The “R” Word: Racist

On Thursday (May 17, 2012), the U.S. Census Bureau reported that for the first time in American History the majority of babies born in the U.S. were to parents of color.  Twenty-six percent of those babies were Latino, 15 percent were African American, and 4 percent Asian.  Researchers estimate that by the year 2050, there will be more people of color alive in the U.S. than whites, making it the first time ever that whites have not held a majority population since arriving on American soil hundreds of years ago.

My question is What Will The Whites Do About This?  What will you do about this?  I did a quick facebook search of groups, searching for “whites against racism” and what I found was not what I was looking for.  In that one small search, I did not find any groups for whites who support anti-racism efforts.  Instead, I found five groups titled, W.A.R.R. (Whites Against Reverse Racism), Racism Against “Whites” Is Still Racism, Racism Against Whites, and again Racism Against Whites.  Granted, not a very creative grouping of titles, except perhaps the first which raises serious concerns of its own.

That seems to answer, at least briefly, my What Will The Whites Do About This query.  The more important question here is what are you going to do about it?  In my experience, the progressive white voice typically falls into one of three camps: 1) the annoyed person who doesn’t get what all the fuss is about and is sick and tired of talking about race; 2) the “bleeding heart liberal” who almost wishes he/she were born a person of color; and 3) the silent and largely uncomfortable majority.  I acknowledge here that there is always a portion of that silent majority who remains quiet in deference and respect for the voices of color and experiences they speak to.  However, I believe quite a few of them are silent out of fear and/or a lack of education on issues of race and culture.

In fact, I believe most whites remain silent out of fear of being called the dreaded “R” word.  I remember being silent many times when the issue of race would come up in a group.  I was fearful I would say the wrong thing – use the wrong words, say something that someone would take offense to – fearful that someone would say or think I was a racist.  The dreaded “R” word.  It’s the name that strikes fear into the heart of many a white person.

By many definitions, I am a racist.  Can I really escape being a racist if my actions or inactions benefit me simply because of the color of my skin or the way I speak?  The way I look wholesome to shop owners, never suspicious.  The way I get smiled at because I look conventional, even conservative to some – with my medium blonde hair, blue eyes, clear and slightly pinkish Germanic-descended skin tone.  The way I can go joy-riding in a stolen car at the age of 15 and never see a jail cell, have my mom pick me up at the station crying and then send me back to the same family whose car I “borrowed” while babysitting, to apologize.  It’s called white privilege because if I had a different skin tone, I’d have a record, a mugshot and fingerprints on file;  I certainly wouldn’t have been treated so sweetly by the police or that family – I never even wore handcuffs that night.

If I take advantage of that privilege, some might call that racism.   There’s not a single white person in America who has not benefited from this kind of privilege and taken advantage of it.  There’s not a single white person who’s not racist in some way or another.  Still, white people are so afraid of that “R” word that we remain locked in our own fear, unwilling to engage in the conversation.

But now is a good time to end that.  When I do a search on “whites against racism” I don’t want to see WAR shout back at me.  I want to see white people speaking up and out in support of our entire community – and denouncing inequality wherever it hides, saying something as simple as, “hey, that’s not right!”

White mens restroomIn his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote “Lukewarm acceptance is more bewildering than outright rejection.” It was in reference to asking white Birmingham business owners to take down the signs of segregation from their storefronts.  Encouraged by the nodding heads, it was indeed bewildering when the following week he found the signs still proudly posted in the front windows of the shops, “whites only.”

I appeal to the silent majority to end your silence.  Don’t nod your head.  Speak up and take part in the conversation.  Risk being called the “R” word.   I don’t know a single person of color who has the luxury of choosing whether or not they get insulted.

Re-posted December 5, 2014.

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3 thoughts on “The “R” Word: Racist

  1. billione says:

    I love the article. If we are going to beat racism in America, whites must also step up, take responsibility and commit to solutions.

    However, I am skeptical of Census Bureau report. The idea that because there will be more total so-called minorities in America than total whites is not as important or significant as it appears. It suggests an “us versus them” sort of dynamic and seems to imply some sort of alliance among the minorities.

    The truth is, while society distinguishes minorities based on race, many of those included in the minority category identify as white in America, despite their race or ethnicity.

    This is problematic because many of them also see themselves outside of the race dynamic and probably share the fear of being called the “R” word as well.

  2. sean kosofsky says:

    Yeah, white supremacy is alive and well; in policy, in practice and it is certainly at play in how entire organizations operate. thanks for writing this Kat. It is essential that white people and white leaders not just create a culture of inclusion but push for racial equity and dismantle race silos where ever we see them.

  3. Renee McCoy says:

    This is the beginning of a very courageous conversation that must continue. Thanks for starting it, Kathleen. As an African American living in Detroit, I did not experience the pervasiveness of racism beyond the institutional level on a regular basis. Of course, I ran into the occassional white person with a bad attitude, but, for the most part, one-on-one racism seemed rare and manageable. I also found much hope and comfort in the LGBTQ leaders there who were actively committed to addressing racism and working to move beyond it. I will forever be grateful to persons like Jan Stephenson, Shea Howell, Barb Murray, and Craig Covey for their unpopular but powerful refusals to embrace bigotry.
    SInce moving to Seattle, however, I have come to understand that racism is alive and well among LGBTQ persons. For the first time in a long time I have come-face-to face with individuals who are proud to be racists. In a city that prides itself on being progressive, I have also met individuals who think they are not racist and qualitfy their feelings with statements like “We are not racist! We let people of color do whatever they want here.” Two days ago I was standing outside my office building when a white woman walked boldly between my friend and I as we were engaged in a pretty serious conversation. Although there was room for her to go around, she walked right between us and as she passed she grabbed her purse with both hands. She held on to it tight and with both hands until she had passed me and my friend, who happened to be a young Black Gay man. Tow things come up for me in this example. First, for some reason she thought we wanted something she had. Second, she just decided that whatever we were discussing was not worthy of respect and it was fine for her to part the waters of our conversation. The part people don’t get is how racism is so subtle and ingrained. And it’s not just ablack and white thing. I find the way Asians and Native Americans are treated here a real journey into the pre-civil rights chamber of horrors! It feels even worse when it’s LGBTQ persons doing the discrimination. We should just know better simply because we have known so much worse.
    Keep doing this work, Kat; gives me BIG hope and pride!!

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