(About a 5 minute read)
Some years ago, I had a contract to supervise and manage for a corporation its small call center of about a dozen people. One day, my client informed me that a vice-president of the corporation had come to her more or less demanding that a young friend of hers be given a job as one of the callers. Consequently, I was forced to bring the young woman on board without going through the normal hiring practice.
I forget her name now, but she was about 20 years old and black. The day following her first day on the job, all three of my other black employees approached me — one by one — to privately warn me about her.
Prentis went into the greatest detail. The group had given her a ride home the day before. During the ride, she had divulged her plans to sue me by fabricating a sexual harassment law suite against me.
As Prentis put it, “Everyone one of us has to deal with racism. On one end of the scale, some people just shrug it off. I don’t know how they manage it, but they manage it. But on the other end of the scale, some people just go nuts, they go a bit crazy. She’s one of those who has gone crazy over it and ended up hating all whites. We tried to tell her you were cool, but she wouldn’t listen.”
My other two black employees confirmed Prentis. Naturally, I was concerned and made it a point to both never be caught alone with her, and to have as little to do with her as possible. After a few months, she became bored of her game and quit.
Up until then, I had been aware that the occasional black was prejudiced against whites, but it had not hit home with me how vicious prejudice can be. Even the history of the KKK, lynchings, and so forth hadn’t really sunk in, despite my thinking that they had.
In a significant way, it was not that she planned to “get” me, but that she was driven crazy by the racism against her that had the greatest emotional impact on me. That taught me, as no histories had, just how devastating racism can be on people’s psyche.
The young black woman was, in my opinion, exhibiting traditional racism. That is, she was personally bigoted against me because of my race. Sometimes when a black is bigoted against a white because of his or her race, it is called “reverse racism”, but that seems an unnecessary term to me.
I prefer to call traditional racism “personal” racism, and — as my story suggests — there is no significant difference to me whether it is a white being racist against blacks, or a black being racist against whites.
Personal racism is related to all sorts of things. At heart, it amounts to a species of objectification. That is, to reducing a person’s importance to just one or a very few of their traits and then treating them as if that was all that ultimately mattered about them. Looked at in that manner, personal racism is clearly identical in essence to antisemitism, sexism, ableism, sexual objectification, and a host of other evils.
There is a second kind of racism, however, and it is quite different in some key respects from personal racism. This is systemic or structural racism.
Systemic racism occurs when a system is stacked (or structured) against people because of their race. For instance, it has been shown that in the US, there is clear evidence of financial services, such as mortgages or insurance, historically being systematically denied to blacks while neighboring whites of equal or less income have been granted them. The practice is called “redlining”.
Redlining and other systemic forms of racism arguably have as great or greater impact on the quality of life of blacks and other minorities than simple personal racism, but they are sometimes much harder to uncover.
Another systemic form of racism is sometimes called “reverse redlining”. This is when a business targets blacks or other minorities for, say, mortgages. But rather than offer mortgages at the same rates as those offered to whites with similar qualifications, the business offers them at a premium. It can get away with that if the blacks do not have any other source for the product or service.
I once had a client out of Texas who wanted me to target black neighborhoods for mortgages. This was exceedingly easy to do. All that was involved was purchasing one of perhaps thousands of readily available lists of the apartment renters in such neighborhoods, then calling those residents to discuss buying their own homes. Fortunately, my client was not actually redlining but was instead offering his mortgages at competitive rates. However, the ease with which blacks can be targeted either to sell them something or to withhold sales of something from them is noteworthy.
Recently, a young friend — a university student — told me that her professor had said blacks cannot be racist against whites. I would have suspected that she had misunderstood her professor except that I’ve heard that from about a half dozen university students in the past two or three years, as well as read a few articles on the notion.
To me, her professor was ignoring personal racism. It might be true that systemic racism is seldom, if ever, practiced against whites in America, but there are blacks who are personally racist against while people. Unless we get two different words for these concepts, there is bound to be some confusion about which is being talked about.
To recap. Personal racism is one person’s bigotry against other people based on their race. Systemic or structural racism, on the other hand, occurs when a system, such as the financial industry in a city, is stacked against a group of people based on their race.