This essay is a response to reading an online conversation between my friends, where a person (Tammy) made a racist comment about Obama being greeted in Charleston by White Supremacists waving the Confederate Flag.
We human beings are very bristly when we’re accused of being any form of bad. Racism is bad in today’s world–thank goodness–and it must feel like an attack on one’s character to be called “racist.” It becomes a major point of ego for people to think that, because they do not actively hate black people, because they do not actively think that black people are inferior, they must be not-racist.
ANY white person raised in America who cannot admit that they have been RAISED racist may simply be in need of consciousness raising. Some people will be educated, and some will refuse. But the approach we take with them can make the difference. It’s hard to reign in my anger with people who display racism; harder still because I watch the black people who live in my neighborhood fighting the consequences of that racism, in the MOST SEGREGATED State in the nation. (Wisconsin? YES. Wisconsin.) People tell them to “get a job” when they protest with Black Lives Matter–but of those who do not hold minimum-wage jobs, it’s not easy to get and keep a job in this town. Those who yell, “Get a job!” at the protesters are the very people who will unconsciously choose the white job-applicant over the black applicant.
Yet, I have learned to bite my tongue and redirect my anger, because of the many times I have countered someone’s assumptions with a gentle word of explanation, and seen ignorance replaced by a gleam of shock–the shock of realizing that they’ve been missing a big piece of the picture.
As a white person, I am the Termite: chewing slowly and steadily at the beams that hold up the edifice of racism. Small bites in places no one ever sees. I can’t make much dent by myself, and the homeowner often tries to fight me with fumigations of hatred. But someday, I must believe, the house will fall.
Not to reprimand anyone’s responses to racism–I’ve DEFINITELY responded with just as much shock, anger, and personal attack on those who don’t grasp the nature of institutional racism–but Tammy might have been better educated by questioning to finding out why she said that Obama was “the real racist,” and then having the holes in her logic exposed, disentangling her assumptions about Obama (possibly largely political?) from the racism of the situation. And we white people fighting against racism learn something too–how to listen to those who have a different perspective, so as to understand how they’ve come to the conclusions they have. That’s how you chew down the house–by knowing the structure of the wood that holds it up, and cultivating the proper tools to chew it down, one blind, ignorant thought at a time.