Racism, White People & Ferguson
White people like to pretend that racism doesn’t exist anymore.
I was taught, as a child, to not see skin color. We are all the same, I was told. We judge based not on the color of one’s skin, but on the content of their character, ad nauseam. So I tried not to see what was apparent. I constructed a dichotomy in my perception of people; what I saw, and what I was supposed to see. This voluntary blindness blinded me to the truth, that people are different, and people with skin colors other than white have very different experiences of America.
It shames me to say that in my youth, I silenced black people when they tried to talk about being black. I was ignorant. I didn’t believe I was racist; I thought we were equal, and I didn’t want to hear otherwise.
I have several unfinished drafts on my thoughts about Ferguson. It has been on my mind nonstop since Michael Brown’s murder, hence my recent radio silence. Each time I sit down to write about it, I am reminded that my voice is not needed. After all, there have been plenty of white people talking about it, and frankly, I don’t think anyone needs to hear another white person’s thoughts on racism in America.
[Something I don’t get is why white people think they understand more about the experience of being black in America than black Americans do? It reminds me of all the times men try to explain to me what it’s really like to be a woman in America.]
White people like to pretend that racism doesn’t exist for many reasons, chief among them that they don’t want to examine their own racism lurking in their hearts, this American legacy we’ve given ourselves and forced on others.
So I’m going to leave those drafts unpublished, because I want to listen. I am heartbroken, and I too desire change, but this is not about me. So I am going to listen, and try to be a good friend and ally even though I’m sure I fuck it up daily in spite of my good intentions.
To my fellow white Americans: stop making this about you. Stop the #notallwhitepeople and “but I have black friends!” and #notallpoliceofficers shit. Stop the victim-blaming and justifications, the distractions and misdirection. Be okay with being uncomfortable–that’s how we learn. There is a problem here, whether you want to see it or not. A boy was murdered by the police, and people are justifiably enraged.
Instead of my thoughts on the subject, read these writings on racism and Ferguson.
“I Don’t Know How to Talk to White People About Ferguson”
“Discussing Race and Racism with Your Black Friends: Dos & Don’ts”
“America is Not for Black People”
“Things to Stop Being Distracted By When a Black Person Gets Murdered By The Police”
“White Fear: The Single Greatest Killer of Black People in the US”
“In Defense of Black Rage: Michael Brown, Police and the American Dream”
“White Anti-Racism: Living the Legacy”
I agree you will do good if you just listen.
Enchanted Seashells, Confessions of a Tugboat Captain's Wife
I admire you for not ignoring what’s going on. It’s a tragedy and we should all be paying attention.
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Yes to paying attention.
I love you and am going to go read some of these now. I really relate to “we are all the same” and not noticing, but we notice, and not everybody’s perspective is the same. I – of course – being a white mama, translate this to my son and knowing that people pretend to not notice that his speech sucks, and well, yeah, that. I’m going to stop now, but thank you. xxoo.
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Glad you related to this. I think it’s our responsibility to pay more attention to others, for sure.
Thank you for these resources. Some of them I had already read, others were new to me, and all of them were very helpful.
I’m glad you found them helpful, and I’m glad you took the time to read them.
Samantha Brinn Merel
Yes to listening. But also yes to speaking, where you have something to say. I can relate to the pretending that something doesn’t exist, when all evidence points to the contrary when I hear people talking about how anti-semitism is a thing of the past while synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses are burning in Europe, and European Jews are fleeting their countries out of fear. It exists, and we have always known it exists, just like black Americans know that racism is alive and well. And it is important to listen and to understand, but it is also important to speak, perhaps now more than ever.
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I do agree to speaking when you have something to say, which is why I mentioned this in the first place. Truly, I just want to point to what others are saying, and promote listening right now. So many people I know aren’t listening.
Thank you for this poignant, helpful, self-reflective piece. I am lucky to know you.
This was perfectly put. I love that mind and heart of yours. This sentence is perfection: Be okay with being uncomfortable–that’s how we learn.
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You’re right. Sometimes it’s better to silence the internal smartass and just hear what others experience. Thanks for appealing to that!
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You raise an interesting point. However true it might be that some voices (especially mine, as a white, outspoken, male teen) aren’t needed in every debate, I still think anyone who can contribute in a constructive way should do so, regardless of age, sex, race etc… If an interaction is constructive, than it has no right to be dismissed. That very principle is what feminists and anti-racists have been fighting to show. If your thoughts on this can bring another insight, another analysis, another proposal, however abstract, to improve the situation, then It’s a waste not to publish it.
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I read this days ago on my iPhone and didn’t comment because that’s terribly annoying and nearly impossible, but I wanted to let you know I’ve been thinking about your post and all the articles you linked to ever since I read it. Thanks for that. xo
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Patricia Rivera (@patrilablogger)
Thank you for writing this. I’ve been purposefully not watching or reading the news anymore because I am so tired and so disillusioned that we are not past this as a society. But I know it’s important and we need to do something, so thank you.
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I have been (relatively) silent as well. I do’t believe that being white means I have nothing to offer, but it doesn’t have to happen *now* or even soon. There are lots of good voices. And truly, I felt utterly despondent and hopeless upon hearing about this incident the evening after it occurred — truly mute. I’m not feeling that way any more, and I want to speak, but I believe that listening and learning and being a sounding board is of more value right now. The irony, of course, is when I’m questioned about my silence even while I’m encouraged to just listen. But there it is. We have to do what we feel good about doing so we can carry the load for the long-term. Because it’s going to be a long, long term.
I appreciated this perspective, of coming to listen rather than to share. I have my opinions on the issue (I also think racism is an issue) but what you said gave me pause. Come to listen rather than to share.