Straight up, as a white person I’m not forced to talk about racism. As a white person race can be easily ignored. Set aside. The words “I don’t see skin color” is an easy dismissive of the whole problem. Being white gives me the privilege of not having to think about race and racism every day.
And it’s exactly because of all that privilege that I need to talk about race in the United States. Actually in the world. But let’s stick to my country for now. It’s because I don’t have to talk about race that I NEED to. When we ignore the issue it festers. It festers in each of us through intentional, and unintentional, racism. And it festers in this country until we start shooting each other over it, and blaming each other, and becoming defensive to the point of blinding rage.
The shootings that have taken place over these last years have left me sad. But the shooting by one white man of nine black people has finally made me talk. I think because I’ve finally seen enough.
Jon Stewart summed it up pretty well: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/20/us/jon-stewart-addresses-charleston-shooting-in-his-daily-show-monologue.html?_r=0
Go check out what he has to say about it. Go on. I’ll still be here.
He really states the problem well. We spend millions of dollars and thousands of lives fighting terrorists who threaten us. We walk right over international law and human rights in pursuit of our safety. But when we start shooting each other, when a white american man starts shooting black americans, we shrug our shoulders and find a way to write him off as crazy.
My father read something a minister had said, at least I think she was a minister (I can’t recall who it was, if you know please let me know so I can give her credit). She stated that the response of many is to pray. But that is inadequate and unhelpful. She says that to talk to our god(s) is not enough, God will already know what has happened and God will take care of his/her/its side of things. What we really need to do is talk to each other.
People don’t kill each other out of boredom. People don’t burn cities because they are content with life. They do so because they feel unheard and unvalidated. They do so because they are treated as lesser. This young white man was a symptom. As are all the angry and scared people of color. And we who are white are not listening. Instead we act perplexed or offended or even defiant.
I could tell you so much abut the racism the teenagers of color I work with face every day. I could tell you so much of what I see around me everyday. But that would be inadequate. Because as a white person I’m sure I don’t even understand or see half of it. Instead I’m looking to open up a dialogue in my communities. I’ve started talking to everyone I meet about racism in this country. Including with the teenagers I work with.
But that is not enough either. As a white middle-class person I have an excess of platforms to do this kind of talking. People will listen to me. Who isn’t being heard in all of this is the lower class Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and anyone else not Caucasian. Who isn’t being heard are those experiencing the racism.
They may be speaking but they’re not being heard.
So I’d like to ask all the white people in this country to start listening better. Like I tell all my teenagers in classrooms all over Massachusetts, listening well means asking questions and then not talking back to the answers you get. Listening well means making eye contact and not interrupting. And listening well is taking what you’ve heard and attempting to use that information in a positive way.
But I don’t know how to empower people to start talking, how to give them a platform. The best I can think to do is start a dialogue about race. I’m starting to ask questions and listen to answers.
And it’s super uncomfortable. But nine people were shot in a church where they were praying for peace because for decades we’ve been too scared of being uncomfortable. People are dying and cities are burning all so that we don’t have to face each other, make eye contact, and listen to what the other has to say.