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An Uncomfortable Guilt: The excuse of politics is not why people avoid talking about systemic racism

“You can run, but you can’t hide.” – American idiom

“They are just angry because the truth you speak contradicts the lie they live.” – Steve Maraboli

White people who are afraid of the truths exposed about racism in recent weeks and months as a result of the resurgence of expressions of Black Lives Matter have cleverly hidden from the conversations by claiming they are too “political.”

This is a method deployed to avoid having conversations that are too hard to handle by far too many whites in this country. As they have continued to deny the presence of systemic racism, conversations have been stifled by those who claim they are too political.

Politics is defined as: of, relating to, or concerned with politics; of, relating to, or connected with a political party. If a particular political party chooses to ignore these conversations it is their choice. Don’t let so-called “politics” be your excuse. Be honest and say you don’t want to talk about it. Be honest and say it brings up too much guilt.

When white people have been mistreated in this country they have had free rein to express their displeasure, standing behind the First Amendment argument of “free speech.” Don’t we as people of color have freedom of speech as well? Or is our freedom of speech limited by what white people want to hear? Wasn’t this country founded by white people who were expressing their displeasure with the King of England?

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation…The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States…In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” – Declaration of Independence (July 1776)

As the nation celebrates “Independence Day” on the anniversary of the independence of white colonists from a despotic King, I look and ask when our Independence Day is coming. When will these words in the Declaration of Independence—“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”—apply to people of color?

“We’re celebrating two hundred years of white folks kicking a$$.” – Richard Pryor on the July 4th 1976 bicentennial celebration

As people of color, particularly Blacks, struggle to have our voices heard, we get constant pushback, repudiation, snubs, rebukes, rejection, spurning, repulsion, and refusals to listen by uncomfortable white people. Why are they so uncomfortable hearing our side of the story? Because it conflicts with the lies they tell, believe, perpetuate, carry on, maintain, sustain, eternalize and believe to the depths of their souls.

One of my favorite words in the English language is obfuscate. It means, to confuse, bewilder, or stupefy; to make obscure or unclear. We are in the midst of some of the most profound obfuscation in the history of this still fairly young nation. Many older people of color will tell you they miss the old days when racism was clearly expressed by white people. They don’t say this because they enjoyed it. It’s because it’s better than people lying to your face saying they are not racist all the while they are committing racist acts. It does not really matter if the biases are unconscious or conscious, they cause the same pain.

When I hear white people say they are uncomfortable talking about racism I think to myself, how do you think we feel being victimized by racism? Many white people are uncomfortable talking about something that we can’t stop talking about because it is our lived experience every day of our lives whether white people see it, believe it, admit it, understand it, consider it, give credence to it, or deny it. It does not go away because white people are all of a sudden “woke.” Most white people have been sleeping like Rip Van Winkle, except he only slept for 20 years.

Now one of the tools of obfuscation is the “good ole” trick of changing the narrative. Some white people work really hard to convince us that we are delusional, and that we keep bringing up the past indiscretions of white people to make them feel guilty. If a white person feels guilt it’s on them. We did not cause it. Their actions and the actions of their ancestors caused it. Are we to simply forget what happened to us? Should we just stop talking about it? Do some people prefer that we live in the future instead of the past and present?

“The truth is still the truth, even if no one believes it. A lie is still a lie even if everyone believes it.”

When I hear that we are bringing up old things like slavery, and Jim Crow segregation, I’m reminded that slavery and Jim Crow segregation are not responsible for the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. We do’t have to go back very far to find white indiscretions. They happen every day. Here are a few recent headlines to remind you.

“Colorado Police Officers Under Investigation For Photos At Elijah McClain Memorial”

“Two Florida officials fired for erasing faces of Black firefighters from city mural”

“University of North Carolina Wilmington professor behind ‘vile’ racist and sexist tweets to retire”

“Woman Yells ‘You Live Off White People’ in Racist Rant at BLM Protesters”

“NC Hampton Inn Employee Fired After Calling Police on Black Guests Using the Pool”

“Trump shares video of white couple pointing guns at protesters in St. Louis”

“Target employee says N.Y. customer demanded she remove Black Lives Matter mask”

“Austin schools suspend Black students nearly 5 times as often as white students”

“A Black man tried to cash his first paycheck. The teller called 911.”

All of these headlines happened within about a week. Racism has not gone dormant during the protests, in fact it’s rearing its ugly head on a consistent basis if you pay attention.

Some accuse the protestors of politicizing race. Let’s explore what that looks like historically. Politicians are also known as lawmakers. Let’s take a look at some laws they have written in this country.

