Everybody means well. And we are all good people. Nobody’s a racist. “I love everybody. I have a Black friend.” Hold on, let me clap for you. That’s nice and all, but I think it’s important that we acknowledge the discrepancies that exist between good intentions and results.
“I don’t see color.”
Unless you’re actually Stevie Wonder blind, please miss me with that bull. I stand before you, as brown as can be, and you want to pretend you didn’t notice? Do you honestly believe that the United States’ issue with race has been that people have come to notice our wretched blackness? No. The issue has been that our blackness was used as a reason to oppress us. Ignoring my obvious blackness does not erase oppression; rather, it undermines the validity of my experience of oppression, thereby perpetuating it. Being ‘color-blind’ delegitimizes the very real discrepancies that exist between Whites and Blacks, the de facto and de jure policies that ensure the continued subjugation of Black peoples, because…. “What blackness? I didn’t notice.” So any lived experience I may have of oppression can no longer be attributed to racism because you claim to not have noticed my race. My experience can’t have been a result of oppression and is reduced to a result of my own personal doing. Now I solely bear the responsibility for the ills from which I suffer. So, the victim is blamed again. And why would I not want you to notice something that is a huge part of my identity? I am proudly Black, African, Nigerian, Igbo, Anambran, Onitsha. It is no secret that I am all of these things and it shouldn’t have to be. It is in my name, the food that I eat, the music that I dance to. It is in my blood, in the very essence of my being. Get used to it.
“Racism isn’t born, folks. It’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. Know what he hates? Naps. End of list.”– Denis Leary
This was a very nice sentiment, and I’m sure Denis Leary meant well. Good for him and his son and anyone else for not hating people of other races. But, it’s 2015. And as a rational, thinking human being, you’re not supposed to hate people by simple virtue of their backgrounds. There is nothing to be commended there. This is not to say that there aren’t any more people who are hateful bigots. I know there are, but hopefully, they’ll all die soon. I’m not talking about them right now. I’m talking to YOU. The question isn’t whether or not you are “a racist.” The question is: Are you an anti-racist? Being so benevolent as to not hate my guts because I’m Black is good. It’s nice. Thank you for not being a hateful asshole. But not hating others is passive. What are you actively doing to ensure that this kind of hate is dead? Moreover, what are you doing to ensure that the systems built from and fortified by this hate are toppled? We need to move past the idea of racism being about hate and prejudice. It is so much more than that. It is discrimination. It is unequal access to the opportunities that allow for a quality lifestyle. It is oppression. And we all are a part of it. We can eat together at the table of brotherhood all we want. But when dinner is over, some of us will return to a beautiful home in the suburbs and some of us will be starting a night shift at their third job. Some of us have unknowingly been benefitting from a system meant to protect and reserve the sweet milk and honey of life in the United States for a select few. Some of us have been and continue to be crushed by this very system. From laws that prevented Blacks from owning businesses to red-lining which barred Blacks from living in certain neighborhoods, to discriminatory hiring practices, to schools of unequal quality, Blacks, and other non-White peoples have suffered the effects of a racist country. And these effects are cumulative. While many White-Americans inherit wealth and property, Blacks inherit the cycle of poverty, lack of opportunity, academic tests that are biased against them, continued discriminatory practices, and countless other forms of oppression. This is what we’re up against. It simply is not enough to not be a hateful bigot. I need you be someone who actively works against the dangerous machines of oppression.
I find that all too often, people praise the concept of tolerance. And once again, this is not good enough. Do you know what it means to tolerate something?
- To allow the existence, presence, practice, or act of without prohibition or hindrance; permit.
- To endure without repugnance; put up with.
So am I supposed to be pleased that you can put up with me? That you can endure me without repugnance? That you allow me to exist? My background, my identity, my existence is not a nuisance to be tolerated. I was fearfully and wonderfully made. Your tolerance, though well-intended, is demeaning and I reject it. I often speak about the power words have and the need for us to do a better job of saying what we mean. While you may have had the very best of intentions, the implications of your words and actions may completely undermine that which you set out to do. If we truly want to dismantle oppression, then it’s time we start acting like it. We need to be more responsible for and careful about the things that we say, because, chances are, we might be perpetuating the very system that we claim to hate.