One friend texted me a message this weekend about Charlottesville, asking me how I felt. I said that I was fine and asked him how he felt. He said that he felt fine too. He did not understand what I was asking him. Often for white people the fight against racism and other forms of bigotry is a fight that must be done by other people.
Because they do not feel personally involved, they feel that racism and other forms of bigotry are a black problem; or a problem for gays, or women, Mexicans, Muslims, or whoever is being targeted. To use a scientific experiment metaphor, with racism, victims are the dependent variables affected by an independent one. The independent variable is white people.
Racism, discrimination and other forms of racial and ethnic bigotry happening in the Western world are mainly white problems. It is white people’s practices and behaviour that need to change. Affected and targeted groups are only on the receiving end.
Too often, white people abdicate their responsibility to fight against bigotry. I have no access to your lunatic uncle who rants about Pakistani and Jews. You do. You know who in your circle of friends and family holds racist and bigoted views. You know which of your friends reads Breitbart daily and discusses it as if it were a legitimate news source. Remember the old joke about guys reading Playboy just for the articles?
Some white people feel that it is not their place to discuss such issues in an odd fear over appropriating a debate that is not theirs. They feel that targeted minorities are the best ones to speak about such issues to other white folks. While targeted minorities may be better learned about such issues, you as a white person also know what is good and what is evil. You know when your friend crosses the line by using racist slurs against Chinese people. You can stop them. As I have told many colleagues, I have complete faith in their abilities to address these issues without any input from me. The same literature that I have read to learn about such topics and how to address them is available for you too.
I know it is unusual to say this but the leadership to denounce and educate white people about racism and fascism is white people’s. When you speak to your crazy uncle, you have far more credibility than “lefties” or minorities. Because of his personal relationship with you, he will have to listen. Again, remember when it comes to racism, slavery, discrimination, and white supremacy, the independent variable is white people. The dependent variable is the targeted minority.
I will end this with this classic poem attributed to Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller. Please pay attention to what this very wise white man wrote.
First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.