Racism exists. Surely, no one would deny that, except perhaps right-wing extremists and, um, GOP presidential canditate Herman Cain. People of color are the victims of hate crimes, hate speech, discrimination in the labor market, discrimination in the housing market, harmful stereotypes etc. The list is long and outrageous, and I am going to add to it.
This rant is about another kind of racism, that I am going to call invisible racism. It is invisible in two ways:
1. It renders people of color invisible.
2. White people are often unaware of it, meaning they just don’t see it. In fact, some PoC might even be unaware of it; Herman Cain, for example.
Here is what I mean: not all forms of racism directly harm people. Racism can work a lot more subtly than that. Because it is so deeply embedded in our daily lives, it has become normalized.
But how can this be normal? In European countries where the population of people of color continues to grow, how is it normal that characters in popular movies are almost exclusively white? Most of mainstream cinema stems from the United States, so this shortcoming on their part is just as sad, if not sadder. But even in Europe the national productions largely favor white actors and actresses. In Germany, for example, the top 100 movies watched in 2010 include 14 German productions, none of which seems to feature more than one person of color among the leading characters.
But this is just one example. We all consume hundreds of advertisements and commercials on a daily basis (whether we want to or not) and the large majority of them feature white people. This has very little to do with proper marketing, but a lot more with racism and race erasure. After all, it’s not like people of color aren’t consumers and don’t need to be considered as a potential customer base. Rather, their wishes and desires are supposed to be implied in the white lifestyles the ads represent, and the white characters are considered universal templates for identification. Just like man is the default sex, white is the default race. As a woman, I have at least a slight idea of the schizophrenia these circumstances produce.
Then again, sometimes other races are in fact excluded as customers, which becomes obvious when walking into the cosmetics section of any old supermarket chain. All the products on offer are for white people: make-up items for light skin, hair products for white people’s hair. As a white person who doesn’t need any other products, you will never know that something is missing. And people of color open up their own specialty stores, food markets, hair salons and barbers, and in the end they get accused of not assimilating enough.
This is normalized racism which we all partake in without questioning or criticizing. Adequate representation is more than just minority quotas in political parties etc. We have to focus on the everyday things we take for granted. We have to look for the invisible and paint it in signal colors. Only then will we begin to fathom what constitutes racism and how to effectively fight it.