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Zhang: We need to racially diversify our social lives

Dannes Zhang, Op-Ed Contributor

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I used to think that people could be non-racist. But I’ve been reading Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s book “Racism Without Racists” for my sociology class, and his definition of racism shows that it is deeply ingrained in society and people. The solution is to be antiracists — people who actively combat against racist practices.

Racism, he says, is a racialized social system whereby every aspect of society is structured by the placement of people into a racial category. People tend to believe racism is a belief of an individual person. On the contrary, it is the rational and invariable result of relationships formed among different racial groups.

He argues the racial isolation and segregation of black people perpetuates racism. Bonilla-Silva discusses how the notion of the white habitus — the hypersegregation of whites from people of other races — leads to positive views of their own race and negative views of others, which affects their perception that black and white people are intrinsically different. Ultimately, “people cannot like or love people they don’t see or interact with.” As a result, this nation retains a racist ideology where there is a fixed hierarchy of race groups, with whites placed at the top.

People today often express racism in covert manners. In a study conducted by the Kentucky Human Rights Commission, black and white test subjects requested mortgages from lending institutions in Louisville. Although the companies treated black applicants differently, withheld information from them and provided fewer pieces of advice, none of the black participants — with one exception — knew they were discriminated against in comparison to their white peers. Racism is ingrained in our society to such a degree it can directly impact people in ways they aren’t even aware of.

Racism is not a single, hateful belief of a select few people. Society is established so that racial inequalities can be perpetuated even when appearing devoid of overt racism. Thus, this inequity cannot be fought without people taking active stances to changing their behavior. We must strive to be antiracists and change societal norms and practices.

Rather than being a non-racist and pretending that race does not affect one’s judgement, an antiracist admits that race is a subconscious factor that plays into one’s attitude. Consequentially, our entire worldview must change. Since this is such an immense task, I question whether it’s possible for people to not be racist, and whether racial inequality can truly end.

Currently, a dynamic exists in which people verbally support racial equality while behaviorally supporting a system of racial inequality. A 2013 study from the Public Religion Research Institute shows that 75 percent of white people have “entirely white social networks without any minority presence.” Neighborhoods and social networks are still segregated.

But Bonilla-Silva provides actionable methods of becoming an antiracist. First, we must change our social life. Second, we must undergo a deeper transformation in attitude. Third, we must become social activists. It should be our goal to racially and ethnically diversify our network of friends, for people of all backgrounds. I am not claiming having friends of different cultures automatically means you can’t be racist. By having friends of different races and ethnicities than you, you are not obtaining non-racist “credentials.” But by diversifying our circle of friends, we increase the social integration of different backgrounds in our communities. The deeper transformation in attitude comes with a long-term analysis of how racist ideologies continue to affect one’s thoughts.

I have had long conversations with my friends about whether we should intentionally try to racially diversify our social networks. Some say it’s just a natural behavior to gravitate toward others who are culturally similar to us. If these people happen to be the same race as us, then so be it. After all, we enjoy talking to people who are similar to us — they can empathize with us and understand our problems. We are ethnocentric, not racist.

Safe spaces for people of color are important in allowing them to feel comfortable and being in a place of similar people. However, by diversifying our friend groups, we can become more inclusive and find our predispositions are inaccurate.

We cannot dismantle the racial hierarchy, but we can begin to change our own perceptions.

Dannes is a Communications freshman. She can be contacted at danneszhang2022@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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