This was written in the days following the lack of indictment of Darren Wilson, the officer who murdered Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, was announced. It was written as a reaction to the response I noticed from many white people to the events that followed.
White privilege has most white folks walking around with our heads up our asses. A lot of white folks think we live in a “post-racial society”, that racism is something only enacted by old people. Maybe they’ve heard about things like police brutality, starvation, and war, but they go on with their daily lives without any related worries. The water in their fishbowl of white privilege is pretty lukewarm – they don’t even notice they’re in it.
Then there are the white people who are slightly “more aware”. They notice that “ghettos” are predominately “populated” by people of color. They make assumptions about entire communities of people based on these trends they see in the media, both real and imagined. I have actually heard the “more aware” white people ask, “Why can’t ‘those people’ just get it together?”
As a middle class white person, and a product of U.S. public education, I had very little exposure to, or education about the racism in past and present U.S. society. I’ve wondered about the inequalities I’ve noticed, and received a lot of messages through the media, my peers, and adults in my community that reinforced the idea that folks who are struggling are at fault for their circumstances. After many years I started to gain a deeper understanding of my observations. If we are asking why people can’t pull themselves out of cyclical poverty, criminal institutionalization, trauma-induced mental health illness, and drug addiction then we are asking the wrong questions. When I started to investigate what is happening institutionally, systematically, legally, and socially that is causing people of color to be the people most in poverty, most in prison, the most murdered by police, I found that racism is a driving force that shapes the conditions of people of color’s lives.
How is it that we can live in a society that makes most white people so comfortable with their whiteness without questioning that experience? Is it not obvious that most people who aren’t white are having wildly different experiences? It is repulsive that society conditions us, white people, to oppress and dehumanize people of color, without recognizing it. Our mere existence perpetuates racism and oppression because we are living in a society that has been built upon the mass graves of indigenous people, exploitation of immigrants and refugees, and the forced labor of African people enslaved by the people our history books call “founding fathers”. Our survival as white people in the U.S. is currently maintained by a system that continues to enslave, dehumanize and murder people of color. Those of us who are white and living comfortably in the U.S. are doing so as a direct result of systematic exploitation and murder of people of color. Even the poorest white people have the advantage of their whiteness to help them face poverty without threat of the racial bias faced by people of color living in poverty.
Many white folks do not understand how the dehumanization of another person is related to their success in life. In fact, most people in the U.S. have been raised on history books that censor and erase large portions of the truth and distort what little they do tell us. If we continue to ignore the systems of oppression that perpetuate the slavery and genocide of people of color while simultaneously sustaining white supremacy, then we are making it possible for these systems to continue.
Like all white people, my life is largely shaped by the privileges I experience due to white supremacy. As a person who benefits from white privilege, and especially as a white, queer, feminist who is marginalized in very different ways, I believe it is my duty to act in solidarity with all people who experience racism. I recognize that the liberation of Black people and all people of color is a prerequisite for my liberation and the liberation of all of us. Until people of color are free from oppression, we will all be oppressed. I believe it is my duty to relearn history, unlearn “common sense”, and seek those truths that have been hidden from me. I am willing to accept that much of what I’ve been taught as truth is in fact, not. White people must fight to dismantle our current conceptions of the world around us and to expose and actively oppose the system of inhumanity that we are sustained by.
Being anti-racist is an everyday act. It is not a goal to be completed. Some actions that demonstrate solidarity with people who experience racism are:
- Constantly critically examining our own thoughts, language and actions and how they might be causing harm and perpetuating racism.
- Actively listening and making space to learn from the experiences of those who are directly impacted by racial discrimination everyday.
- Showing up to support causes led by communities of color, without co-opting them.
- Seek out resources and information on issues related to racism and systematic oppression. For on-campus resources, please visit the Diversity and Social Justice Resource Center (DSJRC).
- Speaking out when we witness situations we know are wrong, without speaking for anyone.
- Engaging with other white people about racism and systematic oppression, especially when it is uncomfortable.
- Not shutting down because of guilt and shame for the awful history of white people in the U.S. and abroad, but using what we do know about history to motivate us to change.
Racism is not a thing of the past; white supremacy is alive and well in America. If you consider yourself a white person who would have supported Martin Luther King in the ‘60s, then you should be committed to actively fighting racism internally, interpersonally, and institutionally every day. If we are not working towards the solution, then we are part of the problem.