Last night my wife and I watched the movie “13th” which traces the history of racial discrimination in America and details how the white establishment has routinely and systematically kept its heels on the necks of the black community. It was a gut wrenching, eye opening experience that every single person in this country should sit down and watch.
In fact, I’m going to beg every white reader I have to take some time to view it, because there’s so much to unpack and discuss—too much to try and fit into a single blog. That said, I do want to touch on one issue that MUST be talked about: White silence and our ignorance to the continuous oppression of African Americans.
For many of us, especially younger generations, our ignorance to the plight of black Americans in the modern day is a product of our upbringing and education. We sat in history class and listened to stories of slavery, lynching, segregation, beatings, and murder. We heard about the courageous efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X. We learned about the Civil Rights Movement, the Selma march, and how America took a huge step forward in passing the Civil Rights Act.
But that was it.
We left class and went about our lives thinking that everything is just okay. Of course we were aware of those who were open and pronounced in their racism, and we were taught to denounce it. But we made the mistake of believing that a piece of paper somehow reversed centuries of oppression. We bought into the idea of a post-racial America. We grew up with this belief, and eventually it burned itself into the back of our brains and formed our worldview.
And because of this, we became numb. We saw the world through a privileged, narrow lens and became blind to everything else. We shrugged our shoulders at the mass incarceration and poverty of the black community. We turned a deaf ear to their outcries of systemic racism. We wrote off their fears of law enforcement as ridiculous. When a black man was gunned down in the street, we just made excuses. And whether we did it consciously or unconsciously, we let ourselves believe that the only issue was *them*.
“We gave you civil rights,” we said. “Why can’t you just act right? Why can’t you just do what you’re told?”
Right now it’s easy to look at the Trump campaign and the stories coming out in the aftermath the election and think that racism is making some sort of comeback. But the truth is that it never went anywhere. We—white America—just didn’t want to acknowledge it. We thought we’d already done everything we needed to do. And that mindset is what has opened the door for the issues we see now.
We have to make a change. Rather than buying into the stereotypes, we can admit we’ve been shortsighted and ignorant. Rather than condemning protests and movements like Black Lives Matter, we can actually listen to what they have to say. Rather than ignoring racist comments and actions from friends and family, we can stand up and shut it down. And though we may not have the power ourselves to make systemic changes, we must put public pressure on those who can.
These are not suggestions; they are obligations. It’s time we wake up, because it’s on us. All of us. And we have to do better.
“To win, we must overcome individualism, selfishness, all forms of racism, intolerance and manipulation of people…Let nobody turn their back on society and feel excluded!…No to segregation! No to racism!” – Pope Francis