Things have changed – again – as racial justice protests sweep through cities large and small, and conflicts between protesters and police dominate the news. Some of you may be feeling, “I was already overwhelmed, with the COVID-19 and economic crises, and the climate crisis!” Others are thinking, “Finally the struggle for racial justice has come to the fore!” Many of us are heartbroken and/or enraged over police killings of black people.
Whatever our feelings, the reality is that racial injustice as been a major feature of the Unites States from long before we were a nation, right through to the present. No attempt to build a sustainable, just, healthy society can go forward successfully without making dismantling racial injustice central.
Who Can We Blame?
It is common to want to find someone to blame. Some will blame individual police officers and their actions. Some will blame protesters. Some will blame a history of racist actions by police. Some will blame politicians. The truth is that it is a societal failure – we have not done what we need to do as a society to eliminate racism. We have allowed it to fester, wreak lethal havoc on communities of color, and compromise white people’s humanity. We can and must work together to change this.
System of White Supremacy
Many of us have been led to see racism as primarily individual acts of hatred and meanness committed by individuals who are racist. In this view, those of us who don’t do such horrible things are “not racist”, and therefore innocent. This view allows the system of white supremacy to remain in place, unchallenged. In fact we have all been infected with notions of white superiority, and virtually all of us have come to accept vast racial inequities without actively insisting that they be eliminated. Even with the best of intentions, virtually all of us are complicit.
While we have seen terrible racism in recent weeks, we have also seen more people caring, more people standing up for racial justice, and more people committing to not staying silent about racial injustice. If we can stay connected with each other and act with determination, courage and persistence, we may have the critical mass that we need to sustain work for racial justice and keep it in the center of all of our struggles.
What Can We Do?
I’m often asked by white people, “What can we do?” There are many answers to this question. Here are three that are close to my heart today. Each of them I learned from African Americans who have guided and corrected me.
One, we can cultivate the ability to look at everything through an aware racial lens and think systemically all the time. If we don’t notice, or think about race, racism, and white domination much of the time, or we think of racism as mostly made up of racist incidents, we help keep white supremacy in place. Once we notice, we must speak up about race and racism, especially among other white people.
Two, we can give up thinking of people from the perspective of “us and them”. Those of us who are white help keep white supremacy in place when we think of people of color as “them” rather than as “us.” Perhaps even more challenging, we must also see white people who act out horrific racism as part of us, also caught in this racism system that we all must dismantle.
And three, as upset as we may be about what’s happening, I’m sure that racial justice can only be achieved by our acting on the basis of love – a fierce, passionate, persistent love – love of justice, love for all humans of all skin colors, and love for this beautiful earth. Alicia Garza, one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, has said, “For us, #BlackLivesMatter is really a re-humanization project. It’s a way for us to love each other again, to love ourselves, and to project that love into the world so that we can transform it.”
I’m glad to be in this struggle with all of you. I take strength and inspiration from all who are speaking up, taking action, and resolving to stay engaged in the struggle for racial justice.
Reading Notes: You might want to look at “10 Simple Ways White People Can Step Up to Fight Everyday Racism“, by Derrick Clifton, an African American award-winning columnist; Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad; and How to be an Anti-Racist, by Ibram X Kendi. “How White People Can Help Dismantle White Supremacy“, which I wrote, may also be useful. Also available in the “Resources for Undoing Racism” section of this website is guidance for white people on “freeing our minds” from racism, “desegregating our lives”, and using “listening exchanges” for personal healing from racism.
Russ Vernon Jones blogs regularly on climate justice at www.RussVernonJones.org