Hey Fellow White People! Time to Talk
No matter how progressive we try to appear, we need to admit something to ourselves.
We all hold racist thoughts and ideas in our hearts and minds.
We can tell ourselves that we’re good people, that we’re fighting to end racism and oppression, but until we can admit to ourselves that we have racism in our hearts we remain part of the problem. We tell ourselves that only bad people are racist, while ignoring the fact that our very society and way of life are built on racism and the belief of white supremacy. (I highly recommend reading Robin DiAngelo’s book, “White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for White People to talk about Racism” if you want to learn more on why/how we train ourselves to think this way)
I used to think that I wasn’t racist, just like I used to think I wasn’t transmisic. It’s still hard for me to admit it to myself, but once I realized the thoughts and ideas I was holding in my heart, I was able to begin working on removing and replacing them. It required me stepping back and realizing that I’d been raised to see racism as this simple issue of racist=bad and since I wasn’t a bad person, I couldn’t be racist. It required me stepping back and and realizing that I was fragile as fuck when it came to discussing my own views and actions towards people of color.
I used to tell myself that my best friend during childhood, who I lost to a horrible accident, was African American, so I couldn’t be racist. It was racists who took her from me! I didn’t pull the trigger! I didn’t buy the gun! I wasn’t the one sending the death threats! I couldn’t possibly be racist!
I used to say things like, “I don’t see color!” and other phrases that I now know only helped to suppress those who were oppressed. I told myself that my reaction to an African American man on the bus was just because I was scared of men in general, not just black men. I told myself that I wasn’t looking down on how certain people dressed because they were people of color, but because I looked down on anyone who dressed like that.
I refused to believe that my thoughts of “Wow, that person really sounds black” or “Yep, bet that person’s dad isn’t in the picture” weren’t racist.
For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why I felt shame and guilt for telling a black classmate that I shocked/startled a cop who pulled me over by saying, “It’s because I’m black!” when he’d asked me if I knew why I’d been pulled over. I knew it had upset my classmate, but I didn’t put two and two together to realize that I was trivializing his lived experiences and the experiences of so many people who are murdered or harassed by law enforcement each year. I became defensive when called out on it, claiming it wasn’t a racist statement because I wasn’t a racist.
It took actually educating myself to realize just how racist and rooted in the belief of white supremacy my thoughts were.
I used to believe that white privilege was a myth made up to make white people feel bad about themselves. I bought into the whole belief about how I shouldn’t be punished for the crimes of my ancestors, and that I wasn’t responsible for the racism happening around me. Hell, I even pulled the, “We’re all one race, the human race!” line to try to push away the thought that I could possibly have a racist thought. Can’t be racist if there’s no such thing as race, right?
White privilege was fake, and nothing more than something created to make white people feel guilty for being born a certain way, same with white guilt. At least, that’s what I thought for the longest time.
One night, my husband, roommate, and I were pulled over by a local sheriff. I noticed right away that my husband had his wallet out, his ID out, and his hands were up on the dash where they were clearly visible. It struck me as weird, because here’s this tall, well built Native American man acting scared out of his mind. The sheriff came up to the car, and was loud and very demanding. I was scared, but the moment he shone his light on my husband, his demeanor went from intimidating to what I can only describe as evil. His hand went directly to his gun, even though he also had a taser and night stick.
My husband hadn’t even moved, let alone done anything to warrant someone going for their gun.
I was the one who was driving, I was the one who didn’t have working blinkers, I was the one who didn’t know that their car insurance had lapsed, yet the sheriff now had his focus on my husband…while continuing to throw verbal versions of sexual harassment at me. Like the typical privileged white person, I asked if we were being detained, which set him off big time.
My husband finally spoke up, saying he wasn’t feeling safe, and asked if he could have one of the sheriff’s business cards. We both knew he carried them, but he refused to give us one, stating that his name would be on the ticket he was writing. I asked if he had a blank one that he could write his name on it, and right after that he demanded we get out of the car.
This guy was at best 5’5″ once I was standing face to face with him, and yet once again, the moment my husband stood up and got out of the car, the sheriff’s hand was right back on his gun. My husband noticed it, and said, “Is there a problem, officer?”
The sheriff unclasped the strap over his gun and uttered the words, “There will be.”
He demanded my husband put his hands behind his back, frisked him, and then told him to stand against the wall while he searched my car. He began asking if I had any drugs or any weapons in the car, shining a light in the car and then telling me to open the doors. I knew my rights were being violated, I knew this guy was playing fast and loose, but I now had to worry about my husband’s safety.
