NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Vol 17.2: Fall 2017 - Page 148

R E-EXAMI N I NG RAC ISM’S DIVI DE Suffice it to say, Weil’s description of uprootedness as a “self-propagating” social disorder illuminates one of the least understood, least examined aspects of the ideology of race — its injurious psychological, and perhaps neural, impact on individuals and groups positioned to internalize, act out, and ostensibly, benefit from its suggestions. As she observes, “Uprootedness is by far the most dangerous malady to which human societies are exposed, for it is a self-propagating one…. Whoever is uprooted himself uproots others. Whoever is rooted himself doesn’t uproot others” (Weil 1978, 45). Weil’s analysis makes clear that racism’s uprooting of Blacks and other racial minorities is inevitably the secondary effect of racism’s uprooting of Whites, a latent source of White racial jeopardy. That is to say, the ideology of race must first have destroyed or dismantled certain vital human capacities within the White population, as an absolute pre-condition for the sustained violence of racism. Of these capacities, perhaps the most important is the cognitive capacity to perceive non-White people’s equal humanity. Examining racism through the lenses provided by Weil’s analysis, new questions emerge. Exactly how are White people “uprooted” by racism? How is uprooting manifested or displayed? What are its psychological contours? And given the new developments in neuroscience research, can we go beyond a psychological mapping to identify the neural correlates of racism? Most importantly, given the long history during which it has remained undiagnosed and untreated, what are the long-term consequences of racism’s uprooting of Whites? In the following discussion, I attempt to answer these questions by looking first at the pitfalls of mainstream understandings and approaches to anti-racism and by applying recent developments in neuroscience research to expose racism and White privilege as dangers to Whites and, ultimately, to u.s. democracy. I argue that a more efficacious design of anti-racist education can only come from a comprehensive understanding of the jeopardy we all face from racism’s uprooting effects. For Whites, racism and White privilege threaten those competencies that enable and sustain healthy social interactions, professional performance, and democratic praxis in a multiracial society, namely, effective moral reasoning, moral decision-making, historical thinking, social literacy, and their prerequisites — emotional engagement and narrative knowledge. With few exceptions, scholarly analyses of racism are shaped by binary assumptions about its impact: Whites reap the benefit of White privilege, while Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Muslims 2 , and others are harmed by it. When injury to Whites is mentioned, it is generally no more significant than the harm of a guilty conscience. In the best-seller Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race, psychologist Beverly Tatum recounts an exchange with a student that underscores the shortcomings of most current approaches to anti-racism. In examining “The Cost of Racism,” Tatum describes a White male student who, after completing her psychology of racism course, confessed that he “now understood in a way he never had before just how advantaged he was” (Tatum 1997, 13) because of racism. The student also shared that “he didn’t think he would do anything to try to change the situation. After all, the system was working in his favor” (Tatum 1997, 13). After noting that this response was an anomaly, Tatum goes on to say that it, nevertheless, raised two important questions: “Why should Whites who are advantaged by racism want to end that system of advantage? [And] What are the costs of that system to them?” (Tatum 1997, 13). Tatum answers first with a financial accounting of what racism costs the u.s. economy, citing a 1989 article, “Race and Money,” that appeared in Money magazine. After furnishing anecdotal evidence of emotional loss suffered by White women and men, Tatum asserts: “White people are paying a significant price for the system of advantage. The cost is not as high for Whites as it is for people of color, but a price is being paid” (Tatum 1997, 14). Since I first read Tatum’s account of her White male student’s response and of the questions it prompted, I have remained fascinated by both. I am fascinated by the student’s response because, it supplies language for what I believe is a widely held view: that when White people commit to anti-racism, they are acting against their own rational self-interest or are doing so as an expression of goodwill toward Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, Muslims, and others who are disadvantaged by race and racism. The suggestion that racism is a threat to Whites, that they too are in danger of being uprooted by it, is still a novel one. 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