Not All White People

| September 2, 2014 | 5 Comments

This is a guest post by Jaimee McGruder. To submit a guest post to Culture Shock, see our ‘Write for Us’ page.


On August 9th, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown was gunned down by police officer Darren Wilson and left in the streets. Autopsy reports indicate that he was in a surrender position when he was murdered. This is not a unique story. In Los Angeles, Ezell Ford, also unarmed was also killed by police while surrendering. John Crawford was killed for holding a pellet rifle in Walmart while telling officers it was not a real gun. Victor White III was killed while in the police car, which police then tried to cover up by alleging that he shot himself in the chest although his hands were cuffed behind his back. These stories of young black men being killed by white police officers go on and on.

While some people try to convince others and themselves that these are simply acts of police brutality and nothing more, there is a clear pattern here and it all has to do with race. When Open Carry Texas walked into businesses with real rifles and shotguns, they were banned from the premises, not shot down. When James Holmes opened fire in a movie theatre in Colorado, killing 12 and injuring 70 others, he was apprehended, not shot and killed either. Yet there are people who claim that Michael Brown deserved to be shot, for attempting to take the officer’s gun or for stealing from a store (neither of which are true).

Protestors in St. Louis. photo via flickr user cactusbones

Protestors in St. Louis. photo via flickr user cactusbones

In response to the brutality against the black community, and most recently to Brown’s death and the militarization of the Ferguson police, black men and women have taken to protests and venting their frustrations online, through social media and blogging sites. But when these feelings are spoken, they are often met with misplaced offense by white people, upset not by the murder of innocent people, but by the generalizations made. After making statements about racism committed by white men and women, people of color often must let the white people around them know that no, not all white people murder, lynch, or otherwise hurt people because of their race, or else earn the accusation of being a “reverse racist.” The problem with this is that it takes focus away from the actual problem in order to sooth and comfort the privileged. Talking about racism is not supposed to be comfortable for those with white privilege because it takes away the ability for them to realize when they are a part of the problem.

It is also important for them to realize that generalizations about privileged groups does not harm them. When people of color assume that all white people are racist, it does not hurt white people but does help to protect men and women of color from racism. White stereotypes are simply jokes made by the marginalized to cope with oppression. Stereotypes about people of color, however, result in violence, death, unemployment, and other serious consequences.

So when non-white people say “white people…” it’s crucial to understand that they are not necessarily saying all white people, but talking about a system of the majority. Derailing the conversation by saying “Not all white people!” makes it about the privileged’s feelings rather than the problems at hand, making their comfort more important the issues of the oppressed.

The best way to help is to actively listen while making sure not to speak over those who actually have experienced the oppression, and not invading spaces set aside for them. For those who want to help the family of Michael Brown: they have set up a fund here.

featured image photo credit: photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via photopin cc


Jaimee McGruder is a Boston University COM student majoring in Journalism. She is from Southwest Louisiana and enjoys video games, nonfiction, travel, and discussing racism, feminism, and other social issues.

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Category: featured, Politics, Social Activism

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  1. Susan-anon says:

    To say that it’s okay when people of color stereotype white people but not when white people stereotype people of color is extremely hypocritical. To successfully end all racism, none of it should be okay. “White people can’t dance!” “Black people love fried chicken!” I don’t see a difference here. They’re both harmless stereotypes, but could be offensive. A white dancer doesn’t want to be grouped with that stereotype and a black vegetarian doesn’t want to be grouped with the other. But why is one more okay than the other?

    • Can’t help but feel that the effect of this question has been addressed in the post: “Derailing the conversation by saying ‘Not all white people!’ makes it about the privileged’s feelings rather than the problems at hand, making their comfort more important the issues of the oppressed.”

    • Emily Hurd Emily Hurd says:

      The difference when it comes to stereotypes that don’t initially appear to be harmful is that white people have always had the upper hand in our society. Like Jaimee has pointed out, at the end of the day, racial stereotypes about white people can’t really hurt anything more than our individual egos. As evidenced by the Michael Brown case and countless others, people of color are still oppressed in many ways and stereotyped in ways that prove to be literally fatal. THAT’S why it’s not okay for white people to (from the safety of our privilege and power) continue to make generalizations about people of color. You’re right that in a perfect world it would be all or nothing—either everyone can stereotype everyone else or no one can—but that assumes that we’re starting from an equal playing field in terms of the power of stereotypes to do legitimate harm.

  2. Emily Sheehan Emily Sheehan says:

    As a white person, I find this post to be particularly eye opening. With many friends of multiple ethnicities, there have been a number of times when I have found myself defending white people and myself with the phrase “Not all white people!” It’s hard not to do when you feel like you are being casually put into the same category as racists and bigots. I know deep down that when they say “white people” they don’t mean me, but it’s still hard not to get defensive, especially since I consider myself to be a very open minded and analytical person. But as you pointed out so effectively, “Derailing the conversation by saying “Not all white people!” makes it about the privileged’s feelings rather than the problems at hand, making their comfort more important the issues of the oppressed.”

    I must say, I’ve never thought of it like that until now, but you’re so right. In my entirely ernest attempt to side step the blame, I fail to listen and provide support. Instead, it suddenly becomes about me and how I feel. Thank you for pointing this out to me… next time, I promise to listen.

  3. Jaimee, this post is fantastic. Your following statement is so relevant to any conversation on race and stereotyping: “White stereotypes are simply jokes made by the marginalized to cope with oppression. Stereotypes about people of color, however, result in violence, death, unemployment, and other serious consequences.” There’s a huge difference here; thank you for pointing it out.

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