Why White People Keep Saying It’s Divisive to Speak about Racism
Antiracism is an upside-down cake. Even though America dropped the original social contract with Black people on the kitchen floor, the recipe requires that we pick it up, flip it, and salvage it. There is just one problem — white people would have to take the initiative and pick it up. Many white people insist that mentioning the upside-down cake is more problematic than leaving it on the floor. They call Black people divisive for merely bringing up the pink elephant in the room.
We can see white-privilege through the positive advances white people receive, like access to well-funded schools and higher-paying jobs. However, we can also see white privilege in the things white people do not have to endure, the things their skin color saves them from — racial discrimination and systemic oppression. White people do not live in fear of overzealous police officers or white-supremacist vigilantes.
It is so much easier to accept the mythology of the greatness of America than to acknowledge the cruel reality of how America has and continues to devalue the lives of Black people (Jackson, 2018).
According to modern research,1 in 1000, Black men can expect to die in police custody. Full stop; a Black person in America is 3.23 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a white person. If an increased survival rate is not a privilege, would white folks like to trade places? I doubt most would want to live with that statistic hovering over them.
Growing up, I often heard people claim that America is a free country. However, freedom is not something concrete. Instead, it refers to a spectrum of actions, responses, and opportunities available to a person or group of people. American society never dealt Black people a fair hand, and thus, Black people are less free than white people. Advocates aim to tear down the guardrails so that freedom can flow to every American.
African Americans are descendants of enslaved Africans. They did not create this system, thus dismantling it should never be their burden alone to carry. White people who want Black people to stop talking about racism want them to accept injustices. When the founders created America, equality was never part of the recipe. Most of the founding fathers owned slaves, and yet many Americans uphold them as heroes; we see their faces on our currency. Imagine someone forcing you to play Russian Roulette and then scolding you for wanting it to stop — that’s what it feels like to live as a Black person in America.
America is addicted to a series of lies. The lie that tells the world that we are the single shining example of a nation of laws that protects all of its citizens. The lie that says we are the leader of the free world. The lie that says we as a nation stand on morally high ground that no one else occupies (Jackson, 2018).
Most white people raise their kids to become colorblind citizens, ignoring the privileges afforded to them. However, colorblind ideology perpetuates the falsehood of American exceptionalism. And it assumes that racism is over if we wish it away. They seem to imagine that racism is only personal, all the while ignoring systemic inequality. White parents could stop shying away from a tough conversation and raise their kids to become anti-racist. However, it is easier for some to insist that we stop talking about race instead. This perspective insists that discussions about racism are problematic, not the actual discrimination Black people and people of color experience. Remember Voldemort from Harry Potter? Well, they used to call him “he whose name must not be spoken.” It turns out that bringing up his name was not the problem — it was the cruelty he showed when he pulled up to the scene.
Black parents must have “the talk” with their kids to prepare them for the micro-aggressions they will inevitably experience. Many coach young Black children to stay submissive, follow orders, and hope for the best. During this same scenario, white parents teach their kids that race does not matter. Unfortunately, they miss the point entirely. While every white person does not hate Black people, all benefit from a white supremacist system. Claiming not to be racist and becoming anti-racist are two different concepts. It is time for white Americans to learn the nuance so that the country can heal.
Many white people want Black people to stop speaking about racism because they fear that improving Black Americans’ quality of life would negatively impact their lives. This assumption is ridiculous, but that is what racism is — an absurdity. Racism is like any phobia, an irrational fear. Also, discussions about race make white people feel uncomfortable. Pressure can either create diamonds or bust pipes. Meaning, white people can either use this pressure to create something beautiful or buckle under pressure. White people accuse Black people of being divisive when they talk about race to alleviate their anxiety rather than embrace a remedy.
There is one race, the human race. Socially, we don’t live as if there’s only one race, the human race. We live as if there are different races, and we assign different values to each one of those races based on this paradigm of supremacy. So both are true at the same time. There is only one race, the human race. The construct that we live in today and that we have lived in for centuries has not matched that universal truth (Nicolaou, 2020).
White people have the privilege of window-shopping inequality. They can see the injustices through protective glass. Racism does not directly impact them, and thus picking up the antiracism cake is extra work. Antiracism will not earn rewards or monetary gain. Those who pick up the cake do it because they use their empathy as a catalyst for change.
White people accuse Black people of being divisive when they talk about race to alleviate their anxiety rather than embrace a remedy.
White people say All Lives Matter to counter Black Lives Matter
Throughout this past year, many white people used the phrase “All Lives Matter” as a counter-movement to “Black Lives Matter.” Ironically, if these people believed that all lives had value, it would be difficult to oppose a movement that says, Black Lives Matter. Have you ever seen one of those commercials that raise money for kids who have cancer? Imagine talking to a friend about the commercial, and then they interrupt you and say, “Well, all kids matter.” The commercial never insisted that only kids with cancer matter. However, these kids need help that others do not.
