Racism in America, a Liberal White Perspective

“Last thing I’m going to say on this subject. Then I’m going back into my bubble where I don’t know that people I like are blithely racist.”

This was recently posted on Facebook by a half-white, half-black, friend of mine. Let’s call her “Mary.”

It’s the kind of statement that strikes fear in the hearts of white friends, like me.

Maybe she wrote it off the cuff, caught in whatever heady emotions she was feeling at the time,  but I didn’t know how to respond. I don’t even have the guts to try, except on a secret batcave blog she is unlikely to ever read.

She feels she’s in willful denial most of the time. Even if she likes you, she may be pretending that she doesn’t believe you’re a racist.

Does she think I’m a racist?

We’ve been friends for years. We’ve stayed up all night, sharing painful secrets and ongoing insecurities. One evening, she held my hand after some of our friends shunned me over my divorce and on another night, I talked her through her tears after she overheard people saying mean things about her.

I don’t think I’m a racist, but then again, we keep hearing about how you can be racist without realizing it.

Another black friend recently posted about her sadness about recent tragedies, the painfulness of ongoing racism in our society. I didn’t know what to say without sounding trite, but I wanted to reach out to her. I told her I was sorry she was hurting.

Her friends attacked me for not really caring. Really caring, they told me, meant being willing to die in the name of racial equality.

Later, she posted that any white friends who don’t support your “pro-blackness” are not friends, but overseers.  What does “supporting your pro-blackness” mean, exactly?

Is it something like countering “black lives matter” with “ALL lives matter?”

I haven’t done that, but while I’m certain that many of those who do are bonafide racists, I don’t believe all of them are. Some white people, I’m guessing, feel a growing chasm between us and are making misguided attempts to bridge the gap.

 

Tara and I were best friends in junior high school. We loaned each other video games, swapped tips about the best acne cleansers, and had sleepovers at each others’ houses where we would stay up all night doing dorky stuff like eating bags of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups while writing medieval romance stories involving gothic castles and Consumption. Stuff that 12-year-old girls like to do.

Tara is black and I’m white and this used to be a non-issue, back when we were kids who just got along and didn’t worry about the political implications underlying whatever we did and said. One time, Tara came to my defense when classmates were making fun of my clothes, and another time, I stayed up all night drawing a comic book for her that I thought she’d like.

We lost touch after attending different high schools, but found each other again years later on Facebook. Our relationship has been tense. We planned to meet up one day, see each other for the first time in years, and at the last minute she told me she was feeling too under-the-weather to make it.

The next day she posted a meme (that the Internet won’t let me upload) comparing Covert and Passive Racism in a pyramid, calling passive racism the socially-acceptable kind.

Under Covert Racism, you have: lynching, racial slurs, police harassment, hiring and housing  discrimination and racial profiling.

Under passive, socially-acceptable racism, you have: things like Eurocentric curriculum, cultural appropriation, paternalism, expecting POC to teach white people, being “colorblind,” denial of white privilege, fearing POC, self appointed “white ally,” over familiarization with POC, tokenism, and assuming that good intentions are enough.

Some white people are racists, no doubt. Some have racist tendencies, but don’t want to think of themselves that way. Others, like me, look at a chart like that and start wondering if there’s anything we could do or say that wouldn’t fall into one of those categories.

We don’t know what it’s like to be black. How could we? We’ve never been black and hearing about something is never the same as experiencing it.

If we listen to a black friend, trying to understand her perspective, does that fall under expecting POC to teach us? Should we be leaning about POC from other white people instead?

When does expanding Eurocentric curriculum become cultural appropriation? Does the inclusion of black curriculum also count as expecting POC to teach us?

What does “over familiarization with POC” mean? That we aren’t supposed to get too close to black people? Or that we shouldn’t pretend to understand anything you experience?

We shouldn’t ignore our country’s racial struggles, but is passing relevant legislation considered paternalistic?

If we say we support you, are we being racist by becoming “self-appointed white allies?”

We shouldn’t be “colorblind,” but also shouldn’t define people by color.

We shouldn’t be silent, but we also shouldn’t take over the conversation.

Some of us feel powerless, because we mostly are. The world has always been run by elites, which most of us aren’t.

