Overt European VS. Covert American Racism: A Critical Evaluation

As I walked through Zurich’s old city to meet my friend Anne for a beer on a warm, late summer night, I paused at an intersection to wait for the signal to cross. A cyclist approached from across the intersection, and I noticed that he rode on the wrong side of the street. As he approached the corner on which I stood, he lifted his arm and shouted forcefully in the face of a man on a scooter, “Sieg heil!” Stunned, I turned toward the scooter rider, and noticed that he had dark skin. The signal changed, and I crossed the street as the man on the scooter rode away. Disheartened, I noted that this was not the first instance of open racism that I had witnessed in the city.

Advertisement for the Swiss People’s Party that reads, “For more security.”

Earlier this month, at the start of my current stay in Zürich, my friend Stefanie and I took the tram into the city center for a day of sightseeing. As we exited the tram, I saw a few tiny, white pieces of paper flutter from the tram steps onto the sidewalk. It seemed as if they had been dropped by someone who had exited. Curious, I picked one up and read the following message: “Stop the nigger invasion.” We were deeply disturbed by this sight. It reminded me that my friends living here had recounted a story to me about an advertising campaign for the Swiss People’s Party, the right-wing political arm of Switzerland, which featured white sheep kicking a black sheep off of the Swiss flag. The party also ran an ad that depicts black crows pecking at the nation.

I know that some of you are probably thinking that I am naive for being shocked and disturbed by these experiences. To that end, I assure you, I am not naive to racism. As a sociologist who studied critical race theory extensively in graduate school, I am well versed in the many forms of systemic and everyday racism that structure contemporary society. I have critical eyes and ears that pick up many instances of both coded and blatant racism in film and television, in print, in politics, the judicial system, and in daily interaction. I am certainly not ignorant to the problem.

A pleasant image of multiculturalism.

What shocked me about these instances was their public nature. They are public performances of hate, the likes of which we do not often see in the post-Civil Rights context in which I grew up and came of age. We are taught to embrace multicultural pluralism, to appreciate that the U.S. is a “melting pot” of cultures, ethnicities, races, religions, and national heritages. Plainly spoken public hate is not acceptable in our society. Racism in the U.S. does take the form of public policy, social segregation, and everyday microaggressions born of white privilege and perceived superiority, but rarely, if ever, is it openly stated in public. This is not to say that public, violent forms of racism do not exist in the U.S.. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported that in 2009 nearly fifty percent of 6,589 single-bias hate crime incidents were motivated by race, while about twelve percent were motivated by bias against (perceived) ethnicity or national origin. In total, there were nearly 4,000 incidents of crime motivated by racial, ethnic, or national bias that year, or an average of eleven incidents per day. In all likelihood, there were many more that were not reported.

Racism, both overt and covert, continues to be a major social problem in the U.S.. But, in terms of discourse, we promote and pretend a colorblind society. Plainly spoken public racism is not acceptable. When it happens, the offender is usually ridiculed and shamed into contrition. Last year Harvard Law student Stephanie Grace was lambasted in a variety of digital media fora after a racist email she wrote to a peer was made public. More recently, people around the world expressed outrage in response to a video posted to YouTube by then UCLA student Alexandra Wallace, who used racist discourse to express her frustrations about some of her classmates. And, most are now familiar with the controversy that swirled around Mel Gibson after he unleashed an anti-semitic and sexist tirade against officers who arrested him for drunk driving in 2006. In all cases, backlash ensued, and public apologies were offered by the offenders.

Incidents like these become media events in the U.S. because we pride ourselves on being a colorblind nation, however false that notion may be. When personal racism is made public, it tarnishes the image that many wish us to have on the global stage. So, people tend to keep their racism private, or convince themselves that the racism they think and feel is something else–a response to certain people, or specific to the context of an unpleasant experience. Most of us have been trained to never publicly express the racism that lives within us. The public nature of the racism I have observed in Zürich is what makes it, to me, so shocking. There is a boldness about it that we do not typically see in America. It caught me off guard, and I felt implicated in it by my white skin.

An ad for the Swiss People’s Party depicts black crows destroying the nation.

