While we have always lived in a society that favors a normalized, white model, one that reserves power and privilege to those who fit that norm, acts reinforcing -isms have been covertly perpetuated. There have always been open acts but limited in scope. The majority continued to hide their true natures…until now.
A major shift in the political structure is now occurring. A person who has proclaimed himself to be racist, sexist, classist, exhibiting other disparaging behavior toward those different from him will soon lead us. While he denies these behaviors, there is now a public record that invalidates those denials.
The shift in political structure is more about institutional -isms than about political ideology. The frame is the norm of whiteness which leaders validate as acceptable and desirable. Politics and power are inseparable because human beings write and pass legislation. Other human beings feed their needs by reinforcing the actions that perpetuate Whiteness.
The overt behaviors of the leaders of the country have given license to those less powerful to broadcast their -isms through both words and actions. This is now happening at all levels. Schools are reporting an increase in racist, sexist acts of violence toward those students considered “different” and therefore, inferior and a threat. There is an increase in violent acts toward non-Christians, especially Muslims, deemed as the “enemy.” It is more common to see whites in coffee shops, stores, and other public places glaring at anyone who looks or acts differently.
Why are there -isms?
Why do we have -isms? That is a complex problem that has many possible answers depending upon one’s philosophy. For example, a psychologist might say -isms result from an inferiority complex; individuals project their inadequacies on others rather than face who they are. School children demonstrate this behavior as they tease or even bully other students. It becomes life-threatening when done by adults. An economist would see this as behavior to protect individual wealth and property by excluding others from access to it. There are many ways to explain the phenomenon but the result is always the same. The dominant person continues to benefit from the behavior while the recipient suffers the consequences.
World History is Rife with Injustice and Oppression
Social injustice is not something unique to the “New World.” People fleeing Europe did so to escape those conditions. Societies have always evolved into systems of power, privilege, and domination, excluding those redefined as the Others. Pecking orders seem to be inherent in social structures of all kinds, at all levels. I am not saying this to justify such structures but to draw attention to the need to have a plan in place if those structures are removed. Again, history is replete with revolutions, coups, and assassinations that created a power vacuum soon filled by another often worse group of leaders.
Whiteness and Dominance
Whites are so immersed in whiteness that the effects of their own privilege slip past their consciousness, never to be considered as contributing factors to the skewed distribution of resources and opportunities that have placed white males in most positions of decision-making. They can consider the troubles of others while remaining aloof and unaffected by them. They can perform a beneficent act to assuage any hint of guilt that may somehow find its way to their awareness. All the while, they move through my life, attributing their unearned privileges to personal hard work and achievement. The common denominator of dominance and hegemony centers on elite, rich, white men as the model on which to base normalcy. Others elaborate, describing it as a paternalistic, elitist, capitalist, white supremacist power structure. However worded, the ultimate gatekeepers are the same group. This is the whiteness that allows domination to run rampant, perpetuating itself with a vengeance exacted upon the Others, primarily people of color, who somehow remain at the “bottom of the well” of society. Clerks in stores watch Black people while white people steal them blind; a tag team of shoplifters that uses White storekeepers’ racism against them. In a peer group composed of women and people of color, the group almost always considers white men to be the authority figures although they may have done nothing to show that. Beverly Tatum (1999) called racism a smog we all breathe, but white people seem to have invisible gas masks because few ever confront whiteness. Perpetuation of structural whiteness has been accomplished by establishing a “normalized” model that is elite, rich, white, and male. Media representations, schooling, and legislation all support this model that portrays a strange, commonsense, “white as right” epistemology. Since this white epistemology permeates every aspect of life, it is reasonable to assume that it also normalizes both feeling and emotive expression (R. Turner, 1976).
The only true beneficiaries of whiteness are white men although other groups—white women, lighter-skinned groups, and even well-to-do people of color—are superficially included. In this dominant and hegemonic system, those whom it favors have the privilege to ignore the life-threatening effects that others experience daily. White men continue to ignore or suppress this paternalistic, white supremacist power structure because it showers them with unmerited power, privilege, and advantages. Thus, they continue to consciously and subconsciously support this oppressive system. In a similar manner, the normalized model, reinforced by media, schooling, and other social structures, often assimilates people of color. By playing their roles in the dominant system, they may also support the system that oppresses them or at the least, be complicitous in it by not confronting it. There is no assurance that anyone in these groups will work for social justice even when confronted with their positions. However, until reaching that initial awareness, there is no chance for further change. For the critical pedagogue, leading the student to a new awareness becomes the crucial first step to learning and change.
This is a complex, convoluted issue that may never be fully resolved. Meanwhile, it grows more menacing with sanctioning from the country’s leaders.