There are a million ways this comes up, but I’m just going to jump to it – at some point, when talking about racial inequality, white people will bring up the fact that BET, black fraternities and sororities, Asian-American and other “ethnic” clubs and the like are all “okay,” but similar “white-only” organizations, channels, etc. would be deemed “racist.” They ask – how’s that fair?
And it’s a good question. It really is. Because, if that’s how you see the world and how race plays out (which is the position the questioners are in – whether they be kids or adults), then it really doesn’t seem to add up. It seems like that good old “reverse-racism” people like to talk about.
Until you broaden the focus.
So my response to this question has two levels to it: the first addresses only the more surface level of physical characteristics and race alone; the second involving oppression and inequality in general.
Let’s get to it.
Level 1 – Race
If we’re talking only about race, which is usually how this question is addressed and perceived, we must examine the purpose(s) behind the formation of these organizations, as well as how the creation of these organizations affect other groups. I emphasize that this section is about race, and race alone. Any other factors/considerations are put aside until the second section, so please keep that focus throughout your reading of this part.
So why are these race-focused organizations formed? Put simply, they are places where members of the specified races can come together and form a majority, in order to create a comfort-zone, of sorts. These are places where members of the racial group can be surrounded (in the case of the media, it’s a virtual “surrounding”) by people that represent them, racially. From there, members of that group can talk about issues that pertain to them directly, amongst their peers, and perhaps advocate for change from within that framework.
These organizations are formed in places where white is the majority (media being no exception, of course). Places where every space is dominated by white faces. Classrooms will be a white majority. Tv shows and channels will display a majority of white faces. Non-white students will not have any unintentionally-formed spaces in which their skin-tone dominates.
But everybody deserves the right to have the feeling of not standing out in a crowd, racially – white people included. However, over the vast majority of the U.S., white people do not have to consciously create these spaces. Almost everywhere a white person chooses to go in this country (virtually or in the flesh) will be a space in which their color is the majority. And so you do not have to go out of your way to make that happen. That discomfort you feel when visiting an all-PoC space? That’s just everyday life for a person of color.
So these organizations are built to try to get a taste of that comfort that white people are lucky to get all the time – they’re a racial “home-base.” Probably the one place where participants do not have to be racial minorities. And so these organizations often help members increase their own pride, self-esteem, and sense of safety simply by existing. The same way white folks will feel more comfortable and safe when they’re the majority. A space to relax, recoup, and not feel racial identity as a weight.
Sounds pretty positive, right? But how do these organizations affect other groups? Do they take away other groups’ rights?
The fact is, these organizations do not tend to affect other groups directly. When these groups do so, it is usually in the form of protests or other attempts to bring attention to issues that affect the organizations’ racial group. Direct actions are meant to bring more justice and equality to the racial groups’ cause. An attempt to achieve "black power," for example, is simply an attempt to bring the power-base of black folks up to the same level as the power-base of white folks. Therefore, any minority race’s call for "more power" is in relative terms – as their "more power" is still going to be less than white folks’ power, on a whole.
Of course, in that situation, white folks as a group still stand to be directly affected (“negatively”) by this rise towards equality. Because you have to admit that white people mostly control this country. White people have most of the power. Therefore, if Latino people – for example – get larger representation, it’s most likely going to be white people that then give some of it up. True equality brings the bottom up – but it also entails having the top give up a little bit.
And that’s scary. Threatening, even. But it is not a situation in which giving up some power then gives another group power over white people – because the white racial group will still hold the advantage. And we need to keep that in mind, if we’re speaking in terms of justice, equality, and "fairness." It’s not taking away rights. It’s just taking away a little bit of privilege. And that’s a very important distinction that will come into play more fully in the second section (one that white readers will be happily surprised by, I believe). An increase in non-white races’ power makes things just a little bit "more equal" even if that feels (understandably) uncomfortable for white people.
On the flip side – what would a “white-only” organization be trying to obtain? It is not a necessary construct to form a “comfort-zone” for white folks because – as we’re still talking about race alone – that comfort-zone is just everyday life for a white person. Building an entire organization isn’t necessary for white folks to taste being a majority. (*4) There is no need for the existence of a “white-only” organization for white folks to get to put down the weight of race. It also doesn’t make sense as a fight for “white-rights,” because (again – we’re talking race alone) white people are the “standard” in this country. “Equality” in legislation means “getting to be equal with white people.” That’s just how it is. So any attempts for a white-dominated organization to increase "white power" is an attempt to further cripple other races – making things "less equal." And that’s unconstitutional.
So – if this is the case, then a “white-only” organization would most likely be formed as a response to other racially-focused organizations. Not for the same reasons as them, however, but as a counter-point. Basically an “in-your-face” statement, as well as an attempt to bring folks together to consider the “threat” that these other race-based organizations present. But, again, if the “threat” presented is simple equality, then a group formed to counter-act that is, in its core, built to take away other people’s rights in order to protect their own privilege– which is, of course, not okay.
Black Frats, Asian-American Student Unions, etc.