‘I, Racist’ Revisited – Thoughts on a Conversation Americans Don’t Know How to Have
Facebook reminded me this morning that I shared this insightful piece by John Metta from Medium “I, Racist,” a year ago today; I decided to share it again there and here with the hope that it’ll reach a few hundred more people because it remains just as important and informative about a discussion that people in the US simply don’t know how to have.
It’s from a “sermon” Metta delivered as a “congregational reflection” to an all white audience at the Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ on June 28, 2015, in the wake of the June 17, 2015 shooting spree that took the lives of nine African Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Metta said that up until that massacre, he decided not to discuss racism with white people. In the piece he explains why. A few excerpts:
Living every single day with institutionalized racism and then having to argue its very existence, is tiring, and saddening, and angering. Yet if we express any emotion while talking about it, we’re tone policed, told we’re being angry. In fact, a key element in any racial argument in America is the Angry Black person, and racial discussions shut down when that person speaks. The Angry Black person invalidates any arguments about racism because they are “just being overly sensitive,” or “too emotional,” or– playing the race card. Or even worse, we’re told that we are being racist (Does any intelligent person actually believe a systematically oppressed demographic has the ability to oppress those in power?)
But here is the irony, here’s the thing that all the angry Black people know, and no calmly debating White people want to admit: The entire discussion of race in America centers around the protection of White feelings.
White people and Black people are not having a discussion about race. Black people, thinking as a group, are talking about living in a racist system. White people, thinking as individuals, refuse to talk about “I, racist” and instead protect their own individual and personal goodness. In doing so, they reject the existence of racism.
The reality of America is that White people are fundamentally good, and so when a white person commits a crime, it is a sign that they, as an individual, are bad. Their actions as a person are not indicative of any broader social construct. Even the fact that America has a growing number of violent hate groups, populated mostly by white men, and that nearly *all* serial killers are white men can not shadow the fundamental truth of white male goodness. In fact, we like White serial killers so much, we make mini-series about them.
White people are good as a whole, and only act badly as individuals.
People of color, especially Black people (but boy we can talk about “The Mexicans” in this community) are seen as fundamentally bad. There might be a good one — and we are always quick to point them out to our friends, show them off as our Academy Award for “Best Non-Racist in a White Role” — but when we see a bad one, it’s just proof that the rest are, as a rule, bad.
Medium says it’s a 12min read. Invest at least 30 and read it twice.
Today’s Pic du Jour, the site’s 919th straight, was snapped on December 20, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio, USA during a demonstration to protest the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy killed by a Cleveland police officer at the park on the city’s west side. More images from the demonstration are here.