I regularly receive comments from people criticizing me for “making everything about race” and “only talking about race” or “limiting my perspective by making and thinking and only seeing race every where.”
Such statements do not make sense for a variety of reasons.
First, of course, is that race or how society racializes individuals and the emphasis society gives it is indeed every where. Race is every where because we can not see a person without immediately and unconsciously categorizing him/her in terms of mores associated with racialization.
That “race” vis-à-vis skin color (or phenotype) is such an important factor is a social construction, of course. Noticing physical characteristics is perfectly natural. Acting on these
is was not natural, per se. But is, per se, given how we’ve reprogramed ourselves over a long, long time.
Saying race is not every where, then, is denying the obvious. Such logic could also say, humans see the sky as being purple during the day or that biology is not every where, for instance.
From another perspective: race is every where because of history. History doesn’t go away over night or in a period of decades, centuries, or even longer. As Susan Sontag and others would say, we’re still dealing with essentially the same core questions as people did thousands of years ago. Look at the extreme power of texts associated with Christianity and Islam, for example! The United States was built on labor from enslaved Blacks, on the genocide of Indians, and on the exploration of people from Mexico and China, to name a few examples. Consequences of this, in terms of the law, historical memory, and DNA, remain–this is as close to fact as we can get, per se.
White Privilege and every day racism provide other examples of how race is every where. Don’t blame the messenger! No need to cite example of the racism that occurs every single day. Examples of individual and systemic or institutional racism in the United States are widely available in newspapers and blogs across the nation and world. Analysis of movies, television shows, and books further reveals that non-Whites are shown in racist, discriminatory ways. Non-white people are also regularly left out of media. Non-whites are now the majority, numerically. Even if they were not a numerical majority, such peoples deserve fair, positive representations. We know that, given the power of media in our society, media portrayals have tremendous influence on a person.
Related to all of this: White Privilege adds to the fact that race is every where. (We must remember that White people have a race, too. This was not always recognized, as being “White” was taken as the default, ideal position.) White Privilege simply means that by virtual of being White a person benefits from racism, perpetuates racism, and has an easier time in society than if said person had a different skin color, given that racializaiton is largely determined by skin color. (Though, of course, geographic location, time, experiences of the peoples involved, and even clothing can alter how a person is racialized.)
Finally, at the same time as above, of course every thing is indeed NOT about race, alone. In part, intersectionality tells us this. Just as racism is every where, so too is sexism, classism, homophobia, love, hate, cisgenderism, etc., etc. No one regularly says, “homophobia is not every where” or “you just see homophobia in every thing – open your eyes!” Just as race is every where, homophobia is every where, for example. We need to carefully examine why such every-thing-is-not-about rhetoric almost exclusively exists in terms of attacking, countering, or hoping to cease having conversation about race, racism, and racialization.
All such conversations related to identify, labels, and history are extremely difficult because they involve confronting histories, personal experiences, personal biases, contemporary cultures, and all related factors that are infinitely intangible and impossible to fully know.
While we can easily deny or ignore that which we can’t directly see or understand–such is the power of racism TODAY or of White Privilege or Male Privilege TODAY–we shouldn’t. That we can’t always directly see and understand racism makes it all the more important to seek ways of understanding. I am always baffled when White people say racism does not exist when non-Whites just about en masse describe how very much and scary racism is in 2015.