Are All White People Racist?

This is something that’s been knocking around in my head for a little while. I’ve had my answer to the question for what feels like a long time. Now, I’m in the midst of an online protest–#FBBlackOut–so it seems a good time to talk about it.

First, what is #FBBlackOut, and why am I participating? 

In simplest terms, this black-created, black-led protest seeks to hit Zuckerberg in the pocketbook by encouraging protesters to deactivate our accounts from 10/16/15 at 10:16am EST through 10/19/15 at 10:19am EST. Deactivation means Zuckerberg receives no ad revenue from said accounts.

It started because people of color feel unsafe on Facebook. From groups like the not-so-cleverly-named ‘Nate Higgers’ proliferating (and rarely being taken down because they supposedly “don’t go against Community Standards”)

FB group 'Nate Higgers' failing to be removed by FB

(though for the first time I have ever seen, Facebook reversed decision on this one group–possibly at the pressure of several hundred users reporting the group at the same time?);

'Nate Higgers' group removed!

to such ridiculousness as showing the graphic and violent deaths of people of color over and over on auto-play on Facebook, but having the death of one white person immediately removed from the stream (because white death is more distressing?);

white death is more distressing than black death, according to Facebook

to people of color being banned/removed from Facebook for up to 30 days for saying “fuck white people” (a sentiment I, as a white person, can well understand, coming from people oppressed by my race);

PoC banned for saying 'fuck white people' on FB

and more. There’s rampant blackface, racial slurs, use of nooses and antisemitism and all sorts of derogatory, racist language and imagery on Facebook. Usually, reporting it results in an image like the first–a result of ‘Sorry, we can’t/won’t help you, because we don’t consider this to be hate.’ And though so many users–like myself–have ‘reviewed’ the process by telling Facebook that yes, this is indeed hate, it has seemed to have little impact.

Thus, #FBBlackOut:

#FBBlackOut Zuckerberg

I am participating in solidarity, because I am tired of seeing my siblings of color treated so terribly and made to feel unsafe on social media.

But this isn’t only about social media. White people don’t do these kinds of things only on Facebook, or Twitter, or Fetlife, or whatever other social network. And while sometimes it is that egregious–like, say, driving a vehicle marked with Confederate flags through a black party–it’s usually not.

And I think all of us white people are complicit–even those of us who are actively working against racism. I know that makes it sound hopeless, but I don’t think it is.

The thing is, racism is systemic. It’s part and parcel of our current system of power. All our power structures rely on racism (and sexism/misogyny, and cisnormativity, and heteronormativity, and etc.–but this is about racism, and so I’m focused here for now) to function. If we took out racism, very quickly things would crumble and change. That’s pretty scary for those who are currently in charge. And it’s pretty beneficial to anyone with white skin, regardless of whether we’re working to change the system.

For example, I do anti-racism work. But if I go into a bank with a friend of color with the same or better qualifications, I stand a better chance of getting a home loan than that friend. It doesn’t matter that I do anti-racist work. My father, who is white and who leaves pretty angry racist comments on my Facebook wall with alarming regularity (despite believing himself non-racist), would stand the same (or possibly slightly better, due to being male) chance as me of obtaining that loan, and still better than my friend of color.

Also, when I walk down a street, no one clutches their purse in fear. How do they know I’m not the best pick-pocket around? They don’t; but conveniently, I’m not black. I also don’t get followed around stores by over-worried salespeople/management–they don’t think I’m there to steal, they assume I’m there to shop. Usually, if I need help, I can’t find anyone to help me. They’re either ignoring me or too busy harassing following the black customers.

People who look like me are pretty easy to find in entertainment, too–skin-color-wise, at least (I’m not going to get into the size thing now). Mostly, white people aren’t stereotyped into roles. Also, white people tend to be treated as ‘generic’ for pretty much any nationality in these roles, while people of color are rarely cast in anything but stereotyped roles. Entertainment may seem fluffy–but it both shapes how we view the world and is shaped by how we view the world.

In terms of protest, the very fact that we have to keep reiterating how peaceful the protests in the wake of the deaths of Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Sam DuBose, Tamir Rice, Amber Monroe, Jasmine Collins, the Charleston 9….. takes a breath The fact that we have to keep reiterating how peaceful the protests have been in the wake of all of the deaths that inspire the #sayhisname and #sayhername and #saytheirnames chants and actions is itself a form of racism. It says that we expect black people to be angry, and that that anger is unjustified even when it is so justified there are no words to explain how justified that anger is. And then…when white people actually do riot over pumpkins and games–well, we call those things ‘just another day,’ or ‘kids being kids,’ or ‘fun and games.’

I live in a predominantly white neighborhood. I’ve never had to fear the police marching through my streets in-step, knocking batons on the ground, spraying teargas and other chemicals long into the night without warning–without giving me and my loved ones (and any of the children and elderly in the area) time to clear out. But I have watched that happen in more than one neighborhood of color in St. Louis–most especially when the police shot and killed Mansur Ball-Bey.
St. Louis police at Page & Walton following their killing of Mansur Ball-Bey

I could keep giving more examples of how racism exists. I could keep pointing that out, but that doesn’t really answer the question.

What does?

Simply, in every example I (or anyone) could give, white people have power, and people of color do not, in the current system.

And even when we white people do anti-racism work, we’re still beneficiaries of a system that prizes white people over people of color.

And even when we opt to walk away from racism–well, that’s a privilege, isn’t it, to be able to put down that burden? People of color don’t get that option. Racism is always there, always present in their lives, and they can’t walk away from it. Us choosing to walk away? That’s us being complicit in the system of racism by exercising our privilege not to think about it or deal with it.

The good news is: we can keep fighting the system. Every one of us who joins the fight means one more set of hands/arms/brains/heart in the struggle to right this massive wrong. And that means we’re that much closer to overturning this systemic ill.

It’s long. It’s hard. It’s continuous. And it is importantSo many people’s lives hang on us recognizing our complicity in racism and choosing to take up the work anyway of anti-racism.

I truly believe:

None of us are free until all of us are free.


“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’.