Dear White friends,
I know you want to live in a utopia where race doesn’t matter. Every time the discussion comes up, you say, “Well, I don’t see color.” When there’s a riot or a speech by some activist, you decry them as the racist. “You’re the one bringing it up, making it all about race.” You sincerely believe that if we just stop labeling, accusing, or thinking about the topic, it will go away.
Well, you’re wrong. Race exists, and is important, whether you like it or not.
At the very least, it’s a factor that makes someone different. Maybe it’s physical, like someone who is left-handed, short, or deaf. You don’t ignore these aspects when you know someone, so why would you ignore their race? Maybe it doesn’t come up all the time, or it’s the butt of friendly jokes, or it’s a serious part of their lives. Yet it exists and people have to acknowledge it. You don’t ask your short friend to get something off the shelf or tell someone deaf to go to concerts; why would you tell your Black friend to not worry about situations where skin color matters?
On the other hand, maybe it’s an intricate part of their lives, rooted in culture, history, and development. “Race” is a social construct, as we’re all the same species, consisting of physical features, historical occurrences, cultural ties, and individual experiences. Someone who is Native American is more than their looks; their development may be influenced by the ancient teachings of their nation, historic oppression, modern poverty, and their personal views and relationships. If you ignore “race”, you are denying more than their skin color; you are ignoring history, society, and self-identity.
So, that makes me a “racist” because I refuse to ignore that factor? Well, no.
Racism occurs when you take those differences and aspects, and use them to denigrate another. Racists use “race” to label others inferior while making themselves appear superior. They use labels, traits, and culture ties in a harmful, exclusive manner. (There’s also “positive” stereotypes, which still constitutes a form of racism, but that’s a topic for another time).
You can acknowledge race, and all that comes with it, without being “racist”. All you’re doing is saying, “Oh, you’re different; maybe I should think before I say or do something based on that difference.” You already do this for friends because of their personal experiences or beliefs, so why wouldn’t you do it because of race? Why would you avoid casual use of the word “rape” around a victim, but think it’s acceptable to use the N-word because “Black people do it”? If you can support LGBT-rights, because they’re born that way, why is it so hard to acknowledge higher rates of police brutality against those born with non-Caucasian skin?
Now, of course there are those who try to argue about racism because they feel it’s been flipped back on White people. “If you give special treatment to Blacks or Latinos, then you’re a racist!” These same people often ignore the concept of equity versus equality, a topic I posted about in-depth before. The goal is to provide everyone with an equal opportunity, and that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is treated the same. Someone with a handicap needs accommodations to be able to do the things the abled can already do. The same is true for non-Whites in America, where they require things like race-based organizations, advocacy groups, months focusing on their history, and laws that discourage racist practices… all so they can get the same opportunities that Whites usually have. It’s not racism to require special treatment so non-Whites can have equal chances and to level the playing field; these are done because of racism, even if new problems may arise.
Also, that doesn’t mean that all Whites have opportunity and equity. There are still many other factors besides race that can cause oppression and injustice. Economy, crime, politics, etc. can all cause problems, and even the aforementioned race-based legislation or organizations may contribute (whether accidentally or not). The point of racial acknowledgement is not to deny the issues faced by others because of class, faith, etc… but to focus on the very real issues that exist because of race.
Also important is this: no one is asking you to feel guilt over racial issues because you’re White. Do you feel guilt because you can reach the top shelf and your wife can’t? Do you take it personally whenever a Sarah McLachlan ad about animals comes on? Well, you shouldn’t necessarily feel guilt… but I certainly hope you still feel. You acknowledge something in those cases, from the smallest home problem to the largest social issue, and you probably act. You buy a footstool for the height challenged or you feel anger or sadness at pet abuse. If you can recognize these issues, experience some sort of non-guilt emotion, and possibly change your perception or actions… why is it so hard to do the same because of racial issues?
The point of acknowledgement is not to continue the racial divide, make an issue out of a non-issue, or “oppress the majority”. The whole purpose of racial recognition is to help create a better society, one that is more open-minded and inclusive and strives to prevent racism. By sticking our heads in the sand and turning our back on the issue as if it doesn’t exist, we only contribute to the problem. A popular movie once said, “there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men.”
Dear White friends, no one is denying your experiences, your problems, or your identity. So, why would you do that to others?