I’m white, and I’m capable of racist thoughts.
A decade ago – perhaps even only a few years ago – that would have been impossible for me to admit. I’ve never hated anyone, much less for the color of their skin; I’ve never thought to myself that someone was inferior to me for their race. On the surface, and therefore in my conscience, I would have seemed to be just a normal, okay white guy, who even had some black friends.
But deeper down, I’ve come to learn I’m as capable of casual racism as any other white person. What I mean is this: I pass judgement, often subconsciously, on people because of the color of their skin. I see black and white people as inherently different, and whose worth is measured differently because of this. I don’t mean to think like this – when I step outside of my own world and look at it from a perspective of reason and logic I know that there is literally no human difference between people of any race – but it doesn’t change the fact that when I see a black and a white person, I see them differently. I am not ‘colorblind’, and I would argue anyone who claims to be is lying or ignorant.
I want you to run through a quick thought experiment with me. Below is a list of ten professions; you don’t have to tell me, but I want you to picture each of these people as soon as you read their job. Gut reactions only, and be honest with yourself.
- Basketball Player
- Factory Worker
- Computer Programmer
I’m willing to bet that, if you’re white – and perhaps even if not – you only pictured one of the above people as black. I can probably guess which one, too.
And this isn’t just a personal problem, either; here are the top Google Image results for each profession:
As you can see, the racism endemic to our society is deeply ingrained in our culture. Naturally the above experiment has its flaws, and a single Google Image search isn’t proof of societal racism, but try it for yourself, and you’ll find far fewer black and other racial minorities in those results for professions where our preconceived notions are that they are jobs for white people.
And this is only one example of where white people pass swift and silent judgement on others. We do the same thing in countless other tiny ways, all of which add up to an enormous disparity between white people, black people, and every other minority.
This disparity is taught. There can be no doubt regarding this; it’s taught in schools, where teachers push white students towards academic careers more than black students; it’s taught in jobs, where less-qualified white men get promoted over their black counterparts; it’s taught in film and popular media, where black actors fill the place of the black characters, complete with literal stereotypes (how many times have we heard Will Smith shout, “Aw, hell naw!”?). And of course there are exceptions to all of these examples, but the vast majority of black people are going to experience this sort of prejudice throughout their lives.
When anyone is killed in cold blood, it’s a tragedy. When anyone is savagely beaten by police and their throat crushed to the point where they pass out, it’s a vile atrocity. But when this happens to a black person, I can’t begin to fathom the rage that must course through the veins of every other black person in the world. Not because ‘one of their own’ was killed, but because it’s a flagrant abuse of white power, a violent crime that cruelly represents every non-violent racist act they’ve ever suffered through in their lives.
Would George Floyd still be alive if he were white? Absolutely, he would. For so many reasons, whether the cops would have treated him less violently, or whether they had never been called in the first place for a non-violent offense. Even if he had resisted arrest, a white George Floyd would almost certainly not have been pinned to the ground for over eight minutes until he lost consciousness.
And of course, there will be no way to prove racial motivation; despite being charged with third-degree murder within days (an unusual turn of events), Derek Chauvin will never admit that he lashed out with such brutality because Floyd was black. This will never be treated as a hate crime. Chauvin could be released in as little as ten years, and George Floyd will still be dead.
I can’t fathom the rage that must be felt by every black American, but I can try to understand why there is such a desperate need to let the world know that it has to stop. I can’t say whether looting, rioting and violent protests are the right course of action, but I can try to understand why so many feel the need to leave their homes, the safety of quarantine, and make it known in no uncertain terms that this racial bigotry is simply no longer going to be taken lying down.
The governor of Minnesota stated just recently:
Let’s be very clear, the situation in Minneapolis is no longer in any way about the murder of George Floyd.”
As asinine a comment as this might be to make, he’s partially right. It isn’t just about the murder of George Floyd. It’s about how this is a tipping point. This is a straw on a camel’s back. This is the final moment in which black people are telling the world: we’re fighting back.
And I can’t fault them. Decades of peaceful protest have achieved nothing. Every ounce of equality that black people have fought for means nothing when police – essentially the government that is meant to be ‘for the people’ – are allowed to kill you because you’re black.
Justice for George Floyd won’t come when Chauvin is in jail. It won’t come if he spends the rest of his life behind bars. It won’t come if he’s murdered in prison as retaliation.
Justice for George Floyd – and the thousands of other black men and women who’ve died at the hands of white people for no other reason than because they’re black – will come when white people acknowledge their part in the inhumane racial inequality in our society, and do something about it.
It doesn’t take much. I’m not saying every white person in the world has to become an activist, or go on hunger strikes, or give up their job to black people. In fact, these kind of extremes wouldn’t even be necessary if more white people took just a moment before opening their mouths, or pulling their guns, and asked themselves: would I do this if the person in front of me was white?
I am racist. I have to start by admitting it. The next step is doing something about it. That might mean calling out the racist jokes I hear at work; it might mean standing in solidarity with the black human beings that are protesting their right to live. But more than anything, it means that I will make every effort I can to ask myself that one, simple question: do I do what I do because it is right, or because I judge the person before me for the color of their skin?
I hope that one day, I’ll always have the right answer to that question. Until that day, I can only continue to work on realizing my personal, taught biases, and trying my best to overcome them.
Can you do the same?
Before anyone makes the point that racism goes both ways, and before anyone points out that many minorities experience racism, I am specifically referring to white on black racism here. In the United States, at least, I believe there is no greater inequality than between white and black people. No other minority was stolen from their heritage and culture, enslaved for centuries, and then lied to about their real ‘freedoms’ in the world. To quote John Boyega, “Of course there’s other forms of racism. But a black man was just murdered in cold blood in the street Stateside again, while saying he can’t breathe. That’s a continuous cycle going on.”