Recently, a series of events has me in a reflective mood. Last weekend, I watched the History Channel remake of the miniseries Roots. Also, last weekend, there was a shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL. 49 dead, 53 injured. Some of my friends knew victims.
I don't understand how people can say racism isn't a
thing, or else minimize the role racism plays in our society. And yes, I
know racism works both ways, but seeing as how I'm a liberal, modern,
white person, I'm giving my perspective as such.
Think about it.
Slavery really wasn't that long ago. My mother was born in 1962, a
mere two years after the Woolworth's sit-in in Greensboro, NC, an event
considered one of the starting points of the Civil Rights movement.
While I don't recall the exact year my grandmother was born, I know it
was no later than 1942, and in rural North Carolina, deep in the South.
That means she had been around a full two decades before the Civil
Rights movement even really began. Current studies show that the brain
doesn't fully develop until about age 25. This means that my
grandmother, who is still alive today, spent her most formative years
not sharing a bathroom, a water fountain, even a sidewalk, with a black
person. According to http://ncpedia.org/history/20th-Century/school-desegregation
, schools in North Carolina weren't fully integrated until the
1971-1972 school year, a mere 10 years before I was born. This means
that, more than likely, not only did my grandmother not attend school
with a black person, but my mother, who again is still alive, possibly
didn't until at least 5th or 6th grade (disclaimer: I do not consider
anybody in my family to be racist. However, this is the society they
grew up in.) Today, yes, we are more aware of classism. But statistics
still show that a black person and a white person can still commit the
same crime and get different sentences. Because Brock Turner is a rich
guy, he got off easy. Because Brock Turner is a rich WHITE guy, he may
have gotten off even more easy.
“But OJ Simpson!” For every OJ there are thousands of Corey Bateys. One outlier does not a rule make.
What people don't understand is that society changes at a glacial pace.
Heck, many traditions that are part of white culture have been around
for centuries, if not at least 1,000 years. An easy example is our
holiday celebrations. White Christians essentially just took all of the
pre-existing Pagan tribal traditions (bringing a Christmas tree inside,
lights, etc.), slapped a nativity and Baby Jesus on it and called it a
day. The laws may change, thanks to some dedicated lobbyists and
activists who fight for the change, but that doesn't mean society
changes WITH the laws. Society just gets more subtle and adapts. Why
else do so many outreach organizations target kids and young adults? To
change the mind and influence those young enough to learn. And that is
how society changes – fight the older people to change the laws,
influence the younger people to change the culture.
At the same
time, there were other things going on. Abolition (pre-Civil War and
during) and later segregation were not the only issues. While blacks
were fighting for their right to use the same bathroom as whites, have
an equal education, and sit at the same lunch counter, women were
fighting for the right to vote. In the late 1800s/early 1900s when Irish
immigration was at its highest, Irish immigration faced at least the
same forms of discrimination as Hispanic and Middle Eastern immigrants
face today. Society is not a linear “ok, we cleaned up this problem, on
to the next!”. Someone can be a victim of racism AND classism AND
homophobia AND Islamophobia AND.... so on and so on. Someone can get hired for a job because he's white, and then fired because he's gay. A black person can be well-off financially and have a good job making good money, and still get pulled over in "nice" neighborhoods because the neighbors don't trust a black person in the neighborhood (I've had black co-workers tell me first hand experiences of this). It's not
“either/or”, it's “and”. All minimizing does is invalidate someone's
experience and worth. We don't know what someone has been through. It's
not our place to tell them they haven't been a victim of racism, or
homophobia, or classism, or any other “ism”. It's our place to listen
and help where we can. To be the change we wish to see.