Throughout the event, Kim asked a few times why we white folks are just waking up now? This isn’t new. Where have we been?
For me, I’m not sure why. How could I have not seen what was going on or asked more questions when big pieces of American history was glossed over like a bad day?
By no means is this an excuse but more of a reason for my blindness from the truth. In my family, we were taught racism was overtly prejudicial behavior such as KKK cross burnings or using racial slurs in conversation. But I now understand that racism is not only defined by discriminatory action but also being part of a group with institutional power, a definition recently updated by Merriam-Webster.
This means that because I am white, I am racist. But I can work towards becoming an antiracist by listening, donating to Black Rights Activists groups, and lending my network to Black people to share their voice. But the number one priority is to listen because I know I’ve been causing harm and I need to learn how to help.
This week’s three biggest takeaways for me about racism:
- Equality has not existed in the U.S. and now we need equity to allow for all people to have access to the same opportunities. White privilege is real.
- I acknowledged that I have been racist and am internally retrospecting.
- There’s been a lot of harm caused to Black people and it’s still happening today.
I was always taught that if you worked hard and treated everyone as you expected to be treated, life would be good and we could all lead peaceful lives. What I didn’t understand as a child was that Black people were not given the opportunity to showcase their hard work or receive empathy and compassion like White folks. But had I been given opportunities that Black people hadn’t?
Looking back, I grew up living in predominantly White neighborhoods and continued to through my early adulthood to present day. Even at University of California San Diego (UCSD), a large public State University, I rarely engaged with Black people. My network was White and I didn’t do anything to try to change that. In fact, I had turned a blind eye to it completely.
This is small though, right? I mean, I’m only one person. Wrong. I’m just like many White Americans and if we all continue to keep our networks restricted to other White people, we can’t possibly stay on top of the changes we need to make because we’re not hearing about the problems from the people facing them. I’m not suggesting we actively solicit Black people to be our friends but rather enable our Black colleagues to tap into our White networks and receive the chance to have equitable access to that same opportunities as White folks.
I Am Racist
There have been a lot of things I’ve been doing and ways of thinking or assumptions I’ve made that are racist. I’m going to acknowledge what has recently come to mind in the hopes to build my self-awareness and improve my behavior in the future as well as help others trying to do the same.
- Going back to fourth grade, I loved Colonial Day. I now feel awful for any Black child who had to sit through that (sadly, I did not go to school with a Black person until I was in Middle School at age 11).
- I have had thoughts of fear when a Black man has walked by me.
- I work with people who openly express their opinions that we should ignore education when hiring because University doesn’t say anything. After reflecting, I need to stand up against that mindset because for many Black people, education is their only way to get their foot through the corporate door. Until that bar of education is lifted for Black people too, we cannot create more barriers for Black people.
I’m sure there are many more instances where I’ve caused, been part of, or stood by and watched harm against Black people. Hopefully all White people can learn more about the behavior that causes or influences harm so we can consciously work towards becoming antiracist.
No Harm No Foul. Wrong.
White people have and continue to cause anguish towards Black people. Kim laid it out and it’s best if I simply regurgitate.
- Racism is a philosophical discussion. No! There’s nothing to discuss about basic human rights.
- White people should share their opinions about racism. No! It’s time for us to shut up and listen to people who actually experience racism because we white people are racist.
- Ask Black people to share their stories on facing racism. No! That would cause more undue pain to unpack. Read about all of the documented stories written by Black people who’ve had time to process the racist actions they endured.
- As long as White people do something, it’s better than nothing. No! Now is not the time for the bare minimum.
- White people are allies. No! We can support Black people but understand they do not feel safe around White people.
- Call Black Activists “superheroes”. No! It discounts their feelings and makes Black people feel like White folks are taking yet another thing from them.
- Liberals are progressive and Bernie Sanders will bring a revolution. Not for Black people! Liberals and Progressives are not focusing on dismantling racism.
- Feminism supports Black women. No! It’s a White woman’s movement and began with women’s suffrage, which did not grant Black women access to vote.
- Recommend “White Fragility” as an antiracist resource. No! This is a White study and does not address the issues but rather goes into detail about why White people are not comfortable talking about racism. We need to learn about Black History instead [this was an eye opener to me for I was reading this book per a suggestion].
- Grace Hopper, which is advertised as a women’s leadership conference, and organizations like Women Who Code support Black women. No! Sadly, many Black women have not had positive experiences.
- White people feeling tired from learning about Black History and the challenges they faced is understandable. No! Think about how long Black people have been battling and how exhausted they must be. White people need to use our energy to stop racism.
Like I mentioned, I have a dominantly White network. Until that can change, I want to share all of the things we do that inflict harm on Black people and educate ourselves on ways to stop it. This also includes stopping White people in our own networks from further causing harm or engaging in racist actions, even if unconsciously done. But now that we’re conscious and being “woke up”, it’s our duty to do something to ensure everyone is provided basic human rights.
This week’s lessons impact on me:
Black people cannot be racist given they do not have any institutional power. I had never looked at racism from that perspective and it put my mind through a spin. It’s been over 50 years since the U.S. granted Black Americans the right to vote and to this day, they do not have a significant voice in this country. Yes, we did elect a Black President but why did it take so long? How much longer will it take to further correct the racism that has blocked so many eligible leaders from taking an active role in our government?
When I start to think about everything that has to be corrected, I get overwhelmed but quickly snap out and remind myself this isn’t my time to complain. I need to thin slice this large people challenge and continue to educate myself as well as my network. It’s time for us White folks to wake up to the harm that’s been caused to Black people from racism to understand why we must and how we can take action to become antiracist.