Racial discrimination is a constant reality for millions of Americans. And race is also one of the top most uncomfortable and controversial subjects in the country, in addition to the equally tendentious topics of gender and class. Together, the intersect and create complex circumstances for people. However, race — often like gender — is an undeniably visceral and visual political category; one cannot wash their race, and the social realities attached, away. And this is only one of the things people of color wish white politicians knew about them.
Politicians, if their hearts and practices are aligned in the right place, have the ability to build bridges between people and strengthen a diverse set of causes. Instead of widening chasms based on racial lines, effective politicians are able to bring communities together while remaining mindful of the nuanced differences between different people and their experiences.
"People of color" sounds like an umbrella term here but in reality, the term "people of color" deployed in the specific context of the United States of America refers to an increasingly diverse group of people with divergent backgrounds, wide-ranging histories, and incredibly intricate, often complicated, identities.
With these elements in mind, white American politicians should be able to connect with people of color. Unfortunately, more often than not, there's a disconnect between the governed demographics and the governing figures. Maybe if they remember a few things about people of color, they might be able to establish solidarity with the masses.
1. Class & Race Are Not Mutually Exclusive
During the American presidential race last year, "economic anxiety" became a buzzword many policy wonks, sociopolitical analysts, and even top tier politicians used to explain why white Americans were enamored with Trump. It turned out that it wasn't "economic anxiety" — the fear of being at the bottom rung of the American society — but racial animus that drove flocks of everyday Americans in Trump's direction.
In this debate, white politicians forget that people of color experience class-based issues, too. In fact, people of color, especially black Americans, are more likely to face poverty, displacement, and economic alienation compared to white Americans. To posit race and class as mutually exclusive is to deny the lived experiences of millions of people of color in America.
2. A Person Of Color Is Not A Spokesperson Of Color
Just like one white American does not represent all of white America, a person of color does not represent all people of color. That person of color does not exactly even represent his or her specific community. Expecting a person of color to speak for their entire community erases the nuanced differences between people in that very community.
One of the better ways to engage with racial minorities would be bring different perspectives to the table instead of unofficially appointing a spokesperson for one race.
3. No, You Are Not "Color-Blind"
Claiming that you are "color-blind" or "do not see color" will not make race magically disappear. It's wishful thinking with dangerous implications. While it may be a well-intended expression to acknowledge that race is indeed a social construct, it ends up casting the subject of American racial inequality aside with a singular arm-swipe.
What white politicians should do instead is remember that race is an existential reality for people of color and ignoring it is not an option for millions.
4. Recognizing White Privilege Is Not An Indictment Of Character
Admitting privilege is hard because it forces us to admit that not everything we've achieved was based on merit, but rather sheer luck or institutional inequality. It's difficult to tell a group of working-class white Americans that, in spite of all economic hardships, they still have racial privilege over people of color. For example, a white American — poor or not — is not socially exposed to the same amount of police violence or unemployment the way a black American is. Similarly, a white immigrant is not vulnerable to racially-charged rhetoric around immigration the way a non-white immigrant is.
White politicians should remember that admitting privilege is not an indictment of their character but a simple fact based on empirical evidence. Addressing this should be seen as an opportunity to work toward a society where one group does not yield power over the other. It is the only way to move forward.
5. Dismissing Resentment From Racial Minorities Won't Fix Problems
Resentment is one of the logical outcomes of marginalization. When you're born into racial inequality, it is virtually impossible to ignore the imbalance that surrounds you. People of color are intimately aware of racial hierarchy in American society.
Dismissing a demographic's legitimate grievance only exacerbates their acrimony, which is why white politicians can resonate much better with people of color if they simply listen.
6. Remember That Racism Isn't Always Blatant
Racism doesn't always manifest in blatant forms like bullets and slurs. It is often silent, insidious, and pervasive for people of color. It can come from friends or colleagues who don't know better. It can be less-spoken-of like the the lifetime wage gaps Asian, Latinas, and African American women face. It's poor form to call poor Americans "entitled" the way former Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
Acknowledging that racism also has a sinister and silent face sheds light on forms of inequality that are less frequently discussed.
7. Admitting Black Lives Matter Shouldn't Be A Problem
#BlackLivesMatter doesn't mean other lives don't. Like people who say "Save The Rainforests" aren't saying "Fuck All Other Types of Forests"— Matt McGorry (@MattMcGorry) July 18, 2015
It's only three words, but it's set America off into a frenzy. "Black Lives Matter" completely exposes the institutional inequality surrounding black American lives. White politicians should not shy away from uttering these three words. They should explain this to other demographics, especially white Americans, in order to have a semblance of a chance at addressing racism.
Don't be like former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who completely missed the point.
8. Don't Skirt The Issue Of Race
Remember when Trump was asked about the apparent uptick in anti-Semitism? How he avoided to take the query head-on and still make it about himself was breathtaking. "Number one, I am the least anti-semitic person you've ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism, the least racist person," he said.
If you are asked about race, especially racial angst, don't skirt the issue. Politicians should feel obligated to directly and coherently address race as it is a reality in the American political landscape. Failing to do so indicates incompetence and dishonesty.
9. Islam Is Not A Race, But It Is Still Racialized
You don't need to be fluent in the philosophical teachings of patron scholar on Orientalism, Edward Said, to know that Islam is not a race but is still racialized. Muslims are viewed through cultural lenses; this means that Islam is not merely a topic of theology in America. White politicians should understand that bigotry against Muslims is a form of cultural racism wherein one group of people is viewed as a threat to western civilization. Understanding this is critical to combatting Islamophobia.
Besides, telling "Islam is not a race" to a Muslim minority in the face of Islamophobia is facetious and contrived.
10. Listen & Organize
In the commotion that is stirring up America right now, it's easy to overlook and forget certain voices. By listening to and organizing with people of color, white politicians have the chance to pick up on unheard ideas and bring marginalized people to the front. It's fairly simple.
These ten things aren't the only things white politicians should remember about people of color. And that's the most crucial part to remember. It's an ongoing conversation on race, power, and identity that won't be leaving America any time soon, so you might as well be part of it.