Nearly every white person I know has an opinion on racism. Depending on who you ask, you will get answers all over the map.
“Why bring that up? You’re just causing trouble!”
“This is too big a subject.”
“I’m not racist.”
“I’m not racist, but . . . ”
“I’m definitely not racist. You are racist for bringing it up”
“We need to listen to POC and help them get through our institutional racism with us”
“Fuck you, n***** lover, we will put you in the oven, too”
“Racism is a terrible problem. I just don’t know what I can do to combat it”
“I don’t have a racist bone in my body!”
I get it, white people. When you’ve heard the dog whistle of welfare queen, the media alarmist gang thugs, the condescension of learned scholars espousing sincerely held fallacies, the family jokes, the anecdotes, been treated poorly, been glared at, been mocked when you’ve tried to be an ally, it can get exhausting. Sometimes, it’s just easier to fall back on privilege and secretly gloat, because, dammit, they are ungrateful, lazy bastards anyway, taking my tax dollars to sit at home/deal drugs/eat better than me/why should I bend over backwards to accomodate them?
Or, those poor people. They need my sympathy and my superior decision making ability to help them make the right choices in life and in politics. I want to march with them, show solidarity with them, wear my hair like theirs, listen to their music, use their slang.
Sorry. Pedestals are for statues, not people. Objectifying race as inherently noble, or dehumanizing race as inferior, is the same thing.
Those nasty, babymaking, mooching, illegal sons of bitches, except for my home boy/my lawn guy/my pool cleaner. THEY are all right.
The keyword is THEM. And therein lies the root of the problem.
Ask a farmer how he feels about Mexicans and he will likely tell you he would be on the street without the migrants coming over every year to do the backbreaking labor that no white person will touch. Ask a border state about illegals and you will get the party line, but go into the factories, the ice cream plants, the chicken plants, the abbatoirs, the people that keep the nation supplied and they will tell you in whispers that illegals are the best workers they have. Don’t believe me? Get in good with a line supervisor, take them out for a beer, and hear the truth. The quiet truth. The truth that racism denies vehemently.
I have lived and worked with many differenct cultures my whole life. From descendants of slaves to freshly immigrated Ethiopians, to Mexicans here illegally trying to scratch out enough money to send back home to their impoverished families. What I carry every day is my white privilege and guess what? I. know. it. That I’m gay and grew up with hideous discrimination and hate does not make me feel as if I am on a level playing field with POC. I’m still privileged.
Today, I endured a little harrassment at the store. Not enough to make an essay about it. Just the usual side eye and stiffening up of the white person supposedly giving me customer service. No worries. Been there, not calling them out. I pick my battles judiciously at this age.
On the way out, I was pushing my cart toward the door when a young lady of color was coming down the main aisle. We met nearly together. I waved her on, but the look of suspicion on her face as she waved me on told me everything. I went ahead, and turned back to her and said, oh, it’s like that. Age before beauty.
Her face lit up and she started laughing. Why? At that moment, I recognized her and she accepted it. We are in this thing together. Her father or grandfather, I don’t know which, just grinned. He and I are of an age.
I was blessed with endless curiosity. I want to know what makes people tick, who they are, why they like cupcakes instead of donuts. The Korean confllict veteran standing behind me in line wasn’t a hero to me because he retired from the Air Force. He was a hero because his stooped body was carrying two six-packs of Diet Dr. Pepper and I let him go ahead of me.
I guess my point is this. Humanity is human. I will not venerate a title, I will venerate a person’s humanity. One person at a time. I will empathize with the woman who lost her daughter to someone else’s horrible actions. I will respect the anger and helplessness that POC feel at a given time. I will NOT respect whataboutism. Stay in your lane, keep your eyes on your own paper, and sweep your side of the street.
I’m reminded daily of a saying I heard a quarter of a century ago about talking to people and trying to make a point. He said, “You can talk all day long about shit. You can believe your own shit. Just remember, anytime you hear, ‘yes, but’, bullshit is coming. Guaranteed.”
We are in this together. We. Us. All of us. The totality of humanity. We are not getting out alive. Let’s make the best of it together.