So, since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was yesterday the topic of race has been coming up a lot in daily conversation with the middle class white liberals which make up the majority of people I interact with on a daily basis. Unfortunately, talking to white liberals about race is just about as fun as trying to juggle in a bee suit by the side of a busy street while wearing a giant yellow sign that says "SALE!" Silly and idealistic as I am, when I am talking to well-meaning people I usually try to give them the benefit of the doubt. You would think that I would stop doing this after a while, but no, the fire of my personal dream that people are not actually as ig'nant as they seem continues to soldier on. Anyway, this has been done before in other quarters, but I figured another little guide can't hurt.
1) Don't act as though racism is something Other BAAAAD people do. Guess what? YOU do it too! YES YOU! You've won the glamrous prize known as racist socialization, an all expense paid trip to a land where ignoring white privilege isn't just once in a while, it's a way of life! And what's more, all your friends get to come too! Why, it's as though racism is an all-pervasive part of our culture that we ALL have internalized and we ALL deal with on a daily basis although some of us are racist enough as to not even realize it! WOOOOOOO!!!!!!
2) Don't get defensive. As noted in the above tip, YOU are racist. The first step to healing is acknowledging that you've got a problem. Repeat after me, "Hi my name is __________ and I am a racist." Don't you feel better now? If you really want to get advanced, start listening to people who call you out on racist actions and thought patterns. Listening means, you stop. Your mouth ceases to move. You pause, like the gentle crane before the refreshing oasis, waiting to drink in the delicious icy cold beverage we call insight. THEN respond to what the other person has said.
3) You are not Mr. T. It is not your job to "save" or "protect" people of color from the vicious scourge that is racism and believe me, nobody is expecting you to do that. Most people of color have been dealing with that particular villain for their entire lives. Chances are, they've probably learned a thing or two about how to handle themselves when racism rears its ugly head. Start with changing your own attitudes and behaviors. Then progress to confronting others when you recognize attitudes and behaviors and doing anti-racist activism. Don't take on the mantle of savior because it is both patronizing to people of color and naive about the real character of racism and its multitudinous manifestations.
4) Avoid making assumptions about people of color and what they need as much as humanly possible. For one thing, people of color are not a gelatinous human blob of different flavored pudding all mixed together. Different groups have different struggles. Different individuals within groups have different struggles. Understanding the interplay of all of those differences is extraordinarily challenging to the point of straight up impossibility. People spend years studying a single group in ethnic studies departments and they STILL don't fully understand that ONE group they've been studying. Complexity like woooooaaaaahhhh!!! On the other hand, if you are wondering what people of color want and what they face there are tons of books and movies out there that can help you get a sense of what it means for some. If you are working on a specific community project, maybe it's a good idea to ask some people of color in your community.
5) Exoticising other cultures is not the same as understanding them or being anti-racist. You might notice that some of your ancestors also praised and enjoyed the cultures of non-white peoples. We now refer to those people as colonists. Please do not make references to Zen Buddhism or Native American legends or all the Salsa dancing lessons you have taken as though your knowledge of these things has made you one with the struggle. Chances are it hasn't done that anymore than Irish Step Dancing has made you REALLY understand the political situation in Ireland or what it means to be Irish American.
6) Guilt is a useless emotion unless it motivates you to act. And in my experience, guilt is usually not a very powerful motivator. Instead it often has a chilling effect that paralyzes people with doubt and self-pity. When I bring up my own experiences with racism in a conversation it is not because I am fishing for victim pity or that I want you to feel guilty. On the contrary, I want you to be angered by what I've experienced and what continues to happen in this country. I want you to be upset that the Martin Luther King Dream America that you were raised to believe i, does not yet exist. I want to build your drive to make this country a better place not just for me, or for people of color, but for all of us.
7) Be honest, especially with yourself. I remain undecided about when safe space is an important, valuable thing for disempowered groups and when it allows people to avoid the realities of our culture and their own opinions in a way that slows down progress. Within certain general playground guidelines such as don't call anyone a name and don't pull anyone's pig tails, I would always rather someone be honest with me if they disagree with what I'm saying or even if they just don't understand. Censoring yourself through the politically correct machine is sometimes about simple politeness, but it can also be about ignoring your real thought patterns and cultural practices. Michael Richards and Mel Gibson are not the only ones with racist thoughts, they're just dumb enough to have been caught saying them. Which brings me to another tip:
8) No you are not colorblind. Stop pretending like you are. Acting as though you don't see race is a slippery slope that often leads people to conclude that race does not exist. News flash, race still carries a heap of meaning and baggage in America. To act as though it doesn't is to ignore the daily realities that many people of color must face and to, again, obscure your own racist thoughts and actions.
If any of you guys have other suggestions that you can think of, go ahead and post them in the comments.