This openly racist hostility seems to be in response to an upsurge in immigrants from African nations. Switzerland has a high foreign-born population. In 2008 foreigners accounted for over twenty-percent of the total population, and in the largest cities nearly half of the child population under six years of age is foreign-born. Since the early 1990s the rate of immigration from African nations has skyrocketed. This reaction to darker immigrant populations is, however, not unique to the Swiss. In a previous post I reported recent comments made by comedian John Cleese wherein he lamented that London no longer seems like an “English” city because of its racial and ethnic diversity. When I first read of his comments, I thought immediately of the rhetoric of the Swiss People’s Party. Both cases signal dissatisfaction with immigration from within and beyond Europe. For those who make such statements, immigration compromises the integrity of the nation’s identity. Some statements are coded, as was Cleese’s, while others are overt, but the underlying racist ideology is the same.

In Britain, the English Defence League (EDL) has taken the expulsion of perceived immigrants (re: non-white people) as its cause. In an article on the group published in The New Yorker, Lauren Collins notes that the EDL is reflective of the unease Britons feel about immigrants, particularly Muslims. The population of Muslims in Britain has increased by seventy-four percent since 2001, and over half of all Britons blame these immigrants for problems in their communities. The league, whose leadership fancy themselves modern-day knights defending England and her people, took shape in 2009 after conflict erupted in the city of Luton between Muslims and Anglos. The people of the city had gathered for a homecoming parade for British soldiers who had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and confrontation occurred when a group of Muslim Britons criticized the soldiers. With chapters all over the country and in other nations in Europe, the league makes its views known by destroying property owned by Muslims and those they perceive to be Muslim, and by committing acts of violence against them. The group now has upwards of 100,000 fans on Facebook.

The origins of the EDL has both ideological and social ties to Anders Breivik, the Norwegian man who killed seventy-six people in dual attacks in Oslo in July. In another piece for The New Yorker, Collins notes that Breivik claimed in his massive manifesto to have met with the leaders of the league in its early days to help them “refine their ideology.” He also wrote in his manifesto that his “movement” began in London in 2002 with a meeting of some who wished to resurrect the Knights Templar in defense of “indigenous Europeans.” Per his manifesto, Breivik hoped to inspire a movement that would “seize political and military control of Western European multiculturalist regimes and to try, judge and punish Western European cultural Marxist/multiculturalist perpetrators for crimes committed against the indigenous people of Europe from 1955 until this day.” This, in fact, is exactly what Breivik did in July when he killed sixty-nine young people at a summer camp affiliated with Norway’s leftist Labour party.

French women protest the ban on full veiling.

Similarly, France’s ban on women wearing full veils in public has been characterized as an effort at preserving French culture, and curbing a feared Muslim separatist movement. French President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly said of the ban, “The truth is that in all our democracies we’ve been too concerned about the identity of the new arrivals and not enough about the identity of the country receiving them.” What Sarkozy articulates is a backlash against liberal multiculturalism. This is evident in other Western European nations too. Despite, and perhaps because of, the multicultural politics of Germany since World War II, a neo-Nazi movement thrives in the country today. The expression of Nazi ideology and symbols was outlawed after the conclusion of WWII, but since the German reunification in 1990, neo-Nazi groups grew as young people suffering poor economic conditions in East Germany sought expression for their angst. In 2010 the German government reported that there were 25,000 right-wing extremists in the country, and over five percent of these were known neo-Nazis. While researching his recently debuted feature film “Kriegerin” (“Combat Girls”), about two young neo-Nazi women in Germany, director David Wnendt found through conversations with young neo-Nazis in the country that many had come to the ideology and lifestyle through poor economic and social conditions, and blamed immigrants for their problems.

While we may not typically see the same kind of open racist hostility in the U.S. as I have described above, I conclude this post by encouraging readers to consider why, then, we have a society of inequalities cleaved by race. If we are a colorblind society, why do Hispanic and Latino people earn only seventy percent of what white people do? And black people only sixty percent? Why do we still not have racial parity in federal politics? Why do black, Hispanic,and Latino children continue to far out-number white children living in poverty? Why did the home foreclosure crisis disproportionately affect black, Hispanic, and Latino homeowners? Why do black, Latino, and Hispanic men far outnumber white men in prisons across our country?

