A photo from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s page in his 1984 medical school yearbook — which featured a man dressed in Blackface and another dressed in a Ku Klux Klan — was recently surfaced. Since then, Northam vowed to begin a “meaningful” dialogue on race to begin to heal Virginia’s lingering racial history. In order to start an honest conversation regarding race, it is important to recognize the vastly different racial climate that is prevalent in contemporary America. Important factors, which affect the interaction in any racial dialogue, vary from unequal power to a different racial identity.
The role of dialogue is essential in order to address racism and allow for real conversations to occur that identify the long-lasting effects of institutional racism.
Racism in present-day United States has undeniably become reinvented into a subjective reality of determining what is racist and what is not. The primary issue is the different views of what constitutes racism according to different races. Although there is variation within groups, many white people often conceive racism as individual acts of prejudice or obvious and blatant attacks, denial of rights, etc.
While people of color often view racism as an insidious part of society, assimilated into culture, institutions, social structures and relationships.
Dialogue would entail an actual conversation that responds to the four central frames and the five tools of Color-Blind Racism that has been established by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva in his book Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. These central frames outline this new form of racism based on different qualities.
A more notable frame is abstract liberalism. In sum, abstract liberalism every individual has political liberalism and economic liberalism. Having political liberalism means that equal opportunities are available to everyone. When minorities are perceived to be given an advantage, this advantage is seen as unfair by others.
Despite many objections to the contrary, the United States is still a class, gender and race based society where it is easier to get ahead if you are white, male and middle class. Two years ago, an article from the Boston Globe went viral. The headline read, “That was no typo: The median net worth of Black Bostonians really is $8” Due to a conglomeration of red-lining from the U.S. government, housing discrimination, and several other factors, Black Bostonians now have a net worth that is about $31,000 times lower than a white family. Affirmative action makes sure that people—who cannot afford the same schooling and tutoring as others— have all the opportunities they deserve.
Bonilla-Silva first confronts one of the prevalent racial ideologies, which he defines as color-blind racism. Color-blind racism is a conceptual framework made by Bonilla-Silva to provide an understanding of white color blindness and its function in society. Essentially, contemporary American identity is very much rooted in associating itself as non-racist, many individuals find a way to distance themselves from that label. Ironically, stylistic tools of Color Blind Racism are used very often by those exact same individuals. For example, when individuals state that they see race as an irrelevant factor in the United States, as well “I don’t see color, just people.” This response is the epitome of incoherent babbling. The institution of slavery played a significant role in the trajectory of the United States and its impact on the relationship between Black and white people. To choose to not see color is to ignore the racial inequalities that took place and is taking place.
A few months ago a video clip of comedians Louis C.K., Ricky Gervais, Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld in the 2011 HBO special Talking Funny resurfaced on Twitter. The video clip begins with a conversation between C.K. and Chris Rock, when suddenly C.K. states “You’re saying I’m a n*****?” Seinfeld served as the voice of reason when he supposed that C.K. should not use the slur. Chris Rock responded with, ‘You don’t even understand…you don’t really know him like — I work with him.” Although this exchange took place many years ago, it is relevant now, more than ever. From students in Winston Churchill High School distributing ‘N-word passes’ during lunch to twitter users joking around and giving their friends and celebrities the ‘N-word pass,’ there is a trend among non-Black people of color and white people who are feeling too comfortable as the friend who “kicks it with the Black kids.” Like Chris Rock, many excuse their friend’s conduct.
Knowing how to respond to remarks made by friends, peers, and acquaintances can be a difficult task. On the one hand, it is important to call them out for their misinformed subtle bigotry; however, doing so can lead to an argument or awkwardness, without actually convincing them to change their view. An important strategy in countering White Fragility is through simple conversation that adapts the eleven rules outlined in Robin Diangelo’s “White Fragility and the Rules of Engagement.” Essentially, it is imperative that they learn that they don’t get to enjoy the benefits but none of the consequence. They don’t get to use it emptily without knowing the weight it carries. They need to understand that their subsidiarity to Blackness does not give them a pass to use the N-word.
In Black Feminist Thought, author Patricia Hill Collins argues that Black women occupy a unique position regarding their own oppression that is composed of two interlocking components: race and gender. According to Collins, the only way to get rid of the remarked oppressions of the matrix of domination is the use of dialogue — in a way that every voice is heard and every thought is spoken. By centering lived experiences and the use of dialogue, it is implied that knowledge is built around ethics of caring, or empathy. Another characteristic of Black feminist knowledge that Collins argues is that all knowledge is fundamentally present and should therefore be tested by the presence of both empathy and compassion. Additionally, Collin suggests that Black feminist epistemology requires personal accountability. She reasons that knowledge is built upon lived experience. In other words, the assessment of knowledge is simultaneous assessment of an individual’s character, values, and ethics.
It is important to acknowledge that there are limitations regarding the role of dialogue which is imperative to the discourse of racism. To reiterate, racism has evolved from its traditional overt nature, to what is now, an inconspicuous form of prejudice in contemporary America. In other words, much more is needed to enact change. Since people of color are the recipients of institutional racism, they are more likely than some white individuals to judge the effectiveness of racial dialogue within groups on the basis of whether they lead to concrete results. Circumstances in which racial dialogue is used in an effective and constructive manner will influence the nature of reactions and responses, and should eventually lead to some form of concrete change.