|Courtesy Gregg Richards, Flickr CC|
But we often don't.
Whenever the topic of race comes up, most people take it very personally and get defensive and/or accusatory. I'm not a racist, you are. We are all the same race so stop it, there is no such thing as race. Please stop talking. Black people are racist too. Everybody is racist. This is not about race.
And so on.
All the defense mechanisms get trotted out and then the volume goes up and then the room goes silent or things get ugly.
It's not so much what we say as what we carefully don't say that builds tension.
Open your mouth and all the tension burbles up like sludge in an over-full septic tank.
I've thought for some time that racism is damaging because it is systematic and pervasive, because it touches everyone in some horrible, deforming way, because it ignites violence and stokes hate without ever really showing itself in a way everyone can agree on.
The reason we argue about race is because it is so ingrained in American culture, so big and so diffuse and integrated in how we all think and perceive, that we have trouble seeing it clearly, even when it is hurting everyone.
Most white people think that if they are not burning crosses or beating up people with dark skin or using the 'n' word (really, really dislike that phrase 'the n word'), that means they are not racist. Most white people and black people think that people who do use the 'n' word ARE racist.
None of that has anything to do with how racist any one person is or isn't IMO, and I would go so far as to say that I almost don't care about the degree of racism any one person exhibits. Who am I? God? No, I'm just a person living in the U.S., as skewed and infected as anyone else.
Also, I know that focusing on whether or not any single given person is racist is a trap. It starts a conversation that goes nowhere, pumps up tempers, and increases resentment.
But that doesn't mean we can't talk about racism.
We can talk about racism as an institution, a social construct that once justified slavery and now justifies lots of other horrible things, an American disease, and so forth.
The reason I am thinking all these thoughts is because after I wrote my last post about Mr. Anderson, I received some criticism for calling my brother a racist but not showing how he became one.
I realized a couple of things: 1) I did not show how my brother became a racist, I only hinted at where it all started, and 2) Nothing good ever happens after you call anybody a racist, even if that person is wearing a white hood and man-dress, even if that person is a violent psychopath seething with (barely) repressed hatred of anyone different from himself.
After this conversation and accurate yet uncomfortable critique of my blog post, I went to bed and had nonstop nightmares about my brother stabbing me, punching me, hurting me, and so on, and when I woke up the next day I was regretting my personal story-corp experiment.
But I'm not giving up.
The thing is, if you stand up to a bully, no matter what the situation, there will be consequences. Nightmares are the least of those consequences.
So seriously, truly, I 'get' why this country wants to avoid the topic of racism at all costs.
But sometimes you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. That's all I'm doing here.
I don't know where I'm going. But I'll know when I get there.