One of the biggest obstacles to improving race relations can be summed up in two words: White and Guilt.
And that’s not nice. Nobody wants white guilt. It brings to mind college freshmen who are so apt to prove that they ‘get it‘ that they go around with sorrowful looks, primed to ask forgiveness from any minority that they see. Much like other forms of guilt, it’s incapacitating.
And, to be honest, groan-inducing.
And like everything guilt-driven, it looks at first glance like it works, but it’s ineffective for any long-term solutions. For long-term relations, it’s defective and dysfunctional.
Further, to put the complicated systems and relationships of institutionalized and personalized racism into a subjective field of personal shame is to possess it, and thereby (IMO) trivializing and objectifying the actual affected targets of racism. When we talk about existing racism, we’re talking about systems put in place that effect other people. We’re talking about things that are actually happening. Now. To actual families and individuals.
And to reduce the hurt and the pain and the effects of those things to incapacitating guilt is to sacrifice our sisters’ and brothers’ hurt for self-actualizing purposes. We don’t need guilt. We need action. And no one should feel bad for who they are. We need to own up to both our past failures and our past glories.
Another poor option is to take it all in, be overwhelmed by the sheer force of it, throw our hands up in the air and say, like Tupac*, “That’s just the way it is. Some things will never change.” To practice resigned acceptance.
This option isn’t just practiced by Anglos, however. There are any number of Black, Latino, South/East Asian, Middle Eastern, Indigenous men and women who are burned out by racial conflicts. It makes sense to retreat from the pain and frustration. But it also doesn’t help to heal or alleviate the cause of those frustrations. It’s a trap-door escapism that doesn’t actually escape one to anywhere. Except more of the same.
My suggestion would be to level involvement to a zone of proximity – to do what you can when you can. In doing so, you can retreat when necessary.
The third option (and this is one most commonly practiced by White liberals) is to declare that you are color-blind and that society should be as well. This is another well-meaning fallacy. It fast-forwards to the aim and focus and acts as if they are the case now.
Color-blindness action is, in part, an understanding that socio-economic problems are among the most pressing and that African-Americans, Latinos, and First Nations people would be lifted out of their biggest problems if we would just focus on anti-poverty solutions.
What is not figured is that racism is part and parcel of poverty. Solving poverty without taking other factors (not just racism, but sexism, xenophobia, etc.) into account will only solve poverty for a select few. It’s not just that an unsettlingly higher percentage of minorities live in poverty, but that they are placed and kept in there by racism specifically. During the Great Depression, Mexican descendants were deported to Mexico to leave more jobs for White Americans. And the New Deal programs, as great as they were, were not available for African Americans, or only disproportionately
Looking to change the health care structure, as an example, without looking at racism (that White doctors tend to patronize Black patients and not trust their self-diagnoses, for instance) will not fix health care for people of color in the US. Pretending that racism doesn’t exist will not make it go away, will not make it better, and will continue to play into the racist system that is going on.
And this still assumes that you are or can truly be color-blind. Or that we should aspire to be. I like my culture fine. I don’t really care when people tell me that I’m not really White or Puerto Rican, but that I’m one of them. That negates who I am and my family’s roots. Often, when we say we are being color-blind, what we’re really saying is, “I accept you on MY terms.” For White people (who most often use this term), it’s basically saying, not, “I accept you as a fully developed human being realized in the culture and family that you are a part of,” but, “I accept you as White.”
What we White folks need is to aspire to be allies with our minority sisters and brothers. The process for that is, in part, multi-culturalism**. But the goal is equity.
And when we truly reach equity, it is then and only then that we can recognize Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream is fully realized – and not deferred.
*Okay, Bruce Hornsby. But still…
**Which is not saying that another culture is MORE valid than the variety of European-American cultures (because, let’s face it, Polish-American is different than Irish-American, and both are different than English-American, and each has its particular beauty) but that all cultures should be equally shared and celebrated on their own merits.