Time for some real talk, Good White Folks.
Here's the overview: White folks, we are racist. It is dangerous to not acknowledge this. However, once we do, there
is a real chance for healing, for internal reconciliation, and to make ourselves actually useful in the fight against white supremacy.
I can almost guarantee that you felt a repulsion at the thought that “we are racist.” That's because, even though you and I are racist by birthright, I would guess that you, like I, long NOT to be. We want to be good people. We want to think we're evolved and enlightened and compassionate. We want to think that we're better than our forebears or the white people marching in droves with torches. We want to think we were raised to be good people and are being good people in the world.
Please hear me: I am not saying you are not good. I am not saying you aren't trying to do the right thing. I am not saying you are intentionally trying to be racist.
I'm just stating the fact that racism is alive in you.
Since before we were born, we've been swimming in a white supremacist milieu, unconsciously internalizing a racist blueprint of the world and our understanding of self. Wittingly or not, we have been participating in and perpetuating systems of oppression that simultaneously benefit us and keep us trapped since before we were conscious. We can barely recognize this because we have been looking at everything through the lens of white supremacy since before we can remember.
Is this hard for you to believe? What I have found is that, if we tell the *absolute truth* about what comes up in our conscious and unconscious at any given moment, we can begin to more clearly see and examine the functions of white privilege and white supremacy operating in and through us.
Let me give you one example. It's an uncomfortable and painful example to talk about because it's not something we want to be true about us. Nevertheless, I have yet to meet a white person who can outrightly deny that this is their experience. Here it is:
Most (if not all) white people have had experiences of intrusive, bigoted thoughts. These intrusive thoughts may come frequently or infrequently, noticeably or imperceptibly, in a variety of contexts, but they come. They come as the fleeting, unwelcome thought, “Of course it was a black person.” They come as the fleeting assumption about someone based on skin tone, even though you are a “woke” white person. As the mental substitution of a nasty, racist word (one you would NEVER say aloud) in place of a normal descriptor. As qualifications of someone (only non-white people) by a word not relevant to the conversation. As a fleeting fear when appearances conform with racist images purported by media. As split-second decisions made based on information assumed about a person of color before you. As a thoughtless microaggression, tone policing, or racist platitude.
These intrusive, bigoted thoughts also come as the paranoia of being extra nice to the person of color in the room to prove you're a “safe” white person. As the adamant defense of yourself as an “ally.” As the broadstroke but “positive” comments about an entire people. As your paralyzing fear that keeps you silent in the face of an overt racist.
Who among us can claim that none of the above have ever happened, nor continue to happen, within us? If any of the above examples have been true for you, it doesn't make you irredeemable or evil. It makes you a human in white skin.
This is just ONE example of the ways white supremacy works within us. There are countless ways we can learn to notice and there are countless ways we have likely not yet recognized its movement through us.
Racism is alive in us. This is why it's essential to admit and claim it: when we can look it in the eye, we can acknowledge that IT IS NOT US. It is a function. We are the operator. We can reprogram. We can retrain our minds and hearts. We can work to liberate ourselves. We can get more free.
Until a few days ago, most of us in Louisville weren't aware that a particular statue in Cherokee Triangle glorified a Confederate slave owner. I cannot tell you how many times I drove by and didn't know. I didn't stop to really look. I didn't read the plaque. I simply curved around it and continued on my way. There are racist edifaces in our psyche and spirit as seemingly obvious as a huge, bronze man on a horse that have managed to blend into our mental-spiritual scenery, but that redirect our actions every day. Stopping to take a good look and being honest about what we see, within and around us, is a first step.
That's when we can begin to deconstruct the racism alive in us. We can become more conscious of when it's ME talking or when it's the WHITE SUPREMACY talking, and how the latter has harmed the former. We can better acknowledge our privilege at work and humble ourselves. We can begin to participate in the work for justice as a better accomplice to people of color…because we can more clearly see that we aren't “helping others,” but rather we are saving ourselves, thus saving humanity.
The truth is, this is the hard, slow, painful, but essential work of a lifetime. We may never finish our efforts to examine, heal, and recover our racism before we die. But every bit of honest extrication uproots this legacy for our children. It cultivates the possibility for them to separate themselves and keep themselves separated from the claws of white supremacy. It lays a more truthful foundation for solidarity. It begins to plant seeds of freedom.
White people, we may not have created the white supremacist world in which we live, but we belong to it. It's ours. Let's claim it so we can change it. Let's take responsibility so we can eradicate oppression. Let's be honest about who we are so that we can better support and accompany one another on the journey. Let's foster collective liberation so that every last one of us can become who we really are, who we want to be, in freedom.