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More than Hurt Feelings

Overt racism is easy to spot. The cotton balls, feces swastikas, and racial epithets at Mizzou (among many other campuses) are ugly. They intend to be demeaning and to strike fear. They mean to establish that there are the “people like us,” and the “others.” That they are not acceptable is obvious.

Institutional racism is more subtle, yet this very subtlety masks its pervasive power to perpetuate exclusion. When campus authorities fail to treat acts of overt racism as the assaults that they are, or when the staff at a university defends the “innocence” of acts that diminish the humanity of other members of the university community, institutional racism is at work.

The effects are not trivial; they include significant differences in employment, wealth, life expectancy, and justice.

In communities there is no “right” to harm other people. There is an obligation to engage in conversation, which means listening, really working to take in the different experiences of other people, opening to the realization that racism confers advantages on white people at the expense of people of color.

If children do something that they don’t know is hurtful, we teach them how it makes people feel and why that matters. We invoke empathy, and we expect a change in behavior. White people are obligated to see the forces of racism that are at work in our ideas of the world because our ideas and acts bring real harm to real people.

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About Katherine Power

I didn’t set out to be a terrorist. As a student activist, I moved from protesting the war in Viet Nam to waging guerrilla war to overthrow the government….

Recent and Upcoming Appearances and Publications
1/15/2014 Complexity and Social Change, Occupy Radio
10/31/2013 Surrender, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
10/25/2013 Surrender, Taos Community Theater, Taos, NM

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