Recently saw a Twitter post from a writer that went something like: race is an imagined point of reference, however, racism is not.
One definition of racism that I keep close is: The deliberate structuring of privilege by means of an objective, differential and unequal treatment of people, for the purpose of social advantage over scarce resources, resulting in an ideology of supremacy which justifies power of position by placing a negative meaning on perceived or actual biological/cultural differences.
As I read that tweet, I wondered what the response would be if I shared that on other social platforms. I assumed much of it would be passive “likes” (you’ll have to imagine my eye roll) and “shares” (my more dramatic eye roll), including from some who seem to have not begun to examine how this society is designed so only whiteness – either meant literally or operating in the white world as currently allowed – is “winning.” How it offers privilege and access that subjugates people of color even when the white person is not acting in any personally racist manner. I say that because some of those I would expect to share it have actually been heard by me to say the infamous “I don’t even see race” or “I don’t think race is the real issue, class is ” or “I’m tired of this being the only discussion that is happening” (?!) and other cringeworthy statements.
On another level of this, this morning I had a convo with a neighbor who works with tourists which started out relatively calmly but soon included the removed Confederate statues, and led to her shouting about how she had never owned slaved and “they” had received all of the reparations “before” now. How the black people she “knows didn’t want” the statues taken down. (Really, it was a set of statements I have heard in exactly the same order and level of vehemence dozens of times, which in itself, I find very puzzling. Still, the outcome of our talk was that she thinks I am out of touch, and I think she is dangerous and easily led by those who need to use her for their agenda.) All I can hope is that I made at least one point that may require her to look it up later and ponder it. It is why I have tried to become calmer when I find these folks in my path, and try to stick to one or two points that may connect.
So between the outwardly liberal but casually racist, and the working poor who vilify both those who fight the institutions of racism and those who must live within them, it is hard to see how to help.
Then I read this passage in Toni Morrison’s “The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations” a book that is becoming as important to my core reference library as Jane Jacobs, Solnit, and Thoreau.
One likely reason for the paucity of critical materials on this large and compelling subject is that in matters of race, silence and evasion have historically ruled literary discourse….
…It is further complicated by the fact that ignoring race is understood to be a graceful, liberal, even generous habit. To notice is to recognize an already discredited difference; to maintain its invisibility through silence is to allow the black body a shadowless participation in the dominant cultural body. (emphasis added)
That passage was very helpful in ways to better understand the weakness of the white response to institutional racism and how even those with a strong liberal political platform subvert the discussion.
In this majority African-American city that I reside, evasion of the facts and the support of invisibility for people of color is the inertia we fight. What that means to me is a path forward for white allies is through statement of facts again and again. And not to pervert it with a false equivalency like class divides or to reduce the severity of the issue to the level of one’s own personal method of operating in the world.
These are the words that I now stick to when making the ask among white people to consider the warped reality that we benefit from: Deliberate. Privilege. Unequal. Negative meaning. Power of position.
And to lift the hope for and any story of inclusion and diversity as often as we can, in every sector we can work and live. In my own work of food and farming, white-led organizations have long been those recognized and funded, with people of color only a tiny smattering of the staff and partners. Doesn’t mean that those good folks were personally racist but it does mean that in the desire to move the dial on other issues, deep systemic issues of race were ignored. (Deliberate privilege to gain power of position.)
Now, the in the 5th decade of this work in the US, many of those organizations and others led by people of color are finally starting the big conversation of how racism is at the heart of production and at the heart of our political, legal, social, and economic systems. And its scary and humbling but it also feels exciting and powerful. To listen more deeply and to participate in more approaches, and to accept that the privilege I have is not even fully understood in this half century of living and so cannot be said to be erased yet. I’m willing to do more and to do it as an ally still learning what I do not know. And to live in and celebrate Bulbancha.