Beating Up On Black People

Beating Up On Black People

Note to my white self…

You know the rule.

You can say nearly anything about your siblings, but – if anyone else says those same things – those are fighting words.

Remember this rule in your Facebook posts, observations and general conversation about black people. Your opinions on black on black crime, rap music, marriage rates, black people using the N word, teenage pregnancy, the work ethic, entitlement or a host of other alleged issues in the black community are unwelcome.  Keep them to yourself.  You are not part of their family.  You have not earned the right to critique them.  Black people are right to be suspicious and hostile when you do so.

Your insistence on your right to critique black people is an example of white privilege and not of objectivity. When it comes to black people and their behavior, you are not objective. You bring your racist assumptions, indoctrination and prejudices to any encounter with black people and culture. When it comes to the lives of black people and the issues within black culture, YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.  Your opinions are uninformed and therefore evidence of your racism rather than any expertise.

Don’t pretend your critique of black people and culture is out of some deep concern for the black community when you largely avoid authentic interactions with black people and their culture.  When was the last time you attended an event where you were the minority?  What was the last book you read by a black author?  When have you ever had a deep conversation with a black person about their life and experience?  Be honest. Your opinions about black people are not the result of thoughtful reflection and solidarity.  They are often racially motivated, intended to diminish white culpability and blame black people for past and present social ills.

Yes, I know you read an article about some problem in the black community. I know you have statistics and statistics don’t lie.  They can, however, be manipulated.  When it comes to race, the statistics you emphasize say more about you than what those statistics conclude. Even – if by some lucky coincidence – your secondhand analysis of an issue happens to be correct, you are not in a position to effect change and are far more likely to reinforce negative opinions of black people.  Indeed, in most circumstances, you are more part of the problem than the solution.  Black people are completely capable of identifying issues within their community. They do not need your help.

Nor do they need your affirmation. Quoting a black person to corroborate your opinion does not make you less racist.  The opinions of black people vary on nearly every issue.  Choosing one black person – especially one who shares your negative critique of black culture – as your officially sanctioned black spokesperson is a classic white supremacist tactic.  If you’re really striving for objectivity, you will carefully listen to as many black voices as possible.  You will seek some consensus in their dialogue.  You will respect their most common conclusions in forming your opinion.  Even when you do all of this, your opinion is still irrelevant.

This is true of progressives as well as of conservatives.  The rule still applies.  If you are an ally or accomplice, this makes you a family friend and not part of the family.  Being supportive of black resistance and empowerment does not give you the right to critique Kanye West, Ben Carson, Larry Elder, Coleman Hughes or black people wearing MAGA hats, even when other black people do.  Even applauding their critiques is suspect.  If you need to quote black people, look for those who are critiquing white behavior. Though most white people know little about black culture and experience, every black person thoroughly understands white culture.  They must to survive.  They are experts on white behavior and culture.

I know you think it unfair that they can critique you, but you can’t critique them. Let me explain the difference again.  Power corrupts. Those in power must therefore be critiqued.  White people are still in power. Any white critique of black people is suspect in the context of these inequities in power. Such critique always tends toward victim blaming.  Whether you realize it or not, your critiques will always be tainted by your need – conscious or unconscious – to sustain your power and dominance.

Progressives critiquing the Blacks Lives Matter movement is a good example of this dynamic.  Many say they want black empowerment, but reject all forms of resistance that do not play by the very rules designed to protect white supremacy.  If you love Dr. King, but reject Black Lives Matter, you don’t know much about Dr. King.  If the societal systems and rules worked for black people, they wouldn’t be protesting.  The Black Lives Matter movement should not merely make conservative whites uncomfortable.  It should make all whites uncomfortable.  Embrace you discomfort instead of becoming a critic.

I know you’re concerned about who will hold black people and culture accountable.  Your commitment to accountability is noble.  It is simply misdirected.  You have far too much work to do in holding your white peers, your white dominated institutions and your white culture accountable for their continued oppression of people of color.  Don’t get distracted.  You can’t waste valuable energy critiquing black people.  Let them hold each other accountable.  They’ve been doing this for hundreds of years without your help.  They can handle it.

Let me say this as simply as I can – verbally beating up on a black person is not a good look on you.

