NaBloPoMo prompt: Why do you think it is so difficult for people to talk about race?
Part of the reason I joined NaBloPoMo this month was because the theme centered around “Healing”. Specifically, healing after the death of Mike Brown and the protests, and excessive police presence, in Ferguson, MO. I wanted to write about my thoughts on race and racism anyway. I even wrote a draft about it from the perspective of a biracial person. The piece ended up being very long and will have to be edited and posted in a three part series. Today I just want to touch on the conversation we are all having as a whole country.
I have followed much of the news from Twitter and Tumblr. I read first hand accounts from people who were there and looked at evidence from both sides. In my opinion, regardless of whether or not Brown was innocent of any crimes, I think the police did act excessively. We all agree he was unarmed and shooting him 6 times, twice in the head, was a cruel and unnecessary.
My biggest issue with the conversation has been the insistence on discussing Browns past and alleged crimes. To me that has nothing to do with whether or not he should have been killed. The simple fact is he shouldn’t have been. The second issue I have with the conversation is people ignoring the fact that this IS about race. Not just because Mike Brown was killed but because police killing unarmed black men is an almost daily occurrence. Not all cases make national news the way the events in Ferguson did but a simple Google search will turn up new stories everyday of cops killing young black men. I think black men are profiled and I think cops do not value their lives and so are quick to shoot a black man who looks like he could be a threat.
Cases like this bring out the most racist people in this country. Those people’s statements often begin with the phrase “not to sound racist”, or “I’m not racist or anything, but”, and they proceed to say something very racist. Most of these people are white. I know that not all white people are racist BUT a lot of them are. Some white people, and I know this from experience, will say they are not racist when they are in public. In more private, comfortable settings, they will say things that reveal their true feelings about black people, or any people of color.
On the whole I am glad the conversation is taking place but I think the way we are having the conversation needs to change. The original question was why is it so difficult for people to talk about race? Apart from the people who are clearly and blatantly racist, the people who really do still believe that black people are less than human, the people who still use the n-word, apart from those people, there are three reasons I believe that talking about race in this country is difficult.
The first reason is because so many people are defensive. White people are afraid of being labeled a racist, even when they hold racist views. They will claim that black people are quick to label them just because they disagree but this is simply not true. Getting defensive and claiming that the other person is the one to blame for the fact that there is talk of racism erases black experiences. When someone has told you that something you have said or done is racist try to hear them out. Don’t get defensive listen to them and apologize, nobody is saying you are a bad person. They are only trying to help you see that some of the views you hold may be based on prejudice or ignorant perceptions.
Which brings me to the second reason, people are ignorant of what racism actually is. When we believe something is true about a race of people we believe that saying so is not racism, it is only speaking the truth. For example, saying the all Asians are bad drivers, or that all black people are lazy, or that all Mexicans are illegal immigrants. People believe these things to be true or they believe they have experienced them first hand so they think it is not racism. These people need to understand that these statements ARE RACIST! You do not know every person who is a part of that race and so you cannot know if all of them fit into the stereotypes you believe to be true.
The final reason I believe people have such a hard time discussing race is because it makes us uncomfortable and we want it to be over already. Again, I think it is mostly white people who feel this way. I think white people do not experience racism the way black people do and so they believe it cannot be true and are tired of hearing it. I also think that white people have a lot of guilt about the past and the way some of their ancestors may have behaved. They want to stop talking about it because they don’t want to feel bad. I was told by a white person once that black people should “get over slavery”. Many younger white people do not realized that while slavery was abolished in 1865, only about 150 years ago, that was not the end of the crimes committed against black people.
Getting into what happened after slavery is more than I can tackled in this post but keep in mind that the last of the Jim Crow laws were ablolished as recently as 1965! That means racism was LEGAL just 50 years ago! Many people are still alive who lived during those times, including many of my own family members and they are still angry. And who can blame them? For a long time black people were seen as less than human, by their own government! White people need to understand that this nation has not healed from the violence and cruelty that took place aginst black people for much of its history. This country cannot heal until the descendance of those same people are allowed to speak out and voice their needs and have their expieriences validated.
Again I am happy the conversation is being had. I hope that real change can happen now. I hope that we all learn to listen to each other and look inside ourselves. Each of us needs to be aware of our own prejudices and make efforts to educate ourselves and change. I hope that talking about race gets easier. I hope this for the future of this country, and it’s people.