There is no White People convention going on behind your backs, where white people get together to discuss the state of the nation, where someone could submit an “everyone quit being racist” motion.  Someone would’ve tried that by now, if it were possible.

Unless we’re part of the one percent, our power is limited to: not being racist, not supporting racism, and voting.

I voted for Obama, twice. Not because he’s black (I wouldn’t vote for Ben Carson), but because he’s an extremely principled and intelligent man who is in line with my politics.

I realize this is the kind of thing people say to prove they aren’t racists, like having black friends. Some even suggest that having a black president means racism no longer exists.

Of course it doesn’t mean that. Not everyone voted for Obama and some folks can barely conceal their anger at having a black president in the Oval Office.

But, Obama was nevertheless elected, though black people still comprise a voting minority. Enough white people, therefore, supported a black man leading the country that he won the presidency, and we wouldn’t be handing a black man the highest office if we believed he was inherently inferior.

Yet it seems wrong to bring that up, as though I’m casually tossing aside centuries of racial wounds in an instant.

Problem is, we can’t touch those centuries of racism. I remember finding out my great great great great grandfather came over from Glasgow, Scotland to work as a doctor during the Civil War. “For the Union?’ I asked my father.

“No,” he quietly replied. “For the Confederates.”

Somehow, I always assumed that growing up in California meant I had little connection to the really ugly days of slavery and lynchings. My people were peasants who settled in the West, not plantation owners. It came as quite a shock to learn my ancestors fought for the South.

“At least he was a doctor,” I thought. It was more comforting to imagine him bandaging up the sick than firing bullets in the name of human bondage.

But he did fight for the Rebels, in the end. Does it stain me? Can I erase it? Do I carry the  tainted blood of racists past, or are we all just a product of our upbringing?

And while I feel the stain of centuries-old wounds poisoning generations, I don’t believe we start out this way. I don’t think children are naturally racist. They’re open, they play with other kids and drink in the environment around them.

Tara and I didn’t worry about it while we were growing up. We just played together.

Now it feels like we are being driven further and further onto opposing teams, led by forces beyond our control, realities that neither one of us wants.

And I don’t know what to say anymore, how to help, how to be her friend. I stay quiet because I am afraid of asking the wrong questions, of accidentally aggravating wounds by saying the wrong thing. Good intentions aren’t enough, she believes.

What is enough? What does it look like?

Because silence isn’t helping. We’re left with outspoken racists leading the conversation, people with nothing to lose.

And while my frustrations have nothing on the pain she’s experiencing, I have to wonder if this is what the powers-that-be really want.

Divide-and-conqueor has alway been a winning strategy for the people in charge. There are fewer of them than there are of us, so they need to keep us fighting amongst ourselves.

The best way to do that is play up our differences and hand out little privileges for one side to protect.

“Little privileges” may sound incredibly insulting, as if the entirety of white privilege has been reduced to a crumb, but it’s truer than we think.

They made some slaves house slaves and others were field hands, giving the house slaves privileges and distinctions to protect, but they were still slaves.

A small handful of whites were wealthy plantation owners in those days. Most were struggling in poverty, but they were effectively mobilized into racism because at least they could feel superior to someone else.

When Irish immigrants and poor blacks were becoming friends during the 19th century, cities started passing laws against fraternizing across color lines. They didn’t want the labor class to unionize for better wages and working conditions.

Now we have the red-state working class focused on welfare queens and drug addicts. They are too busy demanding drug tests from the destitute to notice that we have some of the worst working conditions in the developed world. No parental leave, no guaranteed health care, little job security, and fewer benefits than any wealthy nation in the world.

I can’t help wondering if we are all falling into a trap. How can we work on ending racism together when we aren’t even talking? Black people are in pain and white people are either lashing out or staying quiet, afraid to go near anything with possibly racist implications, which seems like everything.

And what ARE we doing?

How do we bridge this gap?

Is it possible?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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14 thoughts on “Racism in America, a Liberal White Perspective

  1. It is very difficult! I think you need to treat everyone the same. How many battles would you have if you stood up for every person in the U.s? You’d be battling sexism, racism of all nationalities. Homophobic attitudes. Issues with immigration the list would go on forever. I think unacceptable behaviour needs to be challenged. If you hear something you do not like then challenge it. Does this mean we need to go out and march? It’s very difficult!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is! Feel like everyone is angry at everyone else lately… don’t know if things feel better or worse than a decade ago.

