The Many Aspects of Racism

From a talk by Tim Jackins at the West Coast USA Reference Persons’ Workshop, January 2006

Let me talk a little more about racism, so that we can work on it more and more as a matter of course. Racism exists as a tool for economic exploitation. Race is an entirely artificial idea created to provide a pretext for exploiting people. It was created to condition people to see others not quite as they see themselves—just as nationalism is, just as all oppressions are. It is a way to put distance between people so that they can be restimulated enough not to fight against the oppression of someone else. It divides people up enough that there is almost no one left to fight for one’s liberation except oneself. Racism has been installed across the world, as other oppressions have, and it is the key oppression of this period.

Every country, every society, has its own versions of racism, and it is also not monolithic within a country or even within each of our own heads. Racism has many different aspects to it and different sets of targets. Our distressed-based attitude toward people of African heritage will be different from our distress-based attitude toward people of Native heritage, or Asian heritage, or any other heritage. The attitudes will all be racist, and they will all be different. It will be easier for us, more comfortable, less restimulating, to move toward one group than it will be to move toward another.

The way racism forms depends on how a particular group of people has been targeted and for what purpose. In the United States, it depends on who was brought here to be exploited and in what way. And there are the Native people, who were not brought here. What is aimed at Native people is quite different. Native people were not wanted for the exploitation of their labor. They were in the way of the patterns of the people arriving from Europe. How racism got acted out at the Native people, how it is still being acted out, is by removing Native people—not just taking their resources but actually annihilating Native people.

If you read U.S. history—not in your civic books, going a little wider than that—you can see just how lost in distresses of oppression the leaders of this country, and other people, have been. Not everybody. It’s never everybody. Some people try to stand up against the push of oppression and play good roles. But when the oppression becomes part of society, it does wash over people. It hits young children after they have been oppressed as children and are therefore fertile ground for confusion about oppression. It latches on there. That’s what happens with all of us growing up in oppressive societies.

Because racism is inflicted differently on each targeted group, how people within each group treat each other, and treat themselves individually—the internalized racism—is also different. There are lots of versions of internalized racism. They differ, and to understand them we have to look at the differences. If you are part of a targeted group, you have a particular set of internalized distresses that pull you in a certain direction.

Because Native people, for example, were to be exterminated, they have internalized distresses that are self-destructive—not just feeling bad about oneself, not just having difficulties, but self-destructive and suicidal. That’s what gets installed on people who have been targeted for destruction. That’s what gets internalized, and then the targeted people can’t remember why they should struggle, can’t see any purpose to it, can’t see that there is value to themselves and what they do.

We need to look at all these differences because we won’t be fully looking at racism until we do. We won’t be looking directly at it if we look only at one big blank wall. We can face all the pieces of the oppression that got installed on all of us. We can look at the racism as it sits on each group of people, and the version of it that came in on each member of that group. We can face how mean and destructive and irrational it can be, and we can end the hold of it on ourselves and our societies.

Last modified: 2014-10-06 21:31:06+00