I am a white, middle-class woman. And I have this to say to the rest of you white people:
There is racism in this country. I can see it. If you can’t see it, it’s because you aren’t looking. Plain and simple.
You have the luxury not to see it (because you are white) and you are choosing not to see it. Period.
Okay, maybe you are only five-years-old and you have never left your little circle of friends so you’ve never seen it. Okay, you get a pass.
But, wait, did you ask your non-white friends what they think? Did your non-white friends tell you that racism exists? Yes, but they have it wrong? What? How could you possibly know this better than they do? This thing you’ve never seen–you think you have some sort of special radar for?
I guess you ignore those times when some stranger says something racist to you. Don’t tell me it’s never happened, because it’s happened to me more times than I can count. Some white person decides my pale skin means I’ve got the same random ideas running around my head as they do…and the next thing I know I’m being treated to some racist observation on slavery, Ebonics or baggy clothes.
To hell with you if you don’t recognize that for what it is. To hell with you if you don’t say something to counter it, or at least walk away.
Why am I so hard on you? Because I don’t know if we white Americans are mean or stupid, but we can only be one or the other. We’re stupid if we don’t see racism. We’re mean if we don’t care.
Think of it this way: So one culture, we’ll call them Culture A, makes slaves of another culture, we’ll call them Culture B. It’s hardly unique. You see a lot of it in the Bible.
This system tends to work best when the cultures are visibly different. In our case let’s assume you can generally tell the two cultures apart without exerting too much brainpower.
You can imagine that the system that puts Culture A in a position to own another culture also feels entitled to justify its superiority. What would it use to do so? Would it use moral arguments? Religious arguments? Economic arguments? Legal arguments?
It would use every argument it could think of. Since everyone in a position of power benefits from these arguments, no one challenges them. Those who do are squashed like bugs. Over time, the arguments become pervasive and increasingly sophisticated.
Now pretend something comes along and abolishes the system. Pretend that by taking away free labor Culture A suffers an economic downfall. Do you think Culture A is going to be happy about this?
Let’s pretend the abolition comes from the outside. Can they be forced to be happy about that? Now that their economy is in the tank and things are harder on them than they have ever been, do you think they will be willing to share what little they have left?
Or are you thinking that Culture A, backed by all the arguments they had for slavery, will try its darnedest to develop a system as close to the one they had as they can possibly make it?
Do you think they will pass laws that say, “You’re right, our bad!” or “You’re still not good enough, and don’t you forget it”?
When in the history of the world has Culture A, under these circumstances, turned to Culture B and said, “We don’t have much, but what we have we’ll share. No hard feelings.”?
Whether it’s Pharaoh running back to recapture his Jewish slaves or the South imposing Jim Crowe, Culture A has a strong preference for systems that keep Culture B down. Slavery is just one. Jim Crowe is another.
And in this scenario, what will happen when Jim Crowe laws are abolished? Will Culture A roll over then? Will they say, “We still don’t have much, but we got the message. We’ll share now.” Or will they dig in their heels, determined to fight to keep what they have?
Let’s remember that all along Culture A has kept up legal moral, religious and economic arguments for their system. They honestly believe it is the better system, at least for them. And no one has ever accused Culture A of being dumb, so these arguments are very sophisticated.
With the previous systems abolished, what more do they have? They still have the most important thing of all–power. They can no longer penalize Culture B for being Culture B. But they can criminalize Culture B’s behaviors. They can convince others that Culture B’s behavior is worse than another other. They impose a more sophisticated form of Jim Crowe. Incarceration.
No, you say, no. You’ve gone too far. Only the South had Jim Crowe. The North and West let it exist, but they aren’t racist. All across the nation, more African-Americans are in prison than should be. But it can’t be race-based, because the north, east and west do it too. African-Americans just commit a lot of crimes.
Have you been paying attention? Let’s go back to Culture A. Some people who belong to Culture A lived outside slavery and Jim Crowe. They didn’t benefit from Culture A’s economic system. But do you think they shared Culture A’s value system? Do you think arguments of superiority fell entirely on deaf ears? Go back to the Bible. When has a message of superiority ever fallen on deaf ears? Did the Philistines deny that they were better than the rest? The Romans?
Whether it’s used to support genocide of indigenous peoples or discrimination against immigrants, an argument of inherent superiority, whether based on birthplace or skin color, is almost always well-received. People fall for it time and time again.
Nothing I’m saying, white America, is new. It’s all regurgitated. You’ve heard it time and time again, mostly from people of color. Yet you are too mean to care or too dumb to see it.
People have been screaming that Black boys and men are thrown into jail or gunned down in our streets, but you don’t believe it’s a crime to be Black in this country. They’ve been shouting about how much we have to do, but you point to how far we’ve come.
Maybe you don’t care.
That makes you mean.
Maybe you think they don’t know what they are talking about, but you, you who are much less affected, you do.
That makes you stupid.
In order to believe that, you have to discount what people are telling you. You have to ignore context and common sense and decide that people are so good-hearted that at some point in our nation’s history everyone woke up and said, “We tried this racism thing. It worked out well for us white folks. But now let’s give it up.”
I must have missed this point in history. Was it the Emancipation Proclamation? But that was followed by Jim Crowe. Was it the Selma March? But that was followed by an assassination. The Voting Rights Act of 1964? But what does this even mean when its a crime to be Driving While Black on your way to polling place? What does it mean when your boy is shot dead for wearing a hoodie? What does it mean when everyone tells you there’s something wrong with the way you speak, the way you dress, the family you came from, the food you eat, the very fact you exist?
You are idiots if you don’t see this, fellow white people. Wake up. You’ve got some perfectly good folks waiting to treat you nicely if you only reach out to them. Respect them. They’ll give it back. Learn from them. They’ll learn from you.
And here’s the biggest secret of giving up racism, the thing no one tells you–you will be better off. They always tell you the other folks will be better off. But the truth is you will be better off. Giving up racism can be done as a purely selfish act. Because the pay-off, even just to you, is huge.
Maybe you will get cancer, and it will be cured by some folks who grew up poor and Black but finally got some opportunities. Maybe you will fall in love with someone you would never have considered before.
Or maybe not. Maybe it will be like it is for me. That the whole world opens up. That you feel a vital part of the world God has made for all of us.
Don’t be a dumbass or an asshole. Try it.