“We Are Not to Blame” … Or Are We?

Lipsitz (2008) discusses the thoughts that a sixteen-year old high school student expressed to a reporter from the Los Angeles Times. She said, as I’m sure many other white men and women have, that she could did not believe that white people owe black people anything. She claims that because our ancestors were the ones that were responsible for slavery that we should not have to pay the price for what they did. As I was reading, I was surprised at first to see that someone would actually say or even think something like that. After thinking it over for a little while, however, I realized that there are probably many people that believe the exact same thing that this sixteen-year old girl believes. Why would they think any differently? As a white girl, she has not been taught any differently through examples of her social group and through the stereotypes that white people and institutions have placed upon other groups. A seventeen-year old girl expressed to the reporter an opinion that basically implies that because her family did not own slaves in the past that she should not be held responsible for what the ancestors of other families have done. I was equally surprised by this opinion as by the prior one at first.

While reading the article further, I began to think about the fact that these students think this way because they associate racism with slavery and that since slavery no longer exists they should no longer be accused of racism. Many white people do not understand that racism still exists in other ways because they do not have to think about it. Those that believe that they should not be blamed for slavery and even for racism are ignorant to the fact that racism exists because of the institutions and the structures that we rely on.

I realize that whites do not have to think about racism like those of minority races do because we have the privilege of being white. White people, myself included, do not have to think about the privileges that we have that those of minority races do not. We are placed within the privilege and can carry on with our lives ignoring race as a factor in any made decision or carried out action. Instead, a white person place a stereotype to the minority group in order to explain why a certain group is a minority and does not have the same opportunities. We instead assign the blame to the minority group; “they” do not have the same opportunities because of some characteristic associated with that group. We use stereotypes to keep the status quo on society so that as white people we can maintain the more dominant social group and can also feel better about ourselves.

While I read these articles and we discuss these concepts in class, it is somewhat difficult to grasp that I have been living my life in a position of privilege. I understand the concepts that we are discussing now after learning about them and I also understand how people that have not taken classes like this or have not studied this material would be unaware of what we discuss. I often wonder, how can a white person say that he/she should be blamed for slavery because he/she do not have ancestors that owned slaves? However, I also wonder, how could a white person understand white privilege and the societal institution of racism without learning about it? After understanding this material I have realized, how could we not be to blame for slavery and the continuation of racism? I now understand the great necessity in which we need to take the concepts that we are learning and educate others with what we are learning.