When I was a kid my school had “multi-cultural” day- usually in February. It was our annual conversation about MLK and the Civil Rights movement. I remember asking my 5th grade teacher something to the effect of, “if today is ‘multi-cultural’ day, what are all the rest of the days?” I’ve been an “annoying sociologist” my entire life.
On these “multi-cultural days” we were taught one thing more than anything else, “don’t be racist”. Racism, I was told, was a problem had by ignorant meanies. Racism was an end state. It was something you were; like a title. This, as I’ve discussed before, is the dichotomization of racism.
A week or so ago, friend of the site Paula Teander or @sober_sociology sent me this TED talk by Jay Smooth about the dichotomization of racism (he doesn’t use those words). I like this video so much that I will certainly be using it in my 101 classes from now on.
He mentions in his talk another of his videos “How to Tell People They Sound Racist”:
What They Don’t Teach On Multi-Cultural Days
These are great and I totally plan on using them, but as a sociologist, I always want my students to know that while individual racism is terrible, institutional racism has a much bigger impact on the daily lives of people in our society.
That’s what they don’t teach you during “multi-cultural days”. When racism is discussed as an individual problem (whether it be an end state or a single act as Mr. Smooth suggests), it overlooks how racism can exist without any one person being actively and overtly racist. After we talk about racial institutional discrimination in housing, employment, banking, education, etc. I ask my students, “If I could wave a magic wand and make everyone never think, act, or speak in a racist manner ever again, would racial inequality evaporate?” The answer comes easily to my class.