If racism isn't about ignorance, what is it about?
"If you’re treated a certain way you become a certain kind of person. If certain things are described to you as being real they’re real for you whether they’re real or not." -James Baldwin
I opened this post with this quote because I believe that it just about sums up the visible variance in the treatment of Blacks versus whites in America.
On a very basic level, white people have always been treated a certain way, because historically they demanded to be treated a certain way by inciting violence and death, demonizing, demoralizing, enslaving, murdering, lynching and oppressing Black people. White privilege was bred fundamentally out of the "master" mentality. And that mentality is the "certain way" white people expect to be treated and have conditioned society to treat them.
The expectations of white privilege gave way to generations of conditioning, that was irrationally supported by stereotypes of Black people that suggest that Blacks are beneath white people, uneducated, unsophisticated, ghetto, criminals and thugs. Not because we (Black people) are any of those things, but because that is the "reality" white people want to believe is true in order to justify their prejudice and racism. But as the great James Baldwin points out, it doesn't matter to white people if it's true or not, only that it is real for them.
Black people on the other hand, although we have always been treated a certain way (oppressed, devalued, restricted, etc.) as a result of the perceptions and stereotypes created by white people, we have never regarded the stereotypes as fact. It is not a reality for us, because we have plenty of examples as to why Black people are not any of these things. What it boils down to is white people's willingness to be confronted with hundreds of years of lies, acknowledge those lies and create a space for Black people to exist in the absence of those lies...
I read an article in the Washington Post titled Racism isn't about ignorance. Some highly educated white people have upheld systemic inequality. The article is written by Victor Ray and Alan Aja. Now while there are some points I can understand, the overall tone and message of the work is a couple of things, 1. to advise that calling for education of white racist will not be a cure for racism, and 2. it calls for white people to acknowledge their purposeful use of systemic injustice for white privilege.
For example, "When Amy Cooper called the police in retaliation for being asked to leash her dog in New York’s Central Park, she was not showing an irrational fear of black men. Calling 911 was a calculated manipulation of a system that has historically harmed black men. Using knowledge of a system to your advantage is not ignorance, it is the act of someone educated in the nuances of institutionalized racism."
While obviously point two makes perfect sense and is very valid, in my professional and personal opinion, I want to just clarify quickly that Black people are not trying to prescribe a cure for racism. Many of us will never live in a world where racism is "cured". If you have experienced racism you know that you can never be cured of it, it forever impacts you. You will never forget a racist experience, for those of us who lived to see another day, you just hope you never to have to experience it again. But white people have to make a choice not to be racist, and there needs to be checks and balances in place (consequences) for white people to be reminded that racism is not natural and should not be used or practiced in any form.
Most of what Black people are asking for is equity, equality and inclusion. Again we are asking never to have to experience racism in any form ever again. A part of which is addressed in the example Victor Ray and Alan Aja use regarding Amy Cooper.
We just want to be seen for who we are, not as white people see us.
With that being said, much of the claims that educating white people is what we need in response to racism, are white solutions! They are means for white people to attempt to get us to believe they are making an effort through prescribing education as a solution, but that is not our request, and that is not our remedy. Sure education can be used as a tool but what it ultimately comes down to is white people deciding to make an conscious effort to be better to Black people.
But just because Black people all over the world are taking to the streets and social media to peacefully protest, sharing our experiences in order to get white people to ACKNOWLEDGE that racism does exist, it does not mean that we think education is a solution for racism.
I mean, who really knows what a cure for racism is? Because the cure for white people and Black people look totally different at this point...
Black people have called for acknowledgement, accountability and resolve. Because before we can get to resolve we need white people acknowledge our experiences as truth, without trying to justify white behavior. Then we need white people to be accountable for racist treatment, systemic injustice and oppression, again without white people attempting to justify their actions. Only after these things, can we began to sit down and discuss resolve.
"Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."- James Baldwin
Before that, we are just going through the motions of white people patronizing us, hoping that we accept what they give us and shut up for awhile.
Ignorance about Black culture and the willful ignorance of white people in general continue to feed stereotypes about Black people, which in turn fuel racism. And we know book sense has no bearing on common sense. That is why what Black people know as common sense, white people have to read about. But we do believe that educating children fully on the history of this country gives them a better chance to make better decisions on how they interact with people. We give them the tools to educate their parents on their irrationality and confront their racist ideals.
But truthfully there is no amount of education that can combat generations of conditioned prejudice and racism if the racist and prejudice party is NOT WILLING to confront and change it. That is why Black people need acknowledgement and accountability first. White people need to demonstrate the willingness to address the issue at large. Unfortunately we have not arrived at that point yet, and I am not sure we will arrive in this lifetime.
But I do know that white people have had the means to be educated about Black culture, in order for them to dispel their stereotypes and get to us know us for who we are. That is if they truly want to incorporate us in their white society.
I believe that white people have purposefully kept us segregated and distanced in order to maintain their perceptions and stereotypes. It is their way to keeping their views real to them, no matter how untrue they may be. In their minds they see the world just as their ancestors saw it. Just as their grandparent slave owners saw it.
There is nothing that we did to give white people these impressions of us in the first place, their stereotypes were perpetuated by their actions toward us. So we know that there is nothing that we ca do to change their minds.
Ignorance, in a literal sense, alone is not the only thing that contributes to prolonged racism and injustice of Black people in America, but willful ignorance alone, can and will.
"It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have." -James Baldwin