Redefining Racism: MLK Day at George School

by Chloe ’16 

All white people are racist.

That was the trending topic on campus during the eventful 2016 MLK Day. As part of the day the entire student body came together to watch a radical documentary called I’m Not Racist… Am I?”

 This new viewpoint was quite a blow for me. I think it’s safe to say the whole audience was floored. “I…I’m surrounded by racists,” I whispered to a friend who was sitting beside me and looking dazed. “Well, I am a racist!” she replied, and we giggled.

You could have heard a pin drop in Walton as people put their heads down and tried to wrap their minds around the idea. But it was not the type of silence you would expect to hear after a radical proposal like that. It wasn’t a tense silence, the kind of silence that precedes uproar. It wasn’t “the calm before the storm,” as they say. It wasn’t angry at all. It was a peaceful, pensive silence. The silence of reflection.

 The documentary realized, as many people have, that the currently accepted definition of racism—

n: the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races

—does not allow for progress because it makes racism a character flaw or choice, and blends the line between racism and bigotry to the point that they are the same thing. The amendments to the definition proposed by the documentary were simultaneously simple and mind-blowing.

They suggested that two words are needed to accurately define what we know as racism:

Bigotry

n: the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races

Racism

n: racial prejudice + power

According to this new definition, anyone could choose to be a bigot, but only those operating and benefitting under a racially prejudiced system can be racist. This makes racism not a character flaw, but a state of being thrust upon white people by a society constructed to the benefit of white people.

Watching the film with my schoolmates I felt an intense pride for my school. The average person probably would have taken offense at the idea right from the get-go, dismissing it without hesitation. Most Georgians, in my experience, are inclined to question their initial reactions to uncomfortable situations, to take the time to assess why they feel uncomfortable, to see if they can lean into the discomfort instead of pulling away or rejecting it. This, I think, is perfect reflection of Martin Luther King’s ideal. Open-mindedness and understanding are essential for progress, and GS, I’d wager, is very progressive.

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