by Mia McKenzie
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about why I don’t talk to strange white people about race. Basically, what it boils down to is that those conversations are too unpredictable (or, too predictable, maybe), can be scary, and are almost always pointless. Most of the response to the post was very positive. But one response that really sticks out in my mind is:
“I’m a strange white girl but I get it. There are plenty of whack jobs on this planet, and we’re not going to convert them any time soon. I’ve wasted enough time and energy on them myself to know by now it’s not worth it. All so well said BGD!!!”
This person is trying to understand. She is trying to show some amount of solidarity. Notice how she uses the word “we”. As if we are the same. She wants me to know that she “gets it”. Only she doesn’t.
She really doesn’t.
Because racism isn’t really about “whack jobs” at all.
Racism isn’t crazy motherfuckers in white hoods. It isn’t cowards slinging racial slurs from behind anonymous keyboards. I mean, it is. But it is so, so much more than that. Really, if racism were just those things, just whack jobs, it wouldn’t be nearly the force in this world that it is.
Racism is, in reality, a huge, systemic, deeply-rooted plague that exists everywhere and affects everything, that degrades and starves and rapes and murders people without losing its breath. It is built on hundreds of years of oppression and genocide. It is in our government, in our entertainment, in our literature, in our corporations, in our language. This entire country was built on it. It is everywhere, and it is insidious and subtle just as often as it is open and obvious.
It is not that crazy dude over there.
I see the appeal to white folks in thinking about racism this way. The “whack job” approach allows people to separate racist thinking and behavior from themselves. It’s that crazy screaming dude over there who’s racist. It’s your drunk uncles. It’s your he-was-so-quiet-and-seemed-so-normal-before-he-walked-into-the-mall-and-started-shooting-people neighbors. All of whom you can shake your heads at with furrowed brows while proclaiming that you’re “not like that.”
But you are.
White people, you need to get this: you are racist. Whether you want to be or not.
I am not going to tell you why or how you are racist. I’m not here for your education. If you want to understand, read a book. Read a hundred books. Take a workshop. Read as many books and take as many workshops as you need to be able to stop pretending it’s other white people and not you.
Trust me. It’s you.
Mia McKenzie is a writer and a smart, scrappy Philadelphian with a deep love of vegan pomegranate ice cream and fake fur collars. She is a black feminist and a freaking queer, facts that are often reflected in her writings, which have won her some awards and grants, such as the Astraea Foundation’s Writers Fund Award and the Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award. She just finished a novel and has a short story forthcoming in The Kenyon Review. Her work has been published at Jezebel.com, and recommended by The Root, Colorlines, Feministing, Angry Asian Man, and Crunk Feminist Collective. She is a nerd, and the creator of Black Girl Dangerous, a revolutionary blog.
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