Why Whites Can't 'Get Over' Color

A DiversityInc reader believes whites are the ones being discriminated against now--and that the only way to move forward is to "get over the color." The White Guy explains why these beliefs are proof of 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.


Question: 

This is in reference to the article, Are Whites Too Sensitive?  I have read articles that this company has put out stating, What Not To Say To Blacks or What Not To Say To Latinos and so on.  How come all of a sudden there is an article written saying we (whites) are too sensitive? [Is this] just because, for once, in the last 4 months I have been signed up to receive these articles, there is an article about whites and what maybe some whites feel. 

 

I am a white female and I can tell you that I don't talk about blacks for fear I will be called a racist or be called to the table, especially in the workplace, for discrimination.  We (whites), at my company, are not allowed to talk about blacks or any other ethnic group because we would get fired.  I will say that whites are very sensitive now because we are discriminated against.  Blacks can have the NAACP, BET (Black Entertainment Television), Black History Month, United Negro College Fund, etc.  If white people were to start something like the before mentioned there would be a huge uproar. 

 

I know there are white extremist groups out there but I am not talking about extremist groups.  Another point I would like to make is blacks that keep bringing up how their ancestors were slaves need to look a little more into history books.  Blacks were not the only ones who were slaves, all races have had slaves, and even whites.  I have heard many times from blacks in my community that they did not ask to come to America.  Well, my answer to that is of two fold...Nobody is forcing anyone to stay in America, you are free to leave whenever you please (and that is for every race), and, nobody took YOU personally from Africa or Asia or Spain or Italy or from anywhere else.  My ancestors are from other parts of the world and I am proud to be an American.  I would not have everything I have now if they decided to stay where they were.  

 

I love the fact that America is a big melting pot, full of color and different cultures. Why not embrace that instead of constantly bickering over it. We need to start looking into the future instead of constantly looking behind us and pointing the finger at people who were not even thought of in the times of slavery.  Yes, it was a terrible thing to have happened to anyone's ancestors but until we get over the past we will never fully get along.  I teach my children not to see the color but to see the person. It is getting harder to do when all they hear about in the news, school, or articles is color.  Get over the color!  We are all Americans and instead of fighting between ourselves, we need to worry about turning our country back around.  There are important issues out there that if we do not address them and come together, then we could say goodbye to our freedom.  

 

Answer:

Thank you for your e-mail.  

 

As a member of the baby boomer generation, I found your e-mail to be a real blast from the past: Your one e-mail covered most of the race-based malarkey I heard growing up. Questioning this dogma may lead you to a better place - it did for me.

 

Given your current state, I would most strongly recommend you avoid racial discussions at work. This is good advice for most people. Your e-mail gives ample reason why many people will say something worthy of being fired. I don't think you intended it to be offensive, but I'm afraid much of your e-mail is.

 

I'll start with your comment about the NAACP, UNCF, etc. Black people founded these organizations to counter discrimination directed against them by white people. Keep in mind that the discrimination people faced today is NOTHING like the discrimination that existed when these organizations were founded. In our recent past, "discrimination" included thousands of African Americans being lynched and lawful bigotry like segregation.  

 

The UNCF was founded to support our nation's network of Historically Black Colleges and Universities -- the sole source of higher education for Black Americans until the 1960s. Black people had practically no access to "mainstream" higher education.

 

The NAACP was founded because legislation was passed in the early 20th century that prevented Black people from voting. Another reason the NAACP came together was lynching -- until federal legislation was passed in the 1920s, thousands of Black people were murdered by hanging. The reason why federal legislation was important is that the local white-run law enforcement and judiciary proved to be incapable of prosecuting the white murderers. The NAACP was also instrumental in desegregating public higher education -- with the help of the NAACP and the intercession of the federal government, James Meredith became the first Black student to be accepted to the University of Mississippi. He graduated in 1964.

 

Black Entertainment Television (BET) was launched and is still commercially viable because of the overwhelming lack of diversity in "mainstream" media. "Mainstream" media can be more accurately called white media. For example, there are practically no Black people featured in The New Yorker magazine, and no major Black characters on mega-hit television shows like "Friends" or "Seinfeld," which were set in New York City (the city's population is 26 percent Black).

 

A few years ago, a major retailer sponsored an entire issue of The New Yorker and ran New Yorker-style cartoons as ads. One of the ads was a subway scene with ALL white people (if you are familiar with New York, you will know that this is laughably impossible). This wasn't an isolated mistake; around the same time, the parent company of The New Yorker mounted a sequence of billboards on a building in Manhattan. The theme was how people enjoy reading magazines. However, out of more than one dozen images, there was only one non-white person: an Asian woman looking at a magazine (with a white person on the cover). Now you know why there are magazines like Black Enterprise and JET.

 

Please don't think this is isolated to one retailer or one publishing company. Exclusion of people of color is a consistent theme in media and the ad agency industry. For example, I recently visited another major New York media company, to discuss "diversity." At the time, they had 35 corporate vice presidents, one white woman and 34 white men (all non-Latino). Representation like this takes real effort to accomplish in New York, a city whose population is 65 percent Black, Latino and Asian.

 

BET exists because "mainstream" media is exclusionary. It's their loss: BET has earned hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars over the course of its existence.

 

I was sad to read your comment that you "have heard many times from blacks in my community that they did not ask to come to America." You also say that if your ancestors did not immigrate to the United States, you "would not have everything I have now if they decided to stay where they were." I was sad because you don't have a good grasp of the history of our country that you (and I) are proud of.

 

With the exception of recent Black immigrants from countries in Africa, Black Americans -- African Americans -- are descendents of enslaved people. Enslaved people were taken here against their will and were subjected to the worst deprivations that people commit against each other. Tribal languages and histories were lost because white slavers forced families apart and purposefully prevented enslaved Black people from learning to read and write. Slavery lasted for more than 200 years in our country and legalized discrimination lasted almost another 100 years during the Jim Crow era. You may want to read up on this. I suggest Frederick Douglass's "My Bondage and My Freedom" as a start. If you want to learn about one of our nation's finest periods of history, I suggest you read the three books Taylor Branch recently wrote about the Civil Rights movement.

 

Your demand that we "Get over the color!" is an expression of white privilege. It's only possible to "get over" it if you are in the majority culture. Assuming you're white, YOU can "get over the color!" but it's simply not possible for people of color to get over who they are, what that means and the damage our society has purposefully done over the centuries by color.

 

You close with an illuminating contradiction. You can't celebrate "color and different cultures" and embrace the "melting pot" at the same time. The "melting pot" is about subjugating your culture and forcing a person to "melt" into the white culture.

 

Melting who you are into a pot is not what makes a person American. What makes a person an American is embracing our Constitution, which empowers and protects our individual ability to remain ourselves.

 

The power of our nation is that we have the ability to embrace other cultures while uniting under the principles of human and civil rights. Our country is not perfect, but it has consistently been better than most places on the planet.  There are HUGE disparities that are defined by what "color" a person is - and gender, disability, orientation, etc. I will also say that melting into a pot obliterates the advantages that different cultures and cultural approaches to problem solving contribute to innovation.

 

When you hear criticism, you may want to consider that it is displeasure over our country's inability to completely live up to the promise - and potential - of what truly makes us American. The more we work toward that ideal, the more "we will get along."

 

P.S.: I am withholding your name because it's fairly unique and I'm sure you would be easily identified where you work. That's not my concern -- I just don't want to dissuade other people who think like you do from writing us.

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