Talking About Racism (With an Insulted White Person)

“Considering the fact that I’m old enough to know what “state sanctioned racism” is in fact, I find it highly insulting that the people who wrote the missive are claiming there is systemic racism in these United States today!”

The start of an instagram-acquaintance’s (long) reply to a “story” I had shared after the murder of Ahmaud Arbery rose to the surface last week (more than two months after it actually happened, just think about that).

I have only been in the US for 2.5 years. There is so much that I don’t know, so much that I don’t understand, yet. And at first it just baffled me to actually hear these words, like this, from a grown up person who seems to be a thinking individual from what I have seen in our interactions over the ‘gram so far. And after first feeling that maybe it isn’t even worth entering into a discussion with someone who seamingly has such a profoundly different outlook on the world than I do, I then sat down and wrote a lengthy reply back. Not because I’m an expert, or because I know nearly enough to lecture people on racism in the US. As a white relatively newly arrived immigrant I really really don’t – and passing the mic to the ones who know more is most often the right thing to do.

But this is an example of the responsibility I believe we – any white (or white-passing) person like myself – should take, if we want to be anything near an ally in this; talking to fellow white people about race, and racism. Maybe sometimes it will be “wasted” work (in that the person we are talking to will not want to hear what we say) – but we will still have learned something along the way ourselves. And maybe sometimes, maybe maybe we manage to open a door and initiate further reading and listening for the other party. And that would be a small tiny step, a drip in the ocean…but still something. Right?

I don’t know. Since the interaction above we have now also learned about Breonna Taylor and I don’t know that I would have been able to keep the tone as patient as I think I did in that reply. Maybe, if it was today, I would just scream back – “Are you nuts??? HOW do you mean systemic racism does not exist in the US today? HOW????”. Maybe that would have been enough, even. Who knows.

Anyway, this is part of the answer (slightly edited for spelling and added links) I sent to the highly insulted person above, in case anyone needs an example of an imperfect effort to talk about race and racism (hopefully the context gets through even without the original messages added):

Many thoughts arise when reading your words, and although I understand that we will not enter into a long discussion here, below are a few of them:

Comparison to old times

“The two murderers would not be in prison if systemic racism (still) existed in the US today” you say. Do you think that two black men, taking to arms and – unprovoked – starting to car-chase a white man out jogging, ending up killing him while he tried to defend himself – do you think that it would take two months to see those two black men being arrested (or, do you think that they would still be alive, even)?

Just because things are better than they were, doesn’t mean that further work isn’t still required. Common views and biases didn’t just evaporate the moment the Jim Crow laws were abandoned 55 years ago, and systemic, institutional or structural racism are still prevalent in society today – even if not imprinted in the law. I have a hard time understanding where the “insult” lies in seeing and pointing that out?

www.theconversation.com/explainer-what-is-systemic-racism-and-institutional-racism

@nowhitesaviors

To dismiss what they write due to them, a Ugandan organization, scrutinizing missionaries’ actions and deeds (amongst others), is a curious thing to me (and maybe there is more to it behind your words but that is what I took away from your comment). Volunteers and missionaries can of course travel with good intentions – but the claim that all these missions are indeed a good thing – above scrutiny – while in reality the lack of a discussion and analysis of the underlying issues of the “poverty” they come to “solve”, and when several times the “help” given isn’t even beneficial in the longer run, is a narrative that needs to be reviewed. Which is what this organization do, in a thorough and important way.

To compare this to the people “complaining” about Greta is to me a halting parallel but also a bit off topic here and now so not going further into that!

Environmentalism “vs” anti-racism

For over 20 years I, like you, have had “the environment” as my first (and almost only) focus, thinking that “without a living planet we have nothing”. This is still true to me – and being engaged in equality issues of different kinds does not take away from any climate action, as you suggest. On the contrary, they go hand in hand and if the environmentally aware community is to thrive I do think that the work has to be an intersectional one on all these levels. Fortunately, I see many of the young activists doing exactly this – linking them all together in a way that even my “generation” hasn’t done to the same extent. I hope that more and more of us will catch on, too. The more the better.

“White men…”

That you feel that I (or anyone) “accuse you for being racist” when I agree on that we all need to do more and better anti-racist work, and that you don’t want to join others in their work for a better/safer/more equal world (for us and all) because you feel pointed at as a “white man”, and that that makes you not want to be a part of “their movement”…well I don’t exactly know what to say to that to be honest – and you are right that you and I probably would spend our time more wisely doing other things than meet and try to compare notes on this (even though I also love the idea of sitting down and talking to each other and leaving the table with new insights and energy). If the “feeling accused” ranks higher than being outraged about the real life-horrors met by our fellow humans just because of their gender or the color of their skin, then there isn’t much to add to that. Many many men agree with your stance and feeling around that so you’re not alone on that.

To wrap it all up – I’m still mostly confused over your response to a story that highlighted information that over 60,000 people had joined a group to support the two murderers of Ahmaud Arbery – you claiming that it’s not “black and white” and diplomatically explaining people’s difficulties in understanding each other. But to me, the murdering of people while out jogging, while at home, while sleeping, while taking a walk, while…..just living their lives, minding their own business, is heartbreaking, outraging – and very clearly about race. 

* Extra note: I am all about non-violent communication, giraffe language, love and hope…..AND sometimes reality is so outrageously unfair that anger is the only sane response. That is not dividing. That is necessary. I love hearts and positivity, and I think we need more of that overall, just like you do (I believe, from the few interactions we’ve had so far); more being nice and loving and supporting of one another, I really do. But I will not look the other direction and keep a “nice tone” when people are being murdered and dismissed and treated poorly because of the color of their skin. That would, to me, be an unholy thing to do.

∞∞∞

For anyone reading this and looking for somewhere to turn themselves, a few names to search for can be Layla F. Saad, Rachel E. Cargle, Ibram X. Kendi. Just start somewhere, and continue from there – there are many many people out there to read, listen to and learn from. Just remember to do the work within as you go.

For action to take in these specific cases, Color of Change can be one place to start:

www.act.colorofchange.org/sign/justiceforbre-breonna-taylor

∞∞∞

Also, this was the first answer I got after sending the messages through. Which of course felt hopeful for this particular conversation, this time. Maybe, maybe something landed well.

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