Monday, November 24, 2014

Ferguson. Shame.

Earlier tonight someone who goes by Ashlyn@awiebe96 tweeted this at #Chi2Ferguson:

So many emotions right now... The most prevalent? Shame, for the society I support by not questioning, every single day.

She's the only person I've noticed on Twitter tonight who acknowledges her personal role in what happened with Michael Brown's shooter. Ashlyn seems to sense that all of us have participated in the millions of events and dynamics that led up to this cultural moment. This is what I believe is lacking in the conversation tonight: awareness of the whole country's culpability in the racism that Ferguson, Missouri has manifested.

Yes, the power dynamic was set generations ago with white men at the top and Black men at the bottom. Because of the hegemony established by thinking white men, Black men are the most hunted, incarcerated and ignored members of American society. But such a system could not stand all this time without the participation of all of us: the Mayflower descendents, the immigrants from China, Italy, Poland, Vietnam, Mexico, everywhere, and the children of all those immigrants. Yes, white men still hold the ultimate position of privilege and status, they run the companies and pass the laws, but they can't do it without the support, however tacit, of the rest of us, especially those of us with white privilege.

To those Americans with white privilege, have you ever heard someone make a statement expressing bigotry? Did you say anything in protest? If not, you upheld the status quo. Have you ever wondered if your co-worker of color (maybe one who speaks accented English) would be capable of doing some task? If so, that was racism. Have you ever wished we'd stop giving so much attention to people who just want to complain about racism? If so, you've enjoyed the luxury of denying the reality of experiences other than your own.

We all do this. White people harbor prejudices about others based on their skin color, but so do those of us with skin color. I don't know if anyone ever says this, but there's plenty of racism in the Mexican American community against Blacks, Chinese, Jews, Filipinos, whites and everyone, including other Mexicans. Every single American - no matter their background - discriminates against all the other Americans. Racism is in our history, our soil and our shared sense of who we are. Racism is human. It's inevitable.

What's not inevitable is for us to stay here. There is so much rage tonight about the Darren Wilson decision. Yes, let's use that rage to demand change, to make people hear us, to make clear that this kind of injustice is not acceptable and we will not tolerate it. But let's also use some of that passion to scrutinize ourselves. Think about it. How often do you notice the absence of people of color when you're in a conference room at work? How often do you notice the absence of people of color on news programs, in movies, on campus? How often do you notice that you're surrounded only by people who look like you at your place of worship, at  dinner parties, at weddings? How often do you hear a family member - maybe your own mother - express racial intolerance, but you let it go because you pick your battles and fighting for someone else's personhood doesn't feel worth giving up the peace?

Look at your reaction when you call a company and someone who doesn't sound American picks up, or when the driver in front of you is one of "those drivers" or when a friend of yours says she's dating a Black man. Check yourself. Notice your prejudice. It's entirely appropriate to rage and protest the mess that's going on in Ferguson, but don't think that because you're sick and disgusted that you're not racist, too. Racism isn't just white men gunning down Black men. Racism is any time you make an assumption based on someone's race/culture. The nicest people are racist. Racism can lurk in the best of intentions. We in the U.S. can't help being born into it and drinking it in along with the lowfat milk and the Mountain Dew.

But we don't have to stay here. We can't stay here. The United States will only throw off our culture of racism if we demand complete accountability. That means holding others accountable for their beliefs and actions and holding ourselves accountable for what we know is in our hearts. Tonight, if you think certain people in Ferguson ought to feel ashamed of themselves, check yourself. What have you been letting yourself get away with?

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