From the Center for Responsible Lending’s 2010 report on home foreclosures.

With their theory of “racial formation,” sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant explain that how we see and understand race and racial difference is directly connected to how our society is structured. From their perspective, the racial inequalities I pointed to above result from individual perceptions of race. The racial structure of American society, wherein white people (and many of Asian descent too) have more money and access to resources than do black, Hispanic, and Latino people, is a consequence of how we evaluate those around us.

There are no two ways about it. Americans make decisions about others based on skin color, and a vast chasm of race-based inequality results. We have these broad patterns of inequality because despite what we would like to believe about ourselves, the society we know is organized by racist expectations and beliefs. While we may not see regularly the kind of open hate that I have seen in Western Europe, we will not be able to combat racial inequality in America until we truly take stock of the subtle, covert racism that pervades our society, and exists inside of us.

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21 thoughts on “Overt European VS. Covert American Racism: A Critical Evaluation”

  1. I’d like to agree with you. Because I don’t like the people who make those types of propaganda.

    But in any other context, people who are defending their right to self-determination based on culture, ethnicity and religion are vigorously defended. The UN has a multiplicity of documentation on this very concept, defending it.

    So defenders of multiculturalism say that it is racist to fight against them, while at the same time cheering on other groups who are pursuing singular culture states. So long as they aren’t white.

    When questioned on this, their response is…. that we are better than that. So defenders of multiculturalism in European-heavy demographic countries defend their beliefs on the very basis of their own assessment of their culture’s superiority.

    They defend themselves against supremacists by covering themselves in the armour of supremacy. That they don’t taste the metallic tingle of Irony in their mouths when they say it is amazing.

    Both sides of this debate are not fully being coherent.

    1. “in any other context, people who are defending their right to self-determination based on culture, ethnicity and religion are vigorously defended…”

      Sure, but you’re missing a very important set of facts in these “other contexts.” Nations that have struggled to self-determine their own govt. were colonized by Euro-American empires that used racism and notions of their superior civilization to subjugate the Other.

      Part of this subjugation remains active in post-colonial economic linkages between specific European states and former colonies or regions of the Global South whose labor and resources they continue to exploit. Post-colonial immigration by South Asians, Africans, Arabs, the Turkish and others to Europe represents the lasting exploitation of these nations as their citizens struggle to find work in a globalized labor market rigged with Europe’s racist immigration policies and enforced on a daily basis by Europe’s white nationalists.

      To say that European nations have a right to cultural self-determination misses the point. Sure they do, but only if they recognize the same rights, especially the rights of their former colonies to fully and finally throw off the yoke of economic imperialism they impose on the neo-colonies.

      Finally, there’s an even deeper more profound problem here having to do with the artificiality of European cultural nationalisms, but we’ll leave that aside for now.

      1. I see you view the entire world through the lens of the White Man’s Burden, re-invented as a story of all things bad came from colonialism. This is the same story of supremacy, retold in a new form and you fail to recognize it as a form of asserting your cultures supremacy.

      2. Semaris, thank you for joining the conversation. I understand the irony you point to in your initial comment, but I also agree with Darwin’s position, that to frame what is happening as ironic misses the long history of domination. I do not think that Darwin is suggesting that fixing the world is “the white man’s burden,” but that it is important and necessary to recognize, and more importantly, to reconcile the injustices that have been committed in the past, and that continue in new forms in our globalized context. I also think it is important to recognize a distinction between self-determination and racist exclusion. Self-determination does not require stripping the rights of others to move freely around the world, and to live as they wish to live, provided their ways do not infringe on the human and civil rights of others. Neither Darwin nor I suggest that white Europeans (or Americans) should be forced to adopt the customs and laws of others. We can all agree that emigrating to a different nation presupposes that one will abide the laws of the host country. The very troubling issue that is the focus of my post, and I think of Darwin’s reply to you, is the violation of human and civil rights of newcomers committed by European states and by their citizens.