ALABAMA

  • Nurses: No person or corporation shall require any white female nurse to nurse in wards or rooms in hospitals, either public or private, in which negro men are placed.
  • Pool and Billiard Rooms: It shall be unlawful for a negro and white person to play together or in company with each other at any game of pool or billiards.

ARIZONA

  • Intermarriage: The marriage of a person of Caucasian blood with a Negro, Mongolian, Malay, or Hindu shall be null and void.

FLORIDA

  • Education: The schools for white children and the schools for negro children shall be conducted separately.

GEORGIA

  • Mental Hospitals: The Board of Control shall see that proper and distinct apartments are arranged for said patients, so that in no case shall Negroes and white persons be together.
  • Barbers: No colored barber shall serve as a barber [to] white women or girls.
  • Burial: The officer in charge shall not bury, or allow to be buried, any colored persons upon ground set apart or used for the burial of white persons.

NEW MEXICO

  • Education: Separate rooms [shall] be provided for the teaching of pupils of African descent, and [when] said rooms are so provided, such pupils may not be admitted to the school rooms occupied and used by pupils of Caucasian or other descent.

OKLAHOMA

  • Telephone Booths: The Corporation Commission is hereby vested with power and authority to require telephone companies…to maintain separate booths for white and colored patrons when there is a demand for such separate booths.

WYOMING

  • Intermarriage: All marriages of white persons with Negroes, Mulattos, Mongolians, or Malaya hereafter contracted in the State of Wyoming are and shall be illegal and void.

These laws were all written by white politicians. So I guess in this way race is about politics. Yet when we bring up this type of politics, white people in many instances get mad, and storm out of the room. They accuse people of color of using the “race card.” White people created the race card. They hold all the trump cards—no pun intended—in the deck.

One of my least favorite phrases in the English language is “political correctness.” So I guess if people who’ve been called “spics,” “niggers,” “chinks,” and such, begin to demand that people use terms that are not demeaning, then they are asking people to be “politically correct.” No they are not! They are telling you that they don’t want to continue to be called racial epithets just because white people love those words so much. People who complain about political correctness are people who don’t have a problem with schools around the country being named after Confederate generals, or sports teams like “The Washington Redskins.” In their way of seeing the world, people of color are being overly “sensitive” and are revisionists historians, trying to destroy the beauty of America.

“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments…the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!” – President Donald J. Trump, tweet 17 August 2017

Back in the early years of the twentieth century a battle was being waged by some leaders in the Black community. They were trying to get white people to capitalize the word “negro.” They saw it as a sign of respect if the word was capitalized. White people continued to use the lower case version.

While many white people have turned books like “So You Want to Talk About Race” and “How to Be an Antiracist” into bestsellers, other white people won’t even say the phrase Black Lives Matter out loud. Some white people want to learn and some are apparently not ready to budge on issues of racism. What can we do?

Take advantage of the moment. Appreciate that some white people are woke right now. Invite them to learn, and talk about racism before it falls out of vogue. We know this momentum won’t last forever. Get the conversations in while you can. Understand that some people will never shift their position and move in the direction of being either non-racist or actively anti-racist.

Use your influence to get as many white people to the table to talk as you can now. Understand the tremendous peer pressure many white people feel from family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers to not talk about racism. And finally, stop calling it political when it has nothing to do with politics, it’s about human decency and respect. It’s time to learn and unlearn. One does not work without the other. Let’s follow the example of the post-Apartheid South Africa.

“To provide for the investigation and the establishment of as complete a picture as possible of the nature, causes and extent of gross violations of human rights committed during the period from 1 March 1960 to the cut-off date contemplated in the Constitution, within or outside the Republic, emanating from the conflicts of the past, and the fate or whereabouts of the victims of such violations; the granting of amnesty to persons who make full disclosure of all the relevant facts relating to acts associated with a political objective committed in the course of the conflicts of the past during the said period; affording victims an opportunity to relate the violations they suffered; the taking of measures aimed at the granting of reparation to, and the rehabilitation and the restoration of the human and civil dignity of, victims of violations of human rights; reporting to the Nation about such violations and victims; the making of recommendations aimed at the prevention of the commission of gross violations of human rights; and for the said purposes to provide for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” – South African Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act 34 of 1995

About The Author

Reggie Jackson

As an award-winning Senior Columnist for the Milwaukee Independent, Reggie Jackson covers a range of African American issues. He is also a Consultant with Nurturing Diversity Partners, and volunteers as Head Griot for America’s Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM) in Bronzeville.