The Perils of Discussing Racism With The Blissfully Ignorant

I try to stay away from asserting my opinion as fact on topics that I have no experience in, and it boggles my mind when others do. With the increase in conversations about race in the last year or so, there have been a lot of polarizing points of view on both sides and, like a lot of people-of-color, I’m exhausted.

Trying to explain systemic racism and its effects to those ignorant of its existence is like debating The Tanakh with Adolf Hitler. The problem isn’t the lack of knowledge on a topic, but rather the unwillingness of some to accept the perspectives of those who actually know and experience it. 

Prime example: this CNN roundtable, where 2 of the 3 white panelists try to discredit the #BlackLivesMatter movement to replace it with #AllLivesMatter:

Let’s play a game of hypotheticals.

If I walked up to a group of mothers sharing their labor experiences and said “I hear you ladies, but surely the pain wasn’t that bad”, how much of a head start would I have to escape to safety? The side-eyes thrown in my direction alone could knock me into a coma.

What about if I read a summary of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, then proceeded to call it a piece of hot trash in front of an English professor; how would my opinion be received? Not well, I’m certain.

What do you imagine the reaction would be if I asked a double-leg amputee if we could go kick it somewhere?

Exactly. That’s how a lot of these conversations go.

Then we come to those individuals who can only be described as hateful. It’s one thing to not know or understand the experiences of another; it’s something completely different to consider them worthless.

It has become all too apparent in the various reactions to the Sandra Bland case that many bigots Americans believe that certain lives are less valuable than others.

There’s the Texan who voiced her support for local law enforcement in this rather disgusting manner. The Chicagoan who used freedom of speech to justify calling a black woman a n*gger because she got wet at a beach. There’s also the woman who was fired from her hotel supervision job after hanging a black slave doll from a garbage bag noose in the employee break room.

These are only a few examples (among countless others) I’ve come across in the last few days alone. There’s only so much you can be outraged by in a short amount of time before you’re exhausted.

There is a brilliant article I read a few weeks back entitled I, Racist that highlights a good portion of my thoughts surrounding conversations about race with those outside of the black community:

Living every single day with institutionalized racism and then having to argue its very existence, is tiring, and saddening, and angering. Yet if we express any emotion while talking about it, we’re tone policed, told we’re being angry.

The reality of America is that White people are fundamentally good, and so when a white person commits a crime, it is a sign that they, as an individual, are bad. White people are good as a whole, and only act badly as individuals.

People of color, especially Black people, are seen as fundamentally bad. There might be a good one, but when we see a bad one, it’s just proof that the rest are, as a rule, bad.

This, all of this, expectation, treatment, thought, the underlying social system that puts White in the position of Normal and good, and Black in the position of “other” and “bad,” all of this, is racism.

So here we are in 2015, 51 after the passing of the Civil Rights Act and 150 years after the abolishment of slavery. I can freely vote in elections. I can legally read & write without being arrested. I’ve never had to move to the back of the bus because I’m black.

Yet, as much as things have changed, some things haven’t. I get nervous around law enforcement even though I obey all laws. Security guards follow me around stores I can afford to shop in. Just yesterday, an older white woman clenched her purse while the two of us rode the same elevator.

There’s nothing more melancholy like the moment you realize that people hate/fear you just because of your race.

In order for us to continue making progress, we all have to continue having these difficult conversations with ALL of our fellow Americans, regardless of race. We won’t all see eye to eye and its going to take several decades (possibly centuries), but it has to be done. You can’t solve a problem by ignoring it.