The sheriff knew that, and he abused it.
He began sexually harassing me, verbally thankfully, and making inappropriate comments while demanding I show him the contents of my car. I made a note to remember as much as I could about this man, but he made it a point to not let me get a good look at him in the light. I also couldn’t see his name badge, and he wasn’t wearing a body camera.
He decided to tow my car instead of letting us go home and re-up our insurance. It was a Friday night, so the impound lot would be closed until Monday. We asked if we could get our groceries and my school books. The sheriff actually made it a point to let me know that he wanted my belongings to stay in the car, and everything I took out, he demanded to know why I needed it.
If I wasn’t worried about him shooting my husband, I would have been screaming at him by this point, because he didn’t let us make a phone call, he refused to listen to us when we said we weren’t feeling safe and wanted someone else here to ensure our safety, and he was intending to leave us stranded while he took our car to the impound.
I finally managed to get what I needed and insisted I need to call someone to pick us up. He relented, and I was allowed to call my mother in law, who came to get us. The sheriff acted like my husband was this instigator and a loose cannon, and my mother in law thankfully played along long enough to get the sheriff to let us all into the car.
That moment I realized that my skin color, while it hadn’t protected me from sexual harassment, had protected me from the threat of having a gun drawn on me.
Things began to fall into place, and I began to see how willing I was to ignore the racism I’d been seeing around me for so long. To my horror, I also began to notice just how racist I really was, and how many of my thoughts were tainted by casual and systemic racism.
I realized that I’d picked up so many of these ideas through shows I’d watched, through movies I’d been to, even through the education I’d received. I was horrified at how easily I’d bought into stereotypes and racist propaganda. I had pushed away overtly racist people, but when it came to my own racism, I’d buried my head in the sand instead of confronting it.
I remember sitting there and wondering if I’d done more damage than good while trying to be a good ally. I realized I had been ignoring people of color during my time as an activist, that I had focused almost solely on white people, that I had spoken over people when I should have stepped back and allowed them to speak for themselves. In doing what I thought was right, I had acted like some benevolent savior to the oppressed, but in truth I was helping in their oppression.
I had two choices at that point. I could learn from this and work on bettering myself, or I could pretend I wasn’t part of the problem and continue being an oppressor. I knew that I benefited from the systemic racism that existed in my country, how my privilege and place in society were the result of the oppression of others throughout history. It’s a hard thing to realize, seeing that I benefited from white supremacy, even though I wasn’t a white supremacist. I had racist beliefs and thoughts, even though I myself constantly stated I wasn’t a racist.
While it wasn’t the easy choice, I made the right choice in examining my own racist views. I worked to educate myself, to understand what I could do to help those around me without working as an oppressor, how to use my privilege to give a platform to those who are without.
White supremacy isn’t just groups of people like the KKK, the Neo-Nazis, and the like. It’s also a political ideology that seeks to maintain social, political, economic, institutional, or historical domination by and for white people. We see it every day in our society, from voting to the prison systems, it exists and we benefit from it.
The electoral college allows us to benefit from things such as the 3/5th compromise. It sets up an imbalance based on people of color being unable to vote, but counting towards the population of an area.
The 13th amendment, while outlawing slavery, put a special loophole that allowed slavery to continue to exist so long as the person was a criminal. Our prison system allows for the continuation of slavery, and our society benefits from the labor of those prisoners.
The police system is trained to focus on people of color as criminals over white people, which then feeds into the prison system.
It’s in our schools, in our media, everywhere.
White supremacy and America go hand in hand, and it’s time we realize that.
So I am calling on the rest of you who share my skin tone, who classify themselves as white.
It’s time for us to acknowledge our privilege.
It’s time to acknowledge how we benefit from the effects of white supremacy and the oppression of others.
It’s time to understand that the systems put in place by our ancestors are being upheld today, just under different names and forms.
It’s time for us to face the truth and work on becoming better people and allies for those around us.
Most of all, it’s time for us to work on dismantling the systems of oppression that we benefit from.
Further reading about white supremacy in the USA:
“White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism”
This lesson focuses on some of the structures that supported the system of white supremacy in the South. First…soptv.pbslearningmedia.org
And for an amazing example of white fragility in action and why this article needed to be written (aand for people to read the further reading links/books) look no further to this lovely comment: