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DEI Prof-spectives: Racial Profiling, Institutional Racism, and White Allyship

The following article is an excerpt from the Rowan University Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion blog and is reprinted with permission.

Monika Williams ShealeyFor the past 2 months our country has been in the grips of a pandemic that has challenged us in unimaginable ways and revealed our strength and courage in the face of fear. Unfortunately, during a time when we should be united against a common enemy, COVID-19, racism and xenophobia has become the cure for some who are inflicted with an irrational hatred and fear of people of color. Let’s not forget we were introduced to this pandemic as the “Chinese Virus” and the result was an onslaught of hate speech directed towards Asians and Asian Americans. We are not ok.

It is difficult for Black Americans to forget the legacy of the enslavement of Black bodies for economic consumption, Jim Crow, the civil rights movement and mass incarceration lives on. How does one talk about systemic racism and the oppression of people of color without acknowledging and understanding the current conditions that ensure our country remains divided by race.  The election of a Black president was believed to be an indication of how far we’ve come as a country and we even heard that we were living in a post-racial country. Yet, the stories of police brutality, racial violence, and discrimination directed at Black Americans continued.  We are not ok.

In February Ahmad Arbery, an unarmed black man was jogging and was accosted and murdered by two white men. The following month Breonna Taylor, an unarmed black woman was shot to death by police as they forced their way into her home. Then, we were sent reeling by news that we had lost over 100,000 citizens to COVID-19. This reality especially stung in the Black community who are disproportionately represented in the number of COVID-19 cases. I’m reminded of the saying, when America gets a cold, Black America gets a flu. In other words, COVID-19 has crushed the Black community and revealed long-standing disparities in access to quality healthcare prevention and treatment. Then, we were reintroduced to the weaponization of the police against Blacks through the video of Amy Cooper in New York City. If that weren’t enough, we were reminded last week of Eric Garner’s final words in 2014, “I can’t breathe”, which were also uttered by George Floyd as he lay dying in the street. I have highlighted an abbreviated version of the cases and stories that depict the problematic nature of being Black in America. We are not ok.

How can anyone who believes in the sanctity of life and humanity be ok? We are now able to capture the images of violence toward Black Americans easily and we share these images over and over again. Our children see the images and we are unable to shield them from the harsh realities of hatred in the form of violence. Those of us with Black men in our lives who we love and cherish relive the trauma with each video clip share and post on social media. Black Americans live in a constant state of fear for their lives and carry the burden of trying to dispel myths and stereotypes that have nothing to do with who they are and who they aspire to be in this world. If you’re not a racist, then actively work on being anti-racist. Otherwise you are the problem and our country will never be ok.

DEI Prof-spectives: Racial Profiling, Institutional Racism, and White Allyship
Terms to Know and Resources

Racial Stereotypes and Biases

Stereotypes – A generalized idea applied to all people in a group, regardless of individual differences. Some may seem positive (i.e. Asian people are good at math), but still have a negative impact on the individual.

Biases – A bias is a preference for or against something or someone whether conscious or unconscious

Racial categorization reflects the brain’s process of placing people into distinct groups based on the variation of phenotypes, whether it be skin color, hair color, eye shape, nose, or lips. Racial stereotyping and biases reflect these human tendencies to categorize and conceptualize people based on their phenotypic features and act on racial thoughts or feelings during interactions with members of racial categories. This begins at a young age, in which children as young as 2 years old use race to reason about people’s behaviors. When considering power and privilege, White people have had systematic power, in representation and leadership, all of which benefit White people across institutions in society, named White Privilege. For instance, in New York City’s Central Park, a White woman named Amy Cooper called 911 and made false claims to the dispatcher that a Black man was threatening her. Amy Cooper enacted on her racial biases and knew that institutional racism was on her side, which would protect her and threaten the Black man.

Institutional Racism

Institutional Racism – the ways in which the structures, systems, policies, and procedures of institutions are founded upon and then promote, reproduce, and perpetuate advantages for the dominant group and the oppression of disadvantaged and underrepresented groups.

Institutional racism is apparent across all institutions in the United States, from neighborhoods to banking, to healthcare, to education.  These institutions were built upon racism and continue to perpetuate racism and violence today. For example, political and banking institutions have historical legacies in redlining. This systematic discrimination leads to communities of color questioning their level of safety and justice at every level. Within policing institutions, Black men are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites. Institutional racism leads to the excessive force and abuse of power within police departments, as witnessed in Minneapolis which resulted in the horrific death of George Floyd.

Racial Battle Fatigue (RBF)

Racial Battle Fatigue (RBF) – the social and psychological stress responses of the negative and racially charged experiences that people of color face in the United States.

Considering the ongoing threats, violence, racial tensions, and trauma that communities of color face in our society, this has immense mental and social implications on an individual. Critical race theorist, William Smith, who coined the term in 2008, describes racial battle fatigue as, “cumulative result of a natural race-related stress response to distressing mental and emotional conditions. These conditions emerged from constantly facing racially dismissive, demeaning, insensitive, and/or hostile racial environments and individuals.” Some symptoms of RBF include anxiety, insomnia, stress, difficulty thinking or speaking coherently, and emotional and social withdrawal in response to racial profiling, institutional racism, biases, and stereotypes.

White Allies/Accomplices

Given these contexts of our society, White people have systemic privilege, called White privilege. White privilege is the ability to go to the store and find your skin toned band-aid; it’s turning on the television and having your race widely represented, it’s being able to move throughout life without being racially profiled or unfairly stereotyped. During these difficult times and all throughout the year, White individuals need to commit to anti-racism work, and engage in solutions that address systemic and institutional racism.

Here are some suggestions for white allies/accomplices:

  • Educate yourself! Take action by reading books or watching documentaries on the history of racial oppression and how it continues to affect our society.
  • Listen to the stories of those who have experienced racial stereotypes, biases, and racial power dynamics, and seek to broaden your perspectives on these issues. At the same time, do not expect a person of color to “educate” you on these issues, seek out your own education to these topics.
  • Challenge the ‘colorblind’ ideology, it is a pervasive myth that we live in a “post-racial” society where people “don’t see color.” Perpetuating a colorblind ideology actually contributes to racism.
  • Speak up, when a witness to injustices or inappropriate comments, have the courage to speak up against it, silence contributes to the problem.
  • Start difficult conversations with fellow White people, take the knowledge you have gained from educating yourself on historical and current injustices, and put it into practice! Challenge other White people in your life to think critically about racism – family, friends, coworkers, teachers, public officials.
  • If you make a mistake, apologize, learn from the situation, and seek to do better in the future.
  • Adopt intersectionality into everyday life, programming, practices, and pedagogies. Intersectionality is coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw,which acknowledges that there are multiple perspectives that need to be understood on any given issue because each individual experiences a variety of privileges and limitations based on their identities. Intersectionality asks us to further understand systems of oppression in relation to multiple, overlapping and complex systems of inequities.
  • The Office of Social Justice, Inclusion, and Conflict Resolution (SJICR) hosts the Association of White Anti-Racists for Equity (AWARE). AWARE is a bi-weekly dialogue for individuals who identify as White to learn and discuss strategies to engage in anti-racist behaviors. AWARE is an opportunity for participants to become more self-awareand knowledgeable about issues and the systems in this country that contribute to, or maintain and perpetuate inequities across race. For more information, contact, J.T. Mills, millsj@rowan.edu.

Read the full text, including further actionable steps and anti-racism resources.

Monika Williams Shealey is senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at the Rowan University and an AACTE Board member.

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