Note: this is a more serious post than I usually make. I’d love it if you read it, but understand if you want to come back tomorrow when it will be stinky candy.
I’m not ready to get over racism. I’m just not. I’ll grant you that I haven’t been sent to any internment camps lately and there are no burning crosses on my lawn, but racism is still very much a part of my life and my experience and I think that I’d like to talk about it for awhile.
And that’s the problem, it seems like a lot of people are tired of it. Which is not to say they wouldn’t condemn a lynching, it’s just well, people are so quick to be offended these days and really, isn’t it the intent that matters and why do we have to put labels on everything?
I call acts that I consider racist racism because it is important to recognize that they are symptoms of a larger problem. They are not isolated, discrete events and their impact can only be properly measured by acknowledging that they are racist. We are all infected, to a greater or lesser degree by racism. There is more racism and less racism, I don’t know that there will ever be no racism.
Why call it racism?
Many people become defensive and uncomfortable when you label acts they consider relatively benign as racist. They’d rather you call it by some color blind term like rude, inappropriate or offensive. I disagree with this for the reason stated above, racist acts must be called out as racist if we are to shine light on the problem. How can we fight a problem that we don’t admit exists?
We are afraid to confront racism because it means confronting ourselves. I am not immune. There are many times when I’d rather not say the word because I am afraid of what it means; it is easier to let things pass and write them off as stupidity or ignorance. Racism is a dirty word, we’re reluctant to not use it. We’d prefer not confront it, because to do so means we must open our eyes to how it permeates our society. We let it pass. We give people outs. We make excuses.
Is racism a forbidden word?
Racism is fast becoming the word we dare not speak, just like nigger. We avoid the word nigger, we find ways around it and if we must, we say or write “the n-word”. Of course, nobody should call anyone nigger, but why do we not face the word head on? Why do we not face racism head on? When we don’t talk about it, what are we accomplishing by avoiding the subject? Nigger is no less abhorrent if you refuse to say it and substitute n-word, the same is true with racism. It still exists even if you refuse to call it by its name. And so many of us are refusing.
When we smooth over racism and try to will it out of existence by denying it, we give it power to continue. Most people have good intentions, but we must not let intentions be more important than effects. We must listen when people talk about racism and be willing to confront it when we see it.
How brushing off racism has affected me
For all my bold talk about facing racism, I still find it hard to talk about my own experiences. It’s a vulnerability that I don’t care to expose to the world. After all, you are supposed to be able to overcome it, to not let it get to you, to ignore it as foolish and not worth your time. It feels like you are supposed to be able to fight it on your own, but who could? And if you do speak up, and it’s brushed aside, what are you to make of that? It’s almost more than I can bear and so I don’t talk about it much. Or, at least I didn’t.
I have five children now. Five boys, as smart and as gorgeous as can be. Three look white, two look more Asian. I wonder often what life will be like for them growing up and I wonder if the two that look like me will have the same experience as their brothers. I never want any of them to feel like they can’t speak up if they are offended and I want them all to have the courage to speak out against wrong. It’s for them that I insist on having these uncomfortable, inconvenient conversations.
How has racism affected you? Do you agree with me that we should always call out racism by its name when we see it or do you find that counterproductive? Do you think that racism is overplayed or do you think it’s still prevalent? Does it make you uncomfortable to talk about racism?