When I was in tenth grade I took a math class on geometry. I did not enjoy the class, the teacher or the concepts. It seemed very disconnected to the real world to me at the time. Since then I have found very few things in that class useful to me in the real world. One that stands out is the Pythagorean theorem.
I’ve used it multiple times on projects around the house. During the course of taking that class one thing irritated me more than anything else. We were required to prove geometrical theorems over and over again despite the fact that they had been well proved thousands of years ago. I saw no rational reason that a tenth grade student would have to revisit and reprove something that was so well grounded and accepted as those theorems.
Despite what some would have us believe nowadays, systemic racism is real and always has been. It is not some new concept, it is one that has been clearly articulated by scholars of diverse backgrounds for a number of decades in this country.
Because a segment of people in this country want us to believe otherwise, there is a need once again to reprove the concept is real. I feel like I’m back in tenth grade geometry class again four decades later. I feel just as uncomfortable now as I did then. Why am I being asked to reprove something that is as well established as systemic racism just because some White people are uncomfortable with the idea and refuse to accept the lived experiences of people of color?
I know very well that people of color are not some monolithic group where everyone within those communities sees the world, or even just as importantly, experiences the world in the same way. This is not the case for Whites either. However, I think history teaches us that those intergroup differences have not mattered all that much over time. Those who attempted to assimilate were just as likely to face racism as those who fought against assimilationists ideals.
As we look at the current attacks on anything related to systemic racism it is clear to me that the path ahead is no different than it was before George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were murdered by police. Their deaths and that of Ahmaud Arbery brought a racial reckoning and woke up a lot of people around the world to the reality of being a Black man or woman in this country.
Their tragic deaths led to conversations, book clubs, marches, and many other things that had not happened as a result of racism in this country before. It was a unique opportunity to learn and use the time as a teachable moment. For many, that is exactly what happened.
I warned that the feelings, emotions of the moment, and seeming levels of increased empathy would not last. They never do.
Some Americans mourned when four little Blacks girls were blown up in a church in Birmingham less than a month after the famed March on Washington in 1963. Some Americans mourned after Dr. King was assassinated in 1968. Some Americans mourned after seeing the video of George Floyd being killed. I keep repeating that “some Americans” mourned because many did not.
None of these events, which should naturally provide an opportunity to mourn, worked the same for all Americans. Unfortunately many in the White community sat by silently celebrating. Dr. King was not well liked by Whites in the years he did the work that made him an American icon. Don’t believe all those who claim to have loved Dr. King today. Look at public opinion surveys from the 1950s and 60s and you will find that a huge majority of Whites saw Dr. King as a negative presence. Why did they do so?
For the same reasons many White people today see systemic racism conversations as a negative presence today. It exposes them to cognitive dissonance, forcing them to confront that which they know be be true about the ugly racial history of this country. Contrast that with the fantasy they prefer to believe of a colorblind nation where racism is simply individual bad people acting in a discriminatory manner and you see why the dissonance is present in so many minds.
Discovering that racism is systemic is like finding out Santa Claus was fake when you were a child. It hits you hard. It makes you feel you’ve been lied to. However, much like we refused to be mad at parents that had lied to us for years about Santa, we forgive the lies and move on with our lives. That is an unfortunate fact of life in America. We saw progress and wokeness but no substantial changes last year.
It is time we get mad about the lies. It’s time we do better by our children than leading them astray with historical lies in school. America is trying to put the genie back into the bottle, but far too many children want to be taught the truth. Far too many children have learned the other side of American history over the past several years. They deserve better than to be shut out from learning the truth because some claim they will feel guilt or shame.
Many of those promoting this view about White guilt feel no guilt while they discriminate against Blacks. They feel no guilt, and refuse to acknowledge their bad deeds or those of the institutions they are a part of. They refuse to listen to the voices of dissent in America. They refuse to give credence to the stories people of color have been sharing for four hundred years. They don’t refuse because they feel guilt. They refuse because they want us to forget and pretend that we are okay with being marginalized and murdered. They refuse because they benefit from the status quo staying the same.
They refuse because systemic racism not only harms people of color but it harms Whites too. It creates a superiority complex in the minds of many Whites and they act out on this in ways that are often invisible to them. They are now disenchanted with an America where Whites don’t automatically have the upper hand over people of color any longer. They are disappointed that the things handed to their parents and grandparents for generations are no longer being doled out to Whites only.
This is where they need to find a scapegoat. The longest lasting, most conveniently available, scapegoat in America is the Black community. Now that we have said our piece and expressed ourselves openly and honestly, those on the other side want to blame us for our current and historical condition. They want to claim that the systems, institutions and structures in America have no negative impact on Blacks and just as important, they want to claim that they do not benefit those in the White community.
I will never allow the stories of my family, my community, and other people of color, whose journeys I’ve studied, to be pushed aside to make people feel comfortable. It would be disingenuous and disrespectful to far too many living in this country as well as those no longer living.
I’m tired of proving systemic racism to White people. It’s called racial battle fatigue. It has not slowed me down though. In fact, this latest battle against those that want to end the teaching of systemic racism — what they are simply calling critical race theory — has given me more fuel and more energy to work even harder. I will not stop teaching and proving regardless of the burdensome nature of doing so.
It is way too important to me to give up because of the constant frustrations. Those frustrations are not as powerful as the deleterious impact of systemic racism. If somehow they become more powerful I will stop this work that drives me 24 hours a day. Even in my dreams I do this work. There are no moments to relax even when I need rest. My mind is like a treadmill on steroids. It never stops thinking of this battle.
Those that want us to forget the past and ignore the present injustices have weaponized terms like “Black Lives Matter,” “Defunding the Police,” and now “Critical Race Theory,” because they have no real tools to prove systemic racism is not real. They use rhetoric instead of carefully articulated arguments to support their way of seeing the world.
Don’t believe they don’t know the truth because they claim ignorance. The bad deeds of Whites against people of color have been copiously studied and articulated by scholars and the lived experiences of people of color provide even further evidence. No one can say they don’t know at least more than they did a year ago.
Look at the evidence and ignore those that want you to look the other way. Don’t get distracted. We need to do better. We must do better.