“Discovering” Racial Issues

White people, we need to talk–white people to white people. We need to have some conversations that aren’t all about PoC educating us. We need to be educating each other.

Our education is a necessity. A lot of us don’t know. Our ignorance is not an excuse.

See, there’s a problem right now–a problem that’s been around for a long time, actually, and it’s a problem that weaves throughout us white people coming to understand racial issues. We tend to think we’ve ‘discovered’ these issues, or to act like we’ve discovered them–when really, most of these issues have been there forever. PoC have been living these issues (health care, shorter life spans, broken-up neighborhoods, food deserts, redlining, etc.) long before we came in and realized these issues were there. It’s a product of our whiteness that we didn’t see these things as issues before.

We didn’t have to see–because they didn’t affect us.

And white women–well, a lot of times, we get ‘white feminism,’ indicated often in statics such as ‘women got the right to vote in 1920.’ No, white women got the right to vote in 1920, and failure to include that word–white–shows a failure to understand that we’re not all in the same place, we’re not all affected in the same ways by the same issues. My white experience of sexism is not the same as a PoC’s experience of sexism–because that experience of sexism comes with an additional experience of racism that cannot be uncoupled from it. And we cannot forget that oftentimes–usually–almost always–probably always (because right now, I can’t think of an example when this was not the case)–PoC have been pushed aside, thrown under the bus, to make way for white people’s rights. “Oh, we’ll get to PoC later,” they say–we say–if we say it at all. We’re just so happy to get our own rights, you know.

I’m not here to blame any of us. We can’t change history. The past has happened.

I am here to say that we can–and should–own up to what we’ve done. We need to do that. And that starts with educating one another. It starts with learning. It starts with realizing that these issues haven’t been ‘discovered’ by us. PoC have been telling us about them for hundreds of years. Us just now listening doesn’t make it some big discovery.

I mean–for many of us, it is a discovery, in a sense–because we’re discovering that we weren’t taught as we should have been taught. We’re discovering a failure of history books, of public education systems, of government systems. We’re learning about white supremacy–that it actually exists, and that our ignorance of it perpetuates it. We’re learning that too often, there’s a real cover-up of racial history. Too often, history is literally whitewashed.

I live in St. Louis. Right now, a small art gallery, Yeyo, is running Letters to Hop Alley: Drawing Displacement in StL’s Chinatown. Prior to this art opening, I hadn’t even been aware of any history of a Chinatown in StL. I went, primarily to learn. What I read distressed me, angered me–but it’s not about my feelings. What I read also enlightened me. I learned that when my city built Busch Stadium, it undertook a concerted effort–via the press and the police and the white populace–to first malign and then criminalize and then drive out the residents of the existing Chinatown. As efforts were underway to demolish the Chinatown and build the stadium, no mention was made of what had stood before–only of what was replacing it. The beautiful structures, the lives, the artistry; the homes, the memories, the businesses: all gone, in the name of profit, in the name of gentrification.

Now, my city–my city, home to Ferguson and Florissant and so many other small towns and municipalities built upon the backs of the poor, upon the backs of PoC, upon their counted-upon arrests and tickets and jailings (and StL is not alone in this in our ‘great’ nation)–my city wants to build a new stadium, for millions of dollars. Supposedly, this stadium will ‘retain’ the Rams–a team that doesn’t want to stay, for a populace that doesn’t even show up to its home games. My city, which has been home and birthplace to so much of Black Lives Matter, to conversations about race and homelessness and malnutrition and public education, wants to once again take this step of spending all this money on this stadium for what seems a ridiculous purpose.

The stadium? Well, for its part, so far, it has outlawed the unfurling of any banners with slogans with which it doesn’t agree. There are to be no BLM banners there. It’s a space for white people to enjoy watching–well, watching the labors of a lot of PoC, because there are an awful lot of PoC athletes, aren’t there? And yes, there are white athletes, too, and yes, they’re generally well-paid–but what of their education? What of their lives post-sports? What of concussive head injuries? But the stadium doesn’t care, so long as white people fill its stands without making a fuss about black lives.

Also, the ‘new’ stadium is once again proposed to be built atop Native burial grounds.

And yet–none of this is a discovery, not really. PoC have known all of this. This is actual lived history. These are actual lived lives. This isn’t fresh. This isn’t new. This is ongoing. It is wearying.

Treating it as if this is something new centers whiteness, because it means PoC’s problems–their lived realities–only exist if white people are paying attention to them. We must empathize with how this is something ongoing. What happened to residents of Hop Alley–residents having to have papers, for example–is happening now (like having to have papers in AZ, or stop-and-frisk policies in NYC, or redlining). Just as Asians have always been in the Midwest, so too have the struggles of PoC been ongoing, and so too have their erasures been ongoing.

So, white people, let’s talk. Let’s sit and learn in other spaces and then come together to educate one another. It’s more than time we took that burden from PoC, and it’s far past time we stopped treating their struggles as ‘new’.


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