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Ask the White Guy on Racism, Bigotry & White Privilege

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

Comment: 
The article Ask the White Guy on ‘Is it Racism or Bigotry’ made me think and perhaps come up with a reason for so many of the “why can’t we just get over it” commen
ts I have seen on your website. I think there is a perception that many use living with racism as a rationalization for cultural and morale distance and justify bigoted actions or discrimination. It is as though they believe the fallacious argument “in America only whites can be racist; therefore white Americans are all racists.” One of the great points you make clearly is that bad behavior is bad regardless of whether it is bigotry or racism.

Answer:
You’re on to something. I think that the gut dislike of the definition of “racist” is due to people feeling that they’re not racist when the evidence is that our system has been racist (and still is to a degree). This dis-resonance is generated because most people don’t want to be a racist and don’t want to be associated with racists—and most people don’t want unearned privileges (which is a core byproduct of racism). The very definition of racism is offensive to most Americans because we want to believe that America is a meritocracy with the same opportunities for all, and although we’ve had our issues (and still do), we’re closer to that ideal than any other country. You can measure this with economics; our civil and human rights are what has created the greatest economy on earth. With all of our problems, we’ve still managed to create more inventions, liberate more people and have the longest living constitution in known history. If you heard Admiral Mullen speak about ending DADT, you saw the flame of our revolution still burning with incandescent clarity.

Most of us are proud of being an American. Pride in being a member of something is proportional to the “cost” of membership. It’s why we cherish our revolution and our veterans. It’s also why you see 80-year-old guys driving around with a globe and anchor sticker on their car (and 51-year-old guys driving around with USS New Jersey battleship license plates).

Bigotry has a lower psychological toll because it’s an individual act. You can do something bigoted one moment and correct yourself immediately. Racism is systemic, omnipresent and pervasive. Your Black counterpart in your office may not face any bigotry there, but the minute he stops at a department store, he knows it’s likely that he’ll be followed. My vice president of business development (who is a petite Black woman) was stopped in the parking lot of a local big-box mall in Clark, N.J. (a known racist town) and was surrounded by three cop cars. One cop asked her, “Is that your car?” (She drives a 740 BMW.) She said, “You already know whose car this is because you ran the plates; if you have a real problem, you need to step out of the car and do something about it.”

They backed off (if she had joined the Marines, Afghanistan would be as peaceful as Mayberry, but [ahem] not all white).

A byproduct of racism is white privilege. Most white people also have a visceral dislike for that concept too. I’ve accepted mine and learned that it can be a positive thing. I didn’t ask for it, but I have it. Now I use it to open doors for others for the greater good. Using white privilege that way makes you feel good, helps society—and doesn’t diminish your white privilege.

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29 Comments

  • Anonymous

    Racism and bigotry could be subconscious as well. I am a Hispanic male living in the Los Angeles area who is 6 feet tall, with broad shoulders working as an engineer at a Fortune 100 company. My company has a respect campaign where we are expected to acknowledge each others presence. One example is by greeting people as you pass them in the hall way. Some women who are not originally from Southern California, feel uncomfortable being smiled at by a large Hispanic male who is a stranger. I have seen the same women smile back at blond haired blue eyed men.

  • Anonymous

    My sentiments are similar to those of the writer above who started out, “White privilege: I get what you are saying yet I have never felt it.” I agree with the idea that there is “white privilege” in America. Yet privilege is always relative and it is each person’s personal experiences that shape her perception of the world. I know a woman who grew up years ago as a blonde haole on one of the smaller islands in Hawaii. She was forced into the role of outsider, which helped to shape who she is today.

    There are many people in every ethnic group who have had to struggle for every achievement and many who have been treated less well than they deserve. It is often those people who struggle with the idea of affirmative action. How can we fault people for not understanding something they have never experienced?

  • Anonymous

    It never ceases to amaze me that whites in this country actually believe they’ve suffered “racism” from black people. It is not possible. More likely what has occurred are instances of personal animosity – racism is about power – and 99% of black people are in no position to impose discriminatory practices upon whites – it is always, always the other way around. Whites as a whole are not forced to live in black neighborhoods, shop at black retail establishments, or work with for or with majority black people – but blacks on the other hand – from the moment we leave our homes to the minute we return to them – are. You cannot simply say you’ve been “discriminated” against because you are white because a black person offended you – it is definitely not the same thing. Instittionalized racism & bigotry are economic crimes against humanity – merely being treated “badly” by someone you don’t know, don’t care to know and aren’t likely ever to see again is not the same thing as knowing your black face – not your resume – determines not only your immediate future – but that of your generations as well.

  • White privilege is a tired term used two decades ago to shock audiences and have classes bristle with defensive and antagonistic postures. I am so glad that when I was in instructor at the Department of Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute for four years 1998-2002, I was able to change their course which was entitled “White Privilege” to “Power and Privilege” which is the more correct way to view privilege. Dr. Carson is correct that people in general have to get out of the victim mentality and strive to achieve. You can ask this white guy who has been in the diversity and EEO profession since 1988 in several high profile organizations and I can tell you that it has changed dramatically for the better. Are there still racists? Sure but they are in the category now and a very distinct minority with other low life individuals who never will change. Your column should maximize the strengths and not marginalize the majority.

    • Luke Visconti

      I agree with the latter part of your comment, but disagree with you on the concept of “white privilege.” In my opinion, it would be like calling pig farming, “nonbovine,” “equine” or “aviary” farming “with aspects of bacon-like results.” That said, a course called “Power and Privilege” could include religion privilege, gender privilege, heterosexual privilege and other majority-culture privileges that are in our society. But white privilege has driven our culture from the very start. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • Another BS story….”My vice president of business development (who is a petite Black woman) was stopped in the parking lot of a local big-box mall in Clark, N.J. (a known racist town) and was surrounded by three cop cars. One cop asked her, “Is that your car?” (She drives a 740 BMW.) She said, “You already know whose car this is because you ran the plates; if you have a real problem, you need to step out of the car and do something about it.”

    LEOs are not going to harass a “petite black woman” just because she is driving a BMW 740, especially if they ran the plates and discovered it is registered to a woman or a couple, most likely at a local address. Stop making up stories to further your agenda…Your whole website is BS….woe is me, I am black and oppressed…so the blacks who are successful, what is their excuse?

    • Luke Visconti

      Got another story for you. Another petite Black woman who works for me was driving in a car with an older, distinguished-looking white man. They pulled him over because his registration was expired&emdash;by five months. Funny how he never got pulled over driving on his own, isn’t it? She has all sorts of stories like that. BTW, she’s a beautiful, mature woman who looks younger than her grandmother status. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • ….aaaand that is why you are telling their “story” and not them? Really those tragic stories are a dime a dozen…anyone in the “community” or with internet access can easily perpetuate lame tales as what you have provided….You have no facts…only stories…

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