Institutional Racism: The Invisible Threat

Well, this is a first.

This is actually a post to address the concerns of one of the comments posted from my other post When White is right, even for Morehouse College.  This comment brought up the issue as to whether or not a black student could be valedictorian at a traditionally white institution (TWI) similarly the way Joshua Packwood 08′ of Morehouse was named valedictorian of an historically black college or university (HBCU).  We agreed that the issue had nothing to do with innate ability, but we appear to differ on this idea of professors being fair enough to look past race as a deciding factor towards grading. 

The following is one of the primary reasons why I think race still plays a major factor.

I was in the double honors program at my high school with a track system beginning with regular, honors, double honors and International Baccalaureate (IB) program, the only fully accredited one in the city at the time.  Suffice it to say, the closer you got to the IB track the whiter it got, but that’s another post for another day.  And in my World History class, 1st period, I had a double honors class.  Now, granted I was a first rate asshole at times in that class, I still fail to see, in high school, how that should affect the teachers ability to grade fairly.  I wasn’t going off cursing out the teachers calling her all kinds of names, but I just had a smart mouth, I wasn’t one to accept rude comments toward me without having some smart-ass remark.

Now, I just threw out the majority of my work 2nd grade through 12th over this past Christmas break, but I made sure to keep three of her papers that she graded.  In these papers, she was QUITE biased against what I wrote.  Case in point.  We had one paper that was supposed to be about the Black Death in Europe, and I wrote that at the time some of the people and powers-that-be thought the Plague came from witches and I used the word “necromancing” to which she circled and wrote in the margins that I didn’t know what it meant.

The other paper was a book review on this book entitled Soldiers In Hiding and it was written by a American who was mixed with Japanese heritage and grew up in LA, but he wrote the book heavily from a Japanese perspective.  Per the syllabus she allowed us to write our own opinions of the book, now granted this was an assigned book, and I said I felt that perhaps he wasn’t all the way culturally equipped to write from a Japanese perspective, much like many felt (I still feel) that William Styron was wholly unequipped to write The Confessions of Nat Turner and enter a NOVEL into the historical record.  So, she circled that last paragraph and wrote “I disagree” and my grade that was once a B was visibily scratched out and given a C+.

Aside from the numerous run-ins that me and her had and her sending me to the disciplinarians office, and leaning on my legs leaning over (and she had the worlds biggest chest) and saying “You’re so well read…” much like Sen. Joe Biden’s misspeak about Sen. Barack Obama saying “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy … I mean, that’s a storybook, man” which is interpreted as being damned by faint praise in the African American community and ultimately is received as an insult.

Now, I went to an HBCU for undergrad, and I’m at an HBCU for my dual masters degrees, honestly, if Howard Divinity School had a Ph.D. program in my field, I would go there as well, but they don’t, so I will of course be going to a TWI.  Even for the white professors that I had at the HBCU’s I never have entered their classroom with the idea that their going to single me out–but of course, that was because I wasn’t in the minority. 

But, given the rest of high school where I was in the minority with a white teacher, I can’t think of any other teachers that I felt had negative attitudes towards the non-white students.  In fact, she’s the only one.  I mean, it was so obvious with this woman.  Let’s be realistic, she was a mess toward all things non-European.  She allotted like 6 weeks to the study of Europe and Asia and then 4 weeks to South America and 3 weeks to Africa, two of which were to be independent study over a 2 week Christmas break.  And this was a fool who decided to tell the class that indentured servitude wasn’t as bad as chattlel slavery was in these United States.

I stood up and promptly told her she was wrong–that earned me one of many detentions.

This is what I call institutional racism. 

My world history teacher, granted liberal enough in her speech, especially being a proud and adamant follower of the Jewish faith, still operated off of her embedded beliefs that somehow non-white kids, unless “docile and manageable” were not worthy of what she had to offer.  Perhaps, it is something only noted because of lived experiences.  But let us remember that perception is in fact reality and far be it for someone else to deny another’s lived reality.  The facts would say that she was merely a hard teacher, but reality would dictate that she had some underlying racial issues that she needed to deal with.

This is what black students face when they attend TWIs coupled with the pressure of just pleasing the professors and not getting on their bad side in general (a rule learned at colleges across the board).  At least at HBCUs that pressure is relieved.  Also, for many, its the first time that one sees people of their skin color in the majority, especially for people like me who went to a mixed high school and had teachers of all races.  Not saying that was a bad thing, I wouldn’t trade those cultural exchanges for anything in the world.  But, perhaps it’s something some white people can’t appreciate, because it’s NORMAL to see people like themselves in power, so for people like me an HBCU is a wonderful thing

Also, let it be known that institutional racism far surpasses that of college classrooms but is evident in the corporate world for just the same reasons as in the classroom.  The supervisor always finds some kind of way to make sure that the work is judged with a bias, but then that of the white counterpart is somehow judged better.  Or even, as far as entrance into colleges or the corporate world.  There have already been studies that have shown that some, not all, businesses are less inclined to hire a “Shaniqua” over that of a “Mary” per se, even though the two have equal resumes.  Quite frankly, I’m convinced that I’ve had some doors opened for me that perhaps wouldn’t have been just because of my name–many think I’m Jewish.

