I read a Facebook post this morning from a woman who has adoptive children from Africa. In it she shared the sort of evil, hateful messages she received about her family. Telling her that her small black son will rape her white daughter is the least offensive example she gave. Because my mixed race family is not as high profile as hers, I have not witnessed much of the open vitriol that she has, just the more pervasive, quiet examples of destructive racism. Like having my family’s future decided by a new boss who had a severe problem with the talented, hot-shot black guy who reported to him. The effects that working in extremely hostile environments for years on end sometimes had on my husband’s mental well being. The neighbors who refuse to socialize with us and sometimes even discouraged their kids from befriending our kids. The occasional bizarre reactions to my sons when they were little.
I could write books of examples of how my husband’s skin tone and nose have affected our lives. The time he almost died from incompetent medical care in an area with one of the highest discrepancies in outcomes between racial groups in the country. That he’s moved into our last 3 homes sight unseen as a way around pervasive housing discrimination. The difficulty getting a decent loan. Seriously- it’s hard to stop giving examples. It pervades EVERYTHING. I don’t actually think about it much because what’s the point? It is what it is. And I’m not even the one bearing the full brunt of it.
But the woman whose post I link to above said something that we very much have in common; that she had previously been unaware that white supremacy and racism were still a thing. Just like this woman, prior to marrying my husband, I had no idea it was like this. None. My husband would get desperately frustrated with me early in our marriage because I was completely incapable of factoring racial discrimination into my decision making process. He’d say, “It’s different for black folks. It just is. Things don’t work the same for us as they do for white folks.”
And I’d kind of stare blankly at him, unable to process what he was saying because it was such melodramatic overreaction and not a healthy mindset to approach life with. When I would attempt to explain this to him, the desperate frustration would kick in. Because I was delusional. I really was. I had no idea how reality works. I just didn’t. And that worked for both the good and the bad in the end, but clearly my delusion didn’t last forever. Reality has a way of intruding.
See, I don’t think that white supremacy and racism are primarily heart issues as is commonly said. White supremacy and racism certainly corrupt our hearts, but primarily they are a set of false beliefs. The most obvious being that white people are self-evidently better than black people. We may not put it so crudely, of course. We’ll just point out differences in crime rates and out of wedlock births and style and lack of achievement and the experiences we’ve had with individual black people who rubbed us the wrong way. We’re not saying all black people are bad. If someone lives up to our standards, we’ll accept them regardless of their race. We don’t even care about color! Don’t even see it, in fact! Like Dr. King said – content of character, not color of skin.
I saw a picture of a girl holding a sign at a protest once which I think describes this kind of thinking pretty perfectly:
“You take away our daddy’s and then make fun of us for being fatherless”
Having been trained to think the world work very differently than it does in reality makes us white folks very hard of hearing. (And then we play victim and get mad that people are yelling at us, btw.) But here’s what white people need to hear: there is a very real problem and we can do an enormous amount to fix it. It starts with admitting we are wrong AND – even more important- correcting that. People shouldn’t have to put their hate mail calling their small sons rapists on display to get your attention anymore. This is not news. We shouldn’t have to have tiki torch Nazis parading around a statue of General Lee for people to realize that there are racists among us. (And not just cordoned off somewhere in the boonies either.)
People have been telling us how bad it is and we don’t want to listen. We want to argue and explain. I had a guy on Twitter the other day try to convince me that racial problems came down to an issue of semantics and bad communication. No – racial problems come down to people being mistreated and their lives getting fucked up while very smart white folks want to talk semantics and demand the benefit of the doubt no matter what. To me, racial problems mean all kinds of real, practical things. To him, it’s all just words. Which is about as good an illustration of the problem as any.
We are the problem. We’ve been the problem. And if that hurts your feelings or makes you angry, too bad! Really. Grow the hell up. You’re not a toddler. You can handle some bad feelings. Ask black folks. They know more about bad feeling a than you do, that’s for damn sure. And no – I don’t need to know you to know that. Because if you really had suffered that much, you wouldn’t have hurt feelings or be mad right now because you know that depth of suffering is far too serious to be that petty about.
Anyways, I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here. It’s a thing that happens – the more you tell the truth, the more people who believe lies reject you. Oh well. But perhaps you can share this with someone who needs to read it. Because this has to stop. We white people need to accept reality and stop arguing/being defensive so that we can all get to work fixing it. Unless white people really do want to live in a world where skin color defines us. Because until we stop fighting, that’s what it looks like to everyone else.