Instead of critiquing someone’s else’s family, examine your own.  Who in your family is still telling racist jokes?  Who is your family is sharing racist memes?  Who in your family continues to repeat racist opinions and rhetoric?  Who in your family is most likely to act out of unconscious bias?  Who in your family refuses to acknowledge white privilege and systemic racism?

If you need to be critical, start there.

 

 

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When Compliments Are Racist

When Compliments Are Racist

Note to My White Self…

I did it again.

I offered one of those back handed, racist compliments that expose how much work I still have to do as a recovering racist. Even worse, I did it during a panel discussion at a cross-racial dialogue conference where I allegedly represented a “woke” white person. Here is what happened.

In describing a recent conversation with a black woman, I said, “I was talking with a very articulate black woman…”

Sigh.  I should know better.  I’ve read and even written about this peculiar racist habit.  I’ve explained it to many white people who don’t get it. Describing a black person as “articulate” implies this attribute is unusual and requires comment. Such compliments subtly support the racist trope that black people aren’t articulate.  Fortunately, someone almost immediately called me out on my use of the qualifier “articulate” and I acknowledged and apologized for my racist rhetoric.

I suppose I’ve made some progress. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have understood what I did wrong.  Five years ago, I would have been defensive and objected to any critique.  Today, I’m slightly embarrassed and thankful that someone called me out.  I am also due for a refresher on when the qualifiers and compliments of white people are racist.

Rule #1

Unless a reference to the skin color of a person is relevant to the story, a white person referring to someone as black is usually racist. 

In the situation above, describing the woman as black was necessary. My story was about her experience as a black woman dealing with racism.  The story wouldn’t have made any sense unless people understood she was black.

However, in most situations, noting the race of someone is unnecessary and often motivated by unconscious racist bias.  For example, telling my wife that a black salesman knocked on our door is racist. Informing her of the salesman’s skin color only makes sense if I think she needs to know that specific information.  Though I didn’t do this consciously, I may have been warning her that black men – whom I’ve been indoctrinated to associate with danger and violence – were in our neighborhood.

Often, in my experience, the use of the descriptor “black” by white people is completely irrelevant to the story.  The real motive in describing the person as black is to affirm some racial stereotype.  If you want to read more about this dynamic, I’ve discussed this rule at length in the post – “I Say Racist Things.

Rule #2

Unless the adjective used to describe a black person is pertinent to the story, the adjective used by a white person probably reflects their unconscious prejudice and is not actually complimentary.

Many compliments of black people by white people share a common theme – the black person being complimented is an exception to the rule.  Suggesting a black person is “articulate, hardworking, intelligent, studious, respectful, competent, beautiful, level headed, etc.” is often said with the unstated “for a black person.”  White people compliment the black person because they have had one of their racist stereotypes challenged.  Unfortunately, rather than examining their own prejudice, the white person’s compliment actually serves as a means of reinforcing the racist stereotype – “My opinion of black people is still correct.  You are the exception.”

Additionally, the backhanded compliment allows the white person to think well of themselves.  Why did I mention that the black woman in my story was articulate?  Was my motive to compliment her or to exhibit my graciousness?  This is especially common in progressive circles where white people seek to demonstrate their solidarity with people of color.  In 2007, Joe Biden once described Barack Obama as “articulate, bright, clean and a nice-looking guy.”  While Biden intended his remarks to be complimentary, they were rightly condemned as racist and he later apologized.  While all four qualifiers are suspicious, no one would ever compliment a white politician for being clean.

In my racist assertion, describing the black woman as articulate was completely unnecessary.  Whether I thought her articulate was irrelevant to the story.  She did not need my accolades as a preface.  Her worth was not enhanced by my approval.  If I had simply related her words, the power of her statement would have been obvious.

Rule #3

Describe the behaviors and impact of black people’s actions rather than offering qualifiers and adjectives.

Here is what that black woman said.  She told of how when she arrived in Africa for the very first time, a weight she’d never been aware of dropped from her shoulders. She was suddenly in a place where everyone around her was black, where she didn’t have to fear what the next white person she encountered might say or do.  She spoke of how incredibly freeing that had been, of how her health improved.  After two weeks of liberation, she arrived at the airport to go home.  She described how that burden of living in a white world fell heavily on her shoulders the moment she was greeted by the white flight attendant.

The proper response to such a story is empathy and personal reflection. Thankfully, on the day I heard that story, I did not add to her burden by telling her “how articulate she was.”

