Forms of racism and oppression can be seen in the United States every day and everyday “dominant group members use strategies to deny, minimize and erase the oppression of targeted social groups in the U.S”.
Johnson states that when people “deny the reality of oppression, [they] also deny the reality of the privilege that underlies it, which is just what it takes to get off the hook” (109). It seems that people will do or say anything, when it comes to privilege and racism to get themselves “off the hook” and unfortunately they have become good at it. People deny and minimize, blame the victim, call racism and privilege something else, convince themselves that life is better the way things are now, believe that things they say don’t count if they don’t mean them, or they believe they are “one of the good ones”.
Johnson believes that “members of privileged groups are culturally authorized to interpret other people’s experiences for them” (109). This can be seen in the example of a parent telling a crying child that the pain doesn’t hurt that much, or telling a child who has had a bad dream that there is nothing to afraid of (Johnson 108). If this denial exists between a parent and a child, one can only imagine how mistaken people may be when those who are privileged belittle or minimize the emotions or feelings of those who are not privileged.
Another way that dominant group members try to erase the oppression of targeted social groups is that they put the blame on those social groups. For example, some white people believe that “if people of color were different, if they were more like the white people, then they wouldn’t have so much trouble” (Johnson 110). It is also not uncommon for who women who are sexually harassed to be told by men that “they asked for it”, that “they sent mixed signals” or that they had “no business being where they were” (Johnson 110). Why do those who are privileged think they know better and understand the feelings of those who are actually the victims? I think they realize that they are the ones making the victims suffer in some way, but it is “human tendency to soothe themselves into thinking there’s nothing unpleasant or challenging to deal with, and it is certainly nothing to do with them” (Johnson 113).
Dominant groups are confronted with matters of race, but when this happens they think the issues with racism aren’t because of patterns of inequality and unnecessary suffering. They instead look at “their own personal feelings and views about race and the question of their individual guilt or innocence” and they then try to “get themselves off the hook by showing themselves to be pure on the subject of race” (114).
This can be seen most commonly with the phrase “I didn’t mean it”. Growing up one of the phrases most commonly used to describe something stupid or un-cool was “that’s so gay”. I never even questioned my use of the phrase or how it would affect homosexuals until I went to college and became friends with many people who were gay. After I met them, I never used that phrase again but I hear people say it all the time. Now that I know how much a phrase that seems harmless to one person can affect another, I always ask people who say that if what they are saying really is “so gay”. They usually choose a different word and say “they didn’t mean it” in that way. It seems that sometimes all people need is to look at things a different way. It is sad that most people who didn’t’ mean it “weren’t thinking, weren’t mindful or weren’t aware”, which are all things that go into “meaning it” (Johnson 117).
Still, we are all involved every moment in social life and because racism and oppression exists in every aspect of life it means that we must all be held accountable for our actions. We need to realize as Johnson says that “there is no such thing as doing nothing and that there is no such thing as being neutral or uninvolved” (Johnson 118). We all need to become more aware of what we say and do, but also what we don’t say and don’t do which means we need to be “committed, obliged and involved (Johnson 118). We need to be on the hook, not off the hook and until all dominate groups realize that they are responsible for inequality and that they have opportunities to end racism nothing will ever truly change.