As a bisexual woman of African and Cherokee descent, from a working class background, I am an expert on my oppression. There are others in this room who may be experts on the various facets of racism. I will share my personal insights and strategies. During talk back, other experts on racism will have an opportunity to share their insights as well. At times our statements will appear to be contradictory. Our challenge as allies is to find the common within the dis-similar, the pearl of truth within the contradictions. To be an ally is surely not an easy role, you must learn to trust the eyes, ears and heart of another person. A person with whom you may have nothing in common or just about everything in common save one aspect. You must believe what you can not see, hear, touch, taste or feel. It is a lot like faith. This is surely the reason why we are gathered in this sacred space.
Prejudice versus Oppression
I need to make a distinction between prejudice and oppression. We all have prejudices. We usually understand and accept differences amongst people like ourselves, and for convenience sake categorized the other into easily remember stereotypes. Tall people play basketball, blonds are dumb, fat people are jolly, women are weak, men are strong, Asians are smart, Blacks are dumb, Southerners are slow, Jews are good in business, the Irish drink too much, and bisexuals are promiscuous. But if you are from a family of tall people you will probably know at least one tall person lousy at basketball. Most Swedes will attest to the wide range of ability amongst blondes. I know plenty of depressed fat people, strong women, weak men, Asians with average SAT scores, blacks with doctorates, and innovative southerners. Jews fail in business sometimes, not all Irish people drink and I as a bisexual wish I could be promiscuous. A prejudice, no matter how foul on its own is not enough to be called oppression.
No oppression, requires something more. It requires the state apparatus or its equivalent. When your personal prejudices are backed up by the military, the legislative and judicial branches of government, as well as industry, academia and religion it becomes more than just being impolite or ignorant or rude or displaying poor taste. It is oppression. When entire classes of individuals are denied access to areas of life routinely allowed for others, it is oppression. When elaborate justifications are offered to explain a simple denial of rights, you are on the road to oppression. Oppression is more than just having a bad day, a personality conflict or a simple misunderstanding. When oppression becomes symptomatic of an entire system, entire countries, entire cultures it warps the whole structure to serve its own end. Oppression has its own logic, rhythm and laws. If you are oppressed it is for your own good, you deserve to be treated badly because you brought it on yourself, the opportunity is denied because the oppressed person is incapable of handling the access.
Oppression is systemic discrimination, prejudice, hatred and devaluation of a class of individuals. The system breeds it, supports it, nurtures it, transfer it, enforces it and rewards it. Oppression is a denial of humanity, a denial of selfhood, denial of self determination, a denial of freedom, culture, history, language, self definition and self love.
Working Definition for racism: Oppression based on race, in the US it is historically rooted in the genocidal attacks on native americans for land acquisition and the slave trade. It has been expanded to include all people of color and the 2/3 world.
But what is everyday racism? Everyday racism consist of the daily manifestation of racist oppression. It is something people of color encounter on a daily basis. It can be interpersonal, internal, institutional, or in any combination. These manifestations serve as a reminder, in case we forget, that our very lives are perpetually in danger. It is a survival issue. I contend that it is the silent killer, the leading cause of stress amongst black people. Because of racism, we are denied access to proper health care, given poor care when get any, and die from preventable diseases. We receive too little care to late, have a shorten life expectancy as a result. Infant mortality rates for blacks in some areas rival that of our brethren across the seas. We are incarcerated for crimes for which whites are given verbal warnings. We are charged higher rates to receive substandard goods and services. Our unemployment rates are higher, and our college retention rates are lower. And every day of our lives we suffer untold indignities at the hands of individuals representing the system. One could argue that all racism is everyday racism.