19/03/2015 11:20 GMT | Updated 18/05/2015 06:59 BST

Sorry White People, You Can't Talk About Racism...

Boldfaced inequalities and bubbling disquiet with the status quo continue to fuel debates about the role of race within society, however it would appear that the current turn in the discussion comprises more of white-bashing and reproducing constructed understandings of non-white identity than moving toward sophisticated proposals for overcoming the ills of modern-day racism.

The hierarchal nature of race as we recognise it today, and indeed the very concept of race follow a complex history of social, economic and political realities within which people of colour were considered to be innately inferior to their white counterparts. The metamorphosis of racial discrimination over the centuries into the bitterness of less tangible, systemic forms of racism make the real issues harder to address and the perpetrators far easier to absolve. What seems like daily reporting of injustices toward black and minority ethnic groups is sending a disturbing message that racism, as it has in the past, will persist without fear of retribution. There's a lot to be angry about.

Nonetheless, directing this frustration at all white people at all times and places neglects that the problem relates to far more than a difference in melanin. Carelessly writing off the efforts of those who do not directly suffer from racial discrimination alienates them being part of a possible solution. Paralysing open dialogue by sneering at all attempts to engage with race that are deemed as illegitimate does more to deter progress and reconciliation than otherwise. Once issues regarding race become considered as something that only non-white, non-elite people can comment on without suspicion or attack, the ability to challenge racism at an institutional level (guess what... controlled by white elites) will be materially hampered. In the cases when racial issues are cowardly avoided the rhetoric of post-racial colourblindness prevails which denies the experiences of real racial discrimination.

Moving past crippling mistrust and misidentification of the guilty requires recognition of the ways that dominant representations of racial difference legitimise and normalise habitual discrimination, phenomena that everybody ought to be welcome to oppose. Such understandings make possible, for instance, a conclusion that the disproportionate presence of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds in prisons or their absence from corporate boardrooms is somehow natural. Fierce defence over the right to tackle racism exclusively on the basis of having suffered at its hands serves to reinforce the perceived 'naturalness' of black people as the brunt-bearers of society and supplants the responsibility of society as a whole to challenge racist biases so deeply engrained in the fabric of modern states.

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks Coffee Company, has most recently experienced the barrage of resistance that accompanies top-down change. The Seattle-based coffee chain is launching a campaign to address race relations by asking employees to write "Race Together" on coffee cups as they hand customers their requested caffeine fix. Although arguably quite idealistic in true American fashion, the campaign certainly should not be regarded as a step backward. Given the frenzied social media response, however, many are not so keen on this approach to addressing racial injustice:




It might be considered politically naïve to believe that people can be trusted to challenge institutions that are perceived to serve their interests. Those who are not of such a persuasion have a responsibility to lead truly honest and open discussions about social inequalities, where they come from and the most effective means to achieve equitable solutions.