<I originally wrote this post in 2015 at the request of a European friend – it seems appropriate to repost again>
<1837 – Society in America>
The massacre in Charleston was not just an isolated hate crime carried out by a mentally ill racist in South Carolina. It is simultaneously representative and starkly indicative of the rampant racism structurally embedded in America, the responsibility for which, it might be argued, bears no exemption for any American, especially white Americans, north or south, republican or democrat.
As Richard Wright wrote in his 1945 non-fiction memoir Black Boy, America “insists upon seeing the world in terms of good and bad, the holy and the evil, the high and the low, the white and the black; our America is frightened of fact, of history, of processes, of necessity. It hugs the easy way of damning those whom it cannot understand, of excluding those who look different, and it salves its conscience with a self-draped cloak of righteousness.”
Joanne Braxton and Michael Sainato
<Guardian Opinion Editorial>
“… the devil doesn’t come dressed in a red cape and pointy horns.
He comes as everything you’ve ever wished for …”
Well. I am an older white guy. And despite the fact I have always, attitudinally & behaviorally, never harbored any racist beliefs, I imagine I have exhibited racist behavior, and certainly thoughts, in my life.
Therefore, I am a racist.
Well. That last sentence pained me to type. Fucking killed me.
But here is the deal.
I think all white folk are. Yeah. That sounds a little extreme, no?
We may not be outspoken blatant racists, in fact, I tend to believe most of us are relatively oblivious to how racism slips into how one thinks and acts. This means that I do believe white people bear the burden of racism. In particular I know I personally bear the burden of racism every day. To be clear. This is not “white guilt” (or any absurd concept created by white people to avoid discussing real issues). This is about assuming some responsibility and being self aware.
The only way I could justify not assuming responsibility is to assume we live, and work, in a racially neutral society – neutral meaning either everyone is treated equally or every prejudice is equivalent to another.
Well. That is not our world.
I do not disagree that there is some anti-white racism <maybe let’s call this ‘reverse discrimination’> in today’s world.
As long as I continue walking into businesses where leadership is predominately white <and male>.
As long as I scan annual reports and websites and view a predominately white <and male> leadership team.
As long as all of those things exist … racism against white people will never be the same as racism against people of other races. For if you DO believe it is the same then almost by default you are suggesting the power structure needs to be protected & defended … not earned.
And that is not something I am willing to embrace.
I AM willing to accept the fact that African American racism is a product of a system that has been breeding hatred and bigotry in America since the first Africans were kidnapped and forcibly transported here in the 15th century as slaves under deplorable, inhumane conditions.
I AM willing to accept the fact that all white-based racism is a product some incredibly steeped cultural cues, attitudes and heuristic aspects <all of which are very difficult to purge from the conscious & subconscious>.
Now. Just to be clear. Racism is not an actual crime. You can’t send someone to jail simply for being a racist. Simply having a belief without acting upon it in any illegal manner is not a crime.
It may constitute a moral crime but government cannot legislate morality and attitudes or belief.
All that said. I sometimes struggle to understand why white people don’t accept the fact that racism still exists in today’s world, is embedded in the system in which we exist and, unfortunately, it will always exist in some form or fashion — and we white folk bear a responsibility with all of it.
Anyway. I imagine some people could suggest what I am describing as racism within myself isn’t racism <because with some warped logic one could suggest that my self awareness makes my racism impossible>.
They would be wrong.
Yes. I am open minded.
Yes. I tend to believe I am indifferent the color of one’s skin <intellect is typically my filter>.
Yes. I am more than aware of racist issues <in work environment and in everyday life>.
But, yes, I am white. And compounding it — I am a white male. And by that alone I am a mixture of all the shit that came before me.
There is probably no better tangible example of embedded racism than the term and activism surrounding ‘black lives matter.’
All lives do matter.
As a logical extension, black lives matter as well.
Black people have the right to stand up and point out that an issue exists <a complex one which often gets lost under a simplistic banner> and that as long as white people <mostly male> make up the bulk of the power structure that maybe we white folk should accept the burden of responsibility.
I have a hard time disagreeing with black people on that.
I say all this to provide some underpinnings to a discussion on ‘progress.’
Because if you accept that we will always be a work in progress than saying things like ‘but it is so much better today than it was’ is not acceptable <this is also a ‘go to’ white person statement>.
