“Mom, I saw the video.”
I don’t need to ask what video.
“Like, I watched him die. That cop is in jail, right?”
He was not.
Derek Chauvin can murder George Floyd in plain view and it takes four days of national outrage to arrest him because we White people don’t believe in, or understand, systemic racism. We White people insist that you have to be a bad guy to be killed by the police. We want to believe it so much that we search and search for pieces of information that might confirm that bias, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
If we can’t prove that the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children killed are bad guys, then we White people figure it’s just bad apples who killed George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin (to name just a few who are the tip of the iceberg that White America had no choice but to see). Good cop or bad cop, we will focus on their subjective intent more than their impact, because that’s what we White people do.
And I can hear us now, “Not WE! We are not a monolith! I’m not racist! I treat everyone equally!”
But We White people are a racial identity group. A powerful racial identity group. We White people love to ascribe traits and attributes to other identity groups but are deeply offended by the idea that we, as a group, have things in common. Like privilege.
If this term bothers you, feel free to use a long-hand descriptor that includes, but is not limited to: being- way-less-likely-to-get-killed- by-police-or-Covid-19-or-discrimination-in-housing,-education,-employment,-healthcare,-and -criminal-justice-simply-because-of-my-racial-identity-group.
WHY do you think that things like police brutality, pandemic infection/death rates, incarceration, poverty, are so wildly disproportionately affecting Black people? Do you attribute it to group traits and attributes? Are they inherently violent? Genetically predisposed to corona virus?
Yes? Well, then, I guess you’ve got it all figured out.
From my life.
If you don’t know how to explain these things to yourself or your children except to say, you know, slavery, you are not alone. We White people worked to build and maintain systems that continuously and permanently disenfranchise, disadvantage, and disregard Black Lives. We White people worked to make the systems essential to our business as usual, and largely invisible, so that the “Good White People” can say “smfh” and remark that they are shocked and bewildered that “this” is still happening in (insert year after year after year after year after year here).
We White people have to take personal responsibility and do work to make the systems visible and dismantle them.
Cue the exasperation and whattabouting.
What about economic injustice in general? What about this other oppressed group? What about the environment?
A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, so anything you can do to mitigate oppression and suffering anywhere, anytime, would be great. But we White people usually only ask “what about…?” as another way of saying All Lives Matter. As in, I don’t want to think/talk/hear about racism.
And it is true that you can’t fix the whole world at once.
You can’t pick all the straws and micro beads out of the ocean, but I know a whole lotta White ladies buying a lot less plastic these days.There are things you can do. Let’s start with some really easy ones.
Just click the headline.
Just don’t look away.
Figuring out what people actually mean when they say “systemic racism” makes the systems visible. Learning about social science and history in a less self-centering way shows us that we White people, individual as we all may be, are not separate and apart from the systems and biases that make up our culture. We can learn to recognize ourselves as participants in systems that perpetuate racism, without reflexively feeling personally indicted as a bad person.
It seems like a good time, by the way, to be examining all the systems right now – health care systems, voting systems, criminal justice systems, free-enterprise systems, education, child care, elder-care, all the systems. Maybe we should stop trying to manage defective outcomes and focus on the systems that produce the defects.
We White people can’t claim ignorance as a defense anymore. It’s too late and too lame. We need to be able to explain things to our White children in a way that makes sense. And in a way that stops them from hurting people.
The answer to all of those questions is no.
Perfection is the enemy of the good. Do something. Anything.
How about a free webinar called “How not to Raise the Next Amy Cooper”? That’s doable, right? Click it!
How about the Wee the People “Wee Chalk the Walk” day of action tomorrow, doing things “on our own blocks, with kid-friendly, home-based activities that will open up critical opportunities for parents and caregivers to talk with kids about racial injustice and the choice we can make to speak out.”
How about a book club? I’ll host it. Lemme know.