I just read an article on The Huffington Post that discusses what white people can do in response to Ferguson. I’ve read many similar articles over the past week or so that have all made sense, but this one really struck a chord with me. In effect, the author suggests that even though I’m progressive, I’m probably part of the problem. And that got me thinking. How can I, someone whose always been vocal about injustice (I like to think in word and in deed), possibly be part of the problem? The fact that was even a question in my mind is telling.
“But if you haven’t clued in before now, I hope the situation in Ferguson is helping you understand that racism in America isn’t primarily a problem of nasty, backwards-thinking individuals, but is rather a system of institutionalized inequality, oppression and brutality. Black people individually and collectively feel the effects of that system acutely, even as white people are largely unaware of it. It is unfairness to the core, and our inability to talk about it with other white folks makes us the people perpetuating the problem.”
I discuss race not infrequently, but have only just recently come to the realization that it’s not typically with other white people (unless it’s part of work). It’s as if race and racism are only relevant topics when in diverse circles – or when something is in the news (and even that is rare). People of color talk about it with each other, but why don’t we?
Seriously – why don’t we? We should.
It really is so easy to point fingers at the dumbasses perpetuating gross, blatant, unabashedly heinous, in-your-face acts, but that’s not enough. While it heightens awareness (maybe), what does it really change? And, when I am sharing info and shouting at the rooftops, am I simply shouting or helping guide progress?
As white people – and especially white progressives – the real challenge is looking hard at ourselves. We truly believe in equality and in squashing the injustices out there, to be sure – and many of us have been actively working against injustice for most of our lives in one way or the other. So, even entertaining the idea that things we’re doing (or not doing) might actually be contributing to the problem (or at the very least keeping it stagnant), despite our intentions and general value systems, is a tough pill to swallow. But swallow it we must if true progress is to be made. We must look at everything we do and say and make changes where necessary. And we must talk about it. Dialogue is key. That’s where true change is made.
If we want a future that does not repeat history — the central tenet of progressive politics — we each have to act differently than we have so far. For a lot of us, that means not only voting, donating, reading, tweeting and doing the things this good article and this good article suggest, but also finding ways to talk about race regularly with other white people. Until it’s a topic we know how to discuss, we cannot help reroute the country’s dehumanizing course of history toward a more just future.
Our ancestors helped create today and we have to own those actions because what we do now will affect the next generation’s today. And, unchecked, crises like Ferguson (and all the other injustices that haven’t gotten nearly as much attention, but are equally has heinous) will be even more commonplace than it is. That’s not the kind of world I want to live in – or want those I love to live in.
It’s up to all of us. Collectively. It may be a cliche, but It truly takes a village.