Racism has always existed and in some extent. And while it certainly exists now and there are some vocal aspects to racism today … as a country we have struggled with this since day one. And if you believe African Americans are more divisive today with regard to the issue <often blaming the president for creating a divisive environment> I would like to point out that one of Tupac Shakur’s most popular songs addresses theses issues … in 1998:
<written in 1998>
Just take a moment and think about how crazy some of his lyrics are <saying a black president is about as unbelievable as pigs flying>.
At that moment and time he sang those lyrics he couldn’t conceive the possibility it could ever happen <too bad he couldn’t see the day>.
The song is as relevant today as it was then.
Look. Have we made progress? Absolutely. Have we achieved what we should achieve? Absolutely not. Do I view progress through a “white perspective” and therefore judge progress as “I have improved”? Absolutely. If I were black and 60 years old and assessed ‘progress’ and the fact I had been stopped on streets throughout my life, saw blacks systematically fail in a white privileged system and had to listen to white people pat themselves n the back for ‘making progress’? Whew. I am not sure I wouldn’t be pissed.
Only an idiot denies the existence of racism, but there are very few people who are conscious enough of what needs to take place as we progress and have the courage to consciously address it.
Frankly, I struggle to believe white people, and black people, in America are prepared to let go of their cultural identities and begin forging a new reality in which all are equal within every situation and at any time & place.
Well. Not yet.
I do believe blacks have earned the right to be angry <not the right to act inauspiciously upon that anger though>.
And in saying that … well … it makes most of us white folk look like we want black people to be angry at us every time we stand on some pedestal and shout “all lives matter … not just black lives.’ It shows a lack of awareness to the real issues at hand and a lack of awareness to who is at fault in addition to lack of awareness with regard to who is truly the victim here. Or, as an acquaintance of mine suggested, “its some absurd attempt at an ideological Switzerland.”
It is hard to suggest racism doesn’t exist in USA and is embedded in its various structures. And I believe that to deny it simply cripples society in some fairly insidious ways.
In addition <just to complicate this issue even more>.
Here is the unspoken aspect about racism — it is not just about blacks. The entire immigration discussion in America is strewn with racism.
Huh? Think about how we talk about Mexico and Mexicans. Think about how we talk about ANY immigrant.
While the vitriol and hateful rhetoric seems targeted against ‘illegal’ immigrants it stains all immigrants.
Think about it.
Even our base assumptions are racist. Huh? Assuming ‘bad intentions before good intentions’ <which is quite similar to ‘guilty before proven innocent’> is one of those low level racist driven attitudes which drive wedges between whites and ‘others.’ It bothers me that we far too often swing between the flippant ‘daily humiliating & overt acts of racism are almost gone from America’ statements <to reflect progress> all the way over to the general lack of awareness to how what we say, and actions we far too often take, are reflections of aspects of racism <and yet we never call it such>.
This is simply white folk nonsense.
The important need of the present is to confront the less visible but much more pervasive and destructive racism remaining in American society <jobs, education, housing, legal system, banking>. This racism is hard to address because it is part of the fabric of society.
And maybe we white folk need to step back and think “… maybe this is what black lives matter is really about. Maybe black lives matter seems to focus on the legal aspects … but they are also mired mentally in wanting to discuss it all.”
Look. I don’t see America as a nation inevitably mired in racism. We are simply a country that has struggled since its creation with racism – not just blacks but religiously, culturally any other divisive theme you can come up with that challenges Americanism <which is ill defined therefore individuals embrace their own definition>.
Racism in America is actually less about skin color or country origin it is more about power and preservation – preservation of culture & identity.
If you ponder that then white folk <especially white males> are having their culture threatened, and their power threatened, therefore their identity is being threatened. And maybe that is why I am so adamant that the burden of racism resides with white people. The burden resides in managing and handling feeling threatened.
Some progress has been made, but what everyone seems to be missing is that in a long race or in a long game the last steps are the hardest. It may feel like things have become worse, but maybe it is just that we are on the cusp of winning and this the slogging part. The part where one part of us is scared of losing, threatened in the moment and maybe we wonder what ‘is’ after the goal line for us white folk.
How do I deal with it?
I accept that racism is tragic, systemic, and a disease that creates structural problems which infect societies at the intersections of ethnicity, religion, class, social structure as well as political identity and I accept that America is still infected.
I accept that somewhere out there … well … there is a cure for this infection.
And isn’t that what Black Lives Matter is really asking for? A cure? A cure so that their part of society can be a healthy productive part of the greater good called America.
I gotta tell ya.
I don’t think they are asking anything unreasonable.