For better or worse, I am usually more vocal about sociopolitical events than I should be. In the face of the recent atrocity (i.e. the outrageous murder of George Floyd by white police officers), I have been less vocal simply because I am overwhelmed with pandemic life and I’ve been focused on my own problems. But, after seeing so many disturbing things on Facebook, I cannot refrain from saying something any longer.
I am utterly disgusted on so many fronts. Racism is embedded in our culture and it absolutely sickens me. Admittedly, I have not always understood this plague within our culture. As a white person in a society dominated by white people, I grew up just like other whites: unaware of the injustices toward black people and dismissive of the need to acknowledge it. I was a poor white person who had a shitty life; so, as a young adult I could not see how the lives of poor, oppressed minorities were any worse than mine. But, as I aged and (more importantly) became educated, the blinders my white privilege caused me to be raised with faded away and allowed me to see the shameful state of racism and classism within our culture. In my opinion, the classism initially generated by slavery is largely what keeps racism alive today. I do not claim to know the plight of African Americans because I cannot fully comprehend an oppression I have not lived. However, I see and acknowledge the injustice they suffer; the consequences of classism they suffer; the racism embedded in our culture; the despicable acts of the handful of truly racists people in this country; and most importantly, the need for it to change. The truth is, racism is not a simple problem and there is no simple “cure.” Ignorance and hatred are also not limited to one skin tone. Similarly, a person can be outraged by the murder of a black man and agree with anti-racism protests but also be upset about the violent riots that stem from the murder. Forgive the phrase, but, it is not all black and white. As I see it, the way we change society is by changing the beliefs, views, and habits of cultural racism in future generations. This can only be accomplished with the acknowledgement that American culture is set-up to create cultural racism and change those defining parts of “the system” (a.k.a. government and social norms). For instance, most English classes teach books with white, suburban characters, offering little to no opportunity for non-white youth to relate to what they are reading. Inherently, this causes America’s white youth (even if unconsciously) to develop superiority complexes. The world consists of nothing but stories of them and they (white people) are prevalent in every aspect of their world, so, why wouldn’t they develop a complex? Non-white students also develop this complex, sadly identifying white as good and anything else as less-than. Because of this, when America’s white youth are made to read a story based in any other culture, they become uncomfortable and ignorantly argue against the embedded lessons through the lens of their white privilege (regardless of whether they realize it). The same can be said for LGBTQ, Native American youth, Latin youth, etc. The lack of anything for them to relate to in school (and society) adds to this cultural separation . . . to cultural racism. I would argue that cultural appropriation also plays a role in America’s cultural racism. Regardless of what is being appropriated, it is one thing to adopt an aspect of someone else’s culture if you understand the importance of what you are taking and you use it respectfully. However, it is another thing to adopt something you do not understand, do not respect, and do not use appropriately. A good example of something that irks me is the use of Whitney Houston’s song “Greatest Love of All” at elementary and middle school promotion ceremonies. White people have adopted this song simply because they believe it is a song about children; however, an understanding of the song’s history should make one cringe at this misappropriated use and understand that it is far more appropriate for the African American community to claim the song as an anthem for racial pride and strength. Let’s be real, most white American youth do not have anything taken from them, especially their dignity. (For those who don’t know, the song was written for a movie about Muhammad Ali. While he was a famous boxer, he also played a hand in the civil rights movement). The same can be said of other music, clothing, hairdo’s, and even decorations for one’s home. Cultural racism is heightened when one culture appropriates aspects of a culture they do not respect. Anyway, I’ve gotten a little off track so, I digress . . .
My point is – racism exists and change is necessary. The question becomes, how do we make this change happen?
First, I believe expeditious punishment for race-based hate crimes is essential. The officer who killed George Floyd needs to be charged with murder, and swiftly. I am not a lawyer, but second degree murder seems appropriate. The other officers who allowed it to happen need to be charged as well, perhaps with manslaughter (or whatever charge is appropriate for their crime). Racial hate crimes cannot be tolerated. Period.
Second, the so-called melting pot that is America needs to embrace its status as a melting pot and teach its youth to honor different cultures equally (all cultures). This means equalizing the exposure of other cultures to American youth, especially in schools. Similarly, we need to find a way to dispel stereotypes based on classism and teach our youth how to correct the classism. We do this by making them delve more into politics and make them consider ways they might affect change rather than simply allowing them to accept existing stereotypes, classes, and segregation. Yes people, segregation still exists! If you don’t believe this, spend some time looking closely at different cities on the racial dot map (http://racialdotmap.demographics.coopercenter.org/). I came across this map during my studies several years ago but it is a wonderful tool for understanding how the United States self-segregates. I believe this is largely due to where different cultures fall in the U.S. class structure. In this country, culture = class and that must change. Everyone needs the opportunity to break through the class they were born into so we can truly become the melting pot we claim to be.
On the flip side of this, I think it’s important to understand that white people have been raised in a society that makes them inherently dismissive to racism. It is not an excuse or a cop-out to say that they can’t help it, they can’t. Most of the time, non-racist whites do not even realize they are being racist because their heart and mind tell them they are not (and they don’t want to be), but the phrases or actions they’ve been brain-washed with are inherently racist. For those who sincerely are not racist – their hearts truly guide them to be all-caring and all-loving – in the event they make a racist comment, they deserve the opportunity to be reminded that it is a racist view. Then, they need to be given the chance to acknowledge and correct that piece racism ingrained in them before they’re written off as a racist. Everyone – regardless of color – has a right to learn, grow, and change their views. We must allow people the right to realize it and change before we condemn them. Similarly, we need to understand that a white person can be empathetic, agree with the fight against racism, be willing to affect change however they can (through their vote or how they raise their kids, etc.) but not actively hold a picket sign and protest if it is not in them to do that (especially during a pandemic where going into large crowds is not feasible for everyone).
Also, protesters need to continue protesting and looters/rioters need to be arrested. These are two different groups of people with two different agendas. Neither protesters or rioters are confined to one skin tone (or one nationality).
As for me, I am one of the people who agrees with change and will support ending racism in any way I can, but, I am not a picketer. Yes, BlackLivesMatter; but no, I cannot demonstrate and picket. I will use my vote; I can write letters to various branches of the government; I can support my friends who do picket; and, if I am ever able to teach, I will teach all races and all perspectives, not just the white perspective for whites. Beyond that, the best way I know to affect change is to teach my children to be kind, loving people who reject racism. I will teach them the history behind racism and make sure they grow up understanding that racism is real, and most importantly, that it needs to be extinguished. To the best of my ability, I will give them the tools to grow up and affect change, not be a part of the problem.