It’s hard to know what to say at a time like this, shrouded as I am in privilege and what Ta-Nehisi Coates aptly calls a “belief in being white.”
What we know is that the response to the murder of George Floyd is the boiling over of longstanding, simmering, justified rage at the systemic institutionalization of white supremacy in this country.
This means it is long past the time to talk about, acknowledge, and take steps to rectify all the ways that white people benefit from and therefore are complicit in this system.
Which is to say: if you are a person who believes yourself to be white, and if you’ve concluded that it’s enough simply not to be actively and overtly racist, I’d encourage you to take time to stop and reflect.
Most days, I find it breathtakingly, astonishingly easy to ignore my own privilege and advantage in this America that I live in. This means that I have more than my own fair share of work and reflection to do about my personal complicity in, and, by definition, daily endorsement of all of the ugly, undeniable truths that have been laid bare about this country.
That’s my work to do.
And lest I, or you, think that our moderate, progressive views are somehow an improvement on the active, fetid, ugly racism increasingly on display across so much of this country, I’ll offer up this passage from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I’ve had the privilege to lead discussions of this text with social entrepreneurs from the U.S., Kenya and India. The most shocking, nearly universal conclusion that every one of these groups of progressive, bold and brave activists has come to, collectively, is that we are all, nearly all the time, white moderates.
Whatever our progressive thoughts and liberal ideals, we cling to our comfort through our daily actions and routines, and, in so doing, live out more devotion to ‘order’ than to justice.
Self-education, fellowship, use of our privilege and power to dismantle the foundation of the corrupted system we find so normal…these are first green shoots of how we can all show up, each day, and demonstrate greater devotion to justice.
And if you’re hanging on to the notion that what’s going is anything less than the laying bare of a foundational failure to deliver justice in this country, I encourage you to listen to Dr. Cornel West’s take on America as a failed social experiment.