The Hidden System

Alexandria Montgomery Dismantles Race, Ethnicity, Prejudice, and Discrimination


White model in blackface

Contrasting hashtags (#BLACKLIVESMATTER vs. #ALLLIVESMATTER, #CRIMINGWHILEWHITE vs. #ALIVEWHILEBLACK) and the proliferation of protests around our beloved Earth leave it safe for me to say that we are, whether conscious of our involvement or not, collectively embroiled in a pivotal moment, a racially and politically charged moment in history. This realization, of course, has compelled me to delve deep into race and racism, what they mean, why most are unaware of what they truly mean and imply, the ramifications of race and racism people of color today suffer from, and how those of European descent still benefit from the creation of race and racism.

Many confuse race WITH ethnicity. Ethnicity, or an ethnic group, is a population of human beings whose members identify with each other, on the basis of a real or a presumed common genealogy or ancestry. Race, however, refers to the concept of dividing people into populations or groups on the basis of various sets of physical characteristics, which usually result from genetic ancestry. The genetic, sociological, and anthropological factors possessed by an ethnicity create its significance, while the power of those whose appoint race create its significance.

There have been many instances in history where affluent members of society have tried, in subterfuge, to justify the creation and implementation of race into institutions. Dr. Samuel Morton, for example, was a ‘craniologist’ in the nineteenth century who used his claim of Africans having smaller skulls and therefore smaller brains to solidify the, at that time, concept of race. Louis Agassiz, Swiss naturalist, said in 1846, “I experienced pity at the sight of this petty and degenerate race.” Race was created to justifiably construct a system that, when functioning ideally, keeps those of European descent within the parameters of power.

In addition to confusing race and ethnicity, many confuse racism with prejudice and discrimination. Prejudice is an irrational feeling of dislike toward a person or a group. This feeling of dislike is almost always based on a stereotype. Discrimination occurs when one acts on a prejudice. This is when a woman with natural hair, or a man with dreadlocks,  is denied a position because the hiree feels as if natural hair is ‘nappy,’ ‘dirty,’ and ‘unprofessional.’ The hiree has acted on his/her prejudice against natural hair, which was based on a stereotype. Thus, he/she is being discriminatory. Racism occurs when discrimination becomes an integral part of a population, and discrimination is used as a tool to uphold white supremacy. Racism is an institutionalized, trivialized, and normalized form of oppression and discrimination. Racism may occur through government legislature, representation in the media, and cultural norms. Racism derives from the idea circulating in the 18th and 19th centuries (and probably before then) that whites are superior to all others. Racism, at both its essence and origin, is a system of oppression manifesting from the notion that people, regardless of ethnicity or any other acceptable factor of existence, can be, and, in an ideal society, should be divided by color, physicality, and presumed ancestry; and that this dividing of people proves those of European descent are supreme.

Non-whites cannot be institutionally racist to whites because non-whites, or people of color, do not own the institutions or hold the tenure that whites do. They do not have the power that whites possess to be racist. Reverse institutional racism, as with any reverse form of oppression, does not exist. They can, however, be just as prejudiced and discriminatory as whites. As mentioned above, non-whites do not own the institutions or hold tenure that whites do. It is impossible for them to oppress anyone white.

The idea that racism is “a belief in one race being superior to the other” is deeply ingrained into our minds, thanks to whitewashed textbooks and incomplete dictionary definitions. As Michael Ortiz said in his brilliant article, “Racism tends to get looked at as a set of prejudiced beliefs or attitudes toward racial or ethnic groups. However, the idea that racism is limited to individual thought and behavioral patterns does a disservice to the examination of its structural roots; this, in turn, works brilliantly to perpetuate racism because it avoids deeper mainstream analysis.” It is hard for many of us to accept that racism is power and belief based, rather than belief based alone. This is due to one of many facets of racism: cultural norms. A cultural norm can be loosely defined as a behavior pattern that is typical to a specific group. This article greatly demonstrates how cultural norms may be perceived as perpetuating racism in a culture or society. Whitewashing is a cultural norm that aides in the protection of racism’s insidiousness. Whitewashing, in essence, is the stripping of ethnic and cultural factors. One could easily accept whitewashing as a normalized facet of american culture, if one payed close enough attention. Whitewashing is very dangerous to POC, as it trivializes a culture through misrepresentation in the media, it marginalizes a people through eurocentric ‘norms’ and Western institutions, and in turn normalizes the idea that white is normal, that Eurocentrism is default, that anything other than white is ‘rare’ or ‘foreign.’ Whitewashing, by nature, is very problematic. Lets break each item down individually:

  • Whitewashing trivializes a culture through misrepresentation in the media.

