As images of protests flood our social media feeds important conversations are starting to take place. Many whites, including myself, are looking for ways to help minority voices be heard and create significant change.
Zig Ziglar, a well-known motivational speaker said, “The first step in solving a problem is to recognize that it does exist.”
As a person I consider myself a pretty decent human being. I believe in God and showing others His love. I give 100% to my students at school and genuinely love them all. I volunteer when I see a need and donate, when I can afford it, to causes that speak to my heart. I have conversations with my daughter about current events, using these moments as talking points so that she grows up aware. And, the real kicker, I have multiple friends of color. So I can’t possibly be part of the problem, right?
Except, maybe I am.
In my literature class, when teaching about the different kinds of point-of- view, I also teach about perspective. I explain to the students that our perspective is shaped by what we see and know. In order to demonstrate this concept I do an activity where I stand in the center of the classroom and make a serious sounding statement while smiling and winking at the students who can see my face. After, I have different students from around the room discuss what they “saw”. Those students positioned behind me thought me angry or mean. The students who could see my face thought me to be joking or, at the most, sarcastic. Even though the students had different answers, they were all correct: because they based their response on their observations.
Reading through Facebook last night I came across a poignant comment from a black first grade teacher in Alabama (who wishes to remain anonymous). I’m paraphrasing but she said that white people see racism as cruel or mean acts committed by one race towards another. They then use the justification that they have never done this so, therefore, they cannot be racist. However, blacks see racism more as an organization meant to suppress (and oppress) them.
This comment led me to a clear “Ah-ha!” moment. These protests are not just about individual acts of hatred and ignorance. These are about a system, a world that operates in a manner where one group of people are consistently and inherently set up to be more successful than other groups. Look an our schools and see the truth of this. Most schools have some version of a gifted or honors program. What percentage of those students are white versus colored? Now, look at the disciplinary, ALE, and SPED programs with those same demographics. See the problem? Now imagine this on a national level in all sorts of scenarios. This is the battle that the blacks are fighting.
One common rebuttal I’m seeing is, “Well I was never handed anything. I grew up poor and had to work hard and sweat blood for everything I got.” Yes, BUT… you weren’t poor AND black. You didn’t miss out on educational opportunities because of the color of your skin. You didn’t get a criminal record because your skin was too dark to earn you leniency. You didn’t get denied a job or passed over for a promotion because of your race. Your only obstacles were work ethic and luck.
These protests are not about pitting races against each other but rather about giving us all the same playing field. As whites we cannot give the proper support until we are willing to swallow some bitter pills and realize that, intentional or not, we have contributed to the problem with our compliancy. The first step in having this chaos mean something is that we look around and recognize that our system is broken.
Now, how do we fix it?