Black people don’t need our compliments.  They aren’t waiting with bated breath to see if the white person is going to approve of them.  They know how often those compliments are really insults.  Indeed, the giving of compliments is often paternalistic, implying that black people’s value is directly connected with how much they please the white people around them.  White people need to carefully check this impulse to re-center attention on our alleged superiority and graciousness.

It is usually about here in any discussion of backhanded racist compliments that some white person will say, “Well, if I’m going to have my every word scrutinized, I just won’t say anything.”  Which brings me to my final rule.

Rule #4

Since racism is so deeply embedded in white behavior, it would benefit white people to talk less and listen more.

Not saying anything is often the right response.

Appreciation and gratitude are better than compliments.  When your black waitress provides great service, remarking on her politeness isn’t appropriate.  Leaving a good tip is sufficient.  When a black man does excellent work, complimenting his “competence” is only slightly less insulting than calling him “a good boy.”  A simple “great work” will do.  A raise would be even better.  When a person of color speaks in a way that makes you think or feel differently, there is no need to compliment them for “being articulate.”  Simply tell them that their words made you see the world differently.

Progressive Racism

Progressive Racism

Note to my white self…

Don’t give up.

I know you’re frustrated. You’re surprised by how insidious racism can be, how it permeates our culture so completely that even many of your white progressive friends and acquaintances repeatedly express racist opinions.  Don’t give up on them.  Not so long ago, the racist themes they so casually propagate tripped off of your tongue. They are reciting what white people were taught. Diminishing the role and impact of racism is standard fare in our culture.

I know you’re exhausted. You’re tired of defending NFL football players, Black Lives Matter protestors, reparations advocates and Maxine Waters, of having to justify the behavior of people of color to many of your white progressive friends and acquaintances.  Don’t stop defending people of color. Think about how exhausting this constant critique must be for them. Blaming the victim for their response to their oppression is a common distraction from addressing the underlying abuse.

Keep in mind that many of your progressive friends and acquaintances diminish and distract because – at some deep level – they understand that ending racism in our society is their responsibility. White supremacists and racist conservatives are not the primary obstacles to ending systemic racism in the United States.  For most of those people, racism will only die when they do. If racism is to end in America, it will require white progressives to finally and completely abandon their complacency and subtle support of systemic racism.

Your task is twofold.  First, you must continually monitor your biases, attitudes and opinions with the goal of eliminating your own tendencies to diminish and distract.  Second, you must patiently challenge this tendency in your white progressive friends and acquaintances.  Ironically, calling out the blatant racist expressions of white supremacists and racist conservatives is a distraction.  It may make you feel enlightened, but it accomplishes little.  Your responsibility is to call out the far more subtle racism of many of your white progressive friends and acquaintances.

Systemic racism in the United States is not sustained by rabid white supremacists, but by a whole system of subtle racist opinions and critiques.  Here is a short list of the racist opinions you once expressed and commonly encounter within progressive circles:

Critique the approach to racism rather than racism

“I just wish (the NFL football players, the Black Lives Matter protestors, the reparations advocates or Maxine Waters) would use a less combative approach to addressing racism” 

You’ve made such critiques. Recognize them for the distractions that they are.  White progressives often flee to the moral high ground to escape from the rushing and fetid waters of racism.  Rather than dive into those waters, we stand idly by while people of color try not to drown.  Telling them to stop thrashing around – though technically correct – does little to help them survive.  Our criticisms imply our role is not to end racism, but to define the rules under which people of color can oppose it.  Too often, this defense of civility or critique of strategy distances us from our responsibility to ally with those who are oppressed.

Diminish racism by focusing on other social ills

“I think the best way to address racism is to focus on more basic social problems like broken families, unemployment, inadequate education, gun violence, drug abuse or poverty.  By addressing these social ills, people of color will also benefit.”

You’ve made such arguments.  Hear them as the diminishment of racism that they are. White progressives often imply that progress can only be made if we address universal societal issues rather than racism itself.  We suggest that addressing the poverty of all people will result in prosperity for people of color.  We offer this as a strategy to “trick” other white people in helping people of color.  After all, the Democrats allegedly lost the presidential election because they ignored the plight of white working class people.  These arguments ignore what every person of color knows – people of color have been at the back of the line for every single social or economic initiative in American history.  Rosa Parks taught them it isn’t good enough to be allowed on the bus.

