From the October 2015 PNL #846
Ally. 1. A person or group that actively uses the privilege afforded them by society (e.g. white privilege, male privilege, etc.) to take down the structures that distribute benefits to the group the ally is part of. 2. A person or group that commodifies and exploits solidarity with oppressed groups for financial or social gain. In the words of the unnamed Indigenous author of the article Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex, “Where struggle is commodity, allyship is currency. Ally has also become an identity, disembodied from any real mutual understanding of support.”
Accomplice or co-conspirator. An ally (see definition 1) who recognizes the necessity of anti-oppression work for all people, including themselves. In other words, an accomplice or co-conspirator is not “helping” oppressed people and does not cease in the work when a particular struggle slips from public attention. Accomplices and co-conspirators maintain horizontal relationships of trust with members of oppressed groups and support the oppressed group’s strategies instead of imposing one’s own ideas.
Apartheid. Apartheid involves the forced spatial separation of people by imposed racial categories which are placed in a hierarchy (in South Africa it was whites at the top, Indians, coloreds (mixed race), Cape Malays and Chinese in the middle, and blacks at the bottom). New forms of apartheid do not invoke race explicitly in laws to avoid condemnation and legal suits, but rely on less direct ways to enforce separation and hierarchy, such as market-driven gentrification, gated communities, incarceration, explicit or implicit ethnic-based nationalist laws, and contemporary forms of redlining.
Color-blind racism. A belief system that equates any acknowledgement of race with racism. Assimilation with the dominant (white) culture is encouraged and held up as a sign that we live in a “post-racial” society. This belief system ignores the historical legacies of racist practices in the US.
Environmental racism. The phenomenon in which white people are less likely to live in proximity to toxins and other environmental dangers than people of color. This is a result of structural racism in housing policies and housing markets, as well as the greater access and influence white people, including white environmentalists, have over government and industry to ensure industrial and waste sites are moved elsewhere. In some cases, race predicts whether one lives near toxins more accurately than class.
Institutional racism. A term coined in the late 1960s to recognize that “racism need not be individualist, essentialist or intentional… Institutional racism can be prescribed by formal rules but depends, minimally, on organizational cultures that tolerate such behaviors. Racist institutional decisions neither require nor preclude the participation of racist individuals” (Toward a Structural Racism Framework, Grant-Thomas & powell).
Interpersonal racism. Common popular definitions of racism are often limited to actions, beliefs and feelings based on race, also know as interpersonal racism. This limited definition often carries implications that racism: 1. exists primarily in individuals; 2. is either present or is not (no gray area, a.k.a. essentialism); 3. must be intentional; and 4. consists exclusively of actions or words that are race-targeted (Toward a Structural Racism Framework, Grant-Thomas & powell).
Intersectionality. Systems of oppression often exploit and reinforce each other. Racism, ableism, patriarchy, sexism, transphobia, the capitalist class system, and colonialism intersect and are often thoroughly dependent on each other. For example, black people with disabilities and black trans men are the targets of violence more often than able-bodied, cis-gendered black men or white people with disabilities and white trans men. Intersectional organizing is an attempt to counter the “oppression Olympics,” where victims of different systems of oppression vie for priority and undermine one another.
New Jim Crow. A set of nominally non-racial institutions and policies that coalesce to rob black men in particular of their physical freedom, the right to vote, and rights to social benefits such as housing subsidies. Young men of color pass through the school-to-prison pipeline, subject to unevenly enforced drug laws and forms of racial profiling, and kept under the control of correctional systems for the rest of their lives. The New Jim Crow begins where old Jim Crow left off, leaving a racial caste system in place and destroying lives, families and communities.
Positionality. Aspects of one’s identity such as race, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, and age, and the relative power in society that each of these aspects does or does not afford. In other words, your positionality describes your relationship to people of other identities in terms of social power.
