If you don’t think we live in a racist society, or if you’re white and don’t admit to white privilege, don’t read any further.
Most white people don’t think they are racist, because they aren’t consciously racist, and, because they benefit from living in our racist society, they don’t do much to change it.
Have you ever said:
“I was taught to treat everyone the same”; “ Focusing on race is what divides us”; “ I have lots of friends of color”; or … “I don’t see color” ?
The average white person has benefited from our system of racism and these responses exempt us from further engagement and help maintain our comfort zone.
I came across a video post from poet Frank X Walker, “Why I’m not racist” is only half the story, by Robin DiAngelo (https://youtu.be/kzLT54QjclA). It made me reflect on my understanding of racism.
Our definition has three qualifiers that give us an out: An individual (not a system) who consciously does not like people based on race and who intentionally seeks to be mean to them. Individual. Conscious. Intent. So when you call someone out for being racist, since their biases are unconscious, the natural reaction is to resist and defend their character.
This defensiveness makes it difficult to talk to the average white person. We are raised not to step outside our comfort zones. I grew up downtown and was told not to go to Jefferson Street. I was never told why, but it instilled fear and I think I thought it had to do with race, even though I have never considered my family to be racist.
Our white fragility also makes it hard for people of color to talk to us. Most black people work and live in white environments and they can’t talk openly to us because its risky and their daily slights are already more than we can imagine. We need to start from the premise of no more defending, denying, minimizing, and explaining and move on.
I went to a white school, with others who were even more privileged. UK opened my eyes a bit and working at IBM a bit more. Then I got involved in politics and realized I had no clue. It seemed to me that the Democrats were the party of people of color, but over time little progress was made. Neither party has done their part, because America hasn’t done her part, and now the Republican party is blatantly racist and barely tries to disguise it. If you don’t see this, then return to the first sentence.
For years I thought I was doing my part by not being that definition of: individual, conscious intent. Then I made friends with more people of color. I got involved in Black Lives Matter. Then I saw that video and I know I have more work to do.
If we are white, we benefit from racism. We have to have relationships with people of color who have not had this white privilege their whole lives, to try to figure it out with them.
I have black friends, but not who confide in me like other women friends confide in me about #MeToo, so clearly I still have a long way to go. I’d like to have relationships with my friends of color, so that when I say, “What was your day like?” they will feel safe enough to tell me.
Sarah Moore Katzenmaier, Lexington native, works as a consultant for IBM, and is a photographer in her spare time. Email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org