A friend wrote a very impassioned post a few days ago about how her friends seemed to be so very resistant to dealing with the mere fact that racism exists. I thought about what she said and I even posted a response but sometimes, things just stick in your mind, you know?
There have been a lot of articles written about how deeply in denial a lot of white people are about racism. It makes them uncomfortable to talk about it and they wish we wouldn’t bring it up so much. I mean, after all, none of them are racist, right?
With the exception of some diehard white supremacists, white people as a rule will deny that they are racist even after they have been seen doing or saying something extremely racist.
“That isn’t me,” they protest, “I’m not like that. That isn’t who I am,” they whine, the ink on the page where they called someone the n-word barely dry.
I don’t understand that one. I used to think it was because the image of a racist was some guy named Billy Joe Jim Bob who drove a truck with a confederate flag on the back with his dog named Rufus and his gun rack in the back of the cab.
I know now that a whole lot of white folks drive trucks with the flag and their dog and gun rack and they don’t think they are racist at all. (And his name is Will, thank you very much.)
It’s like they suddenly realized that racism exists and that it is more widespread than they believed and now they know it’s bad but don’t seem too willing to do much about it. They don’t want to discuss it because it’s too hard for them.
People just shrugged and said, “It’s just the way it is.”
For years, Black people have protested about their treatment. We were lynched for no real reason other than we were black. Sometimes folks told a lie and that got a man or a boy lynched. People brought their children to watch. They even fixed lunch baskets and posed for pictures with the victims. I still think of the pregnant woman who got lynched. They cut the baby out of her and stomped it to death.
But it’s black people who are violent, right?
We get harsh treatment from the ones who were supposed to protect us. We go to jail in higher numbers even though we are only 12% of the population. Cops were more likely to shoot us because they “fear for their lives,” even when it’s just a little boy with a toy gun.
We get pulled over and fined for minor offenses when white people just get a lecture and are let go. Sometimes we even got killed for them.
But I don’t need to bring up all the injustices because you know it, and you don’t want to hear it anyway, right?
But when we tried to tell other white people about something racist that happened to us personally, we were told it wasn’t true. Officer Bob is a good guy and he wouldn’t do anything wrong. It had to be us. We should have obeyed his every command even if it was wrong. Race had nothing to do with it, we were told.
“That kind of thing doesn’t happen now,” they told us, “it’s 2017. People aren’t like that anymore. I can’t believe it’s still happening. Maybe it’s something else. It’s not always race, you know.”
No one listened to us because it had to be our fault. Racism just wasn’t that big a deal.
Well, listen now because this part is on you.
Remember that friend of yours that said he didn’t like black people?
“Oh, he’s ok. He just has a thing about it, you know.”
Or your Uncle Joe who always told racist jokes and made it a point to say racist things at family get togethers. He didn’t mean any harm, did he?
And that woman who clutches her purse into her body when black people get too close. It’s not her fault. She got robbed by a black man so she is afraid of all of us now.
How many times did you try to check them? Did you tell your friend that you have black friends and you don’t appreciate his being racist to them? Did you tell him that he’s a racist and that he needs to look into his own heart?
Did you stop Uncle Joe? Did you tell him his jokes aren’t funny and that you don’t want him to say things like that in front of the children because they will soon learn that it’s all right to say those things? Did you tell him that you want your children to treat everyone with dignity and grace and that his behavior is crass and ugly?
Did you remind your friend that black people have far more reasons to be afraid of white people? Did you tell her about the lynchings and the murders that happened for no reason other than the person was a racist and knew he could get away with it?
You didn’t did you? Not ever. You just kept quiet because you didn’t want to make a big deal of it and you didn’t want people to think you were soft or that you are a n-word lover. You still wanted them to think you were a fine upstanding member of the community and you weren’t going to call them on their ugly behavior.
You realize that by always being quiet, you allowed that kind of behavior to persist year after year, person after person. Racism flourishes in the dark, quiet places we don’t want to address. We don’t want to go there, we don’t want to say anything, so we find a way to justify it and hope that everyone moves on.
You try not to acknowledge the hurt you see in your black friends’ eyes. It’s not your fault. You didn’t say anything wrong. We are being too sensitive.
But you didn’t say anything at all. You didn’t defend us and you didn’t try to see why we were hurt.
For years, people like me didn’t say anything either. We swallowed hard – that big lump of racism is hard – and we told our friends and family who shook their heads and shared instances of the same behavior with you. They didn’t tell you that it was all in your head and that Bob is really a good guy. They knew that Bob was a racist and that you were complicit in his racism because you didn’t say anything.
We wanted to stay friends so we just didn’t say anything to you though we never forgot it. We wondered if it was just us or if you weren’t the friend we thought you were. But it stayed with us.
Now you want to say that you are “woke,” too. You are our “allies.” You finally understand where we are coming from. You don’t want to identify with the groups of people in the streets yelling racist chants and you see them calling us names and taunting us openly now. You are offended and appalled and you want it to stop. You act like this is all new.
Maybe for you. Not for us.
You want this to end? It’s on you.
You need to step outside of your comfortable space and try to look at the world through our eyes. Listen to what we tell you. Pay attention to our pain. Hear us when we speak. Don’t get defensive. Don’t say you are being attacked. Yes, it’s uncomfortable but stop and listen to us.
And when you see or hear racist behavior or language, stop it. Don’t assume it’s all right. It’s not.
And now, this pretend president that we are suffering with, he has emboldened the racists so that now we know who they are. When he said racist things, instead of disavowing him, white people rushed to vote for him. “He says the things that I am thinking,” they said.
And then they had the nerve to be shocked when black folks were appalled with them. After all, voting for him meant that you were okay with the offensive things he said, right?
So now the incidences of hate crimes have increased since November. People of color are being openly harassed and everyone is nervous.
People of color aren’t comfortable much of anywhere anymore. More of us are buying guns but you know what that means: Officer Bob/Betty sees you have a gun and suddenly, they “fear for their lives” and you end up dead.
And yes, this is something YOU can help fix.
What is it they said about the terrorists, “if you see something, say something.” Well, these days, the terrorists aren’t immigrants. They are Americans, right here among us, festering in their rage and hatred.
We have to find some way to get past all this. We have to get to know each other and we have to talk to each other and we have to understand what is being said. It’s the only way things can even begin to change. Otherwise we are going to go deeper down the rabbit hole of hatred and I don’t know how we will ever find out way out.