Racism and Prejudice
Racism is an ongoing force that negatively impacts the lives of Americans every day. The racist mindset in America stems from the times of slavery, where blacks were thought to be inferior to whites. Throughout history, the ideas of race and racism has evolved and developed several different meanings. Today, we can still see the devastating effects of racism on people of color, as well as whites. “Racism, like other forms of oppression, is not only a personal ideology based on racial prejudice, but a system involving cultural messages and institutional policies and practices as well as beliefs and actions of individual” (Tatum, pg.9). As a result of this system, it leaves the oppressed at a great disadvantage in society. This includes access to social, cultural, and economic resources and decision-making. In order for change to come about and for the American society to reach racial inequality, we first have to acknowledge the problem openly, which our society has yet to do. Su (2006) mentions that it is unethical to practice without the knowledge, expertise, and skills needed to provide culturally relevant services to an increasingly diverse population.
This semester has given me some time to think about the different concerns that are impacting our community, placements, and the community of our clients. I work at a homeless shelter in an urban community in Boston. More than half of this shelter’s population is made up of women of color. These women deal with so many different systems, such as; The Department of Transitional Assistance, The Judicial System, Welfare System, Education System, Department of Children and Family, and so many more. More than half of these women do not understand these systems and the effects they have in there everyday life.
As a case manager at the homeless shelter for women and children, I would like to implement a group that can educate the women in the shelter on some of the issues that come up for women of color especially issues of race and oppression that are seen in some of the systems that they deal with on a daily level. The group will teach the women why these system are around, how they effect people of color, how to navigate these systems on there own, and how to get the best result from these systems. This group will also analyze the meaning of racism and how it affects both people of color and whites.
In doing so, the team facilitating the group will explore how racism impacts one’s racial identity, using life experiences as examples. They will also demonstrate how racism leads to prejudice and discrimination and provide examples of these. The plan is to end with some form of solutions and ideas to improve our communities and this agency as a whole. We want to start of by defining racism as a system of advantage based on race (Su 2006). In America whites have control over resources such as jobs and education. This gives them the power to be racists toward others.
Because people of color do not have this power, they are not able to be racist towards whites. Many whites would not consider themselves as racist, but there are different forms of racism. Active racism is what most would consider racist behavior. Active racism is blatant, intentional acts of racial bigotry and discrimination. Today, a more common form of racial unfair hiring practices to go unchallenged, and avoiding difficult race-related issues. Another form of racism is called cultural racism. This is when the cultural images and messages that verify the superiority of whites and the assumed inferiority disadvantage people of color.
Because racism is so ingrained in the structure of American institutions. Racism exists because of prejudice. Prejudice is defined as a “preconceived opinion or judgment, usually based on limited information,” (Tatum, p. 5). If a person’s has prejudice attitudes and opinions, they allow it to effect their decisions and actions, creating the racism. Stereotypes, omissions, and distortions all contribute to the development of prejudice, and most of these are found in the media. Prejudice is one of the inescapable consequences of living in a racist society.
It is like smog in the air. Sometimes it is so thick it is visible, other times it is less apparent, but always, day in and day out, we are breathing the air in. None of us would introduce ourselves as “smog-breathers” (and most of us don’t want to be described as prejudice), but if we live in a smoggy place, how can we avoid the air? (Tatum 1997) It is the responsibility of all those who are aware of the pollution to clean it up, even if we weren’t the ones who polluted the air. It is important that we do not pass prejudice views to our family, friends, or anyone else around us.
When you combine “prejudice plus power”, you form a strong e system of oppression. Su (2006) explains this: “Racial prejudice when combined with social power, (access to social, cultural, economic resources and decision-making), it leads to the institutionalization of racist policies and practices,” (Tatum p. 6). As a result this cycle of prejudice and racism continues. In the past 3 months of working at this agency I’ve notice the residents carry negative thoughts about themselves because of their upbringing and lack of education.
This cycle of oppression has negative effects, especially on people of color. If a person continuously hears negative messages about his or her racial group, over time they actually start to believe these stereotypes. When people start to internalize these messages, it turns into internalized racism. Bivens (2002) shared that Internalized racism may have people of color feeling inferior or different because they have come to believe, have internalized, the dominant society’s message that they are different and do not belong.
The way that this type of group would be most affective would be to have a mandatory training for the staff as well as a group for the residents at the program. The staff’s upper management is mostly white women although the program is very diverse. It would be beneficial to both employees and resident to understand what internalized racism means and how it affects people of color. Bivens (2002) discusses the main effects of internalized racism. Internalized racism can generate questions and doubts in the minds of people of color placed in a predominately white setting.
It can also lead people of color to question their own thinking and judgment about racism. Internalized racism can be a divisive force, creating a desire in people of color to be white. Imagine being a person of color who is living and depending on an agency of mostly white staff. This type of information would improve they quality of work in the agency if there were a mandatory training that involved all staff. After speaking to a few of the women at the agency about some of there stories about race and racism they shared details that stayed with them until now.
It is clear that most Americans claims to be colorblind, where people do not see skin color, but they just see people as human beings. Some of my clients shared things that people would say to them that I know now are racist. “One of my best friends is black,” or “it’s not race, it depends on a person’s background …” and they have also said things like, “Blacks hold themselves back, not racism” and “Blacks live in the past. They need to get over it and move on,”. This colorblind thought makes it seem like discrimination has disappeared, but it actually has just become institutionalized and harder to identify (Su,2006). After my experiences in the social work field, I do think that the most program is positive in some ways, but the programs doesn’t really solve the root of the problem. The fact that our clients don’t receive a quality education in urban public schools, aren’t able to get employment due to lack of education, and have so many different systemic barriers keeping them from succeeding is terrible and we need to start by educating ourselves and informing them of what racism really is.
The best solution would be to fix the urban schools so that all students can receive an equal education, rather then only a limited number of motivated students being forced to travel to predominately white suburban areas just to receive a good education. From the time of slavery, to the present, racism has had many destructive and negative effects on the people in our society. Prejudice leads to racism and then when you combine prejudice with power, it leads to systemic discrimination. All of these systems of oppression are keeping us from moving forward and progressing as a whole.
In order to break this cycle, we need to educate ourselves and others, and discuss these difficult race-related issues that have been avoided for so long. Education is the key. The more we educate ourselves and the people in our communities, the more we will see a change. When a person is educated, they are able to recognize cultural and institutional racism and other forms inequality and how to address these issues. We have the responsibility, and the resources available to educate ourselves so that we will not repeat this cycle of oppression with our children. (Tatum, p. 51)