The Atlantic magazine posted an a day ago article “We’re All Tired of Being Called Racists”. The article presented views of some supporters of the current (as of August 1, 2019) U.S. president at a recent rally. Many were perplexed at being labeled “racist”.
One of those interviewed in the piece insisted that they couldn’t be racist because their children were of mixed race. Yet Strom Thurmond — one of the U.S.’s most virulent segregationists of the 20th century — had an African American daughter Essie Mae Washington-Williams. Eduard Bloch was a Jewish Austrian doctor protected from anti-Semitic terror for a number of years during the 1930’s — a lone act of compassion during the anschluss. There are many cruel contradictions in this landscape.
Strict definitions of what racism is and isn’t aren’t fluid enough deal with the capacities that we each have for compassion and prejudice. Showing compassion for a daughter when enacting so many repressive laws doesn’t seem an acceptable bar. Yet, don’t we all deserve a path to redemption.
It seems so much easier and just to think in terms of allow all of us to escape binary traps, to aspire to, and ultimately attain some better version of ourselves and our society.
I think that this quote from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi is spot on when he writes:
No one becomes ‘not racist,’ despite a tendency by Americans to identify themselves that way. We can only strive to be antiracist on a daily basis, to continually rededicate ourselves to the lifelong task of overcoming our country’s racist heritage. We need to read books that force us to confront our self-serving beliefs and make us aware that ‘I’m not racist’ is a slogan of denial.
We can each actively aspire to be the anti-racist. Some first steps could include:
- Tackling the anti-racist reading list. These are amazing and challenging reads including “Fatal Invention How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century”, Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”, or Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God”, or Kendi’s “Stamped from the Beginning”.
- Talking about racism with your children, interrogate what it means, have the courage for difficult conversations that will move you and your neighbors beyond binary comfort zones.
- Practicing listening. Practice in centering the voices that have been silenced and marginalized in this society. Practicing compassion.
If all else fails, think in terms of how the children of one hundred years from now will judge you, and then work backwards.