Ignorance is not Racism

I thought about this post a long time before I ever started to write it. And I’m still hesitating, even as I start to type, because it is probably going to get me branded as a racist. And I am not a racist. But I am white, and as far as I can tell from liberal, progressive writing (you did know I am pretty liberal and progressive, right?) lately {I am thinking of a specific article I recently read at slate.com — when I tried to find it, Slate said Search was down due to overcapacity. I will try to find the link later.} then white people must be racist, simply by the fact that they are white and do not understand what it’s like to live in the world as a person of color. I acknowledge that I do not fully understand what it is like to be a person of color. I cannot. I live in a little bubble of privilege, and don’t even know it sometimes, because I am white. But does that make me a racist? I contend that it does not.

I accept and value all people, no matter what the color of their skin. Everyone deserves equal education, and an equal shot at employment. Life outcomes should depend on innate ability, not skin color.

{Sidenote: You will see that the top article under Related Articles at the bottom of this post is about how colorblindness is a form of racism. I found it after I wrote the rest of this post, and I want to address it. The above paragraph is not meant to be a form of colorblindness or ignoring skin color and culture in favor of blanket statements of let’s all be friends because we’re all just human  — it is meant to be a statement of equality for an ideal world that I want to live in. I absolutely agree that we need to value each other for who we are as people and with our cultures surrounding us, not ignoring the colors of our skin.}

When I was growing up, that meant you were not a racist. The older I get, though, the more it seems that that is not enough. Simply being white, and not understanding the experiences of people of color at all times and all places, means you are a racist.

In my mind, this is absurd. I cannot help the color of my skin anymore than anyone else can. And I can no more perfectly understand other people’s experiences than I can fly to the moon unaided.

I do not brand a man a sexist because he does not fully understand my experiences as a woman. I take precautions when I walk outside at night, especially alone, that my husband does not take. He doesn’t always understand why I worry walking from my car to my front door at night, to take a simple example. But that doesn’t make him sexist.

Why did I write this? Because in my book, racism is a very serious charge. We can’t talk to each other if one side is just waiting to be accused of being racist, and the other side is just waiting for the perfect moment to make the accusation. Racism is something that must be addressed. But telling all white people they are racist by virtue of the color of their skin won’t begin the necessary discussions.

This has been a hard topic to write about — I sincerely hope I haven’t offended anyone — my intentions are to start a dialogue about what racism really means.

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