So the “wonderful” thing about being a white person in the United States is that you don’t have to think about it, or racism, if you don’t want to. You can form your political opinions without giving a second thought. You can write policy analysis as if race has no impact on education, or on access to health care or housing or jobs, or anything else we value—and until relatively recently, almost no one will criticize you and say you are missing something. You can work in business without thinking about how your employment policies or where you are located affect Black people differently than white people. You can practice medicine without thinking about how the experience of being Black in America might affect the health of your patients.
I know this from personal experience. I did this kind of work without thinking about race and racism. Even now, I have to remind myself all the time when I’m writing something for myself or doing an advocacy or research project with my organization that the experience of Black people might be quite different from that of white people and that this deserves exploration in my work. And when I’m hiring I have to remind myself to look outside of the usual places to recruit people and also recognize that race and racism have an impact on the experience of the people whose resumes come before me.
If you are a white person in America and don’t challenge yourself, or have people around you to challenge you, you can ignore race and racism.
Black people can’t do that, however.
So I just suggest to white people who never think about race and racism and who assume that because you don’t think about it that it is gone to have a few long conversations with Black people about it.
I’m not suggesting you talk to the one “Black friend” that so many white people have, who may out of self-protection not be entirely honest with you.
I suggest you make a real effort to have a real conversation about race and racism. It’s going to take a while to make this happen. Ideally, you should do a training on the issue which creates a safe space in which white and Black people, who may have no other interactions with one another, can be honest
If you have that opportunity, you can ask a Black person how many days (or hours) go by without thinking or seeing the impact of race and racism on their lives, or the lives of people they know, of our city, state, and country.
Unless you’ve had an unusual set of experiences for a white American, you will no doubt be surprised by the answer.
But if you do, you will never again say the idiotic things I’ve seen white defenders of the Supreme Court’s ruling against affirmative action say in the last few days. You will never again think that “racism is over in the United States.”