This article details how racism and other forms of oppression meet to separate all of us into groups that are against each other. As we all know, lately, there’s been a lot of division in the progressive community over actions and statements by certain known voices. As a black man myself, some of these brought shock and horror to my mind because they came off as tone deaf at best or racist at worst. Being that the powers-that-be do not want us to work together anyway, it is important that we all recognize the feelings of others and learn the power of a simple apology. The reason why an apology is so important is that it is a show of empathy: a way to express to another that you realize not only that you made a mistake but that you also are willing to let the person offended know that it is about them. When you don’t apologize but decide to either defend or explain yourself, you are doing the opposite: you are looking for sympathy, which then makes it about you. Let’s learn to be more altruistic and less self-serving. That is what will allow us to change this country and world, TOGETHER!
The progressive movement in this day and age is built on an understanding of intersectionality, meaning that all forms of oppression are interrelated and the only way we will get the world that we want is by everyone respecting, learning from, and working together. However, that wasn’t always the case, and there are bound to be growing pains in transitioning from the old guard to the new. We will all have to learn as we grow and figure out how to make this progressive movement last, and not just be another flash in the pan that is prevented from accomplishing all of our goals.
In the interest of accomplishing this, I want to take a little bit of time to discuss the flash points surrounding the junctures of race within the movement. As a white man who stands firmly behind the cause of destroying systemic racism and establishing a society that values all within it, but who has also spent a lot of time studying interpersonal relations and systems, I find myself seeking a balanced approach to confronting it.
On the one hand, yes, anyone who expresses some level of racist thought needs to be called out on it. If we are going to end it, then we cannot let it stand. That is a given. So call people out. Force them to confront it. Do not let people get away with it. However, I also understand why this evil is so pernicious and why it is taking so long to kill, and as such I pity rather than demonize those who are still parroting ignorance.
What it boils down to is that the same centuries-long oppression that has kept blacks down and created the racist system that we want to dismantle has also turned the white community into unwitting perpetrators; emphasis on the word unwitting. People have a tendency to ascribe agency to others in situations in which it just doesn’t exist. Although there are many who still express their racism actively, at this point in history, much of it is subconscious—people expressing the views they’ve been taught to hold passively.
Ultimately, we are all targets of the racist system to some extent. I do not mean to say that my feelings are in any way more important than anyone else’s equal rights, and I am not saying that what I have experienced in my life is in any way, shape, or form comparable to what millions of black people or Muslims or other minority groups have experienced on a daily basis. What I am saying is that the system perpetuates itself through miseducation and repetition. The system teaches whites to accept things as they are and to not question the inherent racism. Just like any system, it actively works to prevent change. Therefore, the goal is to expose the racism to as many people as possible until we reach the critical mass to start making real, serious changes to how things work.
While the outright expression of hatred has been ostracized and pushed to the side, the underlying processes that make such evil possible still exist. This is where we bring up the reference to “The Matrix.” The masses do not question the system or what it tells them, and so they continue to propagate the evils in it without recognizing it for what it is. This is why calling them out is good, but also why they should be pitied and not vilified.
Pushing them into a corner causes people to shut down. They stop listening. Yes, there are those who cannot be reached, but especially within the progressive movement we should be trying to educate. There is no need to beat a dead horse, as the saying goes, when it comes to those who are firmly entrenched in their beliefs; but if we can get someone who is otherwise open to learning to recognize their error, then we can add another ally to the cause instead of driving them away when what we need is numbers.
I have personally always sought to understand the deeper workings of systems. I question everything to the fullest extent possible. However, no one is perfect. Even for someone like me, it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I realized that even though my actions never reflected the racism within the system, my thoughts were still repeating the views put there by that system.
Although my upbringing took place in a town that is about as white as one can get, with an annual agricultural fair and all, I have always sought to treat others as equals and never interacted personally with those who would openly subscribe to racist ideology. I can remember my grandfather making certain racist statements, and I’ve heard stories of other relatives, but beyond that it was not a part of my direct heritage.
