As a white person I’ve always felt that there is a presumed and unspoken contract between white people that requires that we support each other in times of racial tension. I feel like when people of color are wrongly incarcerated or brutalized that I am expected to vehemently deny the reality of these events and do all I can to discredit conversations about racism or privilege in order to protect the status quo. It’s almost as if the white community, as a whole, is victim to the self-attribution bias that makes creating justifications for racial violence so easy. When a white person commits a crime it’s never because of race it’s always because he or she is “crazy,” the crime is not reflective of any deep rooted issues within our community. But when a person of color commits a crime it’s because he or she is innately violent or uncooperative. Similar to rape cases, the blame is immediately placed on the victim. When a news outlet or media site uses the words “racist” and “white” in the same sentence it creates an uproar; white people scream “reverse racism” until any conversation surrounding the subject is dropped. To use an analogy, it’s similar to that whole “you can make fun of your sister but no one else can” mentality. In this case, white people are allowed to fight among themselves, but the moment they are confronted by the notion of racism they are expected to band together and fight off the accusation, and if a white person stands in solidarity with the “other” group they are seen as committing the ultimate act of betrayal.
People like to think that we are less racist today because we don’t have segregated water fountains and white people aren’t screaming the “n word” willy nilly on the street; the truth, however, is that we may be even more racist than we were before. In the past, white people honestly believed they were superior to black people in a genetic sense, which is something I hope most people no longer believe in.The reason why racism still exists, in my opinion, is because white people have grown comfortable with the system that leaves people of color at a disadvantage. We don’t think we’re better than them, we simply believe that we shouldn’t have to give up any of our institutional privileges for them.
The issue is that we’re comfortable with what we have and how we live and we don’t want to do anything that may jeopardize that. We’re so comfortable that we are willing to systematically oppress another group of people, who we know should have access to these things because it makes things easier for us. But because “racism” is an ugly term and we like to convince ourselves that we’re moral, we desperately try to pretend as if we’re willing to take the necessary steps to achieve equality, and when a white person tries to acknowledge the truth of the situation we lash out and call him or her a traitor. We hate the idea of a self-loathing privileged person ruining things for everyone else; we think “if he doesn’t want privilege then that’s his deal, but why does he have to ruin it for the rest of us?”
The only way we can make things is better is if we consciously reject this unspoken contract and brotherhood. We have to look into our hearts and ask ourselves if we are doing what is right or if we are simply doing what is easy. We have to acknowledge our privileges and the reality of our own institutions and then reject the notion that privilege is a zero sum game. If we’re truly afraid that there aren’t enough resources available we have to remind ourselves that the issue at hand really isn’t race but rather our own institutions. If a country can’t provide for all of its people that is not the fault of its citizens, but of the institutions in place.
As a white person, we should try to combat racism from within our own community by calling it out when we see it. And I’ll be honest-calling out another white person is SUPER uncomfortable. You will feel like a hypocrite, you will feel like an asshole, and you will probably wonder if confronting him or her was even worth it, just know that it is worth it. Silence is complacency and complacency is agreement with and acceptance of the things going on around you.
There will also be times when you will see a person of color attack your misguided friend or family member on Facebook and you will most likely feel the need to defend your friend against this person. Instead of doing that, try to add a comment that bridges the two sides to promote dialogue and understanding. No one is expecting you to become a self-loathing white person who spends his or her days attacking other white people, but if you sit silently and watch people spout ignorant bullshit without doing anything, you are being complacent. There are ways to get people to think differently that don’t involve embarrassing or insulting them; you can affect change without being an asshole, but only if you realize that there are no strings that come with being born into a certain racial group. There is no secret brotherhood of white people; you won’t get a free t-shirt if you defend Barry’s whole “calling all white people racist is racist” Facebook post. You may get a comment deleted, you may even get defriended, but that’s really the worst of it, and being able to go to bed knowing you may have been a little less actively racist today than you were yesterday is worth way more than feeling guilty over bruising another white person’s ego.