Racism Makes You Question Everything

I showed this report to a group of Social Work students in my Foundations for Multicultural Social Work Practice class last night to help demonstrate examples of institutional racism. It’s called “True Colors: Racial Discrimination in Everyday Life”.

Taken alone, it can be easy for people who are white to dismiss what happens on a daily basis to people of color as isolated events.

However, seeing what occurred between the participants side by side and back to back gives the viewer a bird’s-eye view of how racism can manifest itself institutionally. The video hit housing discrimination, employment discrimination, etc.

Although the report was made in 1991, it’s still very relevant to what’s happening right now.

One simple example can be found with how people responded to the participants in the first video when they were locked out of their car. That same scenario was attempted recently, with similar, very telling results.


While both of the participants gave of themselves so that others could see examples of how racism shows up in society, we have to acknowledge that the physical, psychological, and emotional costs for participating in this “social experiment” were not the same between these two participants.

The person who was white pretty much showed up. The person who was black showed up too, but had to live and re-live harmful experiences. I suppose one could say that both experiences can happen on a day-to-day basis, but the labor, and the results are absolutely not the same.

This video does a great job of highlighting white privilege and demonstrating how different the everyday lived experiences of people who are white are from those of people of color.


Day to-day encounters with microaggressions and overt displays of racism can lead to the kind of racial calculus Dr. Julianne Malveaux referred to in the video that people of color often perform when processing our (because I am one of them) everyday lived experiences; trying to decipher the breadth and the depth of encounters and messages to determine whether you’re reading into something too much or if your suspicions are actually true.


A culmination of “isolated events” becomes a pattern.

For people who are white who come across the examples in this video, this is also an opportunity for you to question your everyday interactions with the world. Questions like

“Did I get this house, job, that deal on my car, great service at a restaurant etc solely because I have earned it, or because it was the right thing to do, or am was I collecting on my white privilege?”

In this structurally racist society that we live in, this can be an important opportunity to acknowledge that in many cases, the answer will be the latter. Once that admission takes place, you then have the luxury of choosing what to do with that information.

Social Work Implications

To bring it back to Social Work, it is extremely important for Social Workers who are white to acknowledge the culmination of “isolated events” in their own lives, because it can be very damaging both to the relationship between Social Workers and their clients, and to the clients themselves when, due to their Social Worker’s lack of awareness of their own privilege, a client of color is met with invalidation and dismissal while trying to explain their experiences living within a structurally racist system.

“If we’re striving for wholeness, justice, equity, It can only be gained on the basis of truth, the whole story.”

“How often do we choose not to know, & actively find ways to quiet the voices of those who are trying to tell us?”–Naomi Tutu


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW, LLMSW



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Written by

I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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6 Responses

  1. Brilliant post and thanks for creating awareness. Racism is never an isolated thing but owing to our own human prejudices which is destroying society.


  2. I am impressed by the fight you are putting up to create awareness on social justice issues. America is like the light of the world and we believe you Americans stand for the highest values.I do acknowledge that much ground has been covered but people like you are needed for more ground to be covered until the obnoxious practice is eliminated completely. Forward ever.

    • Thanks for your support. America still has a long way to go before the country can truly say that it’s actions lines up with what it “says on paper”, as Dr. King said in his final speech. Those who are working for equity and social justice today are on a larger continuum as a part of a larger collection of folks who have done so in the past. The task becomes about making good on the sacrifices that have been made before, but using our lives to push progress even further so that those who would come after would have a smoother path.

  1. January 20, 2015

    […] Racism Makes You Question Everything Relando Thompkins, MSW, LLMSW […]

  2. February 10, 2015

    […] Racism Makes You Question Everything Relando Thompkins, MSW, LLMSW […]

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