Confronting Racism

 Glenn Bigonet, M.A.

Social Activist for Racial Equity

Facilitating Discussions about Racism

 

617-462-6642

gbigonet@icloud.com

           

 

Racial Exceptionalism

 

"White People desparately want to believe that only the lonely,

isolated 'whites only' club members are racist. This is why the

word racist offends 'nice white people' so deeply. It challenges

their self-identification as good people. Sadly, most white

people are more worried about being called racist than about

whether or not their actions are in fact racist or harmful.

Austin Channing Brown

 

Racial exceptionalism shows up in two different ways but the result of each is the same: to deny that racism exists or that a particular person is not racist.

 

The first form of racial exceptionalism shows up as a white person saying something in the order of "I am not a racist because... this sentance then ends in a variety of ways such as: "I marched in the 60s, there were a lot of black kids in my school, I work with, live near, am friendly with, am married to a person of color so I can't be racist." This is also known as white exceptionalism. The thinking here by the speaker is that because they have supported people of color or connected with them in some way they must not be racist. Their logic here is deeply rooted in the good/bad binary belief that you are either racist or you are not and if you feel positive toward people of color or had some level of relationship with them then that proves you are not racist. 

 

The one example that really stumped me was "I'm married to someone of color so of course I'm not racist". This one made total sense to me. How could someone be racist if they're married to someone of color. Then I heard Robin DiAngelo talking about this in a youtube video and she said it's like a man saying "I'm married to a woman so that proves I'm not sexist". We all know that there are many sexist men who are married to women, therefore just because you are married to someone of color doesn't mean you don't support and participate in our system of racism.

 

The second form of racial exceptionalism shows up as someone saying that racism doesn't exist anymore because Obama was president, or Clarence Thomas is on the Supreme Court, or Beyonce has become so successful, so clearly black people can succeed and have power today so that is proof there is no racism today. Their argument is essentially that because there are a few people who have overcome the racial barrier then that is proof that racism is no longer an issue. The problem with this logic is that it fails to acknowledge that our system disproportionately affects people of color. Just because some individuals have acheived some level of success does not negate racism and infact all people of color who have acheived a greater level of success still feel the effects of racism. One only has to look at how the Obama's have been compared to apes and claims that Obama is a muslim to see two blatant racist attacks against them. 

 

My Experiences of Exceptionalism 

 

My clearest experiences of exceptionalism are when I decided to do this work and started to tell my friends. All of my friends have been enthusiastically supportive of me doing this work. A large majority of them have also added comments such as "I went to a high school that was highly integrated" "My adult child is very active in antiracism work" "I did some antiracism work when in school" All of the comments resulted in conversation enders. The underlying message I recieved was "that's great you're doing that but I don't need it." I had no idea how to respond to these responses and would let the converstion end. I'd see it as examples of white fragility exactly as Robin DiAngelo described. This is clearly a challenging part of adressing racism with white people.   

Copyright © 2020   Glenn Bigonet, M.A.