‘Trivialize’ derives from the word trivial, which is defined as ‘of little value or importance’. To trivialize something is to lessen its value, to significantly decrease its importance. Whitewashing does this to the cultures of people of color. A great example of this is whitewashing in Hollywood. Egypt is in Africa. Natives of Africa typically have within their skin a massive amount of melanin. Despite this, various casting directors are bent on casting white actors to play a black role. Furthermore, Hollywood has been known to misrepresent Egyptian culture and history. Many other movies have falsely depicted Asian cultures and cast white actors in yellowface; others have falsely depicted Indian and Native cultures and cast actors in redface.

  • Whitewashing marginalizes a people through Eurocentric ‘norms’.

‘Marginalize’ means to treat a people as insignificant or peripheral. Whitewashing definitely marginalizes POC. Google ‘pretty girl’ or ‘beautiful girl’. You will instantly see photos of white girls with long, straight  hair, thin noses, small lips, etc. Eurocentric beauty standards are broadcasted everywhere, thanks to mainstream media. Many black girls, including myself, grew up wishing we were white. We hated our big lips. We hated our short, kinky hair (often deemed as ‘nappy afros’ by our white compatriots. Be honest, white girls. How many times have you called your tangled, curly hair nappy or an afro?). We hated our wider noses, our darker skin. And many still do. European beauty standards completely sideline the beauty possessed by women of color.

  • Whitewashing normalizes the idea that ‘white is right’ (and, ultimately, leads to internalized racism).

The growing ubiquity of the hashtag #BrownParts demonstrates clearly how detrimental lack of representation is to a brown girl’s psyche. Conversely, #BrownParts demonstrates clearly how important accurate representation is to a brown girl’s psyche. Growing up, I, along with many other black girls, hated ourselves. Our brown skin, thick lips, kinky hair, and wider noses. Everyone in the shows we watched had fairer skin, thinner noses, smaller lips,  and straighter hair. The black girls were always lighter skinned with longer hair. Being called ‘oreo’ or ‘white girl’ was a compliment. Being told ‘you’re so pretty for a black girl!” meant I was doing something right in their eyes. I, along with many other young people of color, had internalized racism. Whitewashing is very effective in its end.

White supremacy and white privilege are the motivating factors behind racism, and the factors that keep the true meanings and implications of racism hidden behind the ridiculously soft, friendly definition. Many, for some unknown reason, refuse to believe in the existence of white privilege and supremacy. That’s what strengthens its existence. The hashtag #crimingwhilewhite clearly shows white privilege in action. But, for some, that is not enough. For those of you, here is a list of 50 examples of white privilege. And, if that is not enough, here is a list of another fifteen examples.

I’ve noticed caucasians’ struggle to accept this hidden, insidious, and resultantly effective system. This reluctance to accept this presence of power may be attributed to two blinding factors: privilege and supremacy. White supremacy provides a platform for supremacist ideologies to proliferate from, which trivializes discriminatory acts, while white privilege allows white people to reject the proliferation of the supremacist ideology. These two work in conjunction to create structural dominance.


White people cannot see their supremacy because they are part of the supremacy. It’s a little difficult to look at yourself from within yourself, isn’t it? This inability to see supremacy helps to trivialize discriminatory acts. The trivialization of discriminatory acts as an adjunct to the dismissal of supremacy are what create structural dominance. White dominance in society is kept alive through the dismissing of the very dominance that gives them their power. This is what Michael Ortiz was getting at when he mentioned structural roots. Supremacy, Discrimination, and Dominance are looked at as independent components of our society, rather than intimately connected components of a systemic society. Or, more often, only discrimination is acknowledged, while supremacist ideologies and structural dominance are swept under the rug. This failure to examine foundations of our societal structure in relation to the whole is what prevents many of European descent from accepting racism as a system rather than a belief.

With a greater understanding of the origins of race, the foundations of racism, what keeps racism in place, white supremacy, and white privilege, we can better examine the issues of today I mentioned in the first paragraph. We can understand what caused them, why so many are angry, and why a change needs to be made. The question is, will that change be made?

Well, it’s up to those with the power and privilege to make the change.