Respond to present racism with reminders of past progress

“Don’t you think our society is less racist than it was in the past?  I wish (the NFL football players, the Black Lives Matter protestors, the reparations advocates or Maxine Waters) would focus on all the progress we’ve made.”

You’ve offered such optimism.  Understand how ridiculous that sounds to people of color. They know the terrible cost of that progress “we’ve” made.  They see – in our present administration – how fragile that “progress” can be.  They also know the Civil Rights movement was opposed by about 75% of the white population, with even higher levels of resistance in the South.  The system only changed when some white progressives became accomplices with people of color, risking life and liberty to protest against injustice.  It changed when – unlike today – politicians like JFK and LBJ risked their careers and alienated portions of their party in order to challenge racism. Those white people who stood on the sidelines criticizing Dr. King are no different than those who criticize Black Lives Matter.  If we want to take credit for the progress of the past, we must be part of challenging injustice today.

Encourage the racist trope of the violent person of color

“When people of color advocate for or resort to violence, their behavior is counterproductive, making it more difficult for me to support their cause.”

You’ve reinforced negative stereotypes about people of color.  Whenever you give credence to claims of black violence, you encourage an age old racist device.  Historically, the incidents and levels of violence perpetrated on people of color by whites far exceed the incidents and levels of violence perpetrated by people of color.  When people of color resort to violence, it is usually when they have abandoned hope in any other option.  They act violently knowing that their actions will be brutally suppressed by white culture.  Yet, repeatedly, at the slightest aggressiveness by people of color, many of their progressive white supporters fade into the ranks of the white mobs that beat, lynch and kill.  People of color are not the race of people most deserving of a violent characterization.  When progressives pretend this isn’t the case, they actually justify continued white violence.

These are the common white progressive complaints you must abandon and challenge. This will be frustrating and exhausting.  Many of your white progressive friends and acquaintances will resist your pushback.  They will not like your continual reminders that white progressives – and not those crazy Trump supporters – are the chief impediment to racial reconciliation and equity in the United States.  Only when white progressives abandon these supports to systemic racism, will the pillars of racism in America finally crumble.

Stop complaining of your frustration and exhaustion.  Come down off your moral high ground.  End you attempts at diminishing racism. Give up your theories of inevitable progress.  Support those who are defending themselves – sometimes violently – against abuse.

Get off your ass and back to work.

Why I’m Afraid Of White People

Why I’m Afraid Of White People

Note to my white self…

I am afraid of white people.

This is not easy for me, as a white person, to admit.  Nor has it always been the case. For most of my life, I felt safest and most comfortable in the presence of other white people. While I occasionally encountered a distasteful white person, most white people treated me with kindness and respect. They were my family and friends. They were my tribe. It was when I encountered people of color that I felt fear.

That is no longer the case. Increasingly, it is white people who cause me the most concern and discomfort. Much of this growing fear comes from watching my eleven year old black daughter navigate and explore the world without her white parents looking over her shoulder. Last week, when she rode her bike to the local ice cream shop, her mother and I worried until she came home. What if some white person, seeing her as a threat, called the police to complain? What if some white person, emboldened by the present political climate, chose to target her for racial harassment?

I wish those were irrational fears, but I know they are not. I’ve read too many stories of black people targeted for harassment or abuse simply for being black. In the past, my daughter benefited from the protection of our umbrella of white privilege. As a cute child, she was endearing. But that is all shifting as she becomes a black teenager. She has become a potential threat in a culture uncomfortable with assertive young black women.

When my daughter was a child, white people irritated me with their assumptions and bias, but I found it generally harmless. Not any longer. When I am with my daughter, I find myself looking at other white people with caution, even suspicion. I notice the ones who don’t acknowledge her existence, looking straight through her. I see those who stare at her with hostility.  I recognize the fear in their eyes. It is the same discomfort I once had in the presence of people of color.  Occasionally, I see something more sinister – a hatred for this child they do no know.

But, even when I am not with my daughter, I find myself less and less comfortable in large groups of white people. I’m aware of the absence of people of color. I miss them and the perspectives they bring. I wonder if the white people I’m with have that same sense of loss.  Or are they like I used to be, happy to be together as a tribe and free from the discomfort of sharing the world with other tribes.

