Updated: Apr 29, 2021
I don’t like talking about race. I never have. It’s uncomfortable and upsetting and makes me, as a white person, feel shame at what other white people have done in the past and do now, makes me wonder about my place in it as a Jewish Woman whose family came to the US to escape persecution, makes me feel guilty because as a white person i participate in the racist society in which i live, makes me afraid I’ll say something hurtful, ridiculous, or whatever it is that might thoughtlessly come out of my mouth.
What a privilege that is, to choose to not talk about race because it makes me uncomfortable. How nice for me that I have the choice, and my life won’t be affected.
But that isn’t really true, is it? My life is absolutely affected by race. I benefit from the color of my skin, from the name my parents chose for me. I don’t have to worry about being murdered in my bed, or having an interviewer look at my name and find some other way to not hire me because of a law. if i’m pulled over, i don’t worry about whether or not the officer will draw his gun. These things aren’t in my consciousness as something to fear. That’s not to say I don’t have other issues--but the color of my skin is just not one of them.
I had a white, male friend who didn’t understand this, what the notion of white privilege means. “I had a tough life,” he said once. “I was never privileged!” I tried to explain to him that yes, his life was tough. Absolutely. But it was not made tougher by the color of his skin.
That is what white privilege is all about--white lives are not made tougher because of the color of our skin, and, in fact, in so many ways being white has made it easier for us. Period. It has nothing to do with whether or not our lives have been easy. Most of us do not have easy lives.
I remember years ago walking my son down the street in an unfamiliar neighborhood. He had such a grip on my hands and his delighted cooing was so incredibly cute. It was a such a great mommy experience until I heard a loud voice shout, “what is that” and i looked up to see a group of kids looking at my son, who while not Black, is multiracial. This was painful for me, and i imagined what growing up in a white world would be like for him.
Race is a construct that white humans have exploited to divide ourselves into categories that could then be placed on a scale of importance, with white people at the top. And now we humans have so much unlearning to do in order to figure out how to create a society where everyone is included, that there are no societal racial--or physical or or sexual or religious or any-- inequities as far as our differences are concerned.
To do this, we must choose an anti-racist stance, and we must choose it every day.
Ibram X. Kendi said: “The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.” it is ‘anti-racist.’ what’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racists.
There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’”
There is no “I’m not a racist.” There is either active anti-racism, or complicit racism. To be silent is to be racist and part of the problem. To not educate yourself is to be racist and to be part of the problem. To not dismantle the system is to be racist and part of the problem.
Anti-racism is a hugely difficult undertaking It means unlearning unconscious lessons we were all taught, it means listening more, it means rethinking our value set, it means reaching outside of our comfort zone, it means noticing who is cast in what role in movies and television, and it means so, so much more. Some things I am doing are reading books about anti-racism and white privilege, voting with my dollars by patronizing businesses owned and run by women and POC, practicing deep listening when POC speak about their experiences, and publishing this podcast. There are many more things for me to do, too--but this is where I am now.
Personally, every book on race i’ve read, every challenging conversation on race i've had has been hard. Learning and unlearning is hard. It is all so hard! But it is harder still to allow it to go on.
I will continue to learn and unlearn, to choose anti-racism, because I don't want to live in a world where a made up construct has so much power, serves no ethical purpose, and is really just a means of bigotry, division, and marginalization. I hope you’ll join me by continuing the conversation. Even though it’s hard.
We can do this.