Nothing upsets White Americans like calling them a “racist.” It can spark outright indignation, extreme defensiveness, a faucet of tears, and a host of emotions that dwell in our primal selves.
Why do White Americans fear the word so much?
Over the past 15 years of teaching about race and racism at the high school level, I have polled my students on their associations with word “racist.” The list is relatively consistent from year to year: the Confederate flag, the Ku Klux Klan, burning crosses, white sheets.
In other words, they consistently associate “racist” with the symbols of the most egregious and deadly forms of White Supremacy.
No wonder so many White Americans flee from racism.
But fleeing racism is the primary way we as White Americans support, protect, and perpetuate racism. Here’s why:
When we bolt, we don’t discuss racism. We don’t analyze it. We don’t even face it. We are too busy creating distance, with our backs turned.
In short, fleeing precludes the necessary process of discovery that transforms an ignorant White American to one we desperately need: an anti-racist White activist.
Consequently, the status quo remains with its nails sunk deep into the future.
Robin DiAngelo, a scholar who writes extensively on whiteness, explains these responses as an inevitable outcome of what she calls the “good/bad binary.” As White Americans, we think of racism as bad, so if we hold a racist belief, then we too are bad. Conversely, if we hate racism, then we are good.
To many White Americans, even exploring the concept of the White Privilege confines them to the binary, condemning them as evil racists and sending them packing.
My students’ associations with “racist” perfectly exemplify this binary.
But if we White Americans truly hate racism, then we can’t distance ourselves from it.
After all, what threat has ever ended because we turned and fled?
Like espousing colorblindness, distancing yourself from racism is a flawed strategy. Learn what you can do instead by reading the rest of the article:
How White Americans’ Hatred of Racism Actually Supports Racism Instead of Solves It
Great article! I am teaching a new course on social justice through digital storytelling and will be using your site. Great job! Thanks
Thank you, Aisha! Would love to check out your syllabus if you get a chance to send it.
“. . . fleeing racism is the primary way we as White Americans support, protect, and perpetuate racism.” YES!
Thank you, Jon, for addressing this topic at this critical time in our nation’s history!
As a white woman of some middle class privilege, I want to add that as long as we (white people) continue to identify racism as an individual construct and fail to address the historical impact and legacies of structural racism, this only gets worse.
I would encourage anyone who is interested in dismantling racism, to educate themselves (better yet – take Patti Digh and Victor Lee Lewis’ online course The Art of Activism: Hard Conversations – Intro to Racism http://www.37days.com/racism/).
The truth is that white people must begin to own the may ways that “good people with good intentions” unknowingly collude with these systemic oppressions before anything of significance will change.
Again, Jon, thank you for continuing this conversation.
As a white person, I know how easy it can be to set these difficult dialogues aside and stay comfortable with our power and false sense of justice.
Blessings to you on your journey!
Thanks so much for the kind words and for the online course recommendation! Through his role in Color of Fear, Victor Lee Lewis has been changing the lives of my student for the past 15 years. Thanks again, Tamara!