It has been a few years since I heard the brilliant and impassioned white anti-racist Tim Wise speak about the "benefits" that white people received from racism. He spoke about lily white communities, and even poorer white people who allegedly voted against their own interests feeling compensated by a sense of superiority at their Sunday church services where perhaps there they might be deacon or in some other way still feel special. And of course there is the benefit to those of us who are so price conscious as to buy the cheapest goods, feeling thrilled to get that bargain even if it comes from a quasi or real slave labor of people of color near or far.
The recent events of the last days, the refusal of grand juries to hand down indictments for what seem to be unjust murders of two black men at the hands of police, have for many brought the issue of racism, racial profiling -- of prejudice and its workings -- into the public eye, big time. I worry that it might be temporary, perhaps leading to politically correct maneuverings that will make protesters feel good and pacify a segment of the population only to turn our backs on them.
I have said often in the past months that the most inconvenient truths seem to be the most personal but it is one thing to have a sentence tumble easily off one's lips and another thing to consider our part -- in this case my part -- in the racism that still continues to be so pervasive. I wonder if we will be able to change a thing in a deeper way, unless we review our history and our trends, past and present, with an honesty not often so popular. Unfortunately the truth tellers of dismal messages have not often been seen as the lovers of this country they frequently are.
The notion of looking within when it comes to racism, looking back with a need to know what happened -- rather than to imbibe the kool-aid of patriotic nostalgia -- is not all that popular either. We wax on about learning from history, but the inconvenient parts, well maybe not so much. Wise, in his book Dear White America, writes that there is evidence to suggest that we tend to internalize "... racist and prejudicial beliefs about people of color. Not because we are bad people, let alone bigots, or even because we are 'racists' at our core, but simply because we are here, and advertising works, and we've been subjected to a lot of negative advertising... when it comes to those who are not white in this society." (p. 67) He points to how we have glided over the fact that the Wall Street bank robbers so to speak, had their whiteness ignored. But back to reflecting.
I once thought of myself as a kind of innocent in this regard, blocking out my own move to a sorta kinda white suburb where the schools were "good." I was one of the people who stopped seeing, stopped seeing even what I knew, not just by reading but by having worked as a hospital social worker with poor people of color and who were Hispanic, and having myself pushed by personnel who thought I was one of "them." I know better because I know also what it can be like to be depressed, on both sides of any couch, and how hard it is to pick yourself/myself up, just by will alone.
I know we are all the recipients of advertising, much of it done by people who want us to vote a certain way, to buy a certain product, and to care -- most recently -- about the middle classes while anything or person below that economic level is pretty much ignored.
However, at the same time, I don't know racism enough, and I don't know about it enough, also because I've been ashamed of some of my prejudices. I am more at home in white areas, and I'm not sure I'm so good with diversity as I've liked to think. One worry I have is that people like me at any age, may push their prejudices aside to talk the right talk, without inner conviction and the truth that comes from being at ease in one's own skin about one issue or another.
I and people like me, we need help with this stuff. That's my take at least. I'm not a right-wing obviously blind racist but I'm a scared white Jewish woman who has internalized lots of fear and guilt in my own forays into ambivalence in that arena. I have a big mouth but I've been a scaredy-cat in so many ways. An advantage I have in terms of facing up to stuff is that I haven't been able to hide in the niceness Tim Wise scoffs at in his recent website blog. But at the same time, to really admit my fears of the differences, racially and ethnically, brought and still brings with it another kind of shame.
For too many years it felt too shameful to admit racism out loud; when I talked of racism in America it was about other people, not about me. But since I've been concentrating on our knowing our truth only by admitting all the facets we can, it's the least I can do, even if it's not flattering. I know on some level, that to heal a wound, it has to be admitted and I guess as a white person I have to stand up for my own right to speak my truth, even a truth I hope won't stay static and blind.
A prejudiced white person... That's not all I am, but if I am to be part of any honest conversation, it's part of what I need to confront. I think of talking out loud as at times transforming, and hope this is the case right now.