It’s been another rough week with