The examples below are only illustrations of some of the ways people still benefit from racism:
- Your name. If it sounds Irish, Polish, French, Spanish, Belgian, Norwegian — no problem. Our names, if they sound “black”, are often reasons to toss our resumes without even calling us. If we resort to our initials, or names that do not “sound black”, then you can see the surprise on the interviewer’s face when they encounter a non-white face. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t pick your name, your parents picked it. It doesn’t matter that you don’t think it’s fair (and it’s NOT) that a Rebecca will get looked at before a Tamika; a Bobby before a Kwesi. You’re still benefitting from racism just by not being a person who can be identified as not-white by the name on your resume.
- Your pay. PoC, on average, get paid less to do the same job as anyone white (or white passing)
- The jobs themselves: Carnival’s failboat is a prime example. White-looking people get the good, customer interacting jobs, the ones that pay the most. PoC get the jobs that involve bussing tables, cleaning toilets, garbage, etc, and have to hope their meager pay is supported by generous tips. But any hotel or office building can shows the same breakdown.
- Your fashions: Your hair, whether it is curly, fine, thin, short, or long, is still considered appropriate for work. It’s getting to the point where even anime colours are not looked askance at anymore. Our hair, when not abused with chemicals and heat, is usually considered “political” if we wear it in a natural style. Or “unprofessional”. There are no less than 3 men on the supervisory and management teams at my job who cut off their locks because they knew that they would never progress with their ambitions unless they conformed to Corporate’s euro-style. That’s having to give up something with a cultural meaning to them in order to have a job they want and can do. I can’t count the number of women who, rather than go natural, have chosen to wear wigs to work, because either option is cheaper and less painful than bi-weekly trips to a hairdresser to chemically treat or heat treat their hair to make it look more like European hair. Little girls have been prevented from dancing in ballet class for having dreadlocks. They have been sent home from school for wearing “political” and “faddish” hairstyles.
- Shopping: If your skin is light enough, you can walk into a store and be treated like a customer. When the clerk, salesgirl, or whomever greets you with a smile and a “can I help you?” they mean it. They hope to find something you’ll spend your money on. And they will let you get on with your browsing. Not us PoC. When we walk in, we are often told, “can I help you?” with that same smile, but with practice we have learned to see the apologetic wince in the body language that means "sorry, but my bosses tell everyone to shadow you in the store in case you’re a thief". And since a lot of white people, or white-passing people know this, the store gets robbed by the ones they’re not looking at. Doesn’t matter if you’re not really stealing. You benefit by being treated better just because of how you look.
- Shopping: Walk into a drugstore, a Wal-Mart, a Target, or a supermarket one day and check how many products there are for “everyone” vs how many products there are in the “ethnic hair care and/or cosmetics” section. Doesn’t matter that you like shea butter too. You benefit in that all the products are assumed to be okay for you, and the products marketed to us are a niche. Diversity is an afterthought. In skin and hair and face, you benefit by being treated as the default and the first type any company considers when they choose to whom to market their product. Witness Dove’s indicating they have a product for “normal to dark skin”. Normal skin is normal — ie white. Dark skin is not normal.
- Driving: The term “driving while black” is shorthand for the fact that police, if seeing a black person — particularly a man — driving a car they think he should not be able to afford — he’ll get pulled over on suspicion of having stolen it, or only being able to afford it through being a drug dealer. You benefit bybeing able to drive your BMW or Mercedes home without anyone assuming anything about you. Real drug dealers benefit by being able to drive their cars full of cocaine home without being bothered by the police.
- Arrest: If you’re white, you can be as “fight the power” as you like. You benefit by the police being unwilling to knock around anyone white because you never know who has powerful relatives or friends. If you’re a person of color, you gotta go “yes officer” and loudly enough so onlookers can hear you cooperating; and you better do so politely and cooperate as noisily and clearly as you can, and you better pray somebody is videoing you, because if you sneeze, if you twitch, the police may decide you’re going for a gun and unload their entire clip on you.
- Just existing: Trayvon Martin is a prime example. He was visiting his father in the complex, but George Zimmerman didnt know that. And didn’t care. He also didn’t care that the police told him to not follow the unidentified Person of Color walking home with his hands in his pockets and his hood up (like anyone might in the rain). Mr. Zimmerman was convinced he was protecting his neighborhood from hoods and thieves and just bad black kids. And a jury acquitted him even though he has a history of being violent, racist and abusive. He has people who still vociferously insist that he’s a hero who was fighting for his life against a thuggish teen (despite the fact that GZ outweighed Trayvon and had the gun). There are people who dispute what was said on the actual phone call that was played during the trial.
- That Japanese college student who turned up at the wrong address for a Halloween party and was shot dead without the homeowner even asking him anything is another good example.
- And the person who recently shot a Latin@ for daring to use his driveway as a turnaround.
- Then there’s the esteemed Ivy League professor who got harassed by the police trying to get into his own house. As a person who is or looks white, you benefit by never, ever having to worry that this will happen to you or anyone who looks like you .
- Your education: You can complain all you like about a Black History Month when there are History Months for multiple other White ethnicities and cultures. A quick google search will reveal them. That being said, the shortest month is given to Black People for their history. And our history is ignored entirely except during our month, even though there are Black and African people who have made significant contributions to American Industry, medicine, and countless other fields of study. You benefit by continuing to look good while the accomplishments of PoC (NDN and Latin@ and Asians) all get downplayed, glossed over, or flat out not mentioned at all.
