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When hearing the term racism, many people think of an individual’s attitudes and belief systems. From this perspective, racism stems from people who hold hateful views toward people who are racially different.
Though there is merit to such a viewpoint, it also ignores the activities and structures that are external to the individual. Phia Salter and Michael Perez, both of Texas A&M University, recently partnered with Glen Adams, from the University of Kansas, to explore this topic further.
The scholars suggested that racism is present in our everyday worlds, noting that “rather than something extraordinary of rare, racism is akin to the water in which fish swim.”
The researchers offer several examples to support their claims. First, racism is embedded in our everyday lives, including foundational government documents and influential systems, such as education.
Racism also manifests through the ways that people see the world. The PEW Research Center has long shown, for instance, that Whites see race as less relevant than do racial minorities. They are also more likely to embrace notions of a color-blind meritocracy.
As a third example, Salter and colleagues point to evidence showing that people pay attention to some information and dismiss others. They do so in ways that benefit those who currently hold power and privilege in a given society.
In all, the researchers show that our surroundings, structures, and value systems all have the potential to perpetuate racism. This perspective suggests that change efforts should be directed at the individual and the environment. In returning to the fish in water analogy, they note: “the solution to the problem of racism is not to change the fish to that it can survive in toxic water but instead to change the water the fish has to live in.”