Is it fair to say that we should all be treated equally? While a single person who treats others with equal kindness or compassion has an honorable and fair connotation, “equality” takes an entirely different meaning when implemented into institutional practice. Equality is sameness in treatment, and equality in practice will never uplift PoC to the same standing as white folk.
We see PoC lacking in comparison to their white counterparts, but why? Consider how imperialist, colonial forces molded the education system. Schooling for children of color was used for assimilation into white culture, and these oppressors did so through the construction of knowledge; by rewriting or leaving out PoC history and perspectives altogether from official historic and academic texts, they labeled Western and white-centric narratives as “the truth” in all levels of education while dehumanizing other ethnic cultures as uncivilized, depraved and barbaric. (Video on the left: The Unequal Opportunity Race, a short film showing metaphors for obstacles to equality which affirmative action tries to alleviate)
The Colonial Mindset and white supremacist ideology created the unfair structures we see today. It’s injected not only into the individual’s way of thinking, but governmental and authoritative institutions and how they operate and serve PoC and whites alike. Yet, while we’ve eliminated overtly racist structures (slavery and colonialism), stopping them doesn’t magically solve the problem. We now must deal with its aftermath: the trauma and disparity within PoC communities, and the pervasiveness of racism and colorism within society’s collective beliefs.
Being subjugated for such a long period of time meant that upon ‘freedom’ they still were leagues behind their former oppressors in terms of capital/generational wealth. White people have only benefitted from the old systems of power — even if their forefathers weren’t plantation owners or the like, just being white automatically gave a person more advantages than being person of color. And ‘freedom’ only ushered in a new forms of oppression: upon slavery’s end came the era of Jim Crow and segregation; the many xenophobic immigration bans of Asian and other ethnic groups, followed by the erasure of non-white ethnic cultures and viewpoints from major, academic history texts and lack of responsibility by their former oppressors. This trickles into disproportionate numbers of PoC living in poverty and without access to higher education, frequently incarcerated or victimized by police brutality; public school funding based on property tax and standardized testing; the school-to-prison pipeline. Threats to low-income, majority non-white housing and recent and ongoing threats to Ethnic Studies imply little value to people of color. The list goes on and on…
❝ Everyone works hard and struggles. But there’s this feeling(LA Times “For Asian Americans, A changing landscape on college admissions”)
that it’s going to be harder for us. ❞ – Lawrence Leonn, 16
One might say we live in a Post-racial era, but is this truly the case? Old systematic rules and ideas have morphed into the hurdles and threats of today. Therefore, those who gain from such systems mustn’t assume that others of different ethnicities can simply work hard (“pull themselves up by their own bootstraps”) to get on the same level as they are; because we do not all begin at the same starting line and some people face more obstacles than others.
Once we understand how and why communities of color are systemically disadvantaged in our society, we see that treating everyone equally will not alleviate the issue. The aftereffects of racist and white supremacist structures still permeate and exist today, and in order for real change to happen we must tackle it directly with full acknowledgement and direct action.
Through mass mobilization (creation of PoC organizations, uniting all oppressed communities for the singular cause, conducting protests and strikes against discriminatory and unfair practices) and fair, affirmative action (the policy of favoring disadvantaged groups who suffer or have suffered from discrimination within a culture) can we bridge the divide and reach not equality, but equity for all.
Concluding thoughts: It’s eye-opening to talk about racial disparity in a straightforward and blunt manner, because it enables us to unlearn and reject negative, racist stereotypes that we’ve internalized and begin thinking critically of the world we live in. I think a lot of people misconstrue racism because they think individuals are solely to blame when they face hard times, but more often than not they are just victims of circumstances out of their control. And although people personally find it uncomfortable talking about the privileges we have, I think we must utilize the discomfort we feel to make a more fair and equitable world.
This post was an assignment from my Fall 2017 course, Sociology 142, Filipina/o American Community Issues by Professor Roderick Daus-Magbual, Ed.D. View the original post and the rest of my group’s (A Brother & Three Sisters) posts here.
Also previously published on my old blog, The Plant That Never Blooms (on Blogspot)