In classroom settings, I have often listened to groups of students tell me that racism really no longer shapes the contours of our lives, that there is just no such thing as racial difference, that ‘we are all just people.’ Then a few minutes later I give them an exercise. I ask if they were about to die and could choose to come back as a white male, a white female, a black female, or a black male, which identity would they choose. Each time I do this exercise, most individuals, irrespective of gender or race invariably choose whiteness, and most often white maleness. Black females are the least chosen. When I ask students to explain their choice they proceed to do a sophisticated analysis of privilege based on race (with perspectives that take gender and class into consideration). This disconnect between their conscious repudiation of race as a marker of privilege and their unconscious understanding is a gap we have to bridge, an illusion that must be shattered before a meaningful discussion of race and racism can take place. This exercise helps them move past their denial of the existence of racism.
Be sure to refer to this the next time someone tries that lazy, anti-critical thinking response of “we are all people” as if someone questioned our genus and species/binomial nomenclature as homo sapiens (though the consistent dehumanization efforts against people of colour leaves the argument open of whether or not we are actually considered human in the first goddamn place), versus questioning the fact that despite race being a social construct, racism is very much a real issue (as if social constructs are not also “real” things, despite being constructed. Real and true do not always mean the same thing.)
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