  2. Very interesting, Nicki! I’m glad that the sorts of overt racism that you described are generally not acceptable in the US. That said, I agree with you that that is no excuse not to examine the ways that racism is expressed in the US and the effects that has on our society.

  3. nicki, (and any other commenters) could you recommend some non-academic (read “for the masses”) reading about how my own worldview has been effected by a very long history of negative (and positive) global interaction? as always, thank you for thoughtful engagement.

    1. Certainly! Thank you for asking. Recommending a “non-academic” book in this case is hard because my background in race is academic. I’ll recommend some though that I have taught with, which I think are accessible. Edward Said’s book Orientalism is a fantastic account of how Western Europeans developed their own identity in juxtaposition to the “exotic” people they encountered when they began exploring North Africa, and what we now call the “Middle East” (then, “the Orient”). He makes the case the a racist power structure was built on these early encounters, and persists to this day. Howard Winant’s The World is a Ghetto offers a sweeping and smart history of the role race and racism have played in the development of the modern world. In Contagious Divides Nayan Shah provides a very readable and disturbing account of the perception of and management of Chinese immigrants in San Francisco from the 19th century on. All of these tack back through history to explain how economic, social, and political forces have worked together to reproduces racist power structures, influence how we view others and ourselves, and illustrate how deeply embedded race is in contemporary social relations. There are some great documentaries out there too. Marlon Riggs made a set of films that trace African American stereotypes in popular culture from the 18th century through the early 1980s. The first is Ethnic Notions, and the second is Color Adjustment. For more recommended reading, check out the syllabus from a class I taught on race at UCSB. Enjoy 🙂

  4. Nicki,
    Thanks as always. As disheartening as it is for me to consider the overt racism you’re describing over there, it’s equally discouraging to think about the racism that continues here in the states. While the more obvious type initially strikes me as more damaging to the target, maybe it is also easier to recognize, name and thus fight against.
    I’m glad you linked to the Microaggressions Project in your post; I recently discovered that site and it’s been a hot topic of conversation for my friends and I. I have studied microaggressions and examined their role in my life (giver and receiver, unfortunately), but I still have a difficult time explaining how hurtful & damaging they can be when a friend rolls his/her eyes at some of the examples on the site. No way could they roll their eyes at the note you found getting off the tram.
    So I wonder, does the American style of covert racism only serve to make it harder to talk about? Do racial minorities feel any more at ease here, where many people think everything is fine & we’re living in a post-racial society when in fact discrimination is built in to our policies? Not questions you have to answer of course, just thoughts your post brought up for me. Thanks!

    1. Tiffany, thanks for reading and contributing to the conversation. I think you are right that overt racism is easier to see and call out as wrong. It is this kind of racism, for the most part, that was vanished by the Civil Rights movement in the U.S.. Apartheid and Jim Crow laws, and overt harassment and discrimination were outlawed. But covert, subtle racism has persisted. My hunch is that what is going on in Western Europe now, in response to a great upsurge in immigration from Africa and the Middle East, is similar in ways to what happened in the immediate post-slavery context in the U.S.. While European empires traded in African slaves, they brought them mostly to the Americas. They never had to reckon with the legacy of African enslavement in the way that the U.S. has. Now white Europeans finds themselves dealing for the first time in modern history with large and growing populations of people who look, sound, and act very differently from the mainstream.

      The rub about micro-aggressions is that those who are at the top of the race, gender, and class hierarchy in the U.S. are not troubled by them, and so never take them seriously. Yet when you consider the deep racial and gendered divides in pay and wealth in the U.S., it is obvious that everyday racism correlates to social structural trends. This is not exclusively the territory of white people. For example, Bill Cosby, who has high levels of social, cultural, and economic capital has made many hectic statements about the black community, suggesting that people are just not trying hard enough to pull themselves out of poverty and fix their communities. Related to your final question, in this regard, people who are racial minorities but who have other forms of capital might be more at ease, or, they might not. Class and education do not protect from racially oriented micro-agressions, and as we both know, micro-agressions add up and take their toll on the psyche. A search of Google Scholar reveals a long list of research on microaggressions that you might offer to the nay-sayers. It’s the Little Things is an engaging and accessible read on the topic too.