Actually, this Al Sharpton clip at Rosa Park’s funeral and his bit about James Crow, Jr. Esq. seems to hit the nail on the head.

For me, this is my reality. 

I wish it were different, however, by this blog, I hope that it opens up the dialogue and no longer makes black and white issues so black and white. 

I was watching laaaaaaate one night, not paying much attention, had to have been CNBC, a station I usually don’t watch and they were interviewing the CEO of Starbucks and he said that “the difference between success and failure is the gray area of perserverance.”

I’m in the gray area right now, and I wish the rest of America (ALL of us) would join me (and there are many others, I know I’m not  lone voice crying out in the wilderness) to have an intellectual debate about race, religion and politics and not be totally anti-everything else that doesn’t look like me.  I would LOVE to see the day where MLK’s dream comes to fruition, but sadly, I think we’re still at the point in his speech where he said

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Once we get past this point, and only once we get past this point, not a point of labeling one side victim and the other side of victimizer, but rather both sides attempting to repair the wrongs that have been done, then we can move to this idea of a dream that King so eloquently stated.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

(P.S.  For inquiring minds, the reason I chose Huey for the picture is because I feel that Huey’s character represents looking at our race issues with a critical mind above that of many of the older heads in this country.  It is only with our ability to remove one’s self from one’s own view point and look at it from another vantage point that we will no longer, as Paul said “see through a glass dimly.”

7 thoughts on “Institutional Racism: The Invisible Threat

  1. ‘And this was a fool who decided to tell the class that indentured servitude wasn’t as bad as chattlel slavery was in these United States.’

    PLEASE clarify this statement in your narrative. Did you intend to say, ‘indentured servitude WAS as bad as chattel slavery…’? Can you edit your own blog?

    Thank you for sharing your Y2K perspective on why we are only (maybe) headed in the direction of a ‘post-racial’ society. We have a long way to go and a short time to get there. And of course we never ‘be there,’ we consciously go there, dragging the comatose along with us.

    Stay uppity!

  2. Uppity,

    I should have reveiwed the Al Sharpton video clip from Rosa Parks’ funeral service before my response for the request for clarification re indentured servitude vs chattel slavery.

    Your ‘Rosa Resolution’ is obvious in most of your posts.

    Uppity Radicality, right on!

  3. While you do, as always, an excellent job of painting a picture with words, I still don’t feel that you have thoroughly tackled the points I brought up to you on your “When White is right, even for Morehouse College” post.

    For starters, you give a good example of Institutional Racism in this post. However, it is ONE example, and while it does seem like it could fit in the Institutional Racism category, your self-described arrogance and lack of self-restraint in class could just as easily have been the cause for the unfair grading of your work. (Notice I don’t argue that the grading was unfair, I just refuse to agree on the “why” without some sort of proof) I myself had the same sort of mentality in school, and suffered the same sort of consequences, from teachers of all races. However, as I’ve said before, I trust that my black teachers treated me that way for the same reason that my white teachers did: because I brought it on myself through my actions. Your situation may very well have been an act of racism, but how would you know this for sure without an admittance of some sort?

    “The supervisor always finds some kind of way to make sure that the work is judged with a bias, but then that of the white counterpart is somehow judged better. ”

    The above quote is by far the biggest stretch, though. In this post, you seem to have come to this conclusion without anything to back it up, other than an opinion which, quite frankly, appears more to be a snap judgment and generalization rather then something formed with careful consideration for both negatives AND positives. I’m sure you have your reasons, which may have been irrelevant to the discussion, or took away from the message above, but it comes off as a sweeping generalization here.

    I never have and never will say that these things do not happen in our country every day. Rather, my stance is that by assuming that EVERY action is motivated by a racial prejudice is a recipe for failure. Not failure in a financial sense necessarily, but certainly in a moral sense as it applies to our society as a whole. Please don’t rely solely on your cynicism to paint the picture of your life.

    “Once we get past this point, and only once we get past this point, not a point of labeling one side victim and the other side of victimizer, but rather both sides attempting to repair the wrongs that have been done, then we can move to this idea of a dream that King so eloquently stated.”

    This I would agree with whole-heartedly, though to be honest it doesn’t really fit with the theme of your message.

