I think one of the biggest road blocks keeping us from tackling systemic racism, is that we have allowed people to continue to limit the definition of racism as simply someone who says one race is better than the other. We don’t even force the word believe into that sentence because so many people remind us that you can’t prove what someone believes or doesn’t believe. You have to go by their words. And if they have never actually said that white people are better than black people – then they are not racist.
People are even defending the use of the n-word now, saying that there are some times/context in which you can say the word and it still doesn’t make you a racist. We have removed that as a qualifier.
And when I say “we” – I mean majority of our country. I mean…look at the numbers. The majority is white, and the majority of white people are not comfortable calling out racism. Even people like me who talk about it every day, tiptoe around actually saying: Our President Is A Racist. Because I have allowed myself to fall into the trap of: Well, there’s nothing on record of him saying white people are better than black people so I can’t really back up the claim I’m making in calling him a racist.
I have HONEST TO GOD, thought that sentence right there, when I wanted to refer to him as a racist on Facebook where a lot of my Trump-supporting friends/family hang out.
And this is the problem.
SIDENOTE: If you thought less of me because I hesitated before point blank calling him a racist on Facebook, then we should chat about the difficulties of maintaining relationships in the age of Trump when you have a red family and live in a red state. Tears have been shed and hearts have been broken and I get really angry when people think that people like me should just break all ties with Trump supporters like it’s as simple as giving up drinking soda.
Back to the problem. Defining racism. When I talk about issues of systemic racism, I spell it out and give research and link to documentaries and articles and books and do my best to back it all up. But…I don’t challenge anyone by calling anyone who disagrees, or anyone who supports these policies, a racist.
That is the problem.
And I don’t know how to solve this problem. But I know it’s a problem. Because in order to dismantle systemic racism, we need more white people on board. Because while some predict we are going to be a majority minority country here within the next generation or two, we have oppressed minorities so much that we are not giving them power in their numbers. We are making it harder for communities of color to vote when we require IDs or when we limit early voting or when we purge voting registries.
So, while the population numbers may be in favor of those who want to dismantle systemic racism, we are setting up policies so that the voting majority still stays white. And those who vote, are those with the power. And if white people are still not on board with seeing racism in themselves and their neighbors, no one is going to be working to dismantle it.
If we want to dismantle the oppressive systems built around us that break up poor black families and remove voting power from people of color, we have to start challenging racists and making them see that it’s not just whether or not you’ve ever said: White people are better than black people.
Let’s start with a simple premise I’ve discussed before: If you’ve thought, “Well…black people are imprisoned at a higher rate because they commit more crimes,” then you’re a racist. And I say that because I used to say the same thing and I know that I was a racist. I may have never said: Black people are are worse than white people, but what I was saying was Black people are more likely to be criminals than white people.
I mean…do you see that? I was allowing myself to just casually believe that men of color are more likely to commit crimes and I never dug into that one bit which means that underneath it all, I had to believe that white people were better. If I did not HONESTLY think white people were better, then I would have stopped and asked myself: Wait. I don’t think black people are inherently more criminal, so there’s got to be more to this story.
The good news for me? Is that I did eventually wake up to there being more to the story. But there are millions of white people out there who have not.
Okay. Let’s think about that very common perspective for a minute. The believe that: Black people just commit crimes more, that’s why they are arrested/imprisoned at a higher rate.
Let’s think about how I never dug deeper into that premise. Take that out a minute and put me from back then on a jury. If I think that black people are more likely to commit crimes, then where is my baseline going to be if a black person is on trial for something? I’m probably going to expect a lot less than “beyond a reasonable doubt” when I convict. Now. Let’s go back to the conversation we had the other day about how some new studies are pointing to black people being struck from juries at twice the rate of white. (And this is RATE, so it takes into consideration even small black population on jury pools.) Now, if you had asked me back then: Are you racist? I would have said, “HELL NO!” But I was. I’m scared every day tat I still am. But I was back then. I would have thought I could be fair and impartial but there I would have been, holding I view that was inherently racist without even realizing it.
So, we are arresting black men at a higher rate, and then we’re putting them in front of juries that are mostly white people who don’t even realize they are racist. So, we are following up that with a higher rate of convictions with our racist jury selections.
Do you see? How that simple Zoot-Was-A-Racist premise continued to be a part of the problem?
Now…let’s step back. What does Zoot-Trying-To-Stop-Being-Racist say to the question of black men being arrested and incarcerated at a higher rate than white men? Today I challenge this from two different direction.
1) A racist criminal justice system. There are differing opinions as to the how/why we have gotten where we are today, but there is not question that from the squad car to death row, every step of the system is showing harsher treatment and punishment of people of color. And if you struggle with believing or understanding this, but you are OPEN then I suggest the following two books: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.
2) Systemic racism in everything from public housing to school discipline. Our housing system created pockets of poverty and our social safety nets failed to catch families hurt in these systems giving us young boys and girls of color who are more likely to come from unstable homes and more likely to be disciplined at a higher rate in school which tends to lean them more to criminal activities to find income and safety. If these issues are new to you I would challenge you to read Nikole Hannah-Jones who has written a lot about race in housing and in education over her career.
Here I am today. Now learning to challenge every thought I’ve ever had about race. And how I’m trying to keep learning in order to UNLEARN the racist beliefs I had back when I didn’t think I was racist.
Here I am today, trying my hardest NOT TO BE RACIST and yet I know that I keep discovering racist beliefs around every corner. And yet, Zoot of yesteryear would have NEVER called herself a racist and she didn’t study shit.
I mean, even in the years since I’ve been trying to be a better citizen and educating myself on this subject, I’m still shocked to discover new ways in which I was racist. Like never considering the effects of judging DAs by their prosecution rates, and how that measurement of value continues to uphold racism in our criminal justice system.
I think I’ve decided that my new definition of racism is never questioning Why? when faced with statistics that indicate people of color are doing worse in any metric than white people. If you just accept that non-white students are disciplined at a higher rate than white students, or that people of color are more likely to be poor and less likely to graduate high school, or that black men are more likely to die at the hands of an officer of the law…and you never ask, “Why?” then you are a racist. And I say that as someone who has had to train herself to ask, “Why?” because, by my own definition, I was a racist, and if I don’t continue to ask, “Why?” then I still am.