Racism and Tornados

In a couple of days, I will graduate from learning about racism. I will complete the course with the choice of continuing to stay informed or not. I can run on the moving sidewalk, stand still, or forget about it all together. I will no longer be graded on the quality of my newfound knowledge, but the true evaluation will be how I use it to make a difference. A letter grade in a course is meaningless if I choose to stay silent in situations where my words will matter. I am more aware of my salient identities than I was back in August and how I can use my White privilege to advance equality rather than acting powerless about living in an unjust world.

Four months ago, I would have questioned whether the United States was post-racial. After all, the most powerful man in the world who has been the leader of our country for the past eight years is a Black man. How could racism still exist if our president is Black? I caught myself thinking occasionally. Racism must be a thing of the past, I thought. This was wishful thinking. On the first day of class, we were asked to consider what we hoped to gain from the course. A goal of mine was to stay informed on as many racial issues as possible. A fear of mine was the fear of being ignorant. I will admit, four months ago, I was ignorant. I stayed updated on the news and read the headlines on CNN but I chose what to pay attention to. I had the privilege of glancing over news stories that made me feel powerless and uncomfortable. I was aware to an extent of the injustices that were happening on a daily basis but pretended that I did not realize the severity. Today, I confidently declare that the denial of racism is racism.

A friend once said to me, “The two things I am most afraid of are racism and tornados.” The implication of this quote, while seemingly simple, is actually quite complex. There is a theme between these two fears and that is the feeling of powerlessness. One cannot stop a tornado just like one cannot stop a person from being racist. Over time, people have adopted the idea that everyone is a little bit racist, and that the solution is to not see race—to adopt a colorblind approach. This is problematic, to say the least. Since a large fear in America is the fear of being called racist, people rarely say outwardly bigoted remarks. Instead, racism becomes internalized, and its true colors appear in the form of micro-aggressions. Examples are if a woman holds her bag a little closer to her body or crosses the street at the sight of a Black man. She may not realize the ramifications of these subtle biases at the time. An analogy we have used in class is that if you get punched in the arm, it will hurt. If you get repeatedly punched in the same spot, it will hurt a lot. This is the experience of a person of color.

I single handedly cannot stop racism. However, as a white person, I can do my part in being aware of my position at the top of the racial hierarchy to speak up and use my voice. I am not powerless. I can tell a friend that their racist joke is not funny, or point out acts of bias in a productive, noncritical way. As I graduate from Contemporary Racism, I will be proactive. It is not enough to not be racist. Rather, I will be anti-racist.