Yet, despite this, I found through introspection that I would still make certain assumptions about the danger of individuals based purely on their skin color. When I realized this I was horrified. I had always considered myself an ally, but here I was, not afraid of the black man walking toward me down the street, but in the back of my mind thinking of all the things I had seen and heard in the news and elsewhere.
This understanding allowed me to delve deeper into the issue, and what I came to understand was that our very culture at large breeds this problem. When we talk about the systemic nature of racism, it is not just the institutions but every aspect of our society that has been infected by it. The constant news and media, music, movies, etc.—all depicting black men as dangerous for pretty much centuries at this point—have hammered these ideas into our heads. And this becomes even more true for the older generations of progressives.
While older progressives do seek a better future, they have had decades of propaganda drilled into their minds. Even those who are otherwise awake may be completely oblivious to the inherent ignorance of their stances on race purely because they have never experienced a moment that made them question what they were thinking. In a nation with a white majority, it isn’t surprising that an older generation of progressives may have been largely insulated from these kinds of discussions. To me, it is a positive sign of the times that we are now beginning to find ourselves in “uncomfortable” situations more often.
I understand that people greater than I have realized this already, but this needs to be repeated for everyone to hear because until the people who don’t even bother thinking about these kinds of things really get it, we won’t be able to dismantle it. Something I say on a regular basis is that educating the masses means finding one-hundred different ways to say the same thing, so perhaps this piece might get through to someone that wouldn’t have otherwise thought about it. It is also a reminder to those who want to mercilessly and ceaselessly attack the unwitting to take a step back.
Your anger is 100% valid. There is no doubt about it. I am not questioning that. But this reminds me of that metaphor of the boot pressing down on the minority communities. We the white people are the ones wearing the boot. It is our job to stop pressing down.
So while everything everyone else may be doing is vital to the cause, the systemic racism will not stop until those who have perpetrated it for centuries are made to realize what they’re doing. What we’re doing. Unfortunately, there are those who will never respond to being shouted down or pushed into a corner. There are those who will never listen to a person of color. It is not your failing, but theirs, and because of this, the white community has to step up, both figuratively and in reference to the metaphor.
Our media spreads evil with the way they depict black people and their families and other minorities. Muslims are terrorists in TV shows, gay men are flamingly over the top and ostentatious, Asians are either super smart bookworms or own restaurants. Thankfully, changes are underway.
The walls of oppression are beginning to crumble, or should I say the boot of oppression is becoming untied. It is definitely not happening fast enough, and there is so much more work to be done, but historical introspection illustrates that progress IS being made. The last two decades have resulted in a shift in the larger narrative, which is continual and ongoing. I’m still angry with Netflix’s decision to cancel the amazing show Sense8, which did an incredible job of exposing viewers to various people and cultures and illustrating how we are all human and we all deserve love and respect.
I want to add that systemic racism is the reason why even minority police officers commit atrocities against their own communities. Police brutality is a symptom of systemic racism and we are all subject to the pervasiveness of it. I now understand the sentiment echoed by saying, “fuck the police,” and I agree with it. Wholeheartedly.
The entire criminal justice system is corrupt and must be overhauled—from top to bottom. From the Department of Justice down to the beat cop on the street, and every judge who continues to parrot the evils spoken by our media. This is a big task, and it will take all of us to accomplish it.
So, in summation, I want to repeat that yes, please call people out on their bullshit. Be angry. Be willing to fight for equity. When the system is resisting change and oppressing people by using violence then we must fight. We all must do this. I only caution that those who are otherwise allies but who make ignorant statements are dupes of the system as well. They know not what they do, and turning them into villains does not build the intersectional coalition we need to end systemic racism once and for all.
Finally, I also want to invite criticism. Please, if I am making a mistake in wanting to both agree with the anger but caution the response, then speak to me. I am an imperfect being and never want to stop growing.