On MLK day (and every day), we white people can get all sentimental about what a wonderful man Dr. King was, weep heartfelt tears about his assassination, and then go back to being oblivious to our own racism.
Can we try something different? If we live in a Western country, especially in the USA under the “leadership” of President Shithole, there is plenty of work we can and should do.
In his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice.”
That’s as true today as it was then. The silence of white moderates who won’t speak up when faced with extreme racism exacerbates the problems we have today. White moderates have become comfortable with their lives and don’t want to “rock the boat” or make too much noise. To white moderates, I say that your silence is aiding and abetting their agenda and your moral leadership is needed now more than ever.
Racism has been so meticulously sculpted and embedded into every aspect of American life that we refer to it as systemic. In other words, we have a historically-based system already well-established, in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity. We see systemic racism through discrimination in education, banking & finance, mortgages & home lending, employment and unemployment, and so much more. Look no further than our prisons to see the racialized power imbalance in our justice system; there’s a reason why mass incarceration is called “the new Jim Crow.”
Systemic racism also confers that in America, white is not only the dominant race, but also the default race. This is why when you turn on your TV, look at billboards along the highway, pick a magazine off the rack, or watch the news, you see people of your own race widely represented, and usually, speaking as authority figures. Systemic racism is the reason why when you go almost anywhere, whether it’s to see a new film, or to the store to purchase books, cards, shoes, dolls, bras, or panty hose, for example, you can be guaranteed that they will match (or come close enough to) your own skin color if you want them to.
I get it; I have been working hard to understand and unpack my racism for years. It is discouraging and exhausting to think I will never reach the finish line, that this must be my lifelong practice. And most of the hurt, marginalized people I am trying to help aren’t going to pat me on the head and give me a cookie for my work.
I hear some white people bitching on the regular about the lack of appreciation they feel. Because they did, like, this one decent, non-racist thing (usually, years ago), and therefore that should earn them eternal gratitude by POC who are still oppressed. “How dare POC and other white people say, “You need to be doing more!”
We white people need to stop demanding eternal gratitude and cookies for occasionally doing the right thing. Why should the oppressed and marginalized have to go out of their way to be supernice to people with more power, more freedom, when they are STILL oppressed?
And yet, some of them do anyway. Which is fucking superhuman of them, honestly.
So, on to doing better. With or without cookies.
We can follow and appreciate POC. And not just Oprah, you know?
Politically: Follow and support THEIR organizations.
Read their stuff: Awesomely Luvvie, Ijeoma Oluo. Really listen to what they have to say. Buy their art: TotsyMae.
Support their work in sex ed and other areas.
Just do better, white people (and I include myself in that call).
Because it’s the right thing to do.
[Note: this post was published on a previous blog in 2018.]
Got a link for someone we should be following or supporting?