I’ve read enough by people of color to know what my tribe is capable of, the ugliness and violence we’ve so easily inflicted on those we identify as different or less.  I’ve moved beyond the whitewashed history of my childhood to understand the racism built into American culture. I recall all the racist and bigoted statements I’ve heard or expressed in my many years with white people. Even today, many in my tribe, assuming I think as they do, expose their potential to harm or tolerate the harm of non-whites. They frighten me.

Indeed, the more another white person revels in their whiteness, the more they frighten me. Their obsession with whiteness usually involves diminishing or denigrating people of other colors. When people of color revel in their identity, it feels different. They’re declaring the value of what they can contribute and not the deficiency of all others. Black, Native American and Latino power demand a place at the table. White power demands the seat at the head of the table.

My recognition of this difference reveals how I’ve changed. I no longer belong to the white tribe. I belong to a rainbow tribe, of people comfortable in diversity, thrilled by exploring differences, committed to sharing the world equitably. People of color are no longer threatening to me. They are interesting and exciting.  Many of them are part of my new tribe. While I will always be white, I am no longer proud of that identity.  Indeed, I am increasingly aware of how dangerous the white tribe can be to my daughter, to my friends of color, and to the society I seek to create and protect.

This fear isn’t completely negative. It makes me a better ally to people of color. I better understand and appreciate what they’ve always experienced. I am more aware of the world as it is rather than the world as I assumed. My fear of white people makes me a better citizen of this nation. I am more likely to work passionately for justice and equity, to oppose those asserting white supremacy.  After all, those being brutalized by police, separated from their children or threatened with the loss of civil or voting rights belong to my tribe. Their pain is my pain. Their dreams are my dreams.

In the end, my fear of white people is a sign of hope.  The more white people share this fear, the less our society will have to fear from white people.  As more and more white people abandon their tribe, the less power white people will have to perpetuate a racially divisive society. As more white people join the rainbow tribe, white people will become less and less frightening to everyone. Finally, people of every color can focus their efforts on building a society where no one need be afraid.

The Culture of Whiteness

The Culture of Whiteness

Note to my white self…

You were born into whiteness.

This is quite different than being born with white skin.  There is nothing intrinsically negative about any skin pigment.  All children arrive in the world as culturally empty slates.  The assumptions and prejudices around skin pigment have to be carefully taught by those in power.  In the United States, those in power have always been white.  The lessons they’ve taught are intended to maintain and defend this concentration of power.

You were taught people who look like you are superior.

This is why it is so difficult for you to see your attitudes, opinions and actions as racist.  Whiteness has been constantly presented to you (and to the people of color around you) as pristine and preferable. You were taught that white is the color of purity, even though this is not inherently true. For nearly a billion Indians, red is the color of purity.  In China, white signifies death.  Connecting the color of white with goodness is a cultural decision.  At a deep level, you were taught whiteness is good and people of others skin pigments are less worthy.

You were taught people who look like you are normative.

This is obviously not the case.  People with white skin pigment are a minority in the world.  However, as a child born in the United States, you were taught to see white people as the rightful majority rather than a demographic anomaly.  According to this mythology, white power in the United States was not the result of the systematic suppression and oppression of people of color.  White power was a God ordained blessing bestowed on favored children or the well-earned reward of a superior group of people.  This narrative makes it easier for you to ignore the inequities and injustices from which you benefit.

You were taught to justify your privilege as a white person.

Whiteness, since it is a human ideology based on false assumptions and prejudice, must be constantly rationalized and maintained. Reality inevitably challenges the premises of whiteness.  When you meet an incredibly brilliant or compassionate person of color, your assumption of intellectual and moral superiority is shattered.  When you engage with the wider world, you discover whiteness is only normative in Hollywood, Wall Street and Seventh Avenue.  Therefore, essential to the sustainability of whiteness is its defense.

You were taught to defend whiteness by denying racism, diminishing the perspectives of people of color and deflecting criticism by attacking those who refuse to relent.

This is almost reflexive in you.  Take the example of an unarmed black man being shot by the police.  Even if you are aware of our biases, you still have to overcome your indoctrination.  Your first thought will probably be a suspicion that the black man did something to deserve to be shot.  You (and police officers) have been taught black men are criminal and violent.  If the police officer was white, you will assume he was not acting out of any prejudice. In situation after situation, your first inclination will always be to deny any racial animosity or dynamic.  Since white people are good, the fault must lie with the person of color.

