A Question About Racism

Paula-Deen-2013profileOn my ongoing list of blog topics, I’ve had a question about racism for quite some time. In the midst of a summer seemingly full of racism in the news (Paula Dean, Trayvon Martin, Riley Cooper, Aaryn on Big Brother, etc), racism has been on my mind a lot, but I don’t really know how to write about it.

But I’m going to try. I sincerely hope this post isn’t racist in any way.

My question is grounded in my viewpoint that there are two types of racism:

  1. Saying or writing racist things.
  2. Treating someone differently because they are a specific race.

Now, there’s certainly some overlap between the two–when Paula Dean directs the n-word at someone, she is treating them as less-than. But my question is specifically about areas where there is very little overlap, at least in the moment. For example, on one hand we have Riley Cooper, who said at a concert, “I will fight every n-word here.” This was caught on video, and it’s clearly a chest-puffing moment–Riley was not offering to fight a bunch of people at the concert.

On the other hand we have an employer (this is hypothetical) who decides not to hire someone because they’re black. Nothing racist is said–it’s simply a matter of one person not hiring a talented candidate due to their race.

Here’s the question I’ve been pondering, something I don’t even know if I can ask, but I think it’s worth asking: With all the press that the first kind of racist gets (saying a racial slur), are we not paying enough attention to the second, arguably more important type of racist (treating someone differently because of their race)?

Even that question is somewhat of a generalization, because the Trayvon Martin case–which most would consider a prime example of the second type of racism–got plenty of press. But for the most part, I think the second type of racism is way more pervasive and detrimental than the first kind, but you don’t hear about it nearly as much.

Now, I want to be clear that they’re both examples of racism, and they’re both terrible. Also, I’m white. Although racism against white people is a thing, it’s nowhere near as bad as the racism that other races experience. So I don’t know if I’m really equipped to say that one type of racism is worse than the other.

This is all a roundabout what of saying: What do you think? Is the second type of racism worst than the first? If so, why does the first kind seem to get more attention?