Sadly, most white people are more worried about being called racist than about whether or not their actions are in fact racist or harmful.
– Austin Channing Brown
Am I a Racist?
No, not me! I’m not racist. I can’t be.
I know what BIPOC stands for. I’ve read the books. I have lots of Black friends (notice I capitalized the B? Here’s why). I love the Obamas. I’ve even been to Selma and walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with real tears in my eyes.
Surely I’m an exception. I’m one of the good ones. Yes?
I’m not an exception. (Even though I marched in a #BlackLivesMatter rally? Um, no. Still no).
And if you’re white, you’re probably not an exception either.
Actually, I hear we may be the most dangerous type of racist because we are blind to it.
In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said,
“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”
When Nice Isn’t Enough
Yes, we do love Black people and we do believe we’re all equal in God’s eyes and we’d never intentionally harm anyone in word or deed because of skin color.
But because we think we’re the exceptional whites, the ones who aren’t racist, the “nice” ones, we can become content with our individual goodness and think it’s enough.
And stop showing up. And not see our complicity in allowing systemic racist structures to thrive.
And not do the work that we need to do for the rest of our lives.
As Layla F. Saad says in Me and White Supremacy,
“If you do not do the work, you will continue to do harm, even if that is not your intention.”
Ouch. (Is my white fragility showing?)
But Saad isn’t finished yet. Listen to this:
“You are not an exceptional white person, meaning you are not exempt from the conditioning of white supremacy, from the benefits of white privilege, and from the responsibility to keep doing this work for the rest of your life.”
Let’s be real. Racial reconciliation work is not about just being nice.
Even if we are exceptional in our kind words and actions, it’s not enough.
Until we see how racism is perpetuated in our institutions and structures—education, housing, justice, hiring, laws, law enforcement, etc.—and then work to change those, there will still be injustice against Black people.
Our smiles alone are woefully insufficient to end racism in this country.
Get Out of the Rain
We whites will struggle to truly be anti-racist until we first admit we are racist. There is no middle ground.
Ibram X. Kendi gives this analogy. Racist ideas are like rain constantly falling on our heads, yet we don’t realize we’re wet.
“It’s very difficult to grow up in a country or even a world that’s constantly raining racist ideas on your head and to never get wet. That’s how hard it is, essentially, to never consume any racist ideas, and so the first step is admitting that.”
Admit it. And then what? I don’t know the answers. I keep messing up.
And I can’t tell you what to do either. I just don’t know.
But I do know this: if we’re white, even if we’ve had a hard life, we benefit from a dominant culture of white supremacy, whether we realize it or not, and our Black neighbors suffer from it, whether we realize it or not.
While we didn’t start white supremacy or intentionally perpetuate it, here it is. Now what?
We still don’t want to think of ourselves as racists. But the truth is, it’s been raining here our whole lives.
We’re soaking wet.
Things must change.
Somehow. Someway. Lord, have mercy.
Give us an umbrella.
- On the Blog—June 2020
- 5 Links, Books, and Things I Love—July 2020