Racism is not just overt acts of prejudice, bigotry, and hate. It is the systemic oppression of people based on ethnicity or skin color through a culture’s power structures, social institutions, and customs. Racism can be explicitly stated in a society’s laws, but it is also implicitly enforced in the stories it tells about itself and its history: which people can be beautiful, smart, and brave, and which are dangerous, dirty, or lazy. Everyday people unknowingly perpetuate racism through microaggressions: small, subtle, and socially learned behaviors like assuming someone of a different ethnicity was born in another country or viewing certain natural hair types as “dirty” or “unprofessional.” We can unintentionally inflict harm on others by not examining the assumptions we learn from growing up in a biased culture, but understanding how racism perpetuates itself is the first step in working toward healing its harm.
In the waning days of 2020, Serene Jones came face to face with the white supremacist hate that fueled the deadly mob attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6—and that poses the biggest security challenge to President Joe Biden.