Is Aunt Karen talking about “illegals” again? Maybe this time you need to step into the conversation and teach her a thing or two about respecting people regardless of race. If that doesn’t work, perhaps you should unfriend her on Facebook to show that those who are not going to catch up are going to get left behind.
If you’re white like me, you probably have some racist family members. “But it’s not their fault, that’s how they were raised!” Yes, they were taught racism, but that doesn’t excuse their behavior. If you’re white and trying to be progressive like me, you probably want to do everything you can to stand up for people of color. Speaking about racial issues with your circle that agrees with you isn’t enough. You need to show up for protests, and on a smaller but more difficult level, you need to talk to the people close to you about racism.
“But I don’t want to have an argument with Grandma Heather and make her mad at me!” People of color don’t want to be treated as lesser beings. We like to say that we were surprised that 53% of white women voted for Trump, but it’s our fault. We didn’t talk to the people closest to us enough to educate them. We weren’t talking to our aunts and grandmothers and mothers and sisters and friends enough. We are comfortable with racism. “I’m not comfortable with it enough to contribute to it!” Staying silent is contributing.
Whether or not we want to admit to it, as white people we are racist by default. We are never going to fully unlearn problematic behavior and tendencies or understand the experiences of being a person of color.
As hard as we try to be progressive, our deeply rooted prejudices will hold us down. I am not promoting the idea that liberalism is a contest (which some people do believe in, a “more progressive than thou” goal without actually standing up against an issue) rather that we need to act on the progressive ideals that we say we’re in favor of. Claiming a progressive title to look good in front of your one black friend is not enough. We need to not only voice our alliance but prove that we are going to fight for the people we say we stand with. Sharing posts on Facebook about racism to get brownie points does not stop the problem. We really need to talk to our families about the world we’re trying to fix and leave for future generations.
Next time Kayleigh says she wants to date a black guy to make her parents mad, tell her a thing or two about institutionalized racism. Let her know that she is contributing to a system that beats people of color down. If she learns, great. If she brushes it aside, show your true beliefs by leaving her behind. It’s hard, but so is living in fear. Activism requires action.