that there have been times when comments get so ugly, I throw my hands up in despair and walk away from interrupting oppressive comments.  I recently read a thread on LinkedIn regarding marriage equality and I have to say that Eileen Peterson won my heart over.  She does not use accusatory or inflammatory language, but she does try to hold people accountable for their behavior and she asks great clarifying questions that help to expose they hypocrisy within people’s arguments.

Today I felt the need to celebrate the individual and collective voices that work with great respect and dignity to interrupt oppression.  Everyday people like Eileen, Bruce, Jennifer Carey, and the amazingly large list of friends I have had the honor and privilege to know in the past two years, need to be celebrated for their dedication to social justice and fierce determination to eradicate racism, homophobia, misogyny, and poverty. I applaud you all!

Honorable mention this week goes to the Peace Corps. Reversing a long-standing discriminatory practice, the Corps announced this week that it will allow same-sex couples to apply for joint service. Married heterosexual couples have been able to do so all along. The Peace Corps could have waited for DOMA to fall; instead, they took a proactive step and will usher in equality starting next month. Nicely done!

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