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Monday, July 20, 2015

Oh Dear God, Not Another Talk About Racism: Dispatches from the Post-Racial Era

These were the words running through my mind at a recent brunch with some old friends as the subject of racism came up - well, actually, it didn't start off as a discussion about racism, it started off as a discussion about the possible lynching of Sandra Bland and why I don't take long-distance solo drives through certain areas of the United States, so really, it was a discussion about logistics and the shortcomings of GPS maps that may give you turn-by-turn directions, but are silent as to whether or not persons of color, like myself, might want to bypass certain routes in order to arrive at our final destinations ALIVE! Come to think of it, I guess it WAS a discussion about racism. 

The friends are a married couple and the wife and I met while in college. The husband was a later edition. My friend and I are like sisters. We've been there for each through the questionable hair decisions of our college days, job searches, still more questionable hair decisions, boyfriends, marriage, parental illness and death, and the birth of children. When our husbands are with us, she and I still talk a thousand miles a minute as our spouses try to get a word in, here and there. On issues of religion and social justice, she and I are in sync, but her husband is more conservative in his stance on certain issues. While he and I don't always agree, I was shocked when he responded to my fears and concerns around traveling to certain potentially hostile places with the following statement: I don't see it. The "it" he was referring to was racism. And that, my friends, was when the "it" hit the fan!

Let me walk you through his argument: Racism exists now because we (meaning minorities) keep talking about it. If we stopped talking about our differences, then we'd all just get along and racism would end.

But, there's more: The nine African-American church members murdered in Charleston, SC died not because of the actions of the racist shooter, but because minorities keep talking about racism and the media continues to cover minorities talking about racism, so much so that WE minorities have created the construct that fueled the racial hatred in the shooter. Oh, and, of course, President Obama is responsible for everything that's wrong in this country.

So there you have it - finally, I now know how to eliminate racism from this country. Dr. King must be shouting Hallelujah in that heavenly kingdom: let's just stop talking about it! Who knew it was all so easy!!

Racism is like your childhood imaginary friend, I guess. Like that movie "Drop Dead Fred" where the heroine reunites with her imaginary friend as a psychological crutch as she navigates the tough stuff of adulthood, including her divorce from a philandering husband. I'm so glad that I got whitemalesplained about racism before it was too late. Maybe, if talking about racism only perpetuates racism and NOT talking about racism ends racism, then maybe we should stop talking about rape or about suicide or about genocide. Don't you all feel great now that these burdens have been lifted from our shoulders??

I was offended, as you can tell. The intellectual in me was offended. This college educated professional whose own Italian American family had dealt with racism when they first came to this country seemed to be either ignoring or ignorant of how racism affected his own family. But the emotional side of me was just plain hurt. After almost 20 years of friendship, I was blown away by his inability to empathize with his friend sitting across from him. I wanted to cry because "I don't see it" means that he doesn't see ME. 

It's hard when your friends disappoint you, and it's harder, still, to forgive them. But the hard way is, unfortunately, the only way to break through someone's ignorance. I'd love for racism to die, but its death won't just happen because we've silenced the conversations about it. It's disheartening to think that Trayvon, Charleston, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner haven't been enough to move this man into "seeing" racism.  But, maybe the issue here is scale. It's easy to push platitudes and axioms pulled from political talking points and applied to large-scale stories that have grabbed international headlines. It's an easy thing to debate the issues, but how do you deal with an actual someone and not a some thing? This is the hard work and it can only be done one person at a time, and one conversation at a time. 

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