opinion

COLUMN: White people, sit down. We need to talk



The same day last week that my column on how ordinary white people are complicit in perpetuating white supremacy ran in the Indiana Daily Student, Yik Yak was flooded with some of the ugliest, most racist comments I have ever seen in my life.

Aside from the threat that prompted an email from IU Provost Lauren Robel decrying that particular “cowardly and anonymous action,” there were remarks ranging from hateful to bewildered.

I won’t repeat the racist remarks here. But let’s talk about the comments that wondered, as one person put it, “Not racist at all, but why are some black people acting like they are so oppressed here?”

Here’s a hint: they’re not acting. When you open up what is supposed to be a fun social media app and see an incessant slew of hateful and dehumanizing comments directed toward you and people who look like you, you might start to feel a little bit oppressed.

Several of the Yik Yak posters seemed genuinely bewildered at why black Americans and other people of color insist that racism is a real issue. “Why the fuck is all this black equality bullshit coming up right now?” wondered one 
clueless commenter.

One poster described the Black Lives Matter movement as divisive and “a cancer to society.” Another complained of “reverse racism,” while still another advised, “Quit playing the 
victim card.”

Many of the posts and comments engaged in victim-blaming. One person wrote, “If you really wanted help you’d stop distancing yourself,” suggesting that people of color themselves are somehow responsible for the discrimination and mistreatment they face on a daily basis.

Almost all of the commenters seemed to wonder the same thing: “where’s the racism?”

Unable or unwilling to see the racism that permeates our society, some people expressed doubt it even exists. According to one commenter, “African-Americans just like to make a big scene.” Another poster sounded annoyed and suggested, “African-Americans quit bringing up racism and we’ll shut up.”

Here’s the thing, though: problems don’t go away if you just refuse to talk about them. And whether we want to face it or not, the reality is that racism is still an enormous problem in this 
country.

So why can’t you see it?

Because you’re white and therefore not its target.

Let’s imagine for a moment that you have terrible seasonal allergies. Every time you walk outside, you start coughing and sneezing, your eyes get itchy and watery and you just feel 
miserable.

Anyone who doesn’t experience seasonal allergies might be baffled. Why do you insist on coughing and sneezing all the time? Do you just enjoy making a big scene?

It isn’t hard to see racism if you’re targeted by it every day. It can be harder as a white person to see your own privilege in action, but it can be done. All you have to do is try to envision how interactions in your daily life might go differently if your skin weren’t the color it is.

I was once pulled over by a Bloomington police officer for speeding. As a white person, I didn’t have to worry that I might be shot, beaten, tasered or otherwise assaulted during the traffic stop. The officer not only didn’t give me a ticket, he didn’t even ask to see my registration.

And it wasn’t even my car.

White people, let’s please get our act together. Racism is everywhere, even if you as a white person fail to see it. Every time you make a racist comment, you perpetuate violence against people of color. Every time you insist that racism doesn’t exist, you write off the lived experiences of literally millions of people.

Where’s the racism? You’re breathing it.

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