It’s that time again.
Time for race relations in America to be at the forefront of the media and the consciousness of Americans everywhere. Which means it’s also time for people to come out in droves to claim how racist they aren’t. We see this every. single. time, and let me tell you that it’s getting very stale. It seems to me that the very folks making these claims are confused about the nature of what Institutionalized American Racism(tm) even is, and their part in helping shape it.
In case you didn’t catch it above, racism is an institution. The tenets put in place by it, and the way it operates in our daily lives are a default. The fact that it’s a default is intentional. And it takes continued effort, and an equal amount of intention if it is to actively be countered.
When we, as minorities see or hear someone claim “I’m not racist” our alarm bells go off. You might see people pushing back at you when you say this, and even get angry about your claim.
We are questioning your intention.
What we are hearing is “I’ve done my part. I’m not a part of this problem. Let me off the hook, I’ve not done anything!” And so, by extension, the logical conclusion to that is we assume you think that by not taking explicit actions that contribute to the problem, you are justified in not needing to take actions to prevent its continuation. Which is just another way of skirting the issue entirely. What we are seeing is someone who thinks they don’t need to try to do any better than what they are currently doing. So ask yourself, what is your intention by making this claim? To further the cause, or to absolve yourself of guilt? You haven’t done anything racist? That’s a good start. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have an effect on, or a stake in this. It also prompts the question — what have you done to actively be non-racist?
In plainer terms, what have you done to opt out?
You had black friends growing up? Or grew up in a predominately black environment? That’s great, but it’s not enough to opt you out.
You’ve dated, loved, married someone of color? Great, but that’s not enough to opt you out.
Do you “Love all races”? Is that your response to events unfolding right now? Even if that’s true, as noble as that sounds, do you see why in response to addressing specific issues regarding the lived experience of black people it sounds hollow?
Do you think “All lives matter”? I know that sounds great (just kidding, that sounds like some overt bs to actively silence black voices), but can you see where the problem lies with that statement?
When we hear you say these things, what we hear is you not listening. When you promote or even condone these things being said by others, you are actively promoting ideals that harm us. You are opting out in the wrong ways.
So what are you doing?
Are you standing up to and calling out your friends, family members, co-workers when you encounter their racist comments?
Are you talking to your kids about race? Are you making sure that they don’t grow up believing that everyone should be “colorblind” and why they shouldn’t even want to be?
Are you donating your time to marching, peacefully protesting, or even looking up terms like “agents provocateur” and “Institutionalized American Racism(tm)”?
Are you educating yourself on the history of things like COINTELPRO and how they tried to blackmail MLK and label him a terrorist for his defense of protesting, among other things?
Are you taking a moment to look up some of the hashtag names that you hear people mentioning? Seeing how they died, what they did (or in almost all of the cases did not do) to have state sanctioned death handed to them, often without consequence for the perpetrators?
Are you donating to organizations like Campaign Zero, The 1619 Project, ACLU or one of the many Bail Funds available? George Floyd lost his life over a dispute of twenty dollars. Can you at a minimum summon twenty bucks to give to one of these organizations?
Yes? You’re well on your way to earning not only my respect, but probably respect from lots of others.
But if the “I’m not racist” claim sounds like something you’ve said (to yourself or to others), or might say, and because the burden of proof lies with the one making the claim, I’m gonna go ahead and challenge you and ask you to prove it. Prove it to yourself and to me. By your continued actions, not by your inactions or past actions.
It takes work to opt out of a belief system so ubiquitous and pervasive that there is often confusion around rejecting that system and rejecting the country that hosts it. Hell, if everyone had listened to us when we were all taking a knee, it’s entirely possible that a lot of cars and store windows would still be intact.
For me personally, it’s much, much more comforting to hear my white friends say something like “Wow, I might be helping contribute to this problem in ways I don’t yet understand”, perhaps followed by something like “Let me see what steps I can take to try and correct that, whether or not I believe I’m complicit.” Don’t tell us where you stood or even where you stand — SHOW us what you are DOING.
You don’t need to be an expert or know everything, or even a little on these topics. Just start. Try. And if you do you may see that you’ll falter at times, but that’s ok. Because now you are seeing it. And no one will fault you for making an honest effort. And if they do, make it anyway.
That’s what we want to see and hear you doing right now. It’s that simple. We want to know we are being heard by you.
And ultimately that’s what this is all about. Being seen. Being heard. Being believed. By the people who currently hold power and privilege, and having those people take action.
Because the truth is, when enough white folks want racism to be over in this country hard enough, it will be. Believe that.
Start by actively opting out.