Reproduction: The issue of “choice” aside, white or white-passing people benefit from racism in that you do not have to worry that some doctor will decide to do a tubal ligation on youwithout your permission. White or white-passing people are not generally put on anti-choice billboards implying that white people are genociding themselves as PoC are.
Health: White and white-passing people will never have to worry about being told their conditions are a result of “ghetto booty”. Whites and white-passing people need not be concerned that their health issues will be scoffed at or ignored.
Entertainment: Whites and white-passing people can get any role in any film, play, or other medium they like. Jewish Henry Winkler played Italian Arthur Fonzarelli. The new TMNT movie has chosen a white actor to play the Japanese Shredder. PoC are relegated to the roles of villains, servants, and buffoons. And this is not a case of “they just chose the right person for the role”. Hollywood will advertise for casting calls, specifying they want “caucasian only” in so many words. They don’t offer the opportunity to anyone who isn’t white. And when PoC are cast in heroic roles, or roles that have previously been “white” roles, there is a huge hue and cry because those who are used to the privilege of being the first, the go to, are unhappy that they no longer benefit from that privileged position.
PoC usually show up in certain sports, and when they dare step out of their lane, they are mocked for it. Google “Jamaican bobsled team”. See how the Wiliams sisters are treated. Their response in victory is likened to making gang signs. White people can go into any sport they want and no one will question or challenge them for such audacity.
And oh, the reaction when a character is actually described in a book as dark skinned and then portrayed by a person of color. Look up the Hunger Games on Twitter, and the reaction to seeing one character as black, and all the white kids saying they no longer cared about her even though they cried for her death in the books.
And then there’s whitewashing. Stories that are about PoC, histories that have happed to PoC, are repackaged for the consumption of audiences by casting white performers in the main role unless you have a power player like Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Samuel L Jackson or Morgan Freeman to play the part.
No less a well known filmmaker than George Lucas actually went on record saying that if he hadn’t been George Lucas, Red Tails probably would not have been made, because it has no white heroes. Look white, be white, you are always benefiting by being considered worthy of being the hero and saving the day. You don’t have to be the sidekick.
In Devious Maids, some of the storylines were tossed as “unrealistic” because Latina women were having conversations that white writers felt sounded like “us talking with our friends”, and suggested instead that the Latina women “debate whether or not to date men in prison? I know that’s what Latinas talk about, just like it’s what black women talk about.” Look white, benefit by not being considered uneducated, and worthy only of a man in prison because all the men of your race are considered criminals.
Religion: Christianity in its many forms, as practised by white and white-passing people is another way in which white and white-passing people benefit from racism. Your sacred ceremonies and meaningful prayers are treated with respect. NDN people were forbidden from practising their religion until the 1940s. PoC churches, even now, in 2013, are treated as tourist attractions for white people with money. And voudoun and other PoC religions are treated as savage and incomprehensible.
City Life: Gentrification. By definition, it means “making fit for the Gentry”. The Gentry are those with high societal position, next-best-thing to royalty. So Gentrifying anyplace means pushing out anyone who isn’t as high, in order to make room for the gentry. That means building up corporate influence, and pushing out PoC from their existing and established communities. So in a gentrified community, whites and those who look white benefit at the expense of PoC.
Travel: Racial profiling is a fact of life for people of color. If someone “looks Muslim” or “looks Arab”, thanks to the security theater we embraced as a nation after 9/11, they get pulled aside. Women can be forced to drink their own breast milk to make sure it’s not some sort of dangeorus agent. Men can be removed from flights because speaking in Arabic frightens and upsets the white passengers. You benefit becausein the main, no one will suspect someone who looks white of being a criminal or terrorist out to kill God-loving Americans and destroy our Freedom. And that’s despite Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber, and the Boston Marathon bombers, all of whom were white.
REAL LIFE Media Representation: So many examples. Indigenous women murdered and raped, but it never makes the news. Women of Color murdered and raped, but it never makes the news. Children of color, either sex, go missing or get kidnapped. It’s all but impossible to get an Amber Alert for them, never mind getting them news coverage. That’s why you often see missing child notices on Tumblr. The blogosphere is the only recourse people of color have to get the word out when we have harm happening to us. Local news stations don’t care. The press doesn’t care. The mainstream media doesn’t care. People who look white benefit by being considered important enough to look out for, to get upset about, to search for.
As if that weren’t enough?
When Chris Dorner, the former cop in Los Angeles went on a rampage because of how the corrupt LAPD had treated him, there was an immediate manhunt. The news referred to him as ‘an animal’ and the LAPD came after him with extreme prejudice, burning him to death so he would not have a chance to have his day in court and say what it was he’d already posted on Facebook. Yes, he was a black man. If he’d been white, he’d have had his day in court.
Those teenagers who shot the Australian for fun because they wanted to see someone die? There were three of them, but you wouldn’t know by many news outlets, because the third kid was white. Oh, and although they’re all teenagers? The two black teens are being tried as adults. The white kid is getting tried on a lesser charge, and being tried as a juvenile. Looking or being white benefits you in that the authorities will always go softer on you than they will on any PoC because the societal narrative is that PoC are violent and dangerous.
The Boston Marathon bombers? Their photos were recoloredin several cases to make them look darker than white. And their friends ended up on trial too because they “wanted to be good bros” and not rat out their friend.
White and white passing people benefit like crazy in situations like this. Looking white means you get an easier punishment, people will make extreme stretching out of reason to protect you and help you, and anyone black involved will get penalized far more severely.
This may be a long post, but this is also only the tip of an iceberg.