In the midst of public outcry over the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, a lot of white folks have accused their African American neighbors of ‘being oversensitive’ or ‘playing the race card’. Part of us would like to believe that ‘we’re beyond all that now’ because of the Civil Rights movement. White people want to think: “We used to be racist, but then Dr. King came along and changed our minds with his ‘I Have a Dream’ address.”
Our unconscious script goes something like this: “Racists are bad people. I am not a bad person. Therefore, I am not racist.”
We justify this argument by saying things like:
- “I have no problem with black people.”
- “I even have friends who are black.”
- “I’m color-blind.”
- “I don’t see race.”
We have achieved a general consensus in North American culture that conscious discrimination based on race is morally wrong. Relatively few people are proud of being labeled ‘racist.’ However, that doesn’t mean we’re ‘over racism’. Despite claims to color-blindness, the following video paints a sobering picture:
The most insidious aspect of racism is not what we choose to believe, but how our unconscious assumptions shape the way we act without our realizing it. If we want this reality to change, we white folks have some work to do.
First of all, we need to undertake that good old spiritual discipline of repentance: We need to confess our sins. We should never let the words ‘I’m not racist’ escape our lips because the truth is that we are racist. I made my first attempt at this confession last year in the following post on this blog:
Read it and try writing your own. Get honest with God and your neighbor. Confession is good for the soul. Without it, we are little more than hypocrites and ‘whitewashed tombs’ as Jesus said. What we have now is a society where it’s okay to be racist, so long as we don’t say we’re racist.
We white folks need to be more knowledgeable about the truth of American society seen through the eyes of our African American brothers and sisters. I recommend the following books as a very basic starting point:
Race Matters by Cornel West
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
If you’re serious about fighting racism, you need to ally yourself with others who do the same. Join your local chapter of the NAACP. It’s not enough just to march in protest rallies. Go to meetings, serve on committees.
It’s also not enough to simply “have a black friend.” How about having some part of your week when you are the only white person in the room? Listen without passing judgment. When you hear the outcry against injustice, don’t close your ears. Don’t try to justify yourself or dismiss the grievances of the oppressed. Even if you’re not sure you agree with what is being said, show up and listen with an open mind. Resist the urge to put your two cents in before you’ve earned the right to be heard. Your silence in listening will speak louder than any words you might say.