Earlier this morning I typed out over 1300 words trying to explain my thoughts, feelings and experiences regarding racism. I hadn’t even finished making my first point. I wanted to be thorough and specific because I felt that all the little sound bytes and tweets were so one dimensional for such a complicated, historic and polarizing subject. I took a break and when I came back to it I deleted everything I’d written. I’m starting over because I would have kept writing all day. I could have written a book and still not articulated everything I think about, I don’t think anyone who has actually considered the situation could. So instead I’m going to try to keep it simpler and short. But I do want it clear that though this is all written about racism, my same philosophy is applied to all form of prejudice such as homophobia and sexism as well.
The key to all the arguments and anger right now is simple. Empathy, communication and understanding. We as a society need to realize that everything being said right now is coming from a place of hurt. Innocent black people who are scared or have had loved ones affected by systems built against them and individuals who hold archaic beliefs and notions over higher moral values and understanding. Good natured white people who have never demonstrated hate towards anyone based on skin colour feeling attacked over something they condemn. Police feeling torn and blamed for the action of those among them. Even people among the same communities have shown strong disagreement for the words and actions of each other.
Step back and think of what the other person has experienced. Personally I have seen very little first hand racism. I’ve always been taught to and have gotten along with people regardless of race. I’ve had to work had to get where and I am and frankly, I’m not that far, I still have a long way to go. Because I haven’t experienced much of it to or from those around me, and because I only see in the media stories about it when something major happens it can be hard for me and others in the same situation to comprehend what racism is like in other places. When we’re met with being called a racist or our words being dismissed because of “white privilege” we feel unfairly attacked. We’re told that “reverse racism” doesn’t exist (it does, make no mistake about that. But it’s still just racism. Doesn’t matter if it’s a white putting down a black or vice versa). Most of us either respond with more anger or by overcompensating the other way to show how not racist we are, while not actually understanding or thinking critically about every other point of view, maybe not even our own.
The response to this though should not be anger, accusations or dismissal. It should be dialogue. A reminder that everywhere is different and that in some places and in some people racism is still very strong. But that often isn’t the response. It isn’t because many of the people getting angry have repeatedly experienced real and hurtful racism. They’ve grown up being taught to avoid police because friends and family have been arrested, beaten or killed over the smallest infraction sometimes over nothing at all. They’ve heard words like “nigger” come out of the mouths of white people with malice and hate behind them. They’ve been threatened or told to leave for no reason other than the colour of the skin.
Too many of them have experienced systemic racism. Something subtle, hidden and hard to noticed if you aren’t experiencing it. Adam Conover explains really well on his show. This is of course one example form the US, but similar things happens in Canada and many other places around the world too. It does not mean that the people benefiting from it are racist or bad people. But it is something which needs to be recognized and acknowledge. Spitting “white privilege” in someone’s face does nothing but put them on the defensive because they probably feel they’ve worked hard for what they have and that term insinuates it was handed to them. But it becomes a whole lot more understandable if we look at it as holding minorities back instead of pushing whites forward.
I’ve written about police before so I will avoid readdressing points from that post. Being a cop is stressful. Most of them are well meaning but often don’t have proper training to deescalate situations. So much focus is put on giving police equipment, hiring more of them and strengthening their presence we forget that arresting and subduing people should be the last resort. Police should be community representatives. They should be there to talk to people get to know them and help out where they can. There re plenty of examples. Look at the basketball cop, or all the stations standing in unison right now against the acts of a few of their colleagues. But we need more of it. Funding needs to become more focused on dealing with stress, both their own stress and other people’s stress. So many of them are fighting an uphill battle with the best intentions and the wrong preparation. When you’ve been taught to treat everything as a threat, when you’re being yelled at, spit on, shoved antagonized and accused of things you’ve never done it is hard to keep your cool. It is hard not to retaliate and we all need to remember that before we blame all police.
What I’m trying to say is racists exist and they come in every creed, colour, religion, gender and age group. Police have been unnecessarily aggressive towards peaceful protester and protesters have purposely tried to provoke police. Plenty of people have taken to respectful and peaceful protests in the name of something they truly believe in while others have sized the opportunity to loot and riot. White people don’t always understand or see the privileges they have which set others back, and minorities often have few if any positive interactions with white people or police and end of viewing the whole world that way. “An eye for an eye.” “How does it feel?” “You people started this.” These are not excuses. These are arguments born from guilt when there is nothing left to stand on. But by talking about it, by not making excuses for out own actions or decisions (like thinking because Canada has a better history with black people than the US that we aren’t racist at all) we can help each other understand not through violence but through empathy. When we feel angered or attacked we can learn to remove our selves form the situation and look at it objectively. We don’t have to feel guilty for what others have done but we do need to work towards it not happening again.
Systemic racism can be hard to really grasp, understand and acknowledge, especially for white people. Here are a couple more videos from Adam Ruins Everything which I find explain parts of it pretty well and have honestly given me a new view of it.
The American Dream (This doesn’t explicitly mention systemic racism however the earlier video explained why minorities are more likely to live in low income housing and why it’s harder for them to get a better education)
EDIT: After writing this piece, I came across another video I would really like everyone to watch. While I don’t agree with everything, she says some things in here that I have tried (and usually failed) to touch on without coming across as offensive because as a white man I worry about how it will be taken. It also tells another side of the story I had not previously heard.