If I’ve discovered anything on this journey – my self-discovery and the subsequent waking of my abolitionist bent – it’s that liberals are often the worst about denying their own bias. Well-meaning, outwardly-decent people who are appalled at institutionalized racism. People who try hard to battle for human rights – advocates for Black Lives Matter, people who march in Pride parades, people who would seriously and without hesitation call down a peer for a racist joke, and have unfriended people on social media for overt racism. They’re trying, and they mean the best. They really do.
But they don’t understand their own bias. And confronting your own attitudes is part of being an ally.
Sometimes I feel as if people honestly believe that wanting to eliminate bigotry in the world automatically means that you’ve dealt with your own white supremacist conditioning and eliminated it entirely. This could not be further from the truth.
Look, everybody in America is conditioned into a white supremacist society. Is it as overt or punitive as places like Russia or the old South Africa or the Confederacy? No, not anymore. But we still have it inside us. You didn’t ask for it. You probably don’t want it. But it’s there. Please be honest with yourself. Just for a moment.
Every time you look one extra time because a black man is behind you at the ATM, or you’re concerned about what your grandparents might think if you bring your black girlfriend home for Thanksgiving dinner. Every time you get a lump in your throat at the thought of your daughter introducing you to Jamal, her honor-roll boyfriend with the attorney father. The fact that you think of a black man when I say Jamal, but a white man when I say Jason.
I know you do it, because I do it. I reproach myself silently for racist thoughts every – single – day. And I admit it here because I hate it. I hate it dearly that even being raised in a house that tolerated no bigotry was not a shield to my own social conditioning.
It burns to my soul because I know that if I was raised in a house with no hate and my conditioning still sometimes overcomes my desire to be fair-minded, how hard will it be to overcome what’s in the deepest heart-of-hearts of men and women who were raised with even casual racism, let alone overt hate?
It’s okay. It’s a big step to eliminate the bigotry you choose. You should be proud of that. But the next step is eliminating the bigotry you were born to – things you don’t even realize you do, every single day.
Every time you say things like “What do black people think…” you’re assuming that black people all think the same thing. That’s not okay. Black people are just as individual and capable of independent thought as anyone else. They don’t have a communal brain or one common opinion. We all know you mean well by asking, but your question is already making the wrong assumption.
Every time you respond to a black man’s summary execution in the streets with “Police kill too many white people too,” you are getting it backwards. Yes, police are killing too many people in the streets of all races. The militarization of police in America is a huge problem. But you’re missing the point, and you already know why. Police who unjustly kill white people get trials and jail sentences. Police who unjustly kill black people have prosecutors and grand juries who decline to prosecute. White families who lose their fathers get huge settlements and GoFundMe donations. Black families get the bill for the ambulance ride, and the cop gets a paid vacation – and maybe some GoFundMe as well. Not everything is about everybody – I’d bet that if you let this fight be about racism, black folks would love to help you fight police militarization when a white guy gets killed unfairly.
Every time you say “My best friend is black” you’re using your black friend as a human shield without their permission. Same with “I dated a black man/woman” or “I’m married to a black man/woman.” Bias is individual. Racism is systemic. Your ability to make an exception is not indicative of your conditioning toward stereotypes. And being friends with a black person does not make you an expert on race.
Every time you’re extra-deferential to a person of color because you’re afraid of being called racist – YES, being extra-nice to people of color is bigoted. Treating a person different because of his skin color is always wrong, even if you’re trying to be nice. Being fair is being nice.
Every time you say “Not all white people…” you’re absolving yourself of the responsibility to be an ally amongst white people. It’s not enough – in fact, it’s two-faced as hell – to only be an ally around black people.
Every time you start to say “I’m not racist, but…” Just stop.
Every time a white person claims to be a victim of racism they show that they don’t know what racism really is. White people cannot be victims of racism. They can be victims of individual bias or bigotry, but racism is systemic. Just stop.
Until schools in your neighborhood get less money than the schools in the black neighborhoods, just stop.
Until police are assigned to patrol your neighborhoods at double and triple the tempo, and lock up everybody for every little violation because broken windows lead to broken laws, just stop.
Until Congress passes mandatory minimum sentences for crimes that occur in your neighborhoods, and pretend they’re doing you a favor by cracking down on you, just stop.
Until police can kill your husband, father, brother or uncle in the streets without worrying about even being tried, let alone convicted, just stop.
Until you’re confronting that little voice in your head – the one that makes you unconsciously clutch your purse on the sidewalk, or rub that can of Mace in the elevator, or avoid that group of black kids in the park at night – you’re not ready to speak out loud about race.
Just stop. Just stop and think. Listen to the voice in your head and confront it. And understand why. Step away from your conditioning and the point of view it creates. Stop with the excuses and see who you really are. It’s okay – it’s not your fault that you’ve been taught ways you don’t understand. But you have a choice – to ignore it, or to confront it – and that choice is where your responsibility begins. If you’ve read this far, you no longer have an excuse. Wake up, or shut up.