This is a public service announcement. It does not matter that you think you are not racist. In fact, racism has several contested meanings, but none of them, as far as I am aware, include one’s own self-identification as “racist” as part of the criteria for engaging in racist behaviors or having racist ideas.
Many people believe that they are things that they are not, or that they are not things that they are. For example, people may describe themselves as “middle class,” as do most Americans, when their actual income falls below or on the poverty line. Likewise, the trend du jour seems to espouse beliefs about the cultural inferiority of Black people while somehow maintaining the cognitive delusion that one is not, in fact, a racist.
Many bloggers and scholars have attempted to write a comprehensive definition of racism for the purpose of convincing racists-in-denial that they are in fact racist. I’m not going to do that. See the previous sentence for why. You see, no matter how many books, articles, speeches, and documentaries are published explaining the racialized structure of American society and its structural and individual consequences, the onus always seems to be upon the marginalized to constantly prove that they are, in fact, marginalized.
Instead, I offer you a STARTER list of books that explain racism pretty damn well, from various approaches. It is by no means comprehensive, but reading even a single one of these books before trying to deny the lived-in experiences of Black people is the least that we can ask. If you are a reader that often encounters racists-in-denial, I encourage you to point them to these texts, and refuse to engage in the emotional, intellectual, and often physical labor of trying to penetrate the most deeply held delusion in American society. If you are yourself a racist-in-denial, I encourage you to read these books and educate yourself about a field that has been theorized and empirically examined across nearly two centuries of literature, rather than expecting people of color to concisely and eloquently explain to you how your behaviors perpetuate structural racism. For free.
Alexander, M. (2012). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. The New Press.
Bonilla-Silva, E. (2006). Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in the United States. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Collins, P. H. (2002). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Routledge.
Omi, M., & Winant, H. (2014). Racial formation in the United States. Routledge.
Roberts, D. (2011). Fatal invention: How science, politics, and big business re-create race in the twenty-first century. The New Press.
Sears, D. O., Sidanius, J., & Bobo, L. (Eds.). (2000). Racialized politics: The debate about racism in America. University of Chicago Press.
Skloot, R., & Turpin, B. (2010). The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks (p. 369). New York: Crown Publishers.
Wise, T. J. (2008). White like me: Reflections on race from a privileged son. Counterpoint Press.
Zuberi, T. (2001). Thicker than blood: How racial statistics lie. U of Minnesota Press.