A couple of juicy quotes from Imani Perry’s More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States (New York: NYU Press, 2011).
Doctors choose which tests to order, juries choose whom to convict, producers choose which news stories to run, studio executives choose which projects to greenlight, teachers decide which kids go into accelerated classrooms and which go to special education, social workers choose who stays with their families and who doesn’t, restaurateurs choose to exploit cheap labor and hire undocumented people who cannot risk complaining when they are cheated and abused. Choices, choices, Choices. Chances are the individuals making these decisions would not identify themselves as bigots even though we can see the racial preferences embedded in their choices. Many are likely to be people who identify themselves as victims of discrimination themselves. This story about the inequality encountered in the life journey and the data that I have cited is offered as evidence that there are cumulative patterns to be found in the choices that individuals make, patterns that are often not readily identifiable if one looks at the actionsor beliefs of an individual but that emerge when one looks at how many individuals choose to act in the same way (p. 37).
In academia, we often talk about structural or institutional racism versus personal racism. This distinction takes on several different manifestations. One is the idea that, even as personal racism has subsided, structural or institutional racism is sustained. What is often meant is that resource gaps and information gaps and institutional policies account for inequality of opportunity. The problem with the discourse around structural racism is that it codifies the stasis of inequality in such a way that it appears impossible to challenge it without revolution or at the very least, massive reform. The discourse of structural racism in my mind has lost much of its usefulness. It absolves responsibility and dampens activism…We [should] deliberately shift our attention from thinking about personal versus institutional racism to focusing on how the accumulation of practices of inequality—engaged in by professionals, average citizens, and residents, as well as by groups acting in a common interest—translates to large-scale institutional, social, economic, and political inequalities. If we are to make that shift, with the ultimate goal of changing the practices of inequality, we must investigate how we learn to ‘be that way’ and how to ‘be different’ (p. 42).