Getting in Touch with Your Inner Racist

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Charles Wright, Associate Professor of Philosophy.

Philosophy Racial equity in the United States will remain elusive until people – especially white people – are willing to be honest about racial prejudices that we didn't choose, but for which we are responsible. “Racist” and “racism” are typically used as terms of moral condemnation, meaning that a person is morally corrupt. People typically want to believe of themselves that they are good people, that they are morally upright. To be labelled “racist” means that someone is supposed to be a bad person. Nobody wants to accept that. White people who reject deliberate and habitual racism, who do their best to treat people of all races equitably, typically reject the idea that they are “racist.” The suggestion that they (we) are “racist” typically makes us highly defensive, for reasons just reviewed. But such well-meaning white folks overlook how implicit racism is. To the extent that certain racist ideas circulate in the culture at large, we cannot avoid internalizing them. What I try to show is that the ideas are in circulation and that there are reasons to believe they are widely internalized by people of all colors. The takeaway: White folks have a special responsibility to practice self-awareness of and honesty about their inherited racial biases because for centuries, we have been (and still are) the beneficiaries of a system of racial oppression. Until white folks who are sincerely opposed to racial inequity are ready to engage in this kind of self-reflection, I don’t think it will be possible to make much progress in race relations in the United States.

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