Race as an ideology
Updated: Feb 3
By Lance Constantine, submitted Tuesday, December 6th 2022
In the discussion of racial profiling in policing practices, it is assumed discrimination is not implicit but those in police uniforms ought to think otherwise, especially about this notion of colorblindness. In 2016, in a CBC documentary, I swapped lives for a day with a White officer to question the world of policing. My curiosity was confirmed. Being asked, “Are you aware of racial profiling?” One White officer openly admitted, “Sure, racial profiling exist” (L. Constantine, personal communication, September 9th, 2016). Canadian policing should focus on implicit bias training because it is popular knowledge according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) that “Black people are more likely than others to be arrested, charged or have force used against them during interactions with Toronto police '' (Carter, 2020). Some will argue that colorblindness is the cure for treating people fairly despite the color of their skin; however, the origin of colonial practices shows “the relationship between [policing] and slavery” (Balakrishnan, 2020, p.174). Although policing has attempted to take steps toward reconciliation in the form of community advisory boards, many Blacks in Canada experience a racial surveillance through policing practices. Brym (2019) advocates that “discrimination is the unfair treatment of people because of their group membership” (p.144). It can be argue that racial profiling is deeply rooted in colonial practices; therefore, implicit bias training needs to be taken into consideration to unlearn the myth of colorblindness. This implicit bias training ought to be an annual mandatory learning opportunity for all police officers in the field. Though some will argue that implicit bias is inherent and it is, the personal awareness piece is where things become individually transformative. People of color are singled out and treated differently in subtle ways. Unwaveringly, academic textbooks ignore the continuity of European dominance by leaving out the real history of Black people before slavery. Consequently, these subtle microaggressions, once held under a microscope of mass media, eventually magnify the origin of colonial practices. The link between policing and slavery (Balakrishnan, 2020, p.174) remains interconnected as an overarching transgenerational woe; simply put, the cry for “liberty” in modern Blacks are the “echoes” of ancestral Africans in the slavetrade. It can be argued that the social construct of race as an ideology, the effects of institutionalized racism and imperialism embedded in cultural norms and social practices is rooted in implicit bias and once probably understood, will debunk the myth of colorblindess and mitigate the racial profiling experience in policing practices.
Race as an ideology
Most White people face cultural scrutiny for their ‘Whiteness,’ which can lead to an interesting question, “Are White people the new minority group?” DiAngelo (2012) writes “that most [W]hites don’t see themselves as "not racist," this means that they expect other people to see them that way, too. "I didn't own slaves" or "I don’t see color” (p. 177). It is often assumed that White people are to be held responsible and are to shoulder the woes of the African slavetrade; a task to change a carried over contemporary system that they themselves are now subject to, in terms of debt, and modern job social structuring, to say the least. In the spirit of meritocracy, most White people argue that “there are no intrinsic barriers to individual success, and that failure is not a consequence of social structures but of individual character” (DiAngelo, 2012, p. 170). This idea that anyone can navigate to an upper class through social mobility is a strong belief held amongst most White people. Some will protest that “[w]hite privilege is not a factor because we do not see color anyway; we see each person as a unique individual, and we treat him or her as such” (DiAngelo, 2012, p. 174). Although these sentiments are well intended and cast a light of optimism, these same sentiments also are colorblind to the experiences of racialized groups. “While scientific research has shown that there are genetically distinct races as we have traditionally understood them, race has a profound meaning as a social meaning’’ (DiAngelo, 2012, p. 170). Most White people stand firm in the idea that race does not entirely matter within social structures but studies tell us otherwise; the importance of race begins as early as an infant and toddler. “In a study by Katz and Kofkin (1997), infants and toddlers showed an awareness of skin color” (Katz & Kofkin 1997, as cited by Sargeant, 2022, p. 12). So yes, race does matter. The reality is that the outward appearance of a person’s skin color can determine whether you receive good customer service or you are followed around because “shopping while Black” is a common experience for most Black people or what about “driving while Black” and being pulled over by White officers because of the car you drive, another key issue affecting Black people. A research journal on implicit bias confirms this polarizing treatment in the judiciary system due to skin color in that, “80 percent of White judges[,] more strongly associated Black faces with negative words, and White faces with positive words” (Donald et al, 2020, p. 76). The benefit of seeing oneself as just an individual is a privilege that other racial groups do not get experience with, on a daily basis. This is why most Whites are cultural judged for their ‘Whiteness’ because of this held assumption that colorblindness does not have a direct impact on racialized groups and that racial profiling is outside of this myth, when White people, especially those in police uniforms, ought to think otherwise.
