Examining White Privilege Series: Other Forms of Racism

The depiction of racism in our society is often oversimplified, as is the portrayal of white privilege. While white people are privileged in comparison to African Americans, they also hold distinct advantages over people of other races as well.

The privilege of white Americans is particularly notable in regards to war. Throughout U.S. history, military conflict has rarely been fought on American soil.  

Near the end of his life, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about the Vietnam War and the large number of African Americans who served. He also spoke about the numerous deaths of Asian natives, who either died in combat or as collateral damage in the conflict.

“I can’t help but feel I’m integrating my people into a burning house,” he said of the Vietnam War.

In the decades since, the U.S. has been embroiled in a number of conflicts across the globe. It is reasonable to wonder what King would have thought of these conflicts. For instance, what would have he thought of the Iraq War?

Much like the Vietnam War was a major part of the Cold War, the Iraq War was a major part of the ongoing War on Terror. Notably, both of these conflicts also feature many forms of racism, usually through propaganda and public opinion.

Which race of people do you subconsciously associate with terrorism? In the U.S., there is a good chance that you would think of a Muslim of Middle Eastern descent. Despite a rise in violent acts committed by white supremacists in recent year, like the recent shooting in New Zealand, many still do not recognize something as terrorism unless the perpetrator is a Middle Eastern Muslim.  

In contrast, many people do not immediately connect Christianity with the Ku Klux Klan, despite a lot of shared history between the two groups. However, many people do subconsciously associate terrorist groups like ISIL and Al-Qaeda with the religion of Islam as a whole. The resulting Islamophobia stems in part from propaganda created during the War on Terror.    

This rhetoric explains the existence of phrases like “not every terrorist is a Muslim, but every Muslim is a terrorist.” This is also one of the reasons that U.S. citizens typically show more sympathy toward Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In early March, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American from Minnesota came under fire for her criticism of U.S. policy toward Israel. The country’s reaction exposes this double standard, as both Republican and Democrat politicians called her comments anti-semitic. However, rarely is the same outrage given to comments that could be viewed as Islamophobic.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came to Omar’s defense on Twitter.

“IMO those who stood up against anti-Semitism a few weeks ago should also be calling out the Islamophobia here, too,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

Much like Asian Americans after Pearl Harbor, Arab Americans faced intense discrimination after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

In a 2012 article, Salon reported about the findings of a Sept. 2011 poll conducted by the “Brookings Institution,” about American values. The results showed that around two-thirds of Republican and similar groups agreed with the common sentiment held by Fox News that “the values of Islam are at odds” with American values.   

This extensive mistrust of Arab-Americans was also present in the public’s reaction to the construction of a mosque a few blocks away from the site of the twin towers, which stoked conspiracy theories and increased hatred toward Arab-Americans.  

One alarmingly public and vocal proponent of intolerance is President Trump. While on the campaign trail, Trump roused supporters by promising a border wall and making other inflammatory statements. He also called illegal immigrants “rapists,” proposed a “Muslim ban” and retweeted islamophobic, unsubstantiated tweets in addition to retweeting a quote from a man who was scared about seeing “prayer rugs” at the border.

Trump’s focus on the border and its intersection with the War on Terror is eerily similar to the executive order signed by FDR, which ordered the detainment of Japanese-American citizens to be detained in internment camps during World War II. Notably, Executive order 9066 did not specifically mention Japanese-Americans, although over 100 thousand people would end up in internment camps.

Even today though, Asian-Americans still struggle.

Although many may perceive Asian-Americans as financially successful, this is not always the case. In June 2018, the Students for Fair Admissions sued Harvard University for ranking Asian-Americans lower than other races on personality tests.

“There is no excuse for this, and Harvard cannot offer a single exculpatory explanation that a rational factfinder could accept,’’ court documents for the plaintiffs state. “Asian-American applicants to Harvard are just as ‘helpful’, ‘courageous’, and ‘kind’ as white applicants.’’

This attitude not only affects the possibility of Asian-Americans getting into Ivy League schools, but also affects their chances of being promoted to positions to leadership in the workforce.  

In a New York Times Q&A with Jennifer Lee, a professor of sociology at Columbia University and Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of public policy and political science at University of California Riverside, Lee discussed modern-day discrimination against Asian-Americans.

A recent report on leadership diversity at top technology companies found that Asian-Americans are the racial group least likely to be promoted into managerial and executive ranks,” Lee said. “White men and women are twice as likely as Asians to hold executive positions. And while white women are breaking through the glass ceiling, Asian women are not. Asian-Americans are the forgotten minority in the conversation about the glass ceiling.”

When people of a certain race or minority group are excluded from leadership positions, it becomes significantly more difficult for that group to raise awareness of their oppression or begin to make changes to improve their situation.

In addition, racism against Asian-Americans intersects with sexism. Asian-American women have an even harder time trying to succeed than Asian-American men.

All of these topics are forms of racism. Any form of racism only serves to help to perpetuate white privilege. If one race is at a disadvantage when another race is not, this has the unintentional consequence of creating privilege, especially if the disparity is not openly addressed.  

While the U.S. has made minor progress in trying to create some racial equality between African Americans and white people, there many other forms of racism that need to be recognized and addressed in order to truly make the situation better.

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