Dr. David J. Leonard: White Denial and a Culture of Stereotypes

White Denial and a Culture of Stereotypes

In the last installments I have tried to focus readers’ attention on both white denial and the propensity to deploy the experiences of the black middle-class as evidence of a post-racial America. Despite focusing on persistent wealth gaps, examples of institutional racism, and the ongoing consequences of systemic racism, some readers still responded with the clichéd level of defensiveness. The move to criticize me for blaming white people for inequality, or accusing me of labeling all white people as racists, is not a unique move; rather, it represents a typical effort to turn every conversation about race into a statement about white victimhood. This effort, in fact, defines contemporary racial discourse. How else might we explain the fact that more than fifty percent of whites identify the lack of motivation from blacks as the reason for limited racial progress; sixty-five percent believe that racial inequalities would “disappear if only Blacks would ‘try harder'” (Liptsitz 2011, p. 250). According to a recent study white denial is commonplace even amongst America’s youngest generation: “A solid majority of white Millennials, 56 percent, say that government has paid too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities. In fact, “58 percent say that ‘discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.'” Denial is not simply an outward projection about laws, economic institutions, the political structure or the criminal justice; white denial is about “not seeing race,” despite the fact that the racial prejudices and stereotypes are rampant. White denial isn’t simply outward disavowal but a defense of self.

Such denial is neither simply reflective of a lack of knowledge about the ongoing history of racism, nor do these predicable responses simply reflect an absence of the necessary language to actually talk about racism (the difference between prejudice and racism; what constitutes institutional racism; what is a micro aggression). While the limited knowledge about history of racism and the absence of the requisite literary to engage in these important conversations are important, so too is white privilege. White privilege not only allows whites to be blind to racial profiling, stop and frisk, redlining, housing discrimination, and the myriad of examples of institutional racism, but it incentivizes protecting the status quo. This helps us understand the myriad of studies that show that whites think the scale of race relations is tilted in the favor of communities of color.

Yet, even the privileges that sequester whites away from the consequences and realities of white supremacy do not explain the extent of denial, an almost pathological refusal to look at racism within our legal, political, and cultural institutions–but that are visible in everyday life.

Evident in the ubiquity of racial epithets and racist jokes, along with findings that whites are indifferent to those slurs and jokes, demonstrates how racism is alive and well. Irrespective of class or geography, everyday racism is a fact of life present across a myriad of communities. The facts of micro aggressions in the face of white denial illustrate a very different understanding of the world in which we live: one based on facts and experiences and the other based on fantasy, privilege, and segregation. Micro aggressions refer to “brief and everyday slights, insults, indignities and denigrating messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned White people who are unaware of the hidden messages being communicated” (Sue).

Continue reading @ Dr. David J. Leonard: White Denial and a Culture of Stereotypes.

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