OPINION: Why conversations on race relations are still needed

Joshua Waddles
Staff Writer

A lot of people get defensive when the term “white privilege” comes up. The term is usually taken as an attempt at spreading white guilt, and some feel it implies they didn’t earn the things they worked hard to accomplish. There are some who mean it that way when they use the term (and infuriatingly bring it up in every debate) but this term is mostly meant to be an acknowledgment of something we really can’t deny: the cards are stacked quite a bit in favor of white people.

This doesn’t mean white people don’t earn or work for the things we have, or that life is easy for white people. Just a little easy -er. Progress has been steady, but slow since the civil rights marches in the 60s and African Americans have had fewer opportunities than whites, for less time, to build family businesses or build communities around industries or professions. White-majority professions, for the most part, are also more likely to hire white people than people of color, and some have difficulty finding minority applicants.

Recently, the Arkansas Legislature rejected a bipartisan bid to establish an eight-member panel to study race relations in Arkansas. Most people know by now that it’s wrong to hurl racial slurs (and those who don’t often lose their jobs after a public shaming), but institutionalized racism is a complex problem that needs to be understood and addressed.

Institutionalized racism is also a term that is often misunderstood. The words seem to imply that business owners are actively making decisions not to hire minorities. That’s probably true for some, for for many, it has more to do with how the field is slanted. There are many corporations and organizations that try to hire minorities, but have difficulty finding minority applicants. This could be because of unequal access to education, a cultural divide or any number of things.

A few studies might do more to find the cause of unbalanced hiring pools.

White people often have difficulty acknowledging that we don’t understand minority peoples’ points of view. This is actually an issue with white people on both sides of the aisle, both right wingers and leftists. White liberals, while good intentioned, sometimes jump into conversations about race relations with absolutely no understanding of what they’re talking about.

(This is also the primary reason why I’ve never really written about race issues until now.)

Of course, white people who struggle in their own lives get testy when they hear the phrase “white privilege,” because they may have never experienced that for themselves. At least not in a noticeable way. They may feel attacked over an issue they feel doesn’t really include them, or they may believe white privilege doesn’t exist at all. But looking at the bigger picture, the demographics of corporations, it’s pretty clear that an imbalance exists.

Earnest conversation is probably the best way to move forward right now, and that would have to involve more people acknowledging that we don’t understand. Nobody wants inequality, but many people don’t understand how much inequality exists, or they don’t know why it exists or what can be done about it.

So I hope the backers of this panel don’t give up and keep pushing for these studies, because we still need to be having these conversations.


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