Language Matters: Racialization in America
Racialization is a process that occurs when people are placed into a racial category based on their skin color, hair texture, facial features, and other physical characteristics. This happens all the time in America, and it is a way to justify discrimination against certain groups of people. In this blog post, we will explore the different ways that racialization takes place in our society.
Racialization, the process by which people are identified as belonging to a particular racial group, is often a social and cultural one, though it also happens individually. That's because society can racialize an entire population through media coverage, political action, and other forms of influence (Fox News, Anyone?). On an individual level, it can present as thinking something about somebody else based on their appearance without knowing anything more than what they see--and then those thoughts turn into actions like clutching a purse or crossing the street. These actions designate the group or individual as other and often as unsafe.
White people are also racialized, but in a unique and often invisible manner. This results in white individuals not being considered as belonging to a race. They are just normal or race-less; this is owed to historical colonialism. Colonization and hegemony allowed for white-skinned people to name, categorize, and measure others, placing themselves as the standard or norm. When we talk about white supremacy culture or whiteness, we're speaking about this culture that was born out of colonization and has remained dominant and self-sustaining, mainly by violence and manipulation. Because racialization is fluid and evolves, who belongs to what group can shift. Many ethnic immigrants like the Italians and Irish were initially marginalized in America but later ushered into whiteness.
It's essential to understand racialization because it's a way our society justifies discrimination. The conscious and unconscious biases and social conditioning we live and breathe don't just live in our minds; they manifest in the world. They inform our thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Oft-times becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy--if we think of certain groups as dangerous or inferior, we're more likely to treat them as such and confirm our biases. Individual acts of discrimination and their harmful effects compound and magnify over time creating: racialized institutions, structures, and systems that produce inequities. Racialization means that even without overtly racist actors, racism exists and persists because it's woven into the fabric of our society.
When we become aware of the ways racialization manifests, we can start to create a more just and equitable society.
Want to learn more:
Read: "How Italians Became White." from the NY Times. It's a study in racialization involving: discrimination, false narratives, propaganda, lynching, diplomacy, and so much more.
Watch: Peanut Butter and Jelly and Racism from the NY Times. It's one of the best ways to understand implicit bias and how the fog of racism shapes us all. https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/100000004818663/peanut-butter-jelly-and-racism.html
View: Frames for Life Liberation & Belonging is an exhibit imagining a future of belonging and liberation