So when we talk about the struggles that black Americans face, it’s hard as a white person to have the clearest perspective. Unfortunately, the majority of us white citizens seem to have decided to ignore the stories of the very people who’d be the best to speak about this, the ones who experience racism on a regular basis. Each individual story is powerful, meaningful and unique, coming from a personal place. When I, as a white person, talk about the issues of black people in America, it’s going to consist of second-hand observations, general statistics, and historical trends. But I do feel the responsibility to share the small piece I do know with other white people who seem blind to the idea that others have had different struggles than we have.
It’s not easy to be a person. Whatever our gender, race, social status, education, wealth, or any other thing about us, as humans, we will necessarily experience some amount of pain, suffering, or obstacle in life. It’s definitely possible to be a rich black female, a poor white male, and all other combinations. The problem with these statements, is that while true, they seem to make us believe that racism is not real. I have heard many white people imply that racism cannot exist because of the times when black people have been more successful than whites or the times white people have suffered.
Talking about racism has nothing to do with white suffering and does not negate it in any way. Nor does it invalidate white people’s experiences with poverty, hunger, or homelessness. But when people bring up white poverty when we are trying to to talk about racism, it is like bringing up cancer when trying to have a conversation about heart disease. Both are important health issues, but not really related.
Before we say that we’re not racist, don’t know anyone who is, or don’t believe it’s existed since 1963, I beg all of us to pause for a moment and be willing to consider the possibility that the effects of years and years of slavery and segregation didn’t get wiped out in just sixty-two years. Less time than my grandparents have been alive. Things have gotten better in some ways, but to say there are no residual effects seems naive. Please take the time to look at what happened after the civil rights movement, which is usually where African American history in public schools stops. Before we accept what we’ve already decided is true, let’s look at our American history, full of both triumphs and setbacks for equality and justice. Then, please be willing to sit down and hear an individual story, with openness and empathy.
It’s hard to notice a struggle we don’t have. It’s hard to admit when we’ve been wrong. It’s painful to have our eyes opened to a new truth that shakes some of the beliefs we’ve always had. I hope that as white Americans we can keep pride and apathy from getting in the way of admitting some of our flawed history and becoming allies to work towards racial reconciliation and a more just society.