Thursday, December 4, 2014
Let's Talk about Racism
Okay. Racism is an uncomfortable topic. Especially for white people. I’m a sociology major and took an “interracial communications” course in college and I still feel highly unqualified and awkward whenever I broach the subject. However, I am going to try to blunder my way through this post, because I honestly believe that we (especially white people) need to talk about racism, and recognize our own racist tendencies if we ever want to break free this horrific cycle of events we’ve been reading on the news. Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. I am scared to turn on the radio or get on Facebook these days for fear of hearing yet another story like theirs. I have always been the kind of person who tries to keep a positive outlook, but if I keep seeing news stories like this it’s going to rip apart my belief in the good of mankind.
Racism is real. I have been a personal witness to this. Not just on the news. In real life. I’ve watched my friends grow uncomfortable at a public swimming pool from the squinty-eyed stares of white people looking at the color of their skin. I’ve seen a white man completely ignore my friend when she asked for directions because she was black. I heard the man who lived next door to me begin a rant about a neighbor with “Now I’m not a racist” and end the rant by calling her “a fucking monkey.” Racism is real. I’ve seen it in others. I’ve seen it in myself.
There is a quote by bell hooks a beloved writer from Berea where I used to live. It says “Individual white people, moving from denial of race to awareness, suddenly realize that white-supremacist culture encourages white folks to deny their understanding of race. Yet when the denial stops, it becomes clear that underneath their skin most white folks have an intimate awareness of the politics of race and racism. They have learned to pretend that it is not so, to take on the posture of learned helplessness." The truth hurts. It really does. It’s time for white people to face the reality. It's time to stop pretending everything is oaky. It's not okay! Something has got to change.
Racism and racist are strong words. They tend to scare people away. I would suggest we use words like prejudice and bias instead. Everyone knows that racism is wrong. No one is going to admit to being a racist. However, we all have our prejudices, and we need to be able to identify and recognize them before we can eliminate them. A friend of mine posted this facebook status yesterday that eloquently mirrors my own thoughts and feelings about this matter. She said, “Personally, I think that all of us white people (and ESPECIALLY the liberal ones) need to stop freaking out at the mere mention that we might be racist. Instead, we need to pause, reflect, and ask ourselves honestly, "do I ever have racist thoughts? maybe even a teeny tiny bit?" And then ask ourselves, how can I change? How can I be better? None of us are perfect, and people need to stop being so damned defensive about it.”
I have been debating whether or not to write this blog post for a long time. I am always so worried about offending people in my writing, and racism is such a sensitive topic, but then I thought about all of the other safe, inconsequential posts I might write. No. This is something I need to say. I may hurt or offend a few people, but at least I will be able to provide some slight relief for growing knot in the pit of my stomach. At least my voice will be heard.
“In the end we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
~ Martin Luther King Jr.