I’ve been haunted by a post that Mia McKenzie wrote the other day because it touches so profoundly on so many different points in the discussion of racism in the United States.
Point One: I’ve heard this too many times to think that it bears repeating, but perhaps it does. A new friend, doing similar work as me in Chicago, said, “It’s not the racist that worry me as much as the white liberals.” I have sat down with white mothers of white children and spoken about racism and often they come to the conversation ignorant of the modern world of racism, but they listen. I have sat down similarly with white fathers of white children and often they come to the conversation ignorant of the modern world of racism, but they bristle and defend their position as anti-racist. I’m learning how to speak about these matters, because they matter, and I don’t want to turn away any person who is willing to speak about this. But the truth is that racism doesn’t happen to white people – which is not to say that discrimination doesn’t happen, that classism doesn’t happen, that prejudice doesn’t happen, that bad things don’t happen, that white people don’t bleed, but racism DOES NOT happen to white people. And the classic refrain is that all white people are racist because they are white and this fact is very unpalatable for most white people who have yet to even define themselves by their whiteness. This is a conversation to push and pull those who believe they don’t need to speak about racism and how it is perpetuated into a dialogue about the root and reiteration of racism in our society. White people have been taught that speaking about racism is rude. They are fearful to offend. Reality check: Everyone needs to join this discussion.
Point Two: Most non-whites have tried to save white folks from hurt feelings for a long, long time. They suffer racism at the bank, at the store, at school, at the hospital, on the street, at work, on television, on the radio, in the newspaper, in their friends’ homes … I could go on ad nauseum. I believe when a non-white person opens up to a white person about racism, 99% of the time they are not playing the race card, 99% of the time they have carried this burden alone for way too long a time and now they need to speak to you about their feelings. Reality check: if a non-white person has trusted you enough to engage you in a dialogue about racism, listen.
Point Three: Racism is so woven into the fabric of our society that every institution that exists in this country is racist – de facto. The only way to unravel this shroud of evil that holds us in its bind, is to pull at the strings from every which way we can till we have dismantled it. That means that white people have to pull too. And for white people to want to tear apart at what for them has been a safety blanket, they need to understand how it is smothering them as well as non-whites. In order to understand a problem, you have to first admit you have one. Reality check: racism is power over another race and in this country, only white people have that power, and if you interact with a school, bank, law enforcement, media, manufacturing, healthcare, retail then you are in collusion with racism and therefore it is incumbent on you to finds some strings and start unraveling.
Point Four: When McKenzie writes that non-white people are becoming desensitized to white people’s problems, we as a country are in peril of losing ground on overcoming our terrible past because if someone like McKenzie cannot forgive white people for being insensitive, for being unwilling to look at how they participate in a racism society, for not seeing how children of color are brutalized under this system, then the work that is being done by many white folks to help combat racism is not enough. Reality check: It is no longer possible to hide behind whiteness in this country.