Are All White People Racists?
Color blindness, White Liberal Syndrome and other identity problems for the dominant Eurocentric oppressive class
If you are White, ask yourself what it means to be White. What do you come up with? Honestly, it is not a trick question. When questioned, most Whites answer simply that they never thought about it and don’t have much to say about it. When push comes to shove, most usually, Whites will identify with a particular ethnic group (e.g. “I am Italian” or “I am Swedish”). They never think about being White because of the invisibility of “White privilege”. It means Whites are oblivious to the advantages of being White (D.W. Sue, 2003).
So what does this have to do with being racists? After all, just because I do not think about being White doesn’t mean that I am a participant in the oppression. Does it? Believe me when I tell you that I have been struggling with this for several months now (see Melting Pot article) and it is all because of the multicultural emphasis of the master degree program that I am in. I have become a multicultural blurting menace (especially to my daughter who was fortunate enough to escape by going away to college). Hey, don’t get me wrong; I do think multiculturalism (i.e. being open to the unique perspective that every individual has to offer - not just from the stand point of race or ethnicity either) is great. I have only been struggling because every once in awhile some statement or attitude slips through (in my studies) that seems to suggest that multiculturalism is for everyone except Whites (and then it would not be about the unique perspective that every individual has to offer – would it?).
So what’s the deal with that? Am I being paranoid? Defensive? Guilty? Who me? I like everyone (well almost – but they are White anyway so they don’t count). It really ticked me off when Dr. D.W. Sue stated point blankly on DVD that “All Whites are Racists”. Wow and just when I was getting back to feeling comfortable talking the multicultural party line again.
The truth is that studies show that Blacks generally prefer Black faces and Whites generally prefer White faces (Ivey & Ivey, 2004). Why such a radical statement about Whites? I asked my professor (who is a Black woman). In her wisdom, she said that we have all learned about racism and that we all (regardless of race) learn about oppression and have exercised it from the oppressor’s stance from early in life. The role of multiculturalism is to turn that around.
Well, now that makes sense. And it also helps me understand why I have gotten mixed messages from various students of Color. They are struggling with this too. The difference is that they don’t have the invisible veil of White privilege to make race a non-issue for them.
So what is a White racist to do to become a multicultural citizen in good standing?
The first thing is to recognize that there is a difference between a blatant KKK, White supremacist racist and the ordinary, run of the mill “color blind” type. Most Whites are well intentioned and fit into the “color blind” category. This is insidious racism. Being color blind is a ridiculous denial of an important part of a person’s identity. Can we be blind to someone’s sex? Does the recognition of their sexuality make us sexists? Clearly that is ridiculous. And so it is with race. The reason that Whites are uncomfortable about it is because they have no White identity. Whites need to think about it and figure out what being White means. It seems that when that happens there will be a realization of all the unearned things that are easy just because of being White. It will make Whites more cognizant of the fact that there still is a heck of a lot of social injustice out there. And it will make Whites comfortable enough to be genuinely interested in other races.
But let’s not go extreme here. The White Liberal Syndrome is when Whites develop either a paternalistic protector role or the over identification with another minority group (out of guilt and shame for their inadvertent White oppression participation) (Sue & Sue, 2007). Guess what! Nobody wants to be patronized. This approach is equal to more White oppression.
The reality is that we all start out as innocents who are indoctrinated by the way our culture is. My professor was very wise to point out that this happens to us all. We need to think about it about it in order to change the way we deal with it and to change the way we hand it to the next generation.
So here is your chance to think about it. If you are White, what does being White mean to you? And for everyone: Do you think you are a closet racist?
Ivey, A. E., & Ivey, M. B. (2007). Intentional interviewing and counseling: Facilitating client development in a multicultural society (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson.
Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2008). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice. (5th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons.