Saturday, March 31, 2012

'racial bias is not the exception. racial blindness is'

Trayvon Martin was black. So why are some afraid to talk about that?

Let's talk about race, ladies and gentlemen, because I think here's something we should all recognize and acknowledge: we do not live in a post-racial society.

This morning on Melissa Harris-Perry's show, her "Did She Just Say That?" segment dove straight into this topic: "That sick feeling in your stomach is not a reason to avoid the topic, change the channel, or tune out. Do not flee the discomfort, embrace it." Harris-Perry went on to give a "guide" on "how white people can talk about Trayvon Martin."

There are some who will point at this and say, "The fact that you're talking about race is the problem! You brought it up!" I've heard from several people before that race is not an issue. Take a look at our own Republican presidential hopefuls, who've blamed President Obama for making Trayvon Martin's death about race.

Harris-Perry's segment is smart. It's sharp, and forces us to take a look at our own racial biases. And if it makes you feel uncomfortable--well, then her job is complete. Because we need to talk about race in this society in order to work past the issues that still prevent us from true equality. Talking about race won't divide us; not talking about it is what is keeping us apart--something that Harris-Perry notes in her "guidelines":
"Rule #4: Take your time and think before you speak, because 'white guilt' can make you say really stupid things like, "I don't even see race!" Because here's the deal: even if you voted for Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Barack Obama, you still notice that they are black. In fact, data shows that we all see race and react to it, even if we're not aware of it. So racial bias is not the exception. Racial blindness is."
Another rule worth highlighting:
"Rule #5: Remember that you are white. It's okay! It's not your fault, and acknowledging your whiteness as you discuss Trayvon's blackness is half the battle."
Mario Tama/Getty Images
You can apply "white" to other races here too, and here's the point I want to make: just because you cannot place yourself in someone else's shoes because your skin color or economic status or family history is different does not mean you do not have the "right" to discuss it, to learn about it, to advocate. (In the same vein, if you are not part of the "99 percent," it doesn't mean you cannot acknowledge their movement.) To add to that, the question of "privilege" is one that is not black and white: what gives one more of a "right" to discuss something that someone else? You cannot close our ears to the voices of those who do not pain in the same way that you may know it.

I've had some people I know, who are white, say to me, "I don't want to say anything about Trayvon Martin because I'm white and people are just going to look at me and say, 'Well, you can never understand what it's like to be racially profiled or you've never had to deal with racism.'"

And while I can do nothing to ensure you won't receive those comments from someone out there in the world, here's what I can say: no, in America in this day and age, you are better off if you are a white male or female, but your voice can be used in a powerful way to fight injustice. Rather than ignore an issue because the topic of race is too big, too scary, fight the adversity you may encounter and use your privilege to be an agent for change.

1 comment:

  1. That's a funny yet insightful clip. Thanks for sharing! I read something about how white parents will shush their kids when they say talk about how someone else is a different color, and how that's supposed to show that they're colorblind. But instead, it's helpful for parents to acknowledge WHY we look different and what are the benefits of us being different races. To pretend that we're all the same just makes the situation more awkward.