Similarly, Black people and people of color need support that white people and families do not. Black Lives Matter is a phrase that insists society should protect and value Black people. All Lives Matter is a bad faith argument by those accusing Black people of divisiveness.
The statement All Lives Matter shows me that white privilege protects white people from seeing the state of the world as it is. That they believe that all lives already do matter, so when people are saying Black Lives Matter, but now Black people are asking for something more (Nicolaou, 2020).
The assertion that Black people want something more ignores the existence of racism. If we lived in a post-racial society, no one would have to say, Black Lives Matter. Likewise, if the scientific community cured cancer, we would not see any more commercials encouraging us to support sick kids’ care and recovery. Black people are not asking for something extra; we want equality. The Civil Rights Movement’s goal has and always will be to facilitate equality, not some hot new brand of supremacy. Malcolm X is one of the most noteworthy advocates of equality, yet many white people accused him of pursuing supremacy. Let’s look at the full breadth of his words, not just the catchy line at the end.
We declare our right on this earth to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary — Speech at the founding of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, 1964 (X, 1964).
The writing has always been on the wall, but some white people do not want to see the movement for what it is — a valid argument for expanding human rights to Black people. America has never reckoned with the impact of slavery or systemic inequality. White people who want Black people to stay silent about racism want them to suffer in silence. Their cries for justice are somehow more offensive than the actual atrocities they experience.
As soon as white people came into contact with Black people, that first contact was about colonization and enslavement. There has never been a context within those races being in connection with one another where all lives mattered (Nicolaou, 2020).
Cognitive dissonance perpetuates racism
White people see the antiracism cake on the floor, and most do not want to pick it up. You see, salvaging the cake would indicate there was something wrong with America. They would have to admit that the cake is on the floor. This narrative contradicts stories they’ve told themselves about their ancestors — the ones who forced Black people to work for free. Many white people have cognitive dissonance because racism is not something they want to accredit themselves and people like them.
So, they insist that silence is golden. Of course, silence is golden for the ones with the majority of wealth and privilege. However, silence is the stale cake for Black people and people of color. We cannot bask in silence because that will undoubtedly perpetuate the system that discriminates against us.
This disagreement between what people want to believe about America, and the reality of the true nature of how the nation has mistreated Blacks is where the conflict and dissonance occurs (Jackson, 2018).
White people have to take the good with the bad. Yes, America afforded opportunities for their European ancestors, but they did so at the cost of Indigenous and Black lives. There is nothing valiant about maintaining a system of inequality. So, many pretend that America is already equal. Not only do they ignore the cake, but they also walk out of the room, down the steps, into their car, and drive away. These white people think they made a clean getaway, but leaving the scene does not change the circumstances; their attempts to silence Black people demonstrate cognitive dissonance.
Where do we go from here?
White people who call Black people divisive make a disingenuous argument. Speaking about racism does make people feel uncomfortable. However, thinking that their comfort is more important than overcoming injustice is the epitome of white privilege. “All Lives Matter” is run-of-the-mill gaslighting that insinuates that America treats all of its citizens equally. While we want to live in a free and equal society, pretending it already exists stands in the way of creating a system that embraces those values. Telling Black people to shut up about race is racist.
It is the height of disrespect to tell us that, “all lives matter” when this nation has, since its inception, proven to us that only our bodies Matter, not our lives as living, breathing human beings. How can all lives matter when ours don’t?(Jackson, 2020).
White people continue to call Black people divisive for speaking about race. They do so while simultaneously denying the system that affords them privileges. Accusing Black activists of divisiveness is nothing more than a deflection. These white people undoubtedly choose to leave the cake on the floor.
Curated Articles about Race, Equality, Women, and History:
White People Will Never Get Sick and Tired of Racism Because They Benefit
The privilege feels too good to let go
Duluth News Tribune. (2012, July 27). Local view: Cognitive dissonance makes it hard for whites to see racism. Retrieved January 02, 2021, from https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/opinion/2437251-local-view-cognitive-dissonance-makes-it-hard-whites-see-racism
Jackson, R. (2018, November 26). We are afraid to talk about Racism, and Cognitive Dissonance is nationwide. Retrieved January 02, 2021, from http://www.milwaukeeindependent.com/featured/afraid-talk-racism-cognitive-dissonance-nationwide/
Jackson, R. (2020, July 20). Why saying “All Lives Matter” is disrespectful to Black people. Retrieved January 02, 2021, from http://www.milwaukeeindependent.com/featured/saying-lives-matter-disrespectful-black-people/
Nicolaou, E. (2020, October 06). The Problem with Saying “All Lives Matter” as a response to “Black Lives Matter.” Retrieved January 02, 2021, from https://www.oprahmag.com/life/a32859847/layla-saad-all-lives-matter-racism/
X, M. (1964, January 30). Malcolm X. Retrieved January 04, 2021, from https://www.dclibrary.org/node/66426