A “mute white people” Instagram story sticker came to public attention last week after Katie Pavlich, American conservative commentator, posted it onto Twitter. Many Republican politicians, including Donald Trump Jr., called this sticker racist against white people.
First, I agree with Instagram’s decision to remove this sticker from usage because calling for the silence of the voice of any race is unacceptable. It perpetuates the inherently flawed idea that only certain races can speak out about the social injustices in America, which is false.
As a person of color, I am an active advocate for the Black Lives Matter Movement, but using prejudiced stickers, such as this one, is harmful to the effectiveness of the movement, as it distracts from the main objective, which is to stop police brutality. However, I do want to make distinct why the argument “this sticker is racist,” perpetuates the reverse-racism myth.
This sticker cannot be, by definition, racist against white people.
While any race can experience prejudice, discrimination, insensitive jokes and derogatory attitudes (which are and should be unacceptable), white people cannot be victims of racism for three reasons.
First, racism, by definition, is based on historical oppression due to race, usually against minority groups, according to David Rogers and Moira Bowman in the Western States Center’s Dismantling Racism Program. White people historically have never been oppressed or persecuted for their race for centuries, like Black, Asian, indigenous and almost every other minority group in America were, according to Boston University Today.
Black people experienced 339 years of slavery and 89 years of segregation and Jim Crow Laws. Asians face historical oppression mainly through immigration quotas, stereotyped as the “yellow peril” and somehow unfit for American citizenship. Indigenous Peoples were uprooted from their land and subjected to discriminatory policies and armed conflict.
The common denominator of the historical oppression against minority groups is that race was a reason for the oppression. I am not discrediting the fact that white people suffered greatly historically also, but that race was never a reason for the prejudice against them.
The common denominator for white suffering has always been for reasons unrelated to race, such as poverty, while the common denominator for historical oppression against minorities has always been race.
In America, there were never a national set of laws put in place to systematically oppress white people or perpetuate the idea of “less than.”
Second, racism takes into account the existing social power imbalances and structures, based on race, that America historically has perpetuated. For racism to occur, there has to be a socially-constructed difference in power between the victim and the perpetrator. These imbalances of power have only ever benefited white people.
White people were historically never victims to these socially-created imbalances of power between races, which means they cannot be victims of racism.
Third, racism is not individualistic, meaning it is often engraved or a reoccurring theme in every part of society. For Black people and majority-Black communities, racism is systemic, as the prejudice occurs at all levels of society, including discrimination in the criminal justice system, lack of representation in politics, housing discrimination, etc, according to the Urban Institute.
The nickname “Karen,” Instagram’s “mute white people” sticker and other examples of stereotypes or prejudice against white people do not negatively affect the entire race at every level in society, like systemic racism against other minority groups, does.
By synonymously using the word “racism” and “prejudice,” you are ignoring the fundamental difference between the two words, which is the fact that racism takes into account historical oppression and imbalances in power.
If, in the future, white people are systemically and historically oppressed, while being victims of America’s imbalances of power due to race, they can claim to feel racism.
The bar for racism is more than a person of one race hating another. The usage of the word has evolved to now include the historical and systemic context that is necessary to understand the full scope of its modern meaning.