CN: racism. I'd like to note that I am speaking from the perspective of an ally. While the best discussions on this subject should come from our Black friends, the reality is, they don't have to educate us. We have to educate us. It is not the job of marginalized populations to explain their oppression to others, and yet, we're often the ones left to do it. I hope this can help shoulder some of that burden.
I need to understand the anger about kneeling during the Pledge. I need to understand why people are so angry that Colin Kaepernick made a peaceful, quiet point by sitting during the national anthem. Colin Kaepernick didn't take a gun to a white neighborhood to make his point. Colin Kaepernick didn't burn down a mosque to take a stand against extremists. Colin Kaepernick sat down during the national anthem to make a point about racial inequity in this country.
Some people have argued that sitting or taking the knee during the anthem is a sign of disrespect for not only the US, but the ideals for which it stands. Let's think about that for a moment. If our country prides itself for being the land of the free, and for promoting freedom of expression (even though the first amendment is in reference to government prosecution), how is Kaepernick doing anything wrong?
And, in any case, why should we ignore the anthem's background? Even if the anthem didn't have a third stanza (which most of us don't know--I certainly didn't even know it existed), think about its the context. It was written in the early 1800s, when slavery was alive and well in the US. It was written by a white slave owner. And, most importantly, it celebrates a nation that would have been nothing without slavery, and which, 240 years later, still has racial problems.
Others say that it's a sign of disrespect for those who have fought and died for our country. Doesn't look like a lot of veterans agree. And you know how we're fighting for freedom in the Middle East? Funny how that all started on lies. It's been 15 years since 9/11, and, truthfully, Bush did what he thought was best. I don't know what another person would have done in his position. But that doesn't mean that the US hasn't contributed to the problems in the Middle East, and continue to do so. So here is the bigger issue: no matter what your position on the wars is (and I think mine is clear), while soldiers are dying or coming back traumatized because they believe in this cause, we are doing them a disservice by not representing those ideals on our own soil.
Can you really believe in a country that doesn't believe in you?
Discrimination does not equal racism.
What gets a lot of people up in arms is the thought that by saying "reverse racism" and "racism against white people" doesn't exist, we're negating any discriminatory experiences that they've faced. A friend of mine (thoughtfully and respectfully) asked about this, saying that while he was living abroad, he experienced quite a bit of "racism." Then he asked: or is that discrimination?
Xenophobia is alive in well in many countries, the US included. It is vital to carry around your passport when you travel outside of your native country. When you're a foreigner in a new land, especially one that may appear homogenous from our perspectives, you stand out. You will likely experience discrimination, usually in the form of xenophobia. Brexit was a prime example of this, and the British friends I've chatted with have said immigration status is of far greater concern than race. That's not to say that non-US countries don't have racial issues, but that they may manifest differently than in the US. (South Africa, for instance, is a prime example of racism that's alive and well outside of the United States that was the direct result of European colonization.)
Racism, on the other hand, involves the systematic and systemic oppression of a peoples based on ra that has become internalized not just by the oppressors, but by those oppressed. Racism comes in overt forms--the KKK--and subtle forms--"I don't see color." Indeed, while you might think ignoring color is progressive, it actually reinforces the racism we've all come to accept as the norm in the United States.
Yes, I used the word norm.
Here's the truth: it hurts to have our experiences erased. When you experience some form of discrimination, it hurts when you think someone is telling you that those experiences don't matter, or that you didn't experience that. Flip the sides: that's happening to people of color, but especially Black Americans, every day.
You probably have experienced some form or another of discrimination at some point. But that doesn't mean it was racism. And as much as it hurts, we have to put it in context.
White privilege exists. And you know what? No one is asking for you to feel guilty about it, and having privilege doesn't make any of your experiences less valid. Everyone has gone through some sort of hardship in their lives. That's not the point. We're talking about systemic issues that affect more than just ourselves as individuals. And, as a country, the United States has a racism problem.
If you consider yourself even slightly socially progressive, you likely thinks these are way-overblown stereotypes, and that racism like that doesn't actually exist. It does. But what's more dangerous than that is racism that's not overt.
Microaggressions are offhand, everyday remarks and behaviors that often unintentionally are insulting to people of color. Here is a nice big report on them. Here are some common examples that many of us haven't thought twice about:
- But you talk like a white person.
- But all Asians look the same.
- Can I touch your hair?
- It's too bad you don't speak Spanish.
- Well, they're Mexican, and they said it was okay to say this.
Are people of color being too sensitive for these? That's not up to us to decide. That's not up to us to judge. But if someone is saying that we're doing something that hurts them, why is it so difficult to stop?
If it's not clear, I'm not white. If you have ever seen a handful of Middle Eastern people together, you can see my facial features are all there: nose, eyebrows, eyes. I am deeply Persian, and being born in the United States doesn't take that away from me.
To be clear, I identify as a person of color. And to also be clear, I understand that I am white-passing. If you haven't seen a bunch of Middle Easterners hanging out, then you probably would view me as "ambiguously ethnic." I hate that my identity is erased, but I understand the privlege that comes with it. As a possibly-white straight girl, I am ignored. As a queer non-binary Muslim Iranian, I wouldn't be so lucky.
I am proud to be married to a Latin man; I am proud that if we decide to have biological children, they will be biracial. I am proud that if we decide to adopt, we will adopt children of color. I know I cannot provide them what they will need in this country, but I damn well will try. I will fight for them.
Asking someone to care about race when it hasn't affected them personally is hard. It isn't intuitive in those scenarios. So I'm asking you: if you believe you are a compassionate person, and if you want to be compassionate, then think about these issues. Engage with them. Understand that acknowledging privilege doesn't mean feeling guilty for them or having to apologize for them. And most of all, do your part as an ally. Tell your white friends to not make racial jokes. Stand up for the person of color in the room. Understand that if someone corrects you, it's not personal. If we all did little things, then we can make the world a better place for so many others.
It may not seem like a lot to you, but trust me, to those affected by these issues, even something small can help them heal, or give them hope. Listen to the voices that we often ignore. They have more to lose than we do.
I swear, if anyone makes the "if you don't like it, then leave" argument...
This was originally a Tuesday Telegram sent in September. The Telegrams are a weekly essay from me, where I reflect on things going on in my life and the wide world around me. Previous topics have included the Adnan Syed case and criminal injustice, the gender binary, rape culture, and friendship. My usual links: Facebook, Twitter, Patreon. I am officially at over 500 likes on Facebook, so tell your friends! Let's drive up the numbers! Woooooo!