The Thing About Racism…

Through all of the injustices and tragic deaths caused by individual and/or systemic racism over the last few years, I have kept my thoughts and beliefs about them out of the workplace. Mostly out of professional courtesy, but mostly because it’s an uncomfortable, uphill battle to explain your reality to those who haven’t had to live it.

On more than one occasion in the past, I have been the only African-American in my work environment. In each and every case, I try not to discuss race-based issues with my co-workers. Not only does it create an awkward atmosphere if no one has shared the experience, it is very easy to be branded the militant Black guy when you’re one of very few present.

I came across this brilliant article entitled “I, Racism” yesterday and I almost threw my keyboard across the room: sitting on my computer screen was nearly every thought I’ve ever tried to verbalize about this topic, dissected and summarized brilliantly:

Whites are often not directly affected by racial oppression even in their own community, so what does not affect them locally has little chance of affecting them regionally or nationally. They have no need, nor often any real desire, to think in terms of a group. They are supported by the system, and so are mostly unaffected by it.

What they are affected by are attacks on their own character. To my aunt, the suggestion that “people in The North are racist” is an attack on her as a racist. She is unable to differentiate her participation within a racist system (upwardly mobile, not racially profiled, able to move to White suburbs, etc.) from an accusation that she, individually, is a racist. Without being able to make that differentiation, White people in general decide to vigorously defend their own personal non-racism, or point out that it doesn’t exist because they don’t see it.

The result of this is an incessantly repeating argument where a Black person says “Racism still exists. It is real,” and a white person argues “You’re wrong, I’m not racist at all. I don’t even see any racism.” My aunt’s immediate response is not “that is wrong, we should do better.” No, her response is self-protection: “That’s not my fault, I didn’t do anything. You are wrong.”

I have been a part of many discussion-turned-debates eerily similar to the above: I voice my experience as a black man, and it is immediately invalidated by opposing counsel to protect the feelings of the mass majority. It usually comes in the form of “black people are racist too”, which shows that people fail to realize that racism doesn’t just consist of the belief that one’s race is superior, but also includes “ideologies and practices that seek to justify, or cause, the unequal distribution of privileges, rights or goods among different racial groups.”

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. In fact, a key element in any racial argument in America is the Angry Black person, and racial discussions shut down when that person speaks. The Angry Black person invalidates any arguments about racism because they are “just being overly sensitive,” or “too emotional,” or– playing the race card. Or even worse, we’re told that we are being racist (Does any intelligent person actually believe a systematically oppressed demographic has the ability to oppress those in power?)

But here is the irony, here’s the thing that all the angry Black people know, and no calmly debating White people want to admit: The entire discussion of race in America centers around the protection of White feelings.

Ask any Black person and they’ll tell you the same thing. The reality of thousands of innocent people raped, shot, imprisoned, and systematically disenfranchised are less important than the suggestion that a single White person might be complicit in a racist system.

This was clearly apparent after the Charleston massacre, where many media outlets sought out their forgiveness to the murderer responsible, instead of allowing the victims’ families to grieve privately. It was the latest string of not-so-subliminal agendas that constantly diminish the oppression African-Americans have faced in this country long before its inception: from the blatant misinformation presented about history (including attempts by the Tea Party in Tennessee to remove slavery from textbooks) to the constant attempts to romanticize the Colonial periods without mentioning its horrific realities.

Also, as I’ve said before, people also choose to ignore the fact that the abolition of slavery only resulted in the birth of the modern day American prison system, which imprisons 17 times as many people as Iceland.

Moral of the Story

I am friends with dozens of men and women of all races who are passionate about unity and demolishing the systemic strongholds that separate us. However, I have come across many more who will deflect the blame in order to save face.

We can never truly be unified if we disregard the perspectives of others that challenge what we believe to be true.

In short: don’t tell me that my truth is a lie just because you can’t relate to it.

(originally posted on No Average Journey)