      I think that the covert, everyday nature of racism in the U.S. does make it very difficult to talk about. We have been taught to espouse colorblindness, and that racism is bad, so no one wants to recognize or admit the racism that they carry within them. In many liberal and progressive circles it is taboo to be honest about racism, even when the goal of being honest about it is to address it in a critical and productive manner. How are we to address a problem that we are not allowed to speak of?

  5. Wonderful post with a lot of insight. I love looking through your eyes, Nicki. To be honest, I am a bit shocked by the instances you are describing. It’s not something I have witnessed as such here in Switzerland. (I have in Paris on the other hand…) It would seem that certain common attitudes are worse than I anticipated.

    But I do have a couple of remarks:
    Firstly, I am missing one argument from this excellent article: while in the US a lot can be said and openly done under the protection of free speech, we have laws in Switzerland against racism. What I – as a Swiss – have witnessed in the last Presidential election (and since) was probably just as shocking to me.

    The problem – and I think this is linked to these open displays of racism over here – in political terms here in Switzerland is that we do have a constant stream of immigration, but whereas previous generations accepted integration through language for instance, this is becoming less and less the case. (An example from one of my high school teacher friends in Geneva: bigger city schools need to employ translators for Tamul, Albanian, and Arabic for teacher/parent evenings, because parents will refuse to learn French.)
    If the reason for this is the more or less tangible hostility of everyday life in Switzerland or vice versa is actually not this important.
    The next problem this leads to is the political parties completely ignoring people’s (mostly unwarrented) scares and (sometimes warrented) fears. In Geneva, in 2010 over 60% of inmates in cantonal prisons were immigrants. Legalised or waiting for asylum. That’s why yesterday the Swiss to reintroduce short prison instead of fines, because the criminal tourism from France (Lyon) was getting unbearable and people had enough of drug dealers simply getting off with a fine. http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/politics/Cabinet_pursues_plans_to_reform_justice_system_.html?cid=31332902

    This is part of the reality on which the SVP (and in Geneva the MCG) is building their political fortune on. Because people’s fears are their best matter of manipulation and because other parties simply ignore the fears of losing livelihood, of a social state that is extremely accommodating and easily exploited, losing their jobs etc. etc.

    As a philosopher, I cannot see the solution. Because neither the politicians, nor the elite is trying to actually instruct the Swiss people and instead of ridiculing them, form them to accept certain obligations that come with our comfortable place in this world. The only way we will get to the bottom of this is education. Lots of it.

    This also includes this view by Darwin here:

    the artificiality of European cultural nationalisms

    .

    It’s pretty revelatory of a very American way of seeing the world and particularly Europe as.. something similar to the United States.
    There is nothing artificial about the differences between a French and a French speaking Swiss. They not only do not share the same culture, but they barely really share the same language. (Ask a French what a ‘pâte humide’ or a ‘cornet’ is, please.) The same thing is true of the Italians and Italian Swiss.
    Now imagine the difference between a French and an Italian and a Spanish person. They not only don’t speak the same language, but they have very specific ways of reacting to reality. The idea that just because we barely have any distances between us, means that European is actually a referencing more than a general geographic origin, is quite ignorant to be honest.

    1. Bettina, thanks for your localized insights. I have a couple of thoughts in response. In terms of laws against racism, laws are great. We have them in the U.S. too. The kinds of open racism I have seen in Zurich would constitute hate crimes in the U.S.. We call this “hate speech.” While the state can outlaw de jure racism, it really cannot control de facto racism, or the racism of everyday life and personal worldviews. To that end, I wonder if it might not be the case that the immigrant parents in Geneva who require translators to speak with teachers are not refusing to learn French, but find it difficult to carve out the time to do so while working to support their families.

      I’m not surprised that the majority of inmates are immigrants. I would suspect that as far as they might also be non-white populations, they are likely over-policed, and disproportionately stopped and arrested as compared with the white Swiss population. This is very much the case in the U.S.. Because skin color is a highly visible marker of difference, many see it as cause to wonder about criminality. This is everyday racism–presuming criminality based on skin color. The state of Arizona in the U.S. recently passed a highly racist law that allows police to stop and question anyone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant. This means they have been given license to harass anyone with brown skin, as it is migrants from Mexico who are targeted by this law.

