Sunday, August 04, 2019

"I'm not a racist," we white people tend to say. "I believe all people are of equal value," we go on. We white people, the privileged and empowered ones throughout the history of the United States, tend to personalize charges of racism and quickly exonerate ourselves. Sometimes we get quite defensive at any whiff that the racism label might be applied to us personally.

The thing we white people tend to overlook is that racism in America is systemic and structural. It is deeply woven into the fabric of the United States. We white people often don't notice that this is the case because, frankly, it doesn't effect us personally. That's called privilege: if something doesn't effect us personally we don't see it as a significant problem.

For myself, it is only when I shut my mouth and *listen* to non-white people tell their stories that I realize how pervasive racism is in America and how oblivious I often am to it. Worse, I realize how often I have participated in it and benefitted from it--all while very earnestly defending myself as not being in the least bit racist.

For example, if you proclaim "I'm not a racist" yet you support or make excuses for or refuse to take a closer look at politicians and pundits who propigate racist views (explicitly or implicitly) then yes, my friend, you are racist. If you tell jokes about racial minorities then yes, my friend, you are racist. If you imbibe stereotypes about people of other races (Asian people are smart but bad drivers, Black people are lazy and "low IQ", Hispanic people are violent and simple, etc.) and you allow those stereotypes to shape how you perceive individuals then, my friend, you are racist.  If your response to Black Lives Matter is to say "All lives matter!" and if you think Colin Kaepernick was being unAmerican when kneeling during the national anthem then, my friend, you are racist.  If you immediately respond defensively rather than introspectively when racism is discussed then, my friend, you may unwittingly be racist or be complicit in the perpetuation of racist systems and social structures. And just about every time I wrote "you" in the above paragraph, I could have just as easily wrote "I".

I don't know the answer to how we white people extricate ourselves fully from the miasma of racism that pervades America, except that we need to begin by listening closely and undefensively and ask of those who experience the effects of racism what we can do. And we need to have the integrity and courage to not abide or ignore racist rhetoric or "dog whistles" from others--especially from others who have influence.


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