You Say You Don’t Understand Racism?

I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media over the last two weeks or so regarding the murder of Richard Collins III. I was particularly moved by the news and reports of his killing because he was a young man with ties to the community where I grew up. If you don’t know the background on this story (it got local media attention here in Maryland, but not much mention beyond that), here’s a very short recap: while Collins waited with friends on a curb for an uber to pick him up after a party on the University of Maryland campus, he was approached, threatened, and then stabbed to death by a white supremacist. He was a week away from graduating from college. He was going into the military. He did not deserve to die.

His murder is sadly just another example of many lives being snuffed out by hate-filled individuals who seem to be finding traction and are emboldened to spew their warped beliefs and ideologies.

Beyond feeling saddened and angered by these evils, I am just as troubled when white people act incredulous, and say things like, “I just don’t understand racism. How can someone be so hateful?”

REALLY?!?  Have you not seen enough examples of racism in your lifetime to have warmed to the idea that it exists and persists? I get it though. Saying you don’t understand racism is kind of a blanket statement way of saying it’s not something you support.

But here’s the thing…to say something like that, pretty much amounts to crap! Because by saying you don’t understand it, you essentially are shrugging your shoulders and excusing yourself from any meaningful education or action.

When I was a kid and barely passed math class, I would shrug my shoulders and say, I just don’t understand math. And back then, I could pretty much work around it, avoid it, focus on something else. But as I matured, I realized, I had to understand math because it impacted my world– I needed to create budgets, balance my checkbook, manage my finances, do statistical analyses for my work, etc.

Ok, that was a pretty generic example, but do you see what I’m getting at?  As white people we have the luxury of not understanding racism, because to many of us, it doesn’t truly impact our day-to-day lives.

This is just so awful. I just don’t understand how this could happen. People are so cruel. What is wrong with people?

And then you feel sad about it for a while, maybe post a thing or two about it on social media, and then go along with your day, your week, your month, your life.  And the more these incidents happen, it seems the less horrified we become, when, in fact, the opposite should be happening. We walk along anesthetized to a horror and fear that good people confront everyday of their lives–from the moment they wake up, to the minute they go to bed at night.  And you can rest assured that those people– oh yeah, they UNDERSTAND RACISM!

So, here’s my down and dirty point.  When something tragic and racially motivated like Collins’s murder happens (because as callous as it seems to admit, there will be other cases… Charleston, South Carolina; Portland, Oregon; Tacoma, Washington; New York, New York), don’t just sit there and say that you don’t understand racism.  Instead, if you REALLY don’t understand racism, then learn about it!!

Read a history book!

Learn more about the foundations of racism so that you can follow its historical path to see how it has evolved in today’s world!

Acknowledge your own racism and biases!

Own your privilege!

Become more comfortable delving into issues and conversations that are inherently uncomfortable!

Recognize what a microaggression is!

Confront microaggressions and more insidious acts of racism when you see them!

Learn what cultural appropriation is, and develop an appreciation for why it is offensive to the cultures that are being appropriated!

STOP doing those things that are considered microaggressions and cultural appropriation!

Don’t just look at violent, overt acts of racism and react to those–look at the subtle examples that happen all day long and do what you can to avoid perpetuating those behaviors!

Don’t try to whitesplain racism!

Don’t argue against something a person of color says is racist–that’s not for you to decide!

Don’t even try to be colorblind–it’s stupid!

Don’t ignore racism and think that by ignoring it it will go away! Silence = Consent.

And please don’t get me wrong… Yes, I am typing this, but I too have a long way to go.  I want to have the conversations. I want to do better. I’m ready to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I do it for friends. I do it for my son. I do it because it’s 2017 and it is well past the time for “enough is enough.” I do it because if we don’t do these things to UNDERSTAND RACISM…then we’re not going to be able to have real conversations about how to confront racism.  And…Well, you can’t fight back against something you fail to understand, or even worse, something you fail to acknowledge exists at all.

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One thought on “You Say You Don’t Understand Racism?

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with you. The challenge though is to get to motivate people to do the work to understand racism (a challenge I hope to succeed in). It is a challenge to get to motivate people to understand things we don’t understand (which you can attest to with the math when you were younger). The especially big challenge with racism, as opposed to something like your struggles with math (or my struggles with Biology), is that the consequences of not understanding the subject matter are truly tragic.

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