  4. if this were civil court, there was a preponderrance of the evidence against my teacher. her intolerance for things not white and not Jewish was quite appalling even for me as a 14 year old. of course there is nothing to directly link the connection–but is there ever? Aren’t blacks, the ones who suffer from racism, always accused of making a mountain out of a molehill? I’m usually the last one to racialize a situation; I personally believe the Sean Bell case has less to with race as opposed to human interactions and general psychology of humanity. Based on my teachers comments and what she taught about and how she handled race issues, I’m sure her prejudices manifested themselves toward me.

    as far as the instances on the job, you neednt just make it a race issue, but its also a sexist issue. Many women have the same problem and I know many blacks in the professional field where if they’re in the minority in the office that many times the people that they have helped train, who are white, have gotten promotions over them. now that is generally from older people and I don’t know of any of my peers who have that as a problem, but then again, none of my peers are in all white professional situations.

    I was quite conscious of the last part of my piece whether it seems to fit or not because its true. I think we get to caught up and making everything fit into neat categories but none of us TRULY think in neat categories. its never about this OR that but rather this AND that. Please don’t take offense to the following, but it seems as though that line of thinking is saying that you can always talk about the sweet by and by and how things will be in the future and neglect to deal with the nasty now and now and I believe that in order to move forward the two must exist on the same plane.


  5. I don’t take offense at all. And if I am giving you the impression that I won’t fight against an injustice, then I am wording myself inaccurately. But my major point is that sometimes we become so jaded with what the past has given us, that we refuse to accept what the future offers. Positive thinking is what promotes change, and I am committed to being a catalyst for change where race relations are concerned, even if only on a small scale such as this.

    If you were indeed an object of racial prejudice, of ANY kind, than you are well within your rights to stand up and confront it, fight it, talk about it…but it seems to me that many young people use the past that we learned about in history books, coupled with a single bad experience of their own, to form a blanket judgment of the society around them.

    Make no mistake, I’ve not lived your life nor anyone else’s. But I have lived mine, and I have not been given any of the supposed handouts that my skin should be bringing with it. I struggle every day with a world around me that hates anything different, and seems to hate me for not taking sides.

  6. I think this is where we will have to part ways because experience is KEY to our existences.

    Now no, I didn’t mean to suggest that you wouldn’t fight for injustices, but our different experiences lead us to slightly different ends.

    For many blacks in the United States it has never been “a single bad experience” but series over a lifetime, and by the time a black person turns 40, its no wonder their jaded. Our generation has to fight past that jadedness, I agree, but I think we need to deal with the present. However, the present and the past are also linked. We will never get an accurate view of the present if we don’t acknowledge what led us to this present. By diving the past and future and taking into account for the now negates the experiences and the hurts.

    If I’m wounded right now in the present, I’m going to have a scar in the future and if the injury is deep enough it can get infected and cause many other problems–all stemming from the initial wound. And that’s where I see our state of affairs right now. I think everyone wants to move forward, but we have to find the right method of healing this wound–clearly Band-Aids don’t work, and the mending process isn’t easy, in fact it’s quite painful. Often times, it may cause opening up the wound further to make sure the immediate area is cleaned properly. Then we have to treat all of the other infections that stemmed from the open wound. And that’s wayyyyyy far in the future.

    I’m not saying you’re not a hardworker and didn’t earn by sweat, blood, tears and natural ability whatever it is that you have–but, how does one know that they’re getting “supposed handouts” unless they’re denied in the first place?

    That is to say, how does the priviledged know that they are privileged unless that priviledge is taken away from them. It’s real easy when one doesn’t have to see just how easy others achieve stuff. If it’s normal for a family to buy a car for their 16 year old children JUST because they turned 16, whether or not, for instance they got straight A’s or not, then how would the child who didn’t get the car feel if all of a sudden the parents just up and said no, you need to work harder for it.

    Or even this case, I have the privilege in a few of my classes of doing a 15 page paper in one day and still be assured at lowest a B on the paper. Many of my other friends don’t have that privilege. To me its normal, been doing that since high school, but to my other friends that’s an IMPOSSIBLE task–so, should I make them feel bad because of innate differences in how some of us may be able to do better than others.

    I understand that there are MANY white folk who have it hard, A LOT–just ask the voters in that clip about W. Va. voters, but the weird thing is that some, and I do mean some of them might find themselves thinking (or maybe saying out loud in homogenous company) that “at least I’m not black.”

    This whole idea of privilege and institutional racism is systemic. It never has been, is in the present, nor can I see it being in the future anything but systemic. It cannot and should not be reduced to the aforementioned examples. I would daresay that if we really dealt with the driving psyche’s of American’s we’re highly driven by basic racialized stereotypes on both sides of the aisle.


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