By Katelyn Skye Bennett | Editor-in-chief
This one’s for the white Americans who wish we could just stop talking about race already. Intersected’s leadership team collected popular refrains we hear and gathered our resources to address some of these questions and comments!
We hope it will be helpful in clarifying where certain “social justice warriors” are coming from and why it’s important to engage in continued dialogue and education regarding race relations.
Five Common Comments
“I don’t see color. I try not to look at people in a racial way.”
The root of this comment is good. We all have a shared humanity. In many Abrahamic faiths, this grows out of the belief in the Imago Dei, the idea that every person is made in God’s image. Human dignity is another common term for this concept.
However, the colorblind approach ignores differences that have real life impact and is a form of racism itself. In fact, studies show that being colorblind actually perpetuates racial inequality, and the approach has been discouraged for decades.
Race, like gender, is a social construct. That being said, race has been reified ― made into lived reality ― over centuries in this nation and around the world. Trying to ignore racial differences both ignores the cultural beauty that often overlaps with race and rejects the real experiences of people of color, which are daily impacted by race. It also allows implicit biases to grow unchecked.
“You’re being divisive.”
Firstly, why is discussion on racial differences, personal experiences, or actual news necessarily divisive instead of conversational?
Secondly, we wouldn’t still be talking about race if we didn’t still have inequities. Those inequities are where we see the societal divides. If division upsets you, you can read some of our other articles to see how you can help address those particular disparities!
“Why are we still talking about race? Slavery was 300 years ago. I didn’t _____. I’m not racist.”
This reads as, “I’m not responsible for what my ancestors did.” Fair enough, you’re not held personally accountable for what your ancestors may or may not have done or allowed to happen. But this comment also reads as “I don’t care about the flourishing of POC around me today.”
If you’re a white American, you still benefit from the structures set up hundreds of years ago. Nobody is accusing you of being racist directly, so swallow that wave of defensiveness rising in your throat. It will be okay. But as a member of society, and as one who benefits daily from white privilege both in personal and systemic ways, you are responsible for what you do or are complicit in now.
As a heads up, the majority of Americans are guilty of furthering the oppression and suppression of Indigenous people to this day.
“It’s just one bad apple.”
This opens a whole can of worms! The phrase is received as being highly dismissive of ongoing tragedies and lacks a sociological imagination. To learn more about structural racism, explore the following links, starting off with this three minute video:
- One government page explains, “Structural racism and discrimination (SRD) refers to macro-level conditions (e.g. residential segregation and institutional policies) that limit opportunities, resources, power, and well-being of individuals and populations based on race/ethnicity and other statuses.” This page also shares datas on the way this impacts health outcomes.
- Racial Equity Tools offers exactly what its name indicates, including a plethora of resources expounding on the basics of racial equity like understanding how racism is not purely individualized.
- Kimani Francois’ article on state-sanctioned violence might also be of interest as an example of one way racism is embedded in American structures.
“I have a Black friend/ My cousin’s husband is Black, so I’m not racist.”
Does having a high school friend who now pilots mean you know how to fly a plane too? Does having a colleague who is blind prove you as a seeing person are free of ableism? Does having a female relative as a cis male ensure you’re free from all implicit sexist biases and unaddressed prejudices?
No, whether they’re your distant friend or your romantic partner, they are not a proxy for you. You still have to humble yourself and do the inner work of deconstruction.
Additionally, this line of thought exudes tokenism, which dehumanizes both the person you’re referencing and the larger groups you’re using them to represent.
Getting to the Roots
Most of these five phrases come from a place of fear and pride, which presents as being defensive. It takes humility, time, and effort, but doing consistent work to dig deep into the roots of your behaviors and assumptions can result in immense personal growth and improve the lives of those around you as well.
Four Helpful Responses
Having understood why the five comments up top misunderstand the heart of racial justice and can perpetuate harm regardless of intent, it’s time to learn how to love your community members better, whether virtually or in person.
- Treat people with kindness, even if you don’t understand why they’re hurt by something. This is similar to the Golden Rule but acknowledges that how you might want to be treated might not transfer exactly to others.
- Actively grow your empathy. There are many ways to do this, including using responsive listening skills. For example, when participating in any given conversation, you can respond, “I hear you saying _______. Am I hearing you correctly?” You can also practice putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to get a small glimpse of what they might experience.
- Educate yourself! Don’t put the full burden on your colleagues, neighbors, or classmates. Whether it’s picking up a book from this list, listening to the Codeswitch podcast, signing up for a cultural competency training, or putting yourself under the leadership of someone from a different ethnic or racial background than you, you can take that first step this week.
- Find an accountability partner. If this list seems overwhelming, take that first step with a buddy ― perhaps a partner, family member, or close friend! Many cities or colleges also host white ally groups where white residents can educate themselves on racial justice within a growth-oriented community.
Entering Race Level 102
We’ll follow up with another 101 post in the future, but for those ready to engage further now, would you like to know how to become an ally?
You can find additional educational resources organized by people of color for white allies at Dismantle Collective. The White Ally Toolkit serves as another helpful resource once you’ve taken the step to say you want to do something about structural racism.
SURJ is a national organization for white folks dedicated to pursuing racial justice, for those compelled to act as they learn.
One caution as you move forward: be careful not to “whitesplain” as you gain a racial consciousness and increase cultural competency.
But don’t worry, there’s grace for the journey. It comes with space to breathe, space to sit back and listen while others take the lead. Allow yourself to lament, and enjoy the beauty that comes with growth and change!