      I understand what you mean about European nations have very distinct cultures and languages. I do not think Darwin suggests that they do not. What I believe he meant in his comment is that it is sort of farcical to suggest that there is “true” or “authentic” ways to be French or Italian or Swiss, as people from European nations have been exchanging culture, language, and goods with people from Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa since the middle ages. All cultures in Westernized nations have collected elements of other cultures they have come into contact with over the last near-millenium. So, he, and I, think that the argument that immigrants are damaging a “native” culture is untenable. Rather, it is a cover for racism and white ethnocentrism. I would love to hear your thoughts in response.

    2. Here’s an example of how everyday, individual racism feeds into over-policing and higher rates of arrest and imprisonment: http://gawker.com/5850149/woman-arrested-for-being-black-gets-to-keep-settlement-cash. Another infamous case was when Harvard professor and highly acclaimed scholar of race, Henry Louis Gates, was arrested in Cambridge, MA after a neighbor called the police to report him breaking into his own home when his front door was stuck: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2009/07/henry-louis-gates-jr-arrested-seriously-cambridge.html

      1. Having been arrested myself in near identical circumstances(forcing my back door open), I’m not sure I could accept that’s a case – infamous or otherwise – of racism.

      2. Fair enough. I have to point out though that people who have never experienced racism or gender-based discrimination rarely believe that complaints of covert discrimination are valid, and certainly, many of them are. As far as the case of Professor Gates, he didn’t actually break in, but entered through an unlocked back door. And, it was his neighbor, someone who presumably should have been able to recognize him, that called the police to report a break-in. Whether or not that was racism, they way the police treated him when they got to his home certainly was.

    1. What a great post! I am now following that blog. Thanks for sharing, Tiff. It seems to me that the way Halloween is interpreted in the U.S. is more like medieval carnivale than it is a celebration of the walking dead. In this sense, I think the blogger is right on in characterizing Halloween as an opportunity to let out an inner something that is otherwise caged throughout the year. Social theorists view medieval carnivale as a sort of safety valve that was used to release the pressure of living with unjust hierarchies and feudal inequality. We might conceive of Halloween as similar in a way, as an opportunity to be someone else, or to release that which is usually bottled up. That this often takes a racist form is disturbing, but not surprising really. That we have so much subtle and covert racism in the U.S. speaks to a deeply rooted racism in our culture. Given the opportunity to express it, and to write it off as “good fun,” is welcome by many. Many of those who dress as other cultures or races for Halloween probably do not think of themselves as racist, and that is the rub it seems–believing that one sees the world through colorblind eyes, when this is obviously not the case.

  6. You look at America and regardless of your ethnicity or background, you can rise to the top and become President of the country. You could for example go to a European nation – Certainly a Western European one – and say “McCain or Obama, who do you want running your country” and Obama would surely crush(emphasis here, because it wouldn’t even be close) McCain… Yet, in Europe, the likelihood of a black man even getting to the stage of being candidate for leadership is outright implausible – Mainly for reasons of class. Racism is much more publicly acceptable in Europe, but I’m not sure it’s a reflection on the number or extent of racism within Europe. Instead it just seems racists in Europe are ballsier, because there’s less chance of confrontation.

    When you’re in America, if somebody breaks social conventions and acts a d/ck in public, they’ll be confronted by an individual or group and told to stop their behavior. Americans don’t mind “stepping in”, but it’s a culture and attitude that is decidedly absent in Europe. In most European nations you will be ignored, as avoiding confrontation is much more common, citizens feel less of a social responsibility to involve themselves. It’s probably an attitude difference born of market politics, in a lot of ways. Europeans favor more Authoritarian, Government controlled markets and societies – The view being to let institutions of power deal with these issues, it’s their responsibility… Mad man starts punching people in the streets and people ask where the police are, always looking to blame others, whether it’s the police, the criminals poor parenting, government policy on welfare, etc, etc.

