Trying to make sense of all of the voices on the subject of racism competing today can be challenging. Rising in volume, these voices attempt to talk over one another, at the same time social media fills with memes supporting both sides of the debate over police brutality, social justice, and systemic racism. It’s tempting to cover our ears, leave the room and think about other things.
We need to resist that urge. It’s going to take time, especially for white people who are being accused of benefiting from long institutionalized racism, to understand enough to stand back and accept their part in the present upheaval.
“How can this be? Didn’t the Union win the Civil War? Didn’t we fight against fascism in World War II and win? Slavery was abolished and the Civil Rights Act passed. Don’t all lives matter?” These are all questions being asked in response to the anger and demands for change happening throughout the country right now. They are being asked over the dinner table, on porches and in offices in all communities all over Barton County. Yes, even here, despite the physical distance that thankfully insulates us from the violent protests and massive demonstrations seen elsewhere around the country.
And they’re the same questions that have been asked for seven years beginning with the formation of Black Lives Matter, born out of outrage over the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin in 2012.
Words are powerful, and their meanings are important to understanding this argument. “Racism” and “prejudice,” which are closely related but with different meanings come to mind. A recent article by Nicki Lisa Cole, Ph.D. for ThoughtCo.com, “What’s the Difference Between Prejudice and Racism? How Sociology explains the two and their differences,” ( https://www.thoughtco.com/racism-vs-prejudice-3026086 ) is a good place to start.
For a brief overview about what systemic racism is, and how it got a foothold in America, check out the Adam Ruins Everything video, “The Disturbing History of the Suburbs,” ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETR9qrVS17g ) at YouTube. It discusses the now illegal practice of redlining which occurred from 1934 -1968, and how its affects linger today.
Next, take a look at the book by Dr. Robin Di Angelo, “White Fragility,” a good starter for understanding how we got to where we are today and why it’s so hard for us to talk about race. It acknowledges that the term “privilege,” in this instance, doesn’t mean a white person hasn’t had to work really hard and struggle a lot for every gain they’ve made. We’ve simply benefited without even knowing it, and Di Angelo provides examples of how.
Things aren’t going to go back to the way they used to be. Too many people have died senseless deaths, been left out of the American dream, and are suffering to simply allow that. As President George W. Bush said last week, now is a time for listening, not lecturing, and the only way to end systemic racism is “to listen to the voices of so many who are hurting and grieving.”
— Veronica Coons