There is an ugly and indomitable truth to America when it comes to race; we are a nation shaped by denial. No country built upon or prospered by slavery can achieve equality by consistently pretending it never happened. We have never processed our past. Instead, we’ve twisted history, glossed over the ugly bits and proclaimed growth, but that is pure vanity rather than an honest examination of our truth.
It’s easy to denounce racism. So many of us find comfort in doing so, yet we refuse to have the tough conversations regarding prejudice, the higher rates of minority incarceration, disturbing patterns of excessive use of force and so on. It’s time we accept the difficult and complicated nature of race in this country.
We need to accept that we have done an inadequate job of educating ourselves. We have avoided it because it is hard, oftentimes uncomfortable, and tireless work. But now is the time.
We need to look inward and challenge ourselves by asking, “How have I contributed to inequality?” Avoidance, while tempting and comfortable, will only serve to prolong what has already become a lasting scourge on our national identity.
If we want to show the world that America is progressive it’s time we act like it. Progress will only be made when we take responsibility and accept our role in the current state of racism and bigotry in America. We have the power to stop hate, but only once we’ve allowed ourselves to be vulnerable enough to say that either through ignorance, avoidance, or participation, we’ve contributed to its proliferation. That’s scary and painful, but necessary.
No one likes to think they’ve had prejudiced thoughts about someone. We like to think we’re above that. “I don’t see color”, we like to say. This thinking is dangerous, because it is a lie. How many of us have stood idly by? How many of us have, even just once, given in to stereotypes and sweeping generalizations? How could we not? We’ve been raised in a country that not only sees color but has actively sought to subvert the non-white.
There are many contributing factors when it comes to the issue of systemic racism in America which have led us to believe it is beyond our control. Many have been asking, “What can I do?” Well, the biggest thing one can do is to question ones own perspective. After all, the first steps in the greatest transformations happen within.
We need to recognize racial stereotypes and prejudicial thinking for what they are and examine why we have those thoughts in the first place. Is it the way people are portrayed in media, entertainment & pop culture? The way those around us talk of others? Is it the mechanisms of the current system?
It is absolutely imperative that we acknowledge just how unfairly the deck is stacked against others. We then need to retrain our thought process the next time a similar situation occurs. This thinking applies to all manner of prejudice; from those involving race, gender, faith and sexuality. And it is far from easy.
But we cannot continue to decry racism and bigotry from the safety of privilege without the willingness to put in the work and personal reflection necessary to grow as a person and thereby a nation. And yes, many of us experience the safety of privilege every day. It’s what allows us to turn off the news, look the other way and say, “this doesn’t apply to me” – going about our lives without ever having to acknowledge that in fact, this applies to all of us.
Progress doesn’t happen overnight and it is far from effortless, but we must resist the pull of denial and avoidance. Change requires us to question not only our institutions and systems, but most vulnerably, ourselves. It requires a willingness to learn and step outside our comfort zone. For how can we be expected to stand up for others if we refuse to first stand up to ourselves?