White Culture and the Luxury of Ignorance

Between the Rachel Dolezal uproar and the growing list of police brutality cases the same question keeps being asked of white people, what place do we have in the national discussion on race? After the act of terrorism committed in South Carolina, I have lost any trace of hope I had about white people caring about, or even being interested in anything other than other white people. Coming from someone with a Facebook news-feed consisting of about half the people I met post college and half the people I met pre college in my white suburb I can say with conviction to any person of color, it’s all true. White people just don’t give a damn.

And why should we? What reason do we have to stress our fragile minds with issues we think are taking place outside our narrow worldview? If these questions are puzzling to you I highly recommend reading Dr. Robin Diangelo’s article, “White America’s Racial Illiteracy: Why our national conversation is poisoned from the start.” She explains much better than I can why it is that white people first, cannot fathom racism exists and second, how we are able to let any evidence of the contrary roll off our backs so easily.

Let me clarify that I’m not talking about right wing nut-jobs when I talk about white people. I’m talking about the white people I know and live amongst. I’m talking about the white people that went to decent public schools, the white people that get outraged about pesticide usage in our food, the white people that affectionately say “mixed babies are the cutest” and that “Beyonce is their spirit animal.” The white people that consider themselves at least somewhat liberal and the young ones that grew up in the internet age and somehow still lack the information necessary to have a basic understanding of how race, class, and gender have informed our culture.

These white people are not the ones berating Obama for his speech regarding the tragedy in Charleston. They’re not the ones outraged over the idea of gun control or removing the confederate flag from license plates. It’s as if we’re back in the 1800’s and us Yankees are just shrugging our shoulders because we still need those tobacco crops to supply our factories. It’s not happening here, we say. It’s not like we’re redneck racists. We have a single black friend, we like rap music, we’ve eaten soul food before! Somehow these facts allow us to remain silent. To not “pick a side” because we’re either afraid of offending racist uncle whoever on Facebook or the even worse possibility that we think this is not “our problem.”

Racism and racial terrorism have always been our problem. Believe it or not, the KKK wasn’t started by black people. I’m blowing your minds here, I know. There is always a sense of hopelessness when something so tragic happens but to not even acknowledge that it happened and continues to happen is harmful and wrong. It’s not about white guilt, it’s about accepting our past and reaching for a better future. That future can only start with dialogue.

White people, please call the Charleston shooting what it is, an act of racial terrorism. A terrible act by one of our own. Accept that there even is such a thing as a white terrorist! We love to praise our individuality as white people claiming “white culture” isn’t “a thing” because we’re all “too different” yet we consistently find ways to homogenize other races’ cultures into stereotypes we find easier to co-opt or to destroy. There is a white culture and it made someone like Dylann Storm Roof feel entitled to murder black people.

If you’re a white person, please educate yourself. You really don’t have an excuse not to. All the cards are in our deck. We are lucky enough to have won the genetic lottery to belong to a race that is free to exist without fear of racial violence towards us. We can’t put our heads in the sand and pretend like we don’t benefit from simply existing as who we are. Realize that no matter how “unique” and “progressive” you may be, we’re all part of the same group and when we shrug our shoulders and blame “a few bad apples” for the atrocities our race has committed right here in the good old USA we’re doing ourselves and our future a disservice by not speaking up.

There’s no need to complicate the Charleston shootings and turn the tragedy into something other than terrorism. We may think we can be objective on issues of race but we can’t. We must acknowledge our biases and get a grip already. I encourage you, fellow white people, to get out there and empathize! Listen to people of color! Stop reading this post by a white woman and go talk to your “soft spoken, loner, autism spectrum” sons, give them a book instead of a gun and make sure this doesn’t keep happening.


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