I recently took to the keyboard and wrote about something that has felt wrong for a long time. I acknowledged my bias. I tried to avoid over explaining so as not to water down the message. The message being that even those of us who pine for a more equal world, who understand the vileness and ubiquity of racism and hate it, who at worst would be considered allies in the fight for equality, even we are affected by the structural racism that is so ubiquitous as to be invisible like air to those unnoticing of it and equally as unavoidable as air to those so effected by it. That’s one reason I wrote that piece. Here are a few more.
Firstly, I gave my testimony because it is true. I’ve been thinking about race and racism since I was a kid. I’ve had endless encounters with kids and later adults who said racist things and denied being racist. That’s okay, it’s not really up to you as to whether or not you are racist. To a Klan member I imagine they are perhaps okay with the title, but believing their bullshit completely they might think, ‘No, I’m not racist. I’m just aware of the differences between us that make me superior to N***ers.’ You don’t get to behave or speak in racist ways and retain any viable ability to assess yourself unless you acknowledge you are racist, at which point, by acknowledging it you’d be making an admission that it is wrong to be so. The truth is to the best of my ability I’m woke. But the reality is that I’ve been tainted by the environment in deep ways I can’t avoid. I can balance, I can counteract and I can own up. But I can’t avoid.
Secondly, I understand the power of words.The reality is that for all of my attempts to call out racism I’m afraid the coded message getting through is only reinforcing the beliefs of others who agree and hardening the defiance of those who either deny racism or ignore it. It’s worth sending the signal to those oppressed that you are on their side, but it is not really moving the conversation in a way that will reach the ears of those most in need of hearing the message. The reality is that it’s far more palatable to someone to acknowledge a failing or a blind spot after someone else does.
There’s real damage in suggesting we don’t see color. In not acknowledging the real ways that racist imagery and repeated reporting of only the worst of humanity in one segment of society has colored ones way of seeing the world. This type of racism is so ubiquitous that it is insidious. It can get in even when you are fully on guard and fighting it at every turn. I don’t remember the conversation around race being so suffused with people denying it’s existence when I was a kid. Sure, people didn’t really see how much it might effect an individual and might argue it isn’t as bad as it truly is, but we all for the most part acknowledged it was a thing.Nowadays it seems all shame has been lost by racists who come out screaming and yelling their ridiculous hate. Now more than ever we need to acknowledge it exists. Racism is real and it ruins whole lives and in shockingly large numbers.
Thirdly, it’s not my job to lead this fight. I can be as liberal as I want and I can claim to understand anything I want, but if I don’t acknowledge my role in the larger picture I’m tacitly allowing it. Once aware that there was some wish from some people of color for white people to acknowledge their bias if they truly wished to change things I had to do so. It’s the only suggestion I’d heard that was different. That could be something I could say, writing from a position of whiteness and maleness that could have an actual impact. I had to do it. Once I saw how it fit in to the larger conversation, I was compelled.
Finally, because we have to normalize the understanding that bias exists within us. It is real. We, even the allies, perhaps for now especially so, have to be the ones to say we know it to be real and the only way to do that so others can hear it, those who may know but not feel like they can say it, we have to be honest. How else can we ever hope to change a problem so ingrained in our hearts and minds. I want my kids to know that I tried to change this. That I wasn’t just acknowledging awareness and avoiding discomfort. That I was doing what I knew with whatever ability I had to make a difference.