Invisible Racism


The world was shocked by the recent death in Minneapolis of George Floyd as a result of a police officer holding him down in a prone position even though he was handcuffed, on the ground with a knee on his neck. He was begging to be allowed to stand up and repeatedly eeked out the words, “I can’t breath.” 3 other officers stood by and did nothing to help Mr. Floyd. Disturbingly, the police officer seemed nonchalant with one of his hands was in his pocket. As if this was not big deal. This was in broad daylight with people standing around. People in the vicinity were taping the incident on their smart phones. Around the United States and around the world people erupted in protest after seeing the videos. This is in turn led to rioting in many cities, even Fargo North Dakota and Steinbach Manitoba.


All of this is a product of the unfortunate entrenchment of racial superiority in North America. Racism is a problem not just in the United States but Canada as well. Once entrenched racism is very difficult to eradicate. Frankly, it takes a dramatic killing or a race riot for people to even take notice. The incident in Minneapolis has attracted a lot of attention.

Yet, I would submit that there is more important racism than that created by dramatic events. The reason is that most racism is invisible. People don’t notice it. The reason racism is so hard to notice is that it is so common. Racism lives everywhere. But people don’t see it. And that is a big problem.

It is easy to look at the police officer that killed Floyd as a bad person. Racists are bad. But glaring racists, like that police officer are not the big problem. The bigger problem is invisible racism, or systemic racism, or implicit racism. It is much more difficult to fight an invisible enemy than an ugly one.

There is plenty of evidence that we live in a society that subjugates non-white races in favor of the white race and those who enjoy the benefits of that oppression don’t see the subjugation because that would be contrary to their own interests. People in power never see their own power as anything other than a blessing. Anything that would erode that power is seen by the powerful as irrational or even insane. That is why whites have to work hard just to see the privileges they enjoy. They don’t look like privileges; they look like earned benefits. But we must learn to see that privilege and not just blindly accept it.

We can see an unconcerned white cop with his hands in his pocket and his knee on the neck of a hand-cuffed and prone black man and we can see that this is wrong. That is plain to see. That is a bad cop! But we are blind to the system that is all around us that privileges us while it subjugates people of other races. We are blind to the system that privileges us and our children and our friends while it disadvantages black people and indigenous people and others.


Invisible racism is invisible because we, the privileged, are blinded by our own privilege. We don’t see it because it’s natural. It’s the water in which we swim. That is what makes it worse than kneeling on the neck of a helpless black man. That evil is clearly visible. And it is clearly nasty. We don’t see our own privilege because that would undermine a system that benefits us. We don’t want to see or think about it. We are good people. We would never put a knee on the neck of a helpless black man.

If we don’t object to the system that invisibly benefits us, we are complicit in that system. We are then part of the problem rather than the solution. That is why to some extent even the dramatic incident in Minneapolis actually helps to blind us to the real problem. If we quietly allow a racist system to continue without openly dissenting there is no chance that system will ever be interrupted by us. Does that make us racist?

2 thoughts on “Invisible Racism

  1. sir:

    not sure whether the question of whether one is a racist or not is really that helpful. many white people by now are prejudiced, but not necessarily racist. there clearly are those who are racist, like the present amerikan president and his evangelical christian sycophants, but probably the majority are just prejudiced. they don’t think that white is a color.

    missing in the entrenchment discussion and its seemingly impossible resolution is really slavery. it should be remembered to what extent policing began around slavery, hunting escaped slaves for example.
    the country, the entire christian west really, has never discussed slavery with any honesty and made “reparations.” that christian slaver west including portugal, spain, england, france, etc.

    the tentacles of slavery extended into the jim crow era and we see contemporary “lynchings” too often, extending into so-called post-modernity.
    it should be said, mind you, that these contemporary police lynchings have diminished over the last 50 years. people forget what police shootings of unarmed civilians looked like back then. they were a dime a dozen. saying that of course in no way makes whatever is happening at present acceptable.
    in a much less dramatic but nevertheless traumatic manner, the vaunted liberal bastion of new york city saw 5-6 million young men of color stopped and frisked ANNUALLY for almost 20 years, until a class action law suit was won after a judge put an end to it a few years ago. so much for arrogant liberal gotham.

    the other aspect of this that needs mentioning is the entire legal apparatus, including lawyers, vaunted prosecutors, judges, and the industrial-prison complex. that apparatus is completely immersed in this debacle, something the legal profession with a few exceptions refuses to admit.

    when the history is written, the mass incarceration of young men of color for marijuana sale and possession will be seen as the monstrosity that it was and is.
    the racial implications are easily highlighted with the suffusion, the inundation of legal drugs like alcohol, nicotine, and opioids into society and culture in the context of the radical disparity of incarceration rates by ethnicity in marijuana arrests.

    this is about power and the control of the bodies of men and women of color, african american and latino predominantly, although the placement in “camps” of hundreds of thousands of japanese in world war two confirms that non-white is non-white.

    1. This is highly unusual but I think I agree with everything you have said. I just read a very interesting article on Indigenous men and women in the Canadian legal system. it calls prison the new residential schools. I expect to blog on it and related issues in due course. The Canadian legal system enabled of course by the legal profession of which I am a member is horrendously cruel, unjust, and deeply discriminatory. Frankly the Canadian legal system is a disgrace. I am not proud to say that.

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