I’ve been careful about being overly vocal online about the Black Lives Matter movement. Not because I don’t support it, I absolutely consider myself an ally to the cause, but because I don’t want to be another white person drowning out the voices of the people who really need to be heard on this subject. Because, as much as I can try and use my imagination to empathize, I really have no idea what it’s like to be a black person in the United States. So, instead of being overly loud with my own thoughts, I instead share videos or articles that are being posted by black Americans on the subject, so that I can be an informed ally and hopefully help spread these first-hand accounts to others.
I can’t take credit for this strategy. I pulled it straight off the Black Lives Matter website after I found myself floundering in a state of ignorance, confused over how I could best help as a fellow human and as a writer. (As a side note: signing petitions, calling government officials, donating time and/or money, and taking the time to read and get informed on the issues are also great ways to help the cause. The Black Lives Matter website is a great place to get information on all of that.)
All that being said, I believe it is important that I speak up about a specific argument currently being propagated by the far right. An argument that I am sad to say, (although not surprised), is being spread and consumed mostly by white people. As you’ve likely guessed, the argument I’m speaking of, is that systemic racism does not exist in the United States.
Now, I could spend hours posting links and referencing proof of the existence of systemic racism in this country, pointing out issues such as how black American’s make of 33% of the US prison population but only 12% of the general population (pewreasearch.org) or how black Americans receive far harsher sentences than white Americans for the same crimes (ussc.gov). I could point out that the fatality rate for black Americans due to police brutality is 2.8 times higher than the fatality rate of white Americans (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). And, I could also go on about food deserts, the cycle of poverty, lack of quality public education, work-place discrimination, or how this country erected most of the “historical” confederate statues during the the early 1900’s and again during the 1950’s and 1960’s as a white supremacist response to the civil rights movements being held by black Americans (npr.org). But instead, I’m just going to relay to you what I’ve seen and heard first hand.
During the first Obama campaign in 2008, I was living and working in Illinois, located right in the heart of this nation. Having grown up in a small town in the Pacific Northwest, it wasn’t that I had never been a witness to racism, (there is a lot of systemic racism targeting Native Americans), but there honestly just isn’t a high population of black Americans living in the area. So, you can imagine my utter shock when the “N” word started flying around in everyday conversation to describe the man running for office. Seriously, I never once heard anyone who was voting against him give a real politically based reason for not liking him as a candidate. Sadly, the only reason given by the white folks around me, (folks who I considered to be nice and even compassionate people up until that point), was that he was an “N” word and that he had no right to be the president because of his skin color. Needless to say, I was shocked and mortified at the realization that the story of progress taught to me in public school, the simplistic tale of how “once there was slavery and then there was residual racism and then there was a movement and then ultimately freedom and liberty and racial equality won out and now all is well” was complete and utter bullshit! A lie that became even more exposed when I witnessed the extreme poverty and far-from-equal living conditions being experienced in predominately black neighborhoods as opposed to predominately white areas, (something that is far more obviously in parts of the country outside of the PNW). Land of the free? Based on what I’ve witnessed, it’s more like land of the free white male.
The fact is, systemic racism is still very alive today. It has been woven into the very fabric of our society. It has been, (sometimes unwittingly and sometimes quite intentionally), taught to our children, propagated through our political system, weaponized in our legal system, and swept under the rug by our social system. And now, as it is being exposed and brought into the light and publicized around the world, some people would rather pretend it doesn’t exist.
Look, folks, I get that it’s embarrassing. But sometimes that’s life, and to deny the existence of systemic racism in this country is no different than denying the Holocaust. The proof is evident, and to argue against the proof just because it makes you uncomfortable, is juvenile. How can we ever expect to solve our nation’s issues if we can’t first admit that the issues exist? It’s like being in a longterm relationship, sometimes you’re going to be in the wrong, and admitting that is necessary if you want the relationship to be healthy.
I don’t have all the answers to solve the issue of systemic racism, and I don’t claim too. But, I do know that an important first step to dealing with any problem is to first realize that you have one.