I don’t understand.
I was on Facebook yesterday and I saw people talking about George Floyd’s death and while acknowledging the officers needed to be arrested, dismissing the idea of systemic racism.
And I’m baffled.
I’m baffled because saying one needs to look at the issue of systemic racism, including in the police force, doesn’t (a) say everyone is knowingly racist, (b) includes the idea of internalized bias, (c) doesn’t take away from the courage of police officers who put their lives at risk or the sacrifice their families makes.
And some of you might be rolling your eyes reading this (if you still are). Others might be saying, “What does she know? She’s a liberal bleeding heart. Such a snowflake.” And you might be getting angry. Frustrated. Just the picture of the book I’m reading may have annoyed you.
“Blue Lives Matter”, you might reply. Or post a meme or two. And I could reply that you’re not blue. But that would probably stop you from reading. A knee-jerk reaction saying I don’t understand. So instead, I will reply with “Where do you see me saying police lives do not matter? Where did I imply that? Did I not recognize at the beginning of my post the sacrifices and courage it takes to be a police officer?” Because it’s true. It takes courage and sacrifice.
And I also agree there needs to be more training. There needs to be more support and more staffing. And there needs to be a discussion on why those other police officers stood by without intervening.
One does not negate the other.
“All Lives Matter”, you might answer. So why do you have a problem with “Black Lives Matter”? How is it that a 30-year old White man will be called a boy? And a twelve-year old Black boy will be said to look older than his age? It’s pernicious. It’s there. In the words. In the attitude.
Reports have shown that there is racial bias in the healthcare system.
The same goes in the justice system. “Reports” You may cough dismissingly.
Here’s what the report on Baltimore policing mentioned for example: “Black pedestrians were 37 percent more likely to be searched by Baltimore police citywide and 23 percent more likely to be searched during vehicle stops. But officers found contraband twice as often when searching white residents during vehicle stops and 50 percent more often during pedestrian stops, the report notes.” (Source: The Baltimore Sun).
In both healthcare and the justice system and in our everyday life, this type of behavior is fueled by internalized bias. Internalized racism. Some of you might stop reading here. Because what? Of course not. *I* am not racist. This is so outrageous and wrong and offensive. But I’m not talking about a conscious choice of being racist.
Of course most of us would stand up against explicit bias. I want to believe most of the people reading this wouldn’t go to Charlottesville with tikki torches, screaming “Jews will not replace us.” And most of the people reading this would be outraged about people calling Michelle Obama a “Monkey Face” or an “Ape in heels”, or about the shooting in a Black church in Charlerston. Because this is outward racism. Because this is tragic.
But then there’s internal bias. The one we don’t notice. The one I know I have. Am I so different from you? I recognize I can have internal bias. But you…you reading this getting mad and frustrated or simply laughing because “This is bullshit”.
Because why? You never made any disparaging comments? You never used the n-word. I never did either. But the bias is still there.
And I’m aware of it. And I’m consciously fighting it.
It’s also really ingrained in the smallest things. Like as pointed out in this Twitter thread:
One example she mentions in case you didn’t click on the link is going to ballet class and being asked to wear “flesh tone” tights:
I was six and in ballet when I first heard this term. I had to buy flesh tone tights as part of the supplies to take a dance class. Flesh tone tights are not the color of my flesh. This assumption of white as the default is white supremacy.
Small things. But those small things add up. Especially when they start in childhood. Because what this doesn’t mention is on the other side you had a white child who didn’t ask himself or herself about buying the tights. His or her mother didn’t blink at the mention of flesh tone tights.
Everyone is the same. Equal rights. Equal opportunities.
But is it? Really?
The outrage at the word racism, because “Of course, I’m not.” Because we are not knowingly engaging in racism. Not going out with signs. Not burning crosses on front lawns.
And yet not recognizing the insidious way it is in society. Not recognizing privilege. Not recognizing the centuries of suffering.
“But it was such a long time ago. They should just get over it.”
Was it that long ago?
Was your grandfather or great grand-father going to the same schools as the grandfather of Black Americans of the same age? Your. Grandfather. This wasn’t that long ago. And the ramifications of centuries of oppression doesn’t disappear in the blink of an eye.
Oh and how about?
“But I struggle too. And I’m from the same neighborhood. I got out.”
No one has said your success isn’t valid. Your success is valid. It doesn’t stop your success, it simply means the color of your skin didn’t further hinder you. It didn’t add an additional hurdle.
“I don’t see color.” In the “White Fragility, Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism” book I’m currently reading, there’s a line that stayed with me. “If you don’t see color, how can you see racism?” There are a lot of examples in that book. And it is definitely thought-provoking.
“Why should I feel bad about being White?”
No one is asking you to feel bad about being White. I think it’s missing the point if your argument is you don’t want to feel guilty for something you didn’t choose. No one is asking for you to beat yourself up because you’re white. Recognizing a sort of privilege that comes with being white simply means (to me at least) that you now can actively find ways to fight the unconscious racial bias that is part of society. Be the kind of person who’s part of the solution. Actively part of the solution. Instead of washing your hands from the problem, “because you’re not racist.” Again, you don’t have to go around with tikki torches to benefit from a system that was put in place before you were born.
