I admit that it’s taken the killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner for me to realize racism isn’t just a problem in America—it’s a significant problem in America. That sentence makes me shudder. It means that I am part of the problem. It means I have participated in the white majority culture that says All Those Race Problems were solved during the Civil Rights era and anyone who claims otherwise just has a “chip on their shoulder.” Whoa.
Am I racist? Maybe I am and I didn’t even know it. This makes me extremely uncomfortable. It also scares me. It scares me because I don’t even begin to understand what I don’t know, what I should have known, what I’m now beginning to know…
But maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe it’s time for me—as a white American—to feel extremely uncomfortable. And really, my discomfort is NOTHING in comparison to the daily discomfort of actually EXPERIENCING discrimination. I’ve had the PRIVILEGE of not realizing there was a big problem in America; mainly because it was a problem that didn’t affect ME.
God, forgive me. My fellow Americans, forgive me.
There was a time when I would have adamantly asserted that I was not racist. That I loved everyone. As a Christian, I would have quoted Scripture about how in Christ there is no male or female, no Jew or Gentile, that God is not a respecter of persons… ….but what did that prove? Only that I could SAY I wasn’t racist. And doesn’t EVERYONE say that? I mean, I can sincerely believe I’m not racist while still thinking, speaking and behaving in a discriminatory way. I can SAY I’m not racist while still participating in an inherently discriminatory culture.
It’s like I’m in a cult called White in America. I can’t see the problems of being Black in America because White in America is all I know and also, White in America is the majority culture. Which is to say, nobody inside a cult thinks they’re in a cult—especially if the cult IS the majority culture! I didn’t know I was racist because I didn’t have to see, engage or solve the problems. They weren’t my problems.
The very fact that it’s taken me this long to wake up is a a sign of my white privilege: I didn’t have to look at the racial problems in America because I had the luxury of not having to deal with it on a daily basis. Meanwhile, brown and black Americans have been dying and going to prison under horribly unjust circumstances and I could dismiss it as: “Well, they never learned how to respect authority.” Or: “They came from broken families.” Or: “They didn’t have morals.” Or: “They could have succeeded if they’d just obeyed the rules like everyone else, pulled themselves up by their bootstraps….”
Those excuses seem unkind and unloving (and racist?) to me now.
I’m sorry it took me so long but my eyes are open and this is what I see:
If racism isn’t a problem in America, then why do we call an unarmed black teenager a “thug” and an unarmed white teenager a “delinquent”? If it’s not about race, then why do we call it “looting” when people of color steal and “white collar crime” when an investment banker steals?
When a black person is outraged by injustice we call it “inciting a riot.” But when a white person is outraged by injustice we call it “expressing grief.”
Why is it that when a black kid commits a crime, it’s blamed on “bad parenting” but when a white kid commits a crime, it’s blamed on “bad friends” (who are probably black)?
When a black male is killed, we quickly forget his name. But when a white person is killed, we pass new laws and name it after the deceased.
This is what I see and I realize it’s only a fragment of a whole history and experience I have not heard nor to which I’ve given much attention.
I still don’t know how to understand all I’m starting to see. All I know is that I’m becoming aware and awareness is the first step toward change.
My eyes are open.