How does (white) racism harm white people?

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Racialicious links to a post asking how racism harms white people. It's a good question that I think whites and non-whites should spend a lot of time thinking about, and I don't think most of the comments on that post have really gotten to the most fundamental issues. The question does assume that there is never any anti-white racism, which would be a mistake. A question that would better express the original intent is "How does white racism harm white people?"

I would think that the primary way racism of any sort harms the racist themself is that it is bad to be a racist. It's just bad to be bad. It's bad for you, not just because it has bad consequences but merely because it's bad to be bad. You harm yourself intrinsically by being a bad person.

But there are all sorts of bad consequences of racism on those who are exhibiting it. One is that much of what's excellent in the culture that surrounds us, including things racists appreciate and rely on, is due to those racism harms and victimizes. So there's a kind of inconsistency in any kind of racism that names things as bad in the person one isolates as "other" while recognizing any of those good effects as good. It's bad to be inconsistent, because it's irrational. So that's another negative impact of racism on racists themselves.

We need to distinguish between racists as evil people with evil intent and other kinds of racism, which don't all involve racists. Lots of people contribute to institutional or structural racism by taking part in practices that in effect harm people along racial lines, even if the people involved aren't racists. Also, virtually all white people are affected by residual racism, which affects our unconscious responses and attitudes to non-whites, all the while not constituting what it is to be a racist. Both of these have similar characteristics with being a racist, in that it's bad to take part in bad practices and to have bad unconscious responses to people, even if such things don't make someone a racist.

More generally, and perhaps most fundamentally, we're all morally and socially interconnected, and harm toward an entire community of people is thus harm toward an entire segment of humanity, and we're all part of humanity. Thus harm toward other human beings of any sort (including racism) is thus harm to ourselves inasmuch as we are all human. Crimes against humanity are crimes against ourselves. So even any racism that I have nothing to do with causing or perpetuating is a harm to me, even if I'm not the immediate victim. All racism is harmful to all human beings.

It's only after all that that I'd bring in things like how our lives will be better off externally when we interact in a moral way with those who are different. It seemed to me that most of the comments on the post that started this were focusing on those questions, and I thought it was worth taking some time to reflect on some deeper reasons.


Racism, at least where it is more that residual, implies hate and bitterness, which are well known to be psychologically harmful, and are probably also a factor in some physical illnesses. So this is another way in which racism harms the racist. And, to avoid being racist ourselves here, the effect is the same on white and black racists.

I'm not sure it's exactly the same effect, at least in usual contexts. If you're a racist in a dominant group against a minority group, it's going to involve different kinds of psychological effects than racism among a minority group being dominated by another group. This can affect the ways the psychological harm of hate will manifest itself.

But I think you're right that there is a negative effect from this among both kinds of people.

Whenever this question comes up I always think of the economic issues. When you've got tens of millions of people being underutilized because of racism, everyone suffers. Less workers means less innovation which makes the economy run that much slower.

Basically, any racism is living in fantasy land in today's America. Although some of you may live in all-white areas, your day is coming...LOL. Ask us here in Southern California about it. If you learn sooner how to live peaceably and in friendship with other races and ethnic groups, believe me, you will be much happier when the changes come. And of course I could write volumes about what our Christian response should be as well as how it harms us as persons just as Jermey wrote so well above.
By the way, I think the word racism will soon be a word of the past. Ethnicism is the "now" word. In many places, including where I live in the Los Angeles area, it never was a black-white thing. It was always from even the 19th century, a black-white-Asian-American Indian thing. And now we include Middle Eastern/Arab and Eastern-former Soviet provinces--the "stans"--you Kurdzstan and those places. Oh yes, and there is also Serbia and Albania and those places. And then there is......

Diane, I'd call all of those things racism. Ethnicism would be more like bigotry of white people against Polish people or Japanese anti-Koreanism.

What you mean by racism requires a definition given the variety of things it's come to mean.

How does it hurt a white person to think whites are superior but feels no hatred towards other races?

How does it hurt a white person to be afraid of members of a race without hating them or feeling superior to them?

How does it hurt a white person to hate another race without feeling superior to them?

I think the harm done is different for each flavor of what we group together as racism.

I did distinguish several things people call racism, explaining in each case how it can be bad for those participating in it. You're right that there are other things people call racism, and what's bad in those cases might differ. I do think the general things I said will apply similarly here or at least in analogous ways.

How does it hurt a white person to think whites are superior but feels no hatred towards other races?

That depends on what you mean by "superior", but it's intrinsically bad and usually instrumentally bad to have false beliefs.

How does it hurt a white person to be afraid of members of a race without hating them or feeling superior to them?

In cases of irrational fear, it's intrinsically bad and usually instrumentally bad to be irrational. In cases when you might argue for a rational fear (e.g. if you live in an area where it turns out virtually all members of one race happen to hate members of your own race and often take it out on them with violence), it may be an instrumentally good belief, but it might still be intrinsically bad to assume this will be with all members of that race rather than taking precautions with any but not assuming it will be true.

How does it hurt a white person to hate another race without feeling superior to them?

Hating anyone, if the hate is simply hatred for evil, is one of the most intrinsically bad states to be in. I would never say that it's bad to hate evildoers insofar as they are evil, but such hate must also include love for what the person is and is capable of that isn't evil, and most human hate is very difficult to maintain in full and for very long when you have that.

Politically, racism makes it harder for people to form coalitions with people of other races who otherwise have similar concerns. Many populist movements have been broken up by appeals to racism. Racism also makes it more seductive for people to accept economic arrangements that are disadvantageous to themselves. For example many Southern whites were in favor of slavery on racist grounds, despite the fact that slavery locked most poor whites out of benefiting from the South's agrarian economy.

Racism does exist and unfortunately it also exists in other countries outside of North America. When they come to America, they bring their racist attitudes with them too. We all know that racism is bad but people of other cultures who come to North America need to learn this too. I've seen racist attitudes from people of other ethnic races and it's sick. There's still work to do.

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