The Privilege Papers is a new series of blog posts I’m writing about White Privilege and my efforts to teach my children and myself about racism in America.
People who follow me on Facebook may have noticed that I’m sharing a lot of great posts about racial disparity in America. Someone I know joked, “Who called Amanda a racist?” and I know that the assumption was that these posts were shared in defense or contrition, but that is not the case. I’m not making amends. I’m not clutching my pearls of white guilt. I’m just paying attention, finally, and I’m paying that forward. Not out of guilt or obligation to any one person, but because it’s the right thing to do.
For a long time I thought racism issues were all about racists. I thought that these were not my problems. What I’ve learned over the past few years is that racism is everyone’s problem: every time someone says something prejudiced, makes a racist joke, or implies that minorities somehow deserve to be mistreated. This is especially true when the racism is expressed in white company. When that happens, we white persons make a choice to be quiet or to speak out.
We may not laugh, we may not repeat the joke, we may silently disagree, but when we fail to speak it is assumed that we acquiesce. We let that racism live and leave the racist feeling validated by our complicit silence.
When we speak out, we take a risk by confronting someone else’s ignorance. Sometimes it’s family, sometimes it’s friends, sometime it’s coworkers, but confrontation is never easy. Yet, when we are silent and constantly defer to people of color to stand up against ignorance, we are more complicit than deferential. We may think we are deferring to their experience, but in reality we are shifting the burden to those who are already demeaned and demoralized.
Right and wrong are real. It is wrong to make any assumption about “all black people” and it’s wrong to make assumptions about “all Latinos,” or “all Asians,” and yet one of our favorite white contortions (and of this I have been guilty) is to dodge accusations for racism by saying, “not all white people” are racist, hateful, ignorant, etc. But we cannot honestly say, “most white people are not racist.” Until we can say all white people want all people treated fairly, “not all white people” is a false defense for the “plenty of white people,” who are still blatantly racist and the “most white people,” who never speak up against racism. There is a “terrifying majority of white people” who just don’t give a damn about racism until it’s national news for a few days, and then they go back to caring about more comfortable concerns.
The thing is, people of color don’t get to forget about racism when the news story fades away, because they still have to deal with hate and disrespect, every day. They still have to deal with those white people who think our white silence makes them right. Sure, maybe you and me and “some white people,” really do care. Maybe we are willing to stand up, now, finally. But until “more white people,” are willing to do the same, when this white person shares posts about the endemic and systematic illness that is institutionalized racism in America, the white people who know her will think she’s speaking out to show she’s “not all white people,” instead of speaking out because all human beings deserve dignity, respect, and to be heard.
No, “not all white people,” are hateful, but more white people need to be outraged by the hate. More white people need to demonstrate sincere compassion for the pain of people of every color. More white people need to stop relying on “not all white people,” and start speaking out as individuals and in groups when the other white people are being the racists we don’t want to be.
Until we are loud and clear that they don’t speak for the rest of us, no one knows where we stand. Silence is abdication. Silence is complicity. Silence is not deferment. “Not all white people,” speak for me. I speak for myself, and I will not be silent anymore. No one called me a racist, but I’m calling bullshit on my own silence. It’s time to be part of the change I want to see in the world, and it’s long overdue. Otherwise I am part of the problem.
For some really great voices and stories by women of color, please read these great essays. Read them without defensiveness. Read them with compassion. Read them while loving your neighbor as you would like to be loved.