“Hinder me? In this country, we can be who we want to be.”
Sure. But can you recognize it is harder for POCs? There are countless studies that prove it is harder. I know it’s not easy to accept. Again, it doesn’t diminish your own personal success.
“You’re just being a snowflake.”
But who’s refusing to take a closer look at oneself?
“My Black friend said it wasn’t a racist problem.”
Did you have the discussion? Did you look at the bigger picture? Or have you decided since one of your Black friends is saying there’s no problem, then *sigh of relief* you’ve been in the right all along.
“The media is responsible. They’re throwing flames to the fire.” Like the Black reporter who got arrested on live TV this morning? Or because they are reporting the words of the President?
Or because they are sensationalizing the news? Yes, sometimes there can be theatrics in news. But it doesn’t take away from what happened and has been happening.
“Have you seen the real data though? There really are no issues when you look at the shooting data by police officers. I mean did you even read that article?” Yes. I read the opinion piece that circulated claiming to prove that there weren’t any problems at all of systemic racism. But that opinion piece has a lot of missing information and misleading information. First, one could argue that George Floyd was not shot so he wouldn’t count in the data shared. And then there are a lot of articles debunking the theories and sharing the bigger picture and more data. Here are a few articles which go deeper into the subject. (Forbes – Minneapolis Post, Added in June: Medium.com: The “Myth” is a Myth: the Bad Data Behind Deniers of Systemic Racism in Policing, Washington Post: Here’s why we don’t see protests when police unjustly kill white people, Current Affairs; Another article detailing why the argument made by the opinion piece from the WSJ is really limited in its argument.)
“But they’re looting, destroying their own community. How is that helping?”
Someone on Twitter pointed out at Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest which also wasn’t accepted because some had decided it was disrespectful. And you might get triggered and get hung up on how, yes, it is disrespectful in your eyes. And if I start talking about the protests at the capitols with people carrying their guns and verbally threatening lawmakers, you’ll again tell me how this is a free country and they’re not breaking and looting anything.
I’m not condoning looting. I’m not condoning the destruction of property.
Just like I don’t condone looting or the destruction of property when the University of Maryland wins against Duke.
And yet, the outrage seems less.
Jason Reynolds (the New York Times best-selling author of All American Boys, the Track series, Long Way Down, For Everyone, and Miles Morales-Spiderman.) tweeted the following:
(added the following in blue on May 30th) There’s also more and more talks about how some people burning and rioting are (1) not from the area of protestors and (2) could be from organized groups such as white supremacy groups.
And if you’re now saying, “But I acknowledge this was wrong. What happened was wrong. But…This is not an appropriate type of reaction.”
Have you stopped to think about the pain and anger that’s triggering this reaction?
Some violence might also be instigated by outside groups.
Not condoning the looting and destruction shouldn’t prevent from understanding the why. Or trying to understand the why.
And an author I admire (Nic Stone, love her books) shared this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. Did you know this quote? I didn’t:
“…I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.” (“The Other America” speech at Stanford University)
“Well, they’re being racist too. So much anti-whiteness going on these days.” I’ve only seen a couple of acquaintances posting memes like these on my Facebook wall. And we could have an entire discussion on why this discussion point is to put it mildly extremely problematic. Maybe you can start by reading this:
“You don’t understand. You’re French anyways.”
True. I am. And racism is a problem in France too. I’m not denying that. The history of colonialism isn’t something that, in my view, has been entirely dealt with. There’s definitely internalized racism in France too. When you apply to a job with a certain name, your chance of getting that job are lower. I’m fully aware of this.
However, being French doesn’t prevent me from reading and informing myself and recognizing what is happening around me.
Being French doesn’t prevent me from feeling like I’m part of the United States too, loving this country and understanding it is not perfect. I’ve been living in the United States for about eleven years. This is a home to me too.
I want to believe we want to do better. To be better. I want to believe that the majority of us want to strive to be better. To help.
So if you’ve read this entire post, I might not have convinced you. You might still be coming up in your mind with counter-arguments for every point I’ve just made. Maybe ask yourself why that is.
Because what did I write that may have offended you?
What did I write that was not based on facts?
What do you have to lose by trying to actively do something against racism? Since we all tend to agree that racism is bad. If we dig deeper and find those bias, if we realize that it is institutionalized, then maybe we can do better. Maybe we can be better.
And in case you want to know more about what we can do, or how to inform ourselves more, here are several links with resources.
• “Anti-racism resources” : https://docs.google.com/…/1BRlF2_zhNe86SGgHa6-VlBO…/preview…
• “FOR OUR WHITE FRIENDS DESIRING TO BE ALLIES”: https://sojo.net/artic…/our-white-friends-desiring-be-allies
* Unconcious Bias and its Influence on Decision Making https://gradschool.princeton.edu/…/diversi…/unconcious-bias…
And let me know if you’ve read or are reading “White Fragility – why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism.” or any of the many many books highlighted in the resources above.
1 thought on “I don’t understand…”
I have read that book. I’d recommend Tears We Cannot Stop by Dyson. Race is hard to talk about because to do so means facing guilt, and people get defensive when they think they’re guilty.