      Treating everyone the same is a good idea… except no one seems to agree on what “the same means”

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading, and yes, I was trying to be very open and honest, no matter how it sounds.

      I’m white, so I didn’t grow up in America as a black person and can’t possibly understand what it’s like. But I’d like to understand, not just pretend to.

      I feel like many people are afraid of having *real* conversations on these sensitive topics, but how can we find common ground or figure out how to bridge the gap without really communicating?

      I don’t know the answers either, but these are the questions going around my head.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for such a thoughtful response. As a black woman I am open to a discussion about race relations.
        A close friend, who happens to be white, expressed having some of the same thoughts and concerns that you discussed in your post.
        She feels safe talking to me about it and I appreciate that.
        Anyway, there are a couple of other black bloggers that I know of who are also open to having candid and productive conversations on the topic.
        Do feel free to keep in touch 🙂
        Have a wonderful day and a phenomenal week 🌷

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you and I hope you have a phenomenal week too and that we do keep in touch. 🙂

        I find it comforting that your white friend has many of the same questions, confusions… Obviously, there are outspoken racists still out there, but I think there’s a large group of white people who mean well… who want to work on troubling aspects our our society, but are afraid of saying the wrong thing, asking the wrong questions, making things somehow worse.

        I’m afraid to have these conversations with some of my black friends, myself. They are in pain over some terrible events over the past few years and I’m not sure how to talk about it.

        But staying quiet doesn’t help either.

        I’d love to read some of the blogs you mentioned to get more perspective.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Hello again Delilah 🙂
        Glad to hear back and yes let’s keep in touch.
        Like you said, as Blacks we’ve been through some very painful experiences. Most of these things have been ongoing. Naturally, that can lead some of us to feel very vulnerable and hurt. That said, sensitivity and suspicion are unintended byproducts of those painful feelings.
        Frankly, black folks like myself are looking for white people who are interested in a productive conversation. That said, check out these recent posts. The first is from my own blog. Basically, I re-enacted a conversation that occurred between me and a white friend some 2o something years ago–yes, I am a probably much older than you are 🙂
        Anyway, My intention was to initiate a conversation so I deliberately made it short and ‘incomplete’ in order to see what type of response I ‘d get:
        https://seekthebestblog.com/2016/08/30/black-black/
        The second post is by a fellow blogger (Tikeetha Thomas) who wanted to broach a conversation with her white readers. It is very blunt but I promise you, if you read it and post a comment she will respond in a very respectful way.
        By the way, both of us have quite a few white followers. In fact, we probably have more white followers than black. Ironic huh? LOL!
        Here’s her post:
        https://athomaspointofview.com/2016/08/31/dear-white-people/
        Also, my cousin Ron is a great person to read and chat with. Some of his posts have a religious bend but he is very much a scholar so he talks about many things:
        https://brownsemts.com/
        Finally, there is another black blogger who mostly blogs about music. He would be very open to a nice chat. His name is T. Wayne:
        https://joyfulprocessblog.com/2016/09/12/i-wont-waste-a-single-day/
        Delilah, if you visit any of these sites just mention in your comment that LadyG sent you!
        Peace to you my friend 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Thank you, Lady G! I’m going to check these out, one by one…

        I’m actually not surprised you have so many white followers. Many of us want to learn and talk about racial issues (especially since they’ve been in the news lately) but aren’t sure how, so quietly reading blogs feels comfortable.

        The sensitivity makes it hard to talk about. I’ve seen black friends in pain over reading some new horrible thing in the news and am afraid of saying something that makes them feel even worse. And I don’t want to be seen as the oppressor or someone trying to make it all about me. I’m guessing these conversations are going to be hard, no matter what… there’s so many painful feelings stacked up.

        But thank you for sending these links and I’m going to read them 🙂

        And peace to you too, friend

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Ah…Great to see you Delilah. I am glad you came back by. Thanks for reading my post and I am happy to know that you will check out the other blogs that I listed.
        Have a blessed day love 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for the follow. I really liked your post, it was honest and heartfelt. I find that we don’t talk to each other, more that we talk at each other or past each other on the topic. But somehow, we have to get past that. It won’t be easy, it probably will be painful for both sides. But if both sides listen, rather than lash out, progress can happen. And for a lot of us (black) people, all we ask is that people listen to us, rather than go by what their preconceived notions of what black people “should” be or what “blackness” is or means.

    🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for the follow as well. LadyG sent me to your blog after I told her I wanted to hear more perspectives.

      I’m glad you liked the post and kind of relieved, because I was trying to be as honest and open as I could. It feels like most white people discussing racism are either openly hostile/hateful or just trying to say the right things… I wanted to have a real discussion instead.

      I completely agree with you that talking to each other instead of past each other is the way to mutual understanding. I’m hoping more and more people start doing that because right now, it feels like white and black people are getting further apart.

      Some of us (white people) mean well and want to help, but don’t understand every issue. We’re afraid of making a mistake and making things worse, so we stay quiet while more obnoxious white people take the floor.

      Wanting us to listen is beyond reasonable, though. I think many people want to be “right” so they resist changing their perspective.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I also thank you for the follow Delilah. I’ll be following you as well. My response to your, “dilemma” may seem to some as overly optimistic; a “pie in the sky” type of ideal. As a matter of fact, it seems so to me also, but at the same time, I know it to be the only real solution.

    I’m sure that we can all agree that, even if someone less than enthusiastic about religion, “God”, Jesus, etc., read that book with a modicum of objectivity and intelligence they would have to recognize it as a book of great wisdom, if nothing else.

    In it, the star of the show in Revelations, says; “I know your deeds; you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were one or the other. So because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of My mouth!”, decrying it unsavory for one to be “middle of the road” or “non-committal”.

    When it comes to racism, we should be committed totally to destroying it. That’s the only way to rid ourselves of that bane forever.

    In the fight to destroy it, every hand counts, no one’s effort is too small or too large.

    But, with what will we fight, what are our weapons?

    In my philosophy, only LOVE can solve this problem. Dr. King once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”. No matter what we say or think is really at the core of “the race problem”, it all boils down to “hate” and “love”; two of the most basic motivators of human behavior in existence.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Hello Ron, it’s nice to meet you and LadyG turned me onto your blog after she saw me dumping some of my frustrations on my blog.

      Your words do strike a deep chord. Some I’m going to need time to digest, but the idea that we can work together using love as our weapon is a beautiful sentiment.

      I think some of my frustrations come from watching black friends I’ve had since childhood being in pain and pulling away. It only makes sense that they’re in pain (not that I can ever *fully* understand that pain when I haven’t felt it firsthand).

      I don’t think of myself as racist. Still, when white people (who aren’t full-on racists) hear about these horrible shootings, it’s tough to accept that it’s a systemwide problem and just not a handful of rogue sadistic cops. We haven’t experienced it firsthand, so it isn’t already obvious, and accepting it means changing our entire worldview.

      But the reports keep piling up. Even once we start accepting these things regularly happen, there’s a huge sense of powerlessness. What do we do? What can we do?

      There’s a gut instinct to be defensive. We want to say “I’m not like that” or “we don’t all feel that way.”

      It doesn’t work toward a solution, but how do we do that?

      I think I need to be paying more attention. Maybe reach out more, since I’m shy in real life.

      But in the meantime, I’m going to think about what you’ve said about hate and love.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks, if we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we could not be racist, neither could we kill, steal, rape etc.

    Of course, love requires action. It also demands that we start with ourselves.

    Michael Jackson sang a song containing the lyrics, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways”.

    I’m sure you’re not a racist. Racist is too harsh a term for most people who harbor “prejudices”, both realized as well as those not readily recognized within ourselves.

    The professor and intellectual, Cornell West, contends that true “racism” implies power; the power to inflict one’s racist views and attitudes on others, in a way that limits or abolishes their rights of, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

    Most people don’t possess this power, and so are therefore, not racist.

    The resolution of what we call racism requires much finer “precision tuning” than the actions most of us think it requires.

    When we can eliminate prejudices, stereotypes and negativism from our own minds and lives then we can reach out to our neighbors.

    Our neighbors being ALL the people who call this blue marble “home”, but more immediately, those right next to us; on our jobs, in our families, in our homes, in our churches, walking down the street, in the gym, etc.

    In the military we say, “each one, reach one, teach one”. That’s how we do it.

    Liked by 2 people

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