One again, it is a good thing if in fact that most White people believe that they do not see color but they see the person as an individual (DiAngelo, 2012, p. 177). This is good and worth noting but colorblindness completely ignores the racialized experience and can have an indirect impact on social dynamics within institutions; in fact, this is how institutional racism occurs. Before we dive deep into historical moments of institutional racism, in context to the origin of policing, initially [a]s the classic statement by Reith (1952, p. 20) put it, the basic idea was to create a police system “exercised indirectly by the people, from below, upwards,” as opposed to the “despotic totalitarian police systems” represented by the French gendarmerie or the army whereby authority came “from above, downwards” (as cited in Go, 2020, p. 1195). This policing model was known as the “[t]he local civilian model [which] originates with the London Metropolitan Police, founded in 1829, considered to be the first modern local police department in the world (Emsley 1997, p. 217; Waddington 1991, p. 125; Ellison and Smyth 2000, p. 13, as cited in Go, 2020, p. 1195). Although this civilian model was governed heavily by the community, the social construct of race had a huge influence on the origin of colonial policing in America. According to Balakrishnan (2020) “in the history of the Americas, it has been shown how police forces evolved out of community organizations designed to recapture runaways (p.174) confirming that Black people were surveillanced due to slavery. The Indigenous peoples experience a similar treatment too; in the context of government, in Canada, “Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, spoke of the need ‘to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the inhabitants of the Dominion, as speedlily as they are fit to change’” (quoted in Montgomery, 165:13, as cited in Brym, 2019, p. 151) and the government went on “...establishing Canada’s 130 ‘residential schools.’ The government and the churches removed First Nations children from their families and forced them to study in boarding schools'' (Brym, 2019, p. 151). You would think that serving the highest good for people means equitable treatment; however, during this time, at least here in Canada, both the government and the church enforced discriminatory acts towards the Indigenous peoples, hence the initial formal apology from both Harper and Trudeau government were called for. To add to the prejudice experience; in the context of labeling, in literature such as “the History of the Dominion of Canada, a book widely used in Canadian schools at the turn of the twentieth century, devoted just five pages to First Nations people. The book describes them as ‘cruel,’ ‘rude,’ ‘false,’ ‘crafty,’ ‘savages,’ and ‘ferocious villains’ who plotted against the Eurpeans with ‘fiendish ingenuity'” (clement, 1987: 12 and 13, as cited in Brym, 2019, p. 152). According to Brym (2019), we see this labeling also happened with Italians in the 1900’s, with the crystallization of the word Italian Canadian, shortly after Italy was recognized in 1861. As Brym (2019) claims, “[i]mmigrants from Italy started thinking of themselves as Italian Canadians because others defined them that way” (p. 148) suggesting that “negotiations between outsiders and insiders eventually results in the crystallization of a new, more or less stable ethnic identity” (Brym, 2019, p. 151). Historically, the government has played a role in how people groups were both treated and classified by others but it does not stop there. This ideology shows up in business practices whereas this institutionalized racism is experienced. In the recent 2018 Starbucks controversy, according to Stalder (2018), the store manager reportedly asked two Black men to leave the premises shortly after arriving at the store; although a white customer was present and did buy anything either, police were still called within two-minutes. “The higher-up Starbucks management has apologized, made reference to skin color affecting perceptions, and planned an anti-bias training for their employees across the nation. The training [was] scheduled for May 29 and will focus on implicit bias” (Stalder, 2018). Race does matter. More specifically, the social constructs of race,’ matters. Also, how colorblindness is handled, will determine the continuity or discontinuity of institutionalized racism. It is a benefit for White people to see themselves as individuals but like the crystallization of the word, Italian Canadians posed upon by the government, the outsider effect, is a daily reality for Black people to battle with. Black people are constantly resisting the internalization of racism perpetuated by everything around them. In a further discussion, we will look at White authority but in the context of science, according to the age of the sage (n.d), an experiment on Obedience to Authority was conducted by Stanley Milgram, using an old White male doctor.
