Tony Brown, Tennessean, April 30, 2015
Evidence proving that race and racism are meaningful is increasingly easy to find. We see it right here and right now. There is no need to recall Whites Only signage or sheet-clad KKK members. The facts show white people acting routinely to harm, demean, and damage black and brown people. The facts explain the lofty levels of frustration and despair among black and brown youth.
Evidence consists of protests and riots, such as what happened last night in Baltimore in response to the mysterious death of Freddie Gray while he was in police custody. Something is awry–people of color don’t protest and riot out of boredom. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “a riot is the language of the unheard.”
Evidence consists of Oklahoma University fraternity and sorority members singing joyfully about the exclusion and lynching of black bodies. Supposedly, the song was taught to them and may connect back to the Confederate-identified white men who founded the fraternity.
Evidence consists of text and email messages exchanged between corporate executives, among police officers sworn to serve and protect the public, and by public servants and elected officials.
Evidence consists of graphic videos showing the willful killings (assassinations?) of unarmed black men in non-felonious interactions with police officers.
Litigation and Intent
Considering the white Oklahoma University fraternity and sorority members, the accused have retained an attorney. They are upset about being labeled racists. I imagine the defense’s arguments will mirror comments made by the youth’s parents (to paraphrase): Johnny is a good boy. There is no hate in his heart. He made a horrible (but not that horrible) mistake. He is young and didn’t know any better.
To those specific parents and others like them, consider the following a public service announcement:
- Your child’s behavior is racist and it’s your fault (mostly).
- You never intentionally read children’s books with main characters of color, but you raised Sarah to appreciate diversity.
- You lived in a residentially segregated neighborhood, and thought that fact sent no implicit messages to Evan.
- You chose to worship in a church or synagogue where Katey was surrounded by white people, and she understood that way of life to be normal.
- You choose the best schools for Chase, but never considered the fact that those schools were racially homogenous.
- You talked to Isabelle about poverty but implied that all poor people are black and it’s their own fault.
- You let grandma say n***** at Thanksgiving in front of Elizabeth because grandma is old and doesn’t know any better.
- You told a racially insensitive joke in front of Liam, condoning symbolic violence.
The take-home message here applies to every person exposed to the disturbing videos, and text and emails showing the significance of race and racism. The issue is not about any white person’s heart or motivations or intent. Those things are hidden from sight. It’s about their actions–which let me remind you–speak louder than their words.
The bottom line is that it’s everyday whites making everyday choices that lock in and protect white privilege [ https://www.isr.umich.edu/home/diversity/resources/white-privilege.pdf ].