On whiteness, silence, and complicity

I don’t know what to do about cops who keep murdering black people.

But I do know that I live in a bubble of white ignorance. I am ensconced in privilege because of centuries of racism, building up like a geological shelf in this country. We add a thin layer of progress and then cover it up with more hatred, more fear, more terror.

I have the freedom, in America, to live in this awful blindness. I am not afraid to pass a police officer when I walk down the street. I am not afraid to drive, anywhere; I do not have to wonder, when I drive to the grocery store or to my office, if today is my last day. I am not afraid that my brother will be mistaken for a criminal and murdered in the street on a sunny afternoon. I am not afraid that my sisters will be arrested for an imaginary traffic violation and then be found dead in a jail cell. My life is not under constant threat from my fellow citizens. I have the undeserved freedom to not fear these things.

I do know that I am afraid to talk about race. I am afraid of saying the wrong thing. I am afraid of being misinterpreted. This fear seems to characterize most white people. And so we stay silent.

Our silence is what helps keep racism alive and well in the United States.

White people, we have to talk to each other about race. We have to stop pretending that we’re not racist, that we don’t know anyone who is racist, that we have X number of black friends. Stop.

We have to eliminate racism in our communities by starting these conversations with each other. We have to rebuild bridges that we have been aloof and indifferent enough to watch burn. We have to help each other overcome our collective lifetimes of bigotry, brought on by comfortable ignorance and comparative freedom.

The quieter we are, the more complicit we become in this evil.

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10 thoughts on “On whiteness, silence, and complicity

  1. Racism is everywhere. You can’t tell me that whites aren’t persecuted as well. At my school I’m made fun of, laughed at, my stuff gets stolen, my band cubby gets written all over with stuff like loser and white trash. Don’t tell me that we are the caucasians are the only ones who don’t fear racism. I am targeted just as much for being white.

    However, you are right that our silence makes it worse. We don’t say anything and we just put a Band-Aid on it, it’ll never heal. Prejudice of any sort is not okay. I have talked to the authorities at my school, but they can’t really do anything. We are all human. We are all imperfect. We all make mistakes. We have to forgive one another. We have to tell people to stop. We have to set examples and change lives by being the leaders of change.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry that you’ve been bullied at school, but I have to say that I respectfully disagree that whites fear racism. We don’t, not in this country. We’re not the ones getting murdered at routine traffic stops. We perpetrate racial hatred and violence in this country and we have for centuries. It is sheer blindness and privilege to insist that we are discriminated against for our race. We’re not, and we never have been, which is why things have to change.

  2. Thank you. I young lady made a very passionate post on Facebook about this very thing. It’s not enough for us blacks to speak up. The civil right movement did not see improvements until whites saw and understood the horrors of segregation. And there is still systematic racism and even segregation today. We know that all cops aren’t bad just as all whites aren’t racist. But it’s still scary to be black and have black children now and I honestly don’t know what to do.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. It is a dark time, and I am collectively grieved for how my fellow whites have been silent for far too long about the building forces of racism in our country.

  3. Thank you for this post, which has made it possible for me to get through this otherwise dark day. Living in the south is killing my spirit. For one whole day, I have not felt that I am completely alone in the world. My husband, on whom I depended for years, is no longer able to discuss these matters, and my brother, who also “got it”, is dead and buried. I am surrounded by typical religious bigots, all of whom claim to have black friends. In fact, they are racists who bombard me with emails which are now going straight to my spam folder. I love you, Abby, and I am so thankful that you and other white young people are reflecting on these serious matters.

    Until today, I had only one item on my bucket list, and that was to live long enough to see my husband through the end of his life. This day, I promise to find a way to work for change, even if it is only by going to New York to participate in a single SURJ demonstration.

    I love looking at your London pictures, and I hope that the rest of your time abroad is wonderful.

    Your cousin,

    Delia

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