Contrary to popular belief, not every piece of correspondence received by writers at The Root begins with “You’re the racist” or “Not all white people ... ” For every piece of hate mail received by black writers who discuss race and racism in America, there are as many from white people who contact us with good intentions.
One of the more frequent questions posed by Caucasians is, how can a white person genuinely interested in racial equality help fight white supremacy?
1. Come get ya boy.
Black people cannot cure racism. It is a contagion carried and spread by white people among white people. While it may be impossible to drive bigotry out of the hearts and minds of racists, there is a way to make it uncool. The most productive way to stamp out the scourge of white supremacy is to isolate the practitioners of prejudice by speaking out against it ...
Every. Single. Time.
After your uncle has had a few glasses of Wild Turkey at Thanksgiving, or your homeboy has had a few too many shots of ... ummm ... Wild Turkey, and says something that sounds like an excerpt from an “alt-right” speech, you should say something. (I must admit, in my own prejudiced mind, Wild Turkey is the default drink of semiracist white people. I only believe that because every time I have to buy a Secret Santa Christmas gift for a Caucasian co-worker, they seem elated when they open the bottle of Wild Turkey I gifted them. I apologize for the stereotype. In my defense, I don’t drink Hennessy, but when a person of no color assumes I do and buys it for me, I happily drink my free cognac.)
This subtle tactic might be uncomfortable, but the more you do it, the more reluctant they become to do or say something that might be perceived as racist. If more white people did this, it might not make wypipo less racist, but it would make them consider their words and actions before saying or doing something that offends nonwhites.
If you aren’t comfortable with white-shaming, you can at least ask the universally accepted question dedicated to habitual Caucasian line steppers:
“Whose (white) mans is this?”
2. Start seeing color.
In America, whiteness has traversed the threshold of a racial category and has become the default designation. “Black” is a group of people who are the descendants of slaves, different from “Africans,” “Jamaicans,” et al. “Mexican” is a nationality. But “white” has no such connotation.” “White” means “American.” White means “everything but ... ”
Although racial colorblindness is a fictional hypothesis that resides only in white brains, when people say “I don’t see color,” they aren’t necessarily lying. What they mean is that they have made a conscious attempt to see and treat everyone the same by pretending that everyone is the same.
But in America, the concept of equality has never been extended to anyone but white people. Not seeing color is a tacit admission that we live in a society that treats people of color differently, and their solution to overcoming prejudice is closing their eyes and feigning blindness. It has never worked.
But what if white people did the opposite? What if—in their quest for equality—white people made a conscious effort to see color and still treat people with dignity and respect? What if they understood that African Americans, Mexicans, Muslims and others deserve freedom and equality without having their heritage and culture separated from their humanity?
It is possible to simultaneously celebrate the unique collections of colors and cultures and still believe that all men (and women) are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.
I made up the last part of that sentence all by myself ...
... because someone needed to say it.
3. Don’t be a white ally.
The designation of “ally” implies that the person is aligning him- or herself with a cause out of some sense of charitable benevolence. Instead of declaring allyship, there is a higher cause to which one can dedicate oneself:
I am not poor. I am not underprivileged. I am not a woman. I am not homosexual. I am not transsexual. I do not consider myself an ally or an “activist” to or for anyone because I know that there is no line of demarcation between them and me. I am a human.
There is no need for safety pins or self-congratulatory pats on the back if you are truly “about that life,” because the truth is, there is not a “that life.” It is just a life. Your life. Our lives.
4. Do not believe that children are the future.
It is remarkable to witness how children don’t care about race, color, religion or nationality when they are young. But at some point, it seeps into their souls and they inherit the generational curse of racism. It is not always because we taught them to be that way.
It is because we are that way.
Children are not the future. They are the sum total of their past influences. They learn everything by observing and absorbing the world around them.
Every single prejudice and fear we have was acquired from someone else. I cannot recall my mother sitting me down to explain that I could be anything I wanted to be. But because she sequestered me from the fear of failure, I still live with the foolish belief that I can accomplish any goal, and that the only person stopping me is me.
Racism is like that. It may not be possible to inoculate children from a racist society, but you can quarantine them from catching the disease of racism. You can teach kids to separate themselves from intolerance as if bigots were pedophiles or pussy grabbers. You can show them that racists are dangerous sociopaths, like the cretins who eat candy corn or the bastards who put sugar in their grits.
Those motherfuckers can’t be trusted.
5. Acknowledge your own racism.
I often tell the story of consulting for a boat company that started a program in the 1960s to teach students at an all-white high school how to manufacture boats. The students who finished the program had a direct line to working at the factory. When the town’s schools integrated, the training initiative remained exclusive to the majority-white school.
When the company’s CEO asked me why his company was perceived as racist, I explained to him that—regardless of intent—the fact that black students in the area had much less of an opportunity to work for his company was the definition of racism. He might not be a white supremacist, but his company perpetuated white supremacy.
Before he alarmed us about the condition of Annie after she was attacked by a smooth criminal, the poet, philosopher and greatest wearer of penny loafers in history, Michael Jackson, pointed out that the most important way to fight racism and any societal scourge is to look at “the man in the mirror” and ask him to make a change.
While it is uncomfortable to recognize and admit your own blemishes, it is important to know that you can eliminate every bit of hate in your heart and still be guilty of racism. Racism has nothing to do with hate or what’s inside you. It is about actions—intentional or otherwise. It is possible to be aware of every incident of white supremacy around you and never acknowledge how your own actions may contribute to white supremacy.
Do not reflexively become defensive when someone points out your own privilege. Refrain from pointing out the black girl you dated in college or how one of your best friends is black when you are accused of prejudice. It is entirely possible that you did something racist, even if you are not “a racist.” Stop subconsciously adding “all” when you read the phrase “white people.” We know that “not all white people” are racists.
But white people ...
Oh, by the way: I talked to Annie, and she told me she is OK.