    In America people are very much small government, non-interventionist and libertarian. If there’s someone running around a neighborhood raping people, it’s the responsibility of you, your neighbors and the community at large to make sure it stops. Sure, you accept and expect help from police, council and government… But you don’t rid yourselves of social responsibility.

    For me, that’s the main difference. I would hope that my country – England, for the record – isn’t any more racist than the next and I’m always embarrassed and naturally disappointed when people find it to be racist. BUT I understand why the perception, especially from Americans, exists. It’s because on this side of the Atlantic, whether in Poland or Scotland, people rid their hands of social responsibility. There is no “togetherness” here. I could go up town right now and begin throwing uppercuts at random people, and the majority of citizens would ignore what I’m doing and walk by.

    You could make racist remarks in front of a group of Europeans who are very much anti-racist, and hear little in the way of protest. In America by in large, in such a situation, you’re likely be called out.

    I’m by no means are sociologist, that’s just my take on things.

    1. Chris, thanks so much for joining the conversation to lend your insight. I really appreciate hearing the perspectives of those outside of the U.S. on these issues. I think you give Americans much more credit than we deserve in your observations on how things are in the states, but it is very interesting to know that that is how you see it. I think it would be great if people in general took on responsibility for intervening when injustice occurs. I think this is a problem beyond Europe. There are some famous cases of people ignoring cries for help in the U.S., and recently there was the news out of China of passersby ignoring a toddler who was run over twice on a crowded market street. The thing about racism though is that it is not just a problem of individual attitudes, actions, or lack of actions. But it is these things in combination with how the institutions of our society run things. We can’t fix the problem by addressing only one aspect; we have to attack them all.

  7. Hi Nicki,
    I wonder how much the lower average incomes experienced by “racial minorities” in the US can be predicted by the theory you mention in another entry, that the thing most likely to predict an individual’s income is their parent’s income. While I don’t doubt that racism exists, I wonder sometimes if these figures overstate it a bit. I am sure that impoverished “white” people suffer from many of the same barriers to individual achievement and self-determination that are faced by any other ethnic group. Besides which, in many circles where using a derogatory racial term would be considered gauche, it is still socially acceptable to make jokes about “hillbillies” and to refer to people as “white trash”.
    Racism is often discussed as it is experienced/studied in European nations, but that does not mean it does not or has not existed in all cultures over all of known history. I wouldn’t have wanted to be a “Celt” when the Romans took over Britain, a “white” person in China in the 1360’s when the Han dynasty expelled the Christians, a “European” in Constantinople during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent in the 1550’s, or even a “white European” in North Korea now.
    While it is important to do what we can to encourage a truly accepting and multi-racial society, I think sometimes it is important to remember that all “races” and most “cultures” have had their times and places of dominance, when those who were identified as minorities were persecuted, and that racism is not exclusively a “white privilege”.

  8. I agree with most of what you have written but just wanted to comment on….

    ‘If we are a colorblind society, why do Hispanic and Latino people earn only seventy percent of what white people do? And black people only sixty percent? Why do we still not have racial parity in federal politics? Why do black, Hispanic,and Latino children continue to far out-number white children living in poverty? Why did the home foreclosure crisis disproportionately affect black, Hispanic, and Latino homeowners? Why do black, Latino, and Hispanic men far outnumber white men in prisons across our country?’

    To that I respond, that its mostly lack of education that contributes to that number. Also many of the immigrants have escaped from poverty and/or crime in their country to make a living here. Their journey has just begun and obviously its hard to compete with the already established.

    ‘The racial structure of American society, wherein white people (and many of Asian descent too) have more money and access to resources than do black, Hispanic, and Latino people, is a consequence of how we evaluate those around us.’

    That would be to my point above. The Asians have risen faster to join their white counterparts because most Asians culturally put more stress on education. Be it back home or in their host country.

    Yes racism exists. It exists every where. It is born out of proprietorship. It is born when there is a threat. Its born when a majority of a race show similar behavior. Its is born out of discomfort. It is unavoidable.

    Thanks for a great article!

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