Tatum (2008) argues that there isn’t enough talk about racism in the United States. White people in the United States don’t have to talk about race, but for people of color it is sometimes impossible to escape the dialogues on race. When speaking about racism in the United States, I think it is important to remember to or for whom you are speaking. The to or for whom is often laced with racial undertones and power dynamics.
In their online publication, “Seeing Race and Seeming Racist? Whites Go out of Their Way to Avoid Talking About Race,” the American Psychological Association (I mysteriously could not find an exact author) posits that, in attempt to avoid drawing negative feelings toward themselves, white people often avoid talking about race, even when it is clearly relevant to the situation. In their attempts to be culturally sensitive, however, people who avoid talking about race are often, as a result of their avoidance, perceived negatively.
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke
This quote has resonated throughout groundbreaking historical events. The majority of German citizens did not hold Hitler’s beliefs of Jewish persecution, but very few did anything to stop it. Quite recently, a toddler in China was hit by a car in a market. 18 people walked past her but did nothing to help her. The extent of her injuries were so severe, and she died the next day. When the pedestrians were asked why they did nothing to help her, they stated that they were afraid to get involved, as they feared that they blamed for the child’s injuries. This was attributed this to the Nanjing Judge case, in which the judge ruled that the man who saved a fallen elderly woman from being crushed by pedestrians was guilty of pushing her down. In court, it was said that common sense dictates that if he brought her to the hospital, he must have been responsible. Fear of being blamed for the child’s injuries prevented the pedestrians from intervening, and their refusal to help the crushed toddler led to her. But does this quote relate to contemporary racism? If we do not address issues of race freely, are we guilty of perpetuating racist attitudes?
This week’s reading, Breaking the Silence (Tatum, 2008), describes the reasoning behind the silence of discussing racism and other issues of discrimination. Whether it is a fear of being isolated from one’s friends and family, or a fear of sounding ignorant and unaware, fear is the root of those unsure, half-smiles when your boss says something racist and expects you to agree. Understandably, people don’t like to create an uncomfortable environment, worrying that they would be ostracized by their co-workers, peers, friends, or family. However it’s difficult for me to believe that expressing your truths and concerns about society can make those who care about you turn their backs on you. I would want my friends and family to discuss these things with me, and I would listen with an open mind and would be confident that they would do the same.
At the start of the colorblindness talk last Tuesday, the audience was asked to define colorblindness in laymen’s terms. I was ready to recite the textbook definitions I’d learned in previous classes, but I realized I was having trouble defining colorblindness in simple and relatable terms. I think this automatic pause speaks to the nature of colorblindness; it’s as detrimental as “classic” racism, but its insidious nature makes it more difficult to confront.
Through a hypothetical situation, which takes place in a classroom, colorblindness was explained as an ideology that challenges racism by ignoring it. The situation illustrates how individuals at an early age begin to see obvious differences between individuals of different races and instead of acknowledging and appreciating these differences, they are not only told to ignore these differences, but conditioned to believe that seeing these differences makes us racist.
Recommended companion piece to The Help: Eudora Welty’s, ‘Where is the Voice Coming From?” short story.