When I was taught about racism in school while I was growing up, I was taught about things such as the KKK, slavery, and a bit about the Civil Rights Movement and Jim Crow Laws. I was taught to never use the “N-Word” and to look at all people as equals, regardless of color. These are all examples of overt racism. Overt simply meaning direct, straightforward, out-in-the-open, premeditated racist acts. There was a long, long period of our country’s history dominated by overt racism.
I have found that a huge stumbling block to talking productively about racism, especially among whites, is that we always associate the word “racism” with the forms of overt racism I listed above, and other similar images that appear in our mind when that word arises. We (whites) say, “Well I’m not racist. In fact, racism is in the past, so let’s move on and stop bringing up bad memories.” I find this is a stance that many whites hold, especially within the Church, where most of my personal relationships reside.
It is important that we all understand that overt racism definitely still does exist, and we are naive and foolish to deny it. Like San Francisco Giants star pitcher Sergio Romo being called a “Spic” by fans throughout his college days, in certain regions of our country, or like the nasty comments written on YouTube under this Cheerios commercial featuring a biracial couple and their child. YouTube and the Internet as a whole are proof that overt racism still exists, as they continue to serve as breeding grounds for anonymous, hateful, cowards to say hurtful, nasty things without any face to face accountability.
But this only proves my point about what I feel the real issue at hand is when it comes to racism, and that is covert racism, systemic racism, and societal racism. The fact that we lived in a racialized society. The overt racism that still exists in our society allows me to feel self-righteous that I’m not like “those racists”, therefore do not partake in racism, therefore this isn’t worth talking about.
The illusion most white people have is that racism is no longer an issue at large because the slaves were freed, Jim Crow Laws were abolished, and the only people you find now spouting off overtly racist remarks do so in the murky realms of YouTube comments and other socially unaccepted mediums. I am not like those people, and I am certainly not like the KKK, so please don’t try to make it sound like I’m racist, and let’s all move on rather than drudging up the past.
The tragedy of this approach is that it fails to recognize the effects of centuries of overt racism. Of laws and historical events that literally shaped the framework of how our society operates today, a framework that creates a different experience for whites than it does people of color. For us to deny this reality as whites is to deny the literal experience of our brothers and sisters of color in 2013.
Whites get defensive when talking about race because the tone is often meant to accuse them of things they’ve done wrong and to make them feel guilty. My intent is not to make anyone feel guilty, nor accuse anyone of anything. Most of us as individuals are not overtly racist, and I think this is an important distinction to make. Thank God so many of us are beyond overt racism. So please don’t get defensive, as I’m not accusing.
What I’m asking is that you open your mind and your heart to some historical facts that have shaped our country to be what it is today, facts that really surprised me. And in looking at these historical facts, to take the next step and put yourself in the shoes of person of color living in America today. An America shaped by these historical facts. Putting oneself in someone else’s shoes is a very Christ-like thing to do. To feel their struggle and to feel all of the extra things they have to think about that you don’t. And to not roll your eyes. And to not assume they are lying.
And to avoid the deception of solutions.
White people 1. get defensive about being called racist, or 2. they feel really guilty about it, or 3. they try to fix it as soon as possible. None of these are very helpful.
And trust me, I want to fix racism.
I’m a white male, what do you expect? I want to fix things.
But fixing and feeling are two very different things.
I’ll close with an analogy: Let’s say a friend is confiding in you about the abuse they endured as a child under their father. How do you respond? Do you tell them:
- “Well I didn’t do the abuse, why are you trying to make me feel bad about it?”
- “That’s in the past; things are different now. None of those things he said about you are true. You’re just like me now so get over it, and move on.”
- “Well you know what, my dad didn’t come to any of my baseball games or musicals, and that was really hard for me too. That kind of thing happens to everyone so stop trying to get people to feel sorry for you.”
To do any of these would be to completely disregard and invalidate their experience. We’d never do this with a friend who was abused, yet we do it all the time when talking about racism.
I’d like this to change.
I’m a white male. I can’t change this. And I was born into a country that gives preferential treatment to white males. I can’t change this either.
I’m not asking you to feel guilty about being white.
I’m asking you to try to feel what it’s like to not be, and how much it would change your life experience if you weren’t.
We’ll talk details later. But I hope this is a step you’re willing to take as I lay out this topic in the days ahead.
We’re not going to be able to completely fix things, but hopefully we can take some steps to stop making them worse, both for us and for our children.