Too many people still believe racism must be as blatant as hurling the N-Word to be considered an act of racism.
The fact is, racism is far more nuanced and often entrenched in an individuals deeply seated comfort with their own inherited privilege and experiences via their whiteness. For centuries, white people have been conditioned in every area of their lives to expect their own race to be a non-issue; An aspect of their identity that has never and will never factor into their journey through life. There evolved an engrained acceptance among their own, whether conscious or not, that the color of one’s skin implied supremacy, or inferiority. For so long, white people perceived themselves as so much the superior that they felt justified- were even glorified- for the atrocities committed against non-white human beings.
The seeds of racism were sewn so long ago that time forgot where the tether ends, but it has thrived, spread and invaded every step forward society believed it has taken up this hour and to detrimental effect. It requires more than a disaffected individual acknowledging it; It demands unlearning it from the future to defeat it.
With white people, the pervasive problem with racism is so casual and firmly fixed that most do not see it because they have not experienced it… and when it is addressed, it is met with outrage and a defensive stance that stirs more ire than it does open minds, and this has been demonstrated again and again. From protests against Police violence against unarmed Black people to Million Man Marches, and a growing, but seeming vacuous lesson every February on Black History- it’s tough getting white people to pay attention, much less to listen… especially people whose advanced life spans have crossed thresholds of necessary changes, seen the world change or advance inch by inch and who believe they have adapted, but have not. Their ignorance remains rooted in their self righteousness and unwillingness to unlearn what their formative years taught them; How their world gaze was effected, literally shaped through the lens from which they’ve peered at the rest of us and themselves. In many cases, specifically speaking on people like Piers Morgan and Sharon Osbourne, while their perspective of racism and eagerness to cling to archaic ideologies seems softened- perhaps due to exposure to societal shifts or the important rise of black voices- their expectations of leniency and the coveted “free pass” offered only to white people did not. They still hold tight to the privilege to get defensive, loud, angry without being branded threatening.
Thus, they will tell you they are not racist and claim they bare no unseen prejudices. “I am the least racist person” said both Osbourne and Morgan on their respective morning shows. They probably believe that to be true.
It was their own outrage, in both headline making scenarios that saw them depart their seats on their intercontinental shows (Morgan, host of the UK show Good Morning Britain, and Osbourne, co-host of the US afternoon show The Talk) in a controversy making fit of rage, stating victimhood and making the media rounds to defend themselves against any accusations of racism- neither bothering to acknowledge that it exists and has historically been a death knell for Black people on both shores. They made it, instead, about themselves.
Both had simply been asked simple questions, or had valuable insight offered by Black co-hosts… by their own colleagues… and rather than listen, learn and peel away at their own tightly knitted whiteness to understand their nuanced racism, they took their privilege, which allowed them to so, so easily turn a blind eye, somewhere else and avoid the conversation. They didn’t believe they could possess inherited processes of thought that saw them passively exalt themselves in the company of black voices asking to be heard. They may not have been using racially charged language or offensive slurs, but the tendrils of a behavior they simply understood by the virtue of being white was evident to those who have experienced it before; The constant microaggressions, the condescending tone or dominant posture they address from, or in Piers case, the constant, relentless barrage of attacks and dismissive, glib attitude regarding the mental health of a woman who had admitted to having suicidal ideation. It was clear that he would never verbally pummel a white woman in such a callous way. He offered her no mercy.
You’ll hear passive racists, those to whom it comes so natural that it is elemental in their blood, decry racism while at the same time dismiss black voices or take it upon themselves to nullify black issues requiring proactive address. “I’m not a racist, but they’re just playing the race card” I’ve heard some say. You never hear such a thing alluded to with regards to white issues, because white people never required a card to play the game… that they would always win was simply expected and accepted, no explanation required. If they had a problem, they could rely on it simply being handled rather than accused of using their race as a means to acquire justice or a simple platform to be heard from, both often denied black people by those who swear they aren’t racist. These individuals do not look at their own patterns of behavior to weed out the racism that lives there. It is like cancer. It is not always on the surface or visible to the naked eye, but signs and symptoms emerge when the conditions present an opportunity. Instead of slipping into a state of outrage and denial, it is chance to reshape what they have been taught they know about themselves.
It is okay to be well intended, but wrong. It is even better to be evolved enough to get adapt.
Stripping away generations of white supremacy is a long, arduous battle, still ongoing today as southern states of the USA seek to strip black people of their voting rights because they used their voice too loudly and it influenced an election to a result that proud racists didn’t favor. Indeed, former President Donald Trump drew racists out of their shame and shadows into the bright of day, and those who saw hope in returning to an era of celebrated racial inequality and inequity believed him to be a beacon of hope… to preserve their white supremacy so they might wear the mantle of privilege unapologetically. The backlash to Black people using their voices has been swift, and for much of the world, made it painfully evident that the undercurrent of racism is much stronger and more prominent than we feared.
The message is loud and clear.
It will require generations to move us further out of the mire of hatred and bigotry. There will not be a day when it ends, but there will be a transitional time when more grandparents and parents unlearn their racism from our systems and white cultures that created it and intentionally adapt to a better, safer future. We must not just agree to tear down the world that racism built, we must, each of us, grab our own dynamite.
Those who refuse will inevitably be left behind.