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Rules, Policies, Covenants and Practices: When Neutrality is White and Racist

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By all conceivable accounts of this nation's history, this twenty-first century is different, but it is also very much the same. Paradox after paradox in this synonomic, antonymic and homonomic-filled environment of definitions within the lexicon of this experiment of democracy and freedom of humanity is, if nothing else, consistent, and each new paradox seems to piggy-back off its former. But first, what exactly is a paradox? The Oxford dictionary calls this word, “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.” Taking this definition into consideration with regard to rules, policies, covenants and practices in this century, while supposedly “neutral,” and considered absurd or self-contradictory in terms of suggestions of racism within their neutrality, do, in fact, after investigation prove to be well founded and true in their racism.

Picture Credit: Today.com

One striking example is the effort by the International Gymnastics Federation, who essentially watered down the value of a new element Biles planned to do at the world championships which began on October 4th, 2019. The rule was crafted in such a way as to apply to all the gymnasts and was supposedly created for their “protection,” to keep them from trying skills they weren’t capable of doing.

“In assigning values to the new elements, the WTC takes into consideration many different aspects; the risk, the safety of the gymnasts and the technical direction of the discipline,” it said. “There is added risk in landing of double saltos for beam dismounts (with/without twists), including a potential landing on the neck.“Reinforcing, there are many examples … where decisions have been made to protect the gymnasts and preserve the direction of the discipline.”

Considered a “neutral” new policy and rule, the problem in its enforcement was that the only gymnast who would be adversely affected by it was Simone Biles herself. They had designed the rule in order to keep Simone at a “particular” level, in her scoring because the other gymnasts, while world class, couldn’t compete with her ever rising level of performance.

It would certainly appear, this neutral rule and practice could be considered a prima facie instance of racial discrimination, while providing the cover of plausible deniability.

“They said she couldn’t represent the school.”
Picture Credit: wset.com

In another instance of “neutrality” in rules, two articles, one on October 7, and one on October 8, 2019 called into question a rule that effectively took away an 8 year old child’s right to take a school photograph.

Picture Credit: wset.com The excited child always wanted to have colorful braids and was ecstatic when her mother agreed to weave a few red and gold strands into her tightly coiffed bun. According to the news account:

“Marian’s excitement quickly turned to sadness. When it was time for photos, the little girl was pulled aside for violating the picture day dress code. “Marian had to stand in the hallway while everyone was taking pictures,” Marian's dad, Doug Scott, told TODAY Parents. ‘They said she couldn’t represent the school.’ The parent and student handbook states that ‘hair must be of natural tones.’ It even gives guidelines for headbands, noting that acceptable choices include solid white navy, hunter green or black.”
 Picture credit: ctvnews.ca

There is always enough plausible deniability which makes it so difficult today for Black people to “prove” discrimination and this is not by chance. The original Civil Rights Act and provisions within were designed to provide respite, reparative remedies and litigious relief. For example, policies and rules relating to employment were originally relatively enforceable through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The onus was on the employer to prove nondiscrimination. However, through years of watering down and cutting away by the likes of Clarence Thomas, present Supreme Court justice and longest running head of the EEOC under President Ronald Reagan from 1982 to 1990, these policies and rules were made more "neutral," and thus rendered any hope for meaningful change a negligible blip in history. Now, the onus is on the employee to prove discrimination, which was difficult to prove even in the sixties and seventies but is now next to impossible to prove due to these more “neutral” rules, policies and practices. According to an article in PaychexWorks, from the years 1997 through 2018, the last year any data was available, the EEOC dismissed 64% discrimination claims, finding no issue, with 18% being closed for administrative reasons.

The fact is, the Post Racial Colorblind era from Nixon on into this century created enough plausible deniability to make it very difficult for Black people to prove and fight against discrimination. Black people see it, feel it, know it and fight it every day, and still there are reasons made manifest as justification for why racism is not involved. This is not happenstance. This was thoughtfully contrived as a counter to the Civil Rights legislation of the 60s and has become standard practice. Overt expressions were not legal anymore, but ways were found "around" the laws.


Much like the "colorblind" paradox during the Post Racial period where the word, “white” as color and substance of being virtually "disappeared" from the lexicon of the white liberal United States, assimilation of Black people inadvertently assisted in the replacement of whiteness and white as definitions of white people in favor of more euphemized terms such as "mainstream," "natural," "neutral," "normal" and "nude." Of course, the changes in how white people were perceiving themselves coincided with simultaneous changes in how Black people were being seen -- as content of character leaned in and engulfed the Black community with characterizations reminiscent of the rhetoric during the period of Woodrow Wilson, characterizations like criminal and rapist, and new ones promulgated through the bombardment in the communities with drugs and violence, mass incarceration and death. Indeed, according to Michelle Alexander, there are more Black people incarcerated today than those enslaved in 1850. One of the very reasons why neutral is used so much today in describing these rules, practices and policies is to connote a kind of “impartiality,” of sorts, and when used as a noun to describe themselves, it means “unbiased.” These words were effectively substituted for the word and association with the word and color, “white.”

But it didn't stop there. Policies, rules, covenants and laws were made "colorblind" as well. Therefore, white people who no longer saw "themselves" as "white," as the term relates to how “whiteness” was defined prior to the 60s, were also conditioned to believe that policies, rules and practices being put forth were now, "neutral” as well. Black people who were born during the 80s and beyond, grew up in this era of "color blindness" and MLK's dream, such that many thought and still believe racism is not only a shared behavioral expression for any race and color, but that racism itself ended for them, and by their bootstraps alone, they could and would succeed without barriers.


A white person never having been exposed to denial on account of systemic racism, means he or she is also blinded to the effect particular rules have on the people the rules are designed to deny and discriminate against, because they are always crafted in such a way as to camouflage their real intent, and for decades these “neutral” white rules have been successful in continuing the disparity, segregation and other forms of discrimination of the past. Although the early to mid-twentieth century’s overt expressions of non-neutrality and racism persisted and was eventually made unlawful, this twenty-first century, while markedly different by its more covert expressions of the same, is not so clearly evident for many people, white and Black. This neutrality of whiteness may have actually served to fool most everybody into believing racism had ended.

Because of this hidden neutrality-driven iteration of racism, for many Black people, the disparity still exists despite the subtle, racist yet paradoxical neutrality of these policies, rules and covenants. Sources: Abramson, Rachel, P. (2019) Today.com. “An 8-Year-Old Girl Was Denied a Class Picture Because of Her Hair” Armour, Nancy (2019). USA Today. “Opinion: Simone Biles Penalized for Having Skills Other Gymnasts Can’t Pull Off PaychexWorks-Knowledge at Work (2019). Employment and Discrimination: Exploring the Climate of Workplace Discrimination from 1997 to 2018 WILX/Gray News, Jackson MI (2019). 8 Year Old Denied Class Picture Oxford Dictionary 2019. Definition of Paradox from Google Search

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Copyright 2020 Cynthia Alease Smith, Ed.D.