A Message to White America
By Heather Gray
Producer "Just Peace"
WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM
I am of European descent and, while I prefer to be called European American, given the American practice of classifying people by their race, I need to state unequivocally that I am "white". And it is of this "whiteness", it's repercussions and responsibilities that I write.
All of my adult life I have been a political activist. For more than 30 years I have participated in virtually all the major movements for justice in this country encompassing civil rights, anti-war, anti-apartheid, anti-nuclear, anti-corporate, anti-death penalty, on and on. Throughout this vast experience invariably racism and class oppression raise their ugly heads. For me, however, the most compelling and disturbing of these is racism and its companion white supremacy. The brilliant and profound scholar W.E.B Dubois warned us that the issue of race would define the 20th century which indeed it has. And because America has been so lax in adequately addressing this disease of racism and all it's augmented problems, race will likely define the 21st century as well.
Racism in America is of epidemic proportions and whoever denies this must be a fool or blind. It surrounds is in our economic strata, in our prison system, in our schools, in our political infrastructures, in our foreign policy, in our health system, in our housing, in our banking to name only a few! It is not a problem only in white conservative circles where most activists would expect it to be lodged, but in the so-called liberal and progressive circles as well. All will attempt to state otherwise. Conservatives might claim some of their best friends are Black. Liberals might state that they are working for changes of some policies which will "make life better for Blacks". Progressives in various organizations might say that they are working under the leadership of Blacks so they must be doing something right. None of this is ever enough and it is literally and figuratively "white wash". It is true that historically there have always been whites who have taken a stand against racism but the numbers have been far too limited given the enormity of the problem. This has frustrated me to the point that a few years ago I wrote a lengthy poem entitled "Being White and Angry" in which I delineated what some have described as an epistle of "white" ancestral and present day immoral, disgraceful and tragic exploits from slavery to the Gulf War.
The dreadful realities of racism and white supremacy have always teetered on the walls of decay because the foundation is built on lies and deception. No one has gained from racism despite claims to the contrary. If anything, we as whites have diminished our souls through racist practices and any economic gains are tainted - I refer to such gains as blood money.
We as whites will rarely claim responsibility for our creation of racism and white supremacy (they are ours after all) in spite of the fact that we demand recognition for virtually all other inventions - when it suits us and when we can benefit from it we'll claim it! It has been said that often the most important things in life are not discussed or written about and whites are definitely selective on not speaking out on the above issues. Could this suggest the importance of the issue to whites? I think so because it requires us to look deep into our souls and admit we are and always have been wrong about our entrenched present and past racism. This is seemingly an impossible task for most whites. Most of us have a shell that's almost impenetrable. While everyone else rails against us whites for our racist attitudes and policies we are largely and despicably silent on the issue. Why are we like this? Do many of us who are white want to maintain the present racist system? Yes, beyond doubt! While rarely are we now wearing sheets over our heads,we are instead sitting in board rooms where we implement racist policies. But in today's climate it is not appropriate to state without reserve that we are racist. Instead everyone skirts around the issue. This false impression by other whites drives me nuts. Are some of us nervous about reactions from other whites if we take up the call against racism? For some, this is likely true. Are we ignorant of racism? No, but nevertheless it seems the majority of whites claim ignorance. Are we apathetic? Yes. Do some of us feel guilt? Probably. Would we prefer to pass the buck? Always. Strangely, we prefer to blame those who are the victims of our prevailing racism as if they were architects of their own victimization and not us. The insanity and hypocrisy of this is mind boggling.
Throughout the years, whenever I've attended panels or conferences on racism organized by whites, invariably Blacks will be invited to participate. This is important because we as whites always need to be educated about the devastating impact of our actions and attitudes. But where, I've always asked, are the masses of whites who need to take up the mantle with other whites on this issue. Why are we, in vast numbers, not also on those panels and in the streets demanding change. Indeed, it is this lack of attention to racism on the part of whites with other whites that, in my opinion, has always been the missing equation in addressing the morass of the tragic effects of racism and white supremacy. The problem of racism rests with those of us who are white - we are the racists, we are the architects of this dreadful disease, we are the supremacists, and, guided by our Black sisters and brothers, we need to begin being accountable, speaking out and taking action. We need to plant the seed and let it grow deliberately and exponentially....individual to individual, community to community, city to city, nation to nation.
A few weeks ago while having dinner with a Black friend the discussion veered toward an update of racism in America. Citing the diminishing of affirmative action programs across the country and other telling signs, he said "I think white America is getting tired of everything being blamed on racism." I said "So what! White America needs to be badgered every minute of every day about our racist attitudes and actions."In fact, I still rankle over the "angry white male" contention in the early 90's stating that because of policies to reverse the preeminent white access to virtually all privileges in this country at the expense of everyone else, they felt they were being discriminated against. The gall of white males expressing anger over anything after hundreds of years of ancestral privilege astounds me...leaves me breathless. To be perfectly frank, I remain an "angry white female" expressing indignation at "angry white males" for this insult.
Upon reflection, I realized that my friend's comment was but an ancient response from Blacks who try to appease whites to prevent repercussions - a tragic defensive legacy of America's racist paternalistic society. Upon further reflection, however, I realized that whites react similarly with other whites. Invariably whites will attempt to make other whites feel comfortable with their racism or will be deplorably apathetic. We as whites need to stop this nonsense.
It is my hope that in the 21st century, America's white community will finally come to its senses. Bill Clinton thankfully began this dialogue with his Commission on Race. But this was just a start and we know not to expect anything of integrity along this line from the Bush administration. But in communities throughout the country we white Americans can take a stand now, this very minute, and always should have been acting on or own and with other whites and Blacks. We can first educate ourselves about racism and address our own racist attitudes which should start with the basic premise that if you are white and born in America you are a racist. Don't think otherwise because it will not be true. We can learn from Blacks and other whites how to get beyond our racist background, how to be watchful of our own actions and attitudes and change them. Secondly, never let other whites get away with their racist attitudes and actions. Stop them immediately. Don't excuse them or attempt to make them feel comfortable. Thirdly, study the history of white and Black resistance to racism and injustice. This is not something you will learn in public schools, which would view white resistance, in particular, as traitorous to the racist American system. After all, it is traitoress to the system as well it should be. Fourthly, and most importantly, seek advice from Blacks on what we as whites should do to adequately and aggressively address racist problems in our communities, in the nation, in the world. Don't ever think for one minute that we as whites have the answers because we don't.
Finally, after centuries of "white" deceit, be mindful that pathetically we as whites still want to control everything and usually think we know everything. We need to recognize that we should never pursue any struggle against racism or for justice alone - or any other struggle for that matter. With whites leading the way we have experienced untold disasters for centuries. Forbid we should revisit such devastating consequences and pain. Actually this is rather a non-issue. Our deceit and lies are now out there for everyone to see, we could never get away with leading the way even if we tried. Let's admit our ignorance and false vacuous, hopeless pride. It's time we started to learn and do something worthwhile. We are centuries too late, but now is as good a time as any to start!
Note: For 10 years Ms. Gray has produced this Atlanta radio program addressing local, regional, national and international issues on racism and justice. The opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Radio Free Geogia Foundation Incorporated, it's staff or volunteers. http://www.gravitygroove.com/Knowledge/Racism/Archives/00000031.htm