Milgram summed up his findings in relation to the main experiment in "The Peril of Obedience" (1974): I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist.” Milgram goes on to say, “[t]he extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation."
Conversely, it can be argued that the experiment is largely connected to race and that had it been a doctor other than White, respondents would not be so inclined to obey. Speaking of White authority, according to Barboza (2020), "Harriet" (2019) "Selma" (2014) & "Do The Right Thing" (1989), these films [and others] explore [B]lack lives impacted by [W]hite authority. In the movie, "Selma" (2014), Dr. King says that White people are “protected by [W]hite officials or acquitted by all-[W]hite juries. "All [W]hite," King says, (as cited by Barboza, 2020, para. 14) placing an emphasis on this social dynamic.
Cultural norms and social practices
Most White people are hastily generalized but White authority in context to “the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor” (Young & Sanders, 2020) is a conversation held in most Black households about White folks. You best believe that Black parents are having ‘The Talk’ with their children. According to Young and Sanders (2020), “[t]his is the talk that Black parents give their children, particularly their sons, about how they should deal with the police if they encounter them. It is a hard talk, a sad talk. And the stakes are really high.” This talk may be foreign to White homes but ‘The Talk’ is common in the Black community. Similarly, other ethnicities are impacted too by social constructs of race; however, it is generally within the spectrum of ‘Blackness,’ as a social ranking. “Said differently, perceptions of racial difference are socially constructed and often arbitrary. How arbitrary? The Irish and the Jews were once regarded as [B]lack by some people, and today northern Italians still think of southern Italians from Sicily and Calabria as [B]lack” (Gilman, 1991; Ignatiev, 1995; Roediger, 1991, as cited in Brym, 2019, p. 145). Conversely, in urban culture, to be called ‘Black’ as a White person, is a good thing for it is often perceived as acceptance from Black people in the urban community. This is a social practice, arguably called racial co-opting. The word co-opt according to Merriam-Webster (2022) is ‘to choose or elect as a member,’ in other words, co-opting, in the discussion of race, is the social benefits obtained due to the association to another race. Simply put, mixed-race individuals often experience racial co-opting depending upon who they are with. According to Gaither et al. (2014) in a recent study on the effects of racial identity saliency on social learning and social preferences, the research suggests that “[b]iracial children showed flexibility in racial identification during learning and social tasks.” The research goes on to confirm that “[i]n order to avoid possible cognitive dissonance and lack of loyalty to one of their racial in-groups, biracial Black/White individuals may choose to label themselves as Black when in the presence of Black peers and as White when in the presence of White peers (Morrison, 1995; Root, 1997, as cited in Gaither et al, 2014). In short, members of non-White communities do not have the inherent luxury of just seeing themselves as individuals, hence why the myth of colorblindness ought to be re-evaluated, especially with implicit bias training and White people in police uniforms, with this perception.
In sum, we discussed colorblindness as a perceptive held by most White people as a link to unchecked, implicit bias contributing to racial profiling, in policing. In the discussion of race as an ideology, we looked at the topic of individualism from most White people’s perspective. This shared belief means that anyone can ascend to a higher position based on merit only, and that race does not readily play a factor. To debunk this myth, we looked at race as a social construct prohibiting Blacks from the benefits of individualism. Consequently, this shared belief has become institutionalized in policing, government, church, early literature, business practices, and some science experiments, particularly in context to White authority. From a cultural perspective, we discussed White authority in policing, ‘The Talk,’ conversation by most Black parents, the spectrum of ‘Blackness’ as a social ranking, and racial co-opting for social benefits. In the judiciary system, implicit bias research reports that “80 percent of White judges[,] more strongly associated Black faces with negative words, and White faces with positive words” (Donald et al, 2020, p. 76). Globally speaking, being informed of personal implicit bias through training can help prevent social explicit astrocities like the holocaust of Jews, the slavetrade of Blacks and the expulsion of the First Nations. Mass media is no longer colorblind to the modern day linching of Blacks, in police brutality. In the world of research, is it worth exploring research on White authority (for example, the Milgram experiment) and how likely are people willing to obey instructions given by a White person versus a non-White person.
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