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Why Are White People So Touchy About Being Called Racist?

By Guest Contributor Scot Nakagawa; originally published at ChangeLab

Image via sciencedaily.com

Image via sciencedaily.com

I’ve often pondered the question, why are white people so touchy about being called out for racism?

I know some of you will say that racism is much more than the hurtful prejudice of a marginal few. Agreed. Racism is also inherited structural and political inequity by race resulting in persistent poverty, health disparities, and deficits of opportunity in communities of color. And as with all kinds of oppression, racism is ultimately kept in place by violence and the threat of violence (think in terms of lynchings, cross-burnings, KKK raids, etc. throughout our history). Simple prejudice seems pretty minor by comparison.

However, the powerful effect of white people’s touchiness on this subject should not to be underestimated. In fact, I think it goes hand in hand with the threat of violence in perpetuating racism.

For instance, racial inequality nowadays relies more heavily on the intimidation and violence of the war on drugs and immigration enforcement than on the terrorism of vigilante groups. But, racist immigration and drug enforcement policies are founded on the widespread popularity of racial stereotypes that falsely criminalize black men as the source of the illegal drug problem in the U.S., and immigrants of color as drains on our economy. In other words, ordinary prejudice is as much a part of the oppressive equation for communities of color as violence and intimidation, and the fact that these ordinary forms of prejudice are expressed through major public institutions is possible because we deny that these stereotypes are grounded in prejudice at all.

We need to marginalize ordinary racist stereotypes and behavior, and this starts with calling racism out, even when those guilty of it get touchy because they are unable to recognize their acts as racist.

But, why so touchy?

At the risk of sparking a sh*t storm, here are a couple of proposals.

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