Redlining. The practice of denying services on the basis of race in order to control the racial composition of a neighborhood or other space. Denying housing mortgages to blacks in many neighborhoods was law in the mid-20th century after the National Housing Act of 1934. If you compare the maps used to implement redlining laws with maps of racial composition today, the impact of those laws today is obvious. Today redlining is done implicitly or extra-legally, as when home- and auto-insurance companies deny coverage to people based on the racial composition of their zip code or profiles that correspond to race.
Respectability politics. Telling individuals or communities of oppressed peoples to act more like the dominant group in order to receive fair treatment and respect. Respectability politics assumes that any bad outcome for black people and other oppressed peoples is caused by their own behavior, ignoring history and differences in power, and can be solved if oppressed peoples just change their behavior— pronounce words in a particular white dialect, pull up their pants, or listen to different music. In the imagination of respectability politics, police brutality, mass incarceration, and economic inequalities will all vanish with a few superficial changes. The politics of respectability often employs the language of class, e.g. “have some class,” due to the tendency to conflate class and race. Related to tone policing.
Structural racism. A framework for understanding racism that includes interpersonal racism, institutional racism, and adds the interactions between various institutions as a factor contributing to racial disparities. This framework holds that “the operation of different institutional actors within and across domains such as education, employment, healthcare and criminal justice jointly produce social opportunities and outcomes. This interdependence has profound implications for transmitting inequality across domains and for remedying inequality.” The structural racism framework focuses on the racially distributed outcomes of policies and institutional interactions, and does not require that policies, etc. be race-based to consider them to have racist impacts (Toward a Structural Racism Framework, Grant-Thomas & powell).
Structural racism, Marxist. Class was the crucial dynamic that formed our understanding of race when categorization by skin color and origin became an ideological mechanism to justify global conquest and the formation of class hierarchies within European colonies around the world during the last 500 years. These hierarchies included chattel slavery, indentured servitude, and wage labor. Capitalism used racial distinctions to dehumanize people of color and divide and rule, spreading and intensifying class hierarchies around the world. These race-based class hierarchies are still in place in many countries today, especially in the Americas and Europe. Capitalism creates, propagates and exploits racism, along with many other forms of oppression, to undermine solidarity among wage laborers.
Tone policing. A tactic to delegitimize resistance to oppression, used when someone shuts down criticism of oppression by criticizing the tone of the speaker, usually if the critic is angry or otherwise upset. Also used to attack strategies of resistance by claiming that anger will prevent resistors from being taken seriously (a mistaken critique if history is any indicator).
White fragility. Feelings such as guilt and defensiveness that white people may exhibit when confronted with their racial identity and privilege. White people are socialized to see themselves and their culture as the center and the standard, and as non-racial. When pushed to acknowledge their white racial identity and the privilege that comes with it, many white people have feelings of anger, fear, confusion, numbness, guilt and defensiveness. When a white person holds these feelings as more important than the harm done to a person or people of color, that person is exhibiting white fragility.
White privilege. “A transparent preference for whiteness that saturates our society” (White Anti-Racist Activism, Holladay). This manifests in opportunities, benefits, and protection from negative societal treatment which is generally enjoyed by white people and generally not available to people of color. These material, social and psychological benefits range from the light-toned “flesh-colored” bandaid to presumptions of competence to a greater chance of financial stability due to a history in which white people were able to accumulate wealth to a much greater extent than people of color; and there are countless other examples.
White supremacy. White supremacy holds that people of European descent are more intelligent, civilized and valuable than people of color. This belief system was invented to justify white conquest of the world, and the enslavement and dispossession of peoples of color during the last 500 years. Today in the US, most people associate the phrase “white supremacy” with the Ku Klux Klan or other overt hate groups. Yet white supremacy is more insidious and widespread, reproducing itself in most institutions in society in both subtle and overt ways.
Whitewashing. How the role of people of color in organizations or historical movements is erased and whites are given undue credit, e.g. how the pioneering role that black musicians played in the development of rock music is neglected in favor of white musicians. Some music historians think that “rock and roll” started as a term for blues music played by white people, even if it was originally indistinguishable from that played by black people. The formative roles people of color played in the labor movement are likewise neglected.