Note to my white self…
You focus on the wrong racism.
I know you mean well, but your outrage at every blatantly racist Facebook post, meme and news item doesn’t make much difference in the world. Nearly everyone – conservative and liberal – finds blatant acts of racism offensive. Priding yourself on your freedom from blatant acts of racism is a little like bragging about not beating your children. Behaving as a mature, thoughtful adult shouldn’t be considered admirable.
Sure, there has been an upsurge of more blatant acts of racism in the past months. Yes, that is unfortunate. Of course you should condemn this trend. Nearly everyone does. Just don’t get distracted. Don’t focus on what nearly everyone abhors. Blatant racism – however ugly – isn’t being defended and institutionalized. It isn’t what you should worry about.
Instead, challenge systemic racism. Systemic racism doesn’t call a black person names. It politely denies them the same rights and opportunities offered to white people. Systemic racism doesn’t make jokes about Latinos. It requires them to carry papers proving their citizenship. Systemic racism doesn’t paint graffiti on mosques. It signs executive orders implying Muslims are more dangerous than other people. Systemic racism doesn’t make bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers. It neglects to mention them when talking about the Holocaust.
I know why you focus on blatant racism. The acts and attitudes of systemic racism are much harder to recognize. Calling them out is more difficult. The perpetrators can offer other reasons – bureaucracy, expediency, security and even equity – for their actions. As a white person, it is tempting for you to accept these justifications precisely because they play to your fears and prejudices. Indeed, it is your inability to see and acknowledge acts of systemic racism that are the truest indications of your racial bias. You don’t see them because they don’t impact your life.
Think about this. How would you feel if you never really knew if you weren’t hired because you weren’t qualified or because you were white? What would you say if a neighbor, employer or police officer questioned your citizenship? How would you respond to the claim that white people have a higher tendency to be criminals, murderers or terrorists? What would you think about a society that ignores or diminishes your past pains and struggles? If this was your life experience, would you still be focused on what people say on Facebook?
Opposing blatant racism is like opposing child abuse. Of course you should! However, the question is how you will oppose it. Are you willing to challenge its underpinnings? Do you oppose the use of corporal punishment in homes and school? Do you support giving more financial resources to poor families with children? Do you understand child abuse as including emotional and mental abuse? Do you see the cure to child abuse as parental incarceration or parental education and training? Calling out the physical abuse of a child in a public setting doesn’t make you a child advocate. It makes you a law abiding citizen.
The same is true for racism. There should be no accolades for treating people of color with respect and dignity. If you think this makes you a good person, you have set the bar far too low. The true indication of your maturity and thoughtfulness is what you are doing to increase equity and opportunity for people of color.
You need to set the bar higher.
Look at your life. Find at least one instance in your life where you are benefiting from systemic racism. If you can’t find something quickly, you need to spend some time learning about systemic racism. Here are eight short videos with examples of systemic racism. When you do recognize something, think about how you might personally alter or challenge that systemic racism. Are there ways you can disconnect from directly benefitting from this injustice? Pick one small cause and try to make a difference. Pledge to spend as much time fighting systemic racism as you do posting about blatant racism on Facebook.
If every white person in America took that pledge, the foundations of systemic racism would begin to crumble.
(Quick Note: I will be on vacation for ten days. I will return to blogging during the first week of April.)