You cannot allow other narratives about whiteness to prevail.

You will feel compelled to diminish the perspectives of people of color.  When video evidence makes it nearly impossible to deny the role of racial prejudice in an incident, you will tend to focus on any information that diminishes white culpability.  You will note the alleged moral failings of the black man while asking that the white officer be given the benefit of the doubt.  You will imply the black person provoked the situation.  You will disregard the stories of other people of color who’ve been pulled over by the police for the slightest cause.  Since whiteness is normative, you will refuse to accept that your experience with police is not everyone’s experience.

You must defend whiteness at all costs.

Your final response, should denial and diminishment fail, will be to deflect the criticism.  You will offer statistics suggesting these racially motivated shootings by police are rare.  You will imply the incident is being politicized.  You will find an instance where a white person was mistreated (preferably by a black police officer) and argue that such abuses can happen to anyone.  If all else fails, you will accuse the critics of being racially motivated.  They are the racists.   You will “back the blue” even when it is whiteness you’re defending.

This is the culture of whiteness.

While you were not born with it, you were indoctrinated into it.  Being aware of this indoctrination, while important, does not immediately free you from its power.  When your whiteness is challenged, you will often find yourself reflexively denying, diminishing and deflecting.  These responses are ingrained and difficult to discard.  With practice, you will identify these reflexive responses more quickly and be able to acknowledge their ugliness, but this may take years.  With more awareness, you will see these responses more clearly in other white people and in the larger culture, but your awareness will always be clouded.  People of color will continue to point out prejudices you cannot see.  Gradually, if you are vigilant, the power of this indoctrination will weaken.

You will always be white.

There is no shame in the pigment of your skin.  It is your active or passive participation in a culture of whiteness that is problematic. Once you become aware of this indoctrination and its negative impact on yourself and the lives of people of color, you become responsible for moving from participation to opposition.  You will always struggle with the remnants of your indoctrination.  You will always need to listen to people of color.  But, if you willing to work at it, you can be free of the need to deny, diminish or deflect.

You can be free at last.

Never. Not Once

Never. Not Once

Note to my white self…

In light of the recent events at a Starbucks coffee shop, it seems prudent to understand what such incidents teach you as a white person.

You have never been asked to leave a coffee shop because you haven’t purchased a beverage yet.

You have never had a store clerk call the police to have you removed from the premises.

You have never been arrested for asking to use the restroom.

Never. Not once.

You have never had black men yell “Honky” and throw garbage at you from a passing vehicle.

You have never had a person cross to the other side of the street when they see you.

You have never had people stare right through you when you said “hello.”

You have never had someone tell you they hate you because of the color of your skin.

Never. Not once.

You have never had a security guard follow you around in a store.

You have never had a police officer stop you on the street and ask what you’re doing.

You have never been pulled over for a broken tail light.

When you have been pulled over, you have never worried about being killed.

You have never had a police officer tell you that you fit the description of a suspect in a crime.

Never.  Not once.

You have never been told your natural hair isn’t appropriate for work.

You have never had someone act disgusted when they accidently touched you.

You have never worried that you didn’t get a job because of the color of your skin.

You have never had someone touch your hair without your permission.

You have never been told you should move back to Europe where you came from.

You have never read death threats written on a bathroom stall.

Never. Not once.

You have never been complimented for being “more honest or articulate or competent” than most white people.

You have never had someone ask “What are you?”

You have never been called a “boy” since you became an adult.

You have never had someone lock their doors when you walked by their car.

You have never had someone ask why white people like “steak and potatoes” so much.

You have never had a customer ask for a different employee to serve them.

You have never had to have a black person come to your aid and insist you be treated with respect.

Never. Not once.

Yet you know people of color who have experienced many – if not all – of these incidents (or their equivalents), often repeatedly.  Because of this reality…

You should never think your experience as a white person in the United States is the same as the experience of a person of color.  Every experience – even the most trivial – has the potential for discrimination and danger for a person of color.

You should never deny the persistent and systemic racism in the United States.  There is no place in the United States where a person of color is immune from the impacts of racism.

