Structures rest upon foundations that work to stabilise, and strengthen, the entire structure. Structural racism is no different. Recently the world has been reacting to a very obvious case of structural racism in the killing of George Floyd.
Outpourings of grief and anger are understandable. So too are the links that other black people are making with their own experience of racism at the hands of white people. Black Lives Matter everywhere, and black people are right to note that racism exists everywhere.
But racism is not just a black man being held down with a knee on his throat so that he cannot breathe. Racism is not just police brutality. Racism is not just the numbers of deaths in custody. Nor is racism just about black people being denied access to education, jobs, or adequate health care. These are the stones of discrimination and violence that lie towards the top of the pyramid’s structure. (See fig)
Beneath these stones are the stones that prop up the pyramid and allow the whole structure to be built and maintained. These stones are the stones of indifference (e.g. “it’s got nothing to do with me,” “get over it,”) minimisation and diversion (e.g. “all lives matter,” “blacks can be racist,”) and prejudice (e.g. racist jokes, tokenism.)
These stones, although they appear inconsequential, are essential to keeping the racist structure from toppling.
And, they are stones that each of us (individual whites) can either keep in place or remove. I have a responsibility to be aware of my comments, my jokes, and my prejudice. I also have a responsibility to not collude with others when such comments and jokes are made.
A common objection to this metaphor is: just because I make a racist joke does not mean I condone the killing of black people. No, it doesn’t, BUT it fails to recognise that each level of the pyramid is built upon the level below, and that the violence that black people experience is supported by a culture that tolerates individual prejudice, minimisation and indifference.
When the white policeman in Minneapolis forced his knee upon George Floyd’s neck he was supported by thousands of racist jokes, thousands of white people pointing fingers elsewhere, and many more turning their backs and not seeing the entire structure.
Albert Einstein called racism the disease of white people. He was correct, and as white people we must do more than attend rallies and demonstrations against police brutality and other examples of the stones at the top of the pyramid. We must break apart the stones at the bottom.