You should never forget how often you benefit from the privileges of being white.  There is no place in the United States where a white person loses the power and privilege of being white.

You should never diminish the seriousness of any instance where a person of color is treated with disrespect.  Micro-aggressions are not minor instances of racism.  They are the tip of a huge, submerged system of racism

You should never stop addressing the racism within yourself and within our society.  If people of color must be constantly vigilant, so must you.

Other white people will be frustrated with your continuing focus on racial equality, dignity and justice.  Don’t listen to them.  Don’t waver.  Don’t look away.

Never. Not once.

Color Blindness Is A Disability

Color Blindness Is A Disability

Note to my white self…

When it comes to race, color blindness is not now – nor has it ever been – an admirable goal for a white person. Color blindness, both physically and metaphorically, is a human deficiency.  It has a negative impact on a person’s ability to navigate in a world where recognizing and discriminating between colors is a necessary and valuable tool.  While you – and most other white people – were taught to strive for color blindness in your racial interactions, this is not commendable or helpful.  Color blindness is always a disability.

Think about it.

Where else in our culture is a lack or deficiency in sight considered preferable? Parents are rightly saddened by a child born blind.  A loss of vision in an adult is considered a tragedy.  The restoration of sight is thought miraculous.  When used as a metaphor, blindness is almost universally negative.  Acting, judging or loving blindly is irresponsible. To be blind to a condition of life is a cause for concern. In “Amazing Grace,” we do not sing that “I could see, but now I’m blind.”  To do so would be ridiculous.

Though physical color blindness is certainly less traumatic, it is hardly celebrated. When severe, color blindness is a dangerous condition causing many difficulties for those so afflicted.  An inability to discern between red and green makes every major street intersection challenging.  When it comes to identifying colors, discrimination is not a negative activity.  It is a positive attribute allowing the person to make better judgments and avoid mistakes.  That, when it comes to race, color blindness is upheld as noble should seem odd.   That, in a white dominated culture, color blindness is applauded should be suspicious.

Why, in this instance, has a white dominated culture used a lack of visual acuity as a positive metaphor?

You know why.

As with all things white, this practice is advantageous to white people. By extolling color blindness, you escape the responsibility of identifying, acknowledging and addressing real social, economic and political disparities between yourself and people of color.  You can pretend, though racial prejudice is deeply embedded in your psyche, that the color of someone’s skin does not influence your attitude, judgment or actions.  You can even use the exaltation of color blindness to further oppress people of color.  People of color who refuse to affirm the positives of color blindness can be accused of “reverse racism” and identified as morally deficient.  After all, good people are color blind.

Think about how absurd that sounds when applied to the physical condition of color blindness.

Can you imagine a culture that extoled the physical condition of color blindness as superior and condemned those who discriminated between red and green? How would you explain a culture where not being able to see differences in colors was considered admirable, as something to brag about?  What would you think of a culture where people were pressured, even if they could see the differences, to ignore this discernment and pretend that they couldn’t?  How would you judge such a culture?  Wouldn’t you assume something odd or unacknowledged was behind such an attitude and behavior?

Such is the case with the use of color blindness as a positive metaphor in a white dominated culture. The something odd or unacknowledged is white privilege.  This privilege gives white people the power to demand that people ignore real disparities and inequities in how people of different skin colors are treated in our culture. According to the proponents of color blindness, if we refuse to see the differences, they will go way.  This claim that there are no real differences between black and white in America is as absurd as claiming red and green are the same.

Here is the truth.

Color blindness is not your goal.

Your goal as a white person is to see yourself and people of color as they truly are, to recognize how differences in skin tone continue to seriously impact the experiences of men, women and children in our society, that these differences privilege some and oppress others. To treat people equally, regardless of the color of their skin, isn’t inherently admirable or just.  When justice is blind to past injuries, this blindness is also negative.  When justice does not acknowledge the color of someone’s skin, it inevitably perpetuates rather than rectifies injustice.

Color blindness is not your goal.

To ignore the inequities that still exist because of differences in skin color is insulting and irresponsible. It is only in removing our blindfolds, that we become capable of seeing discrimination for what it is; the diminishment of some colors more than others.  The reason color blindness is metaphorically extoled and blackness is metaphorically maligned has the same ugly source – racism.

Stop claiming to be color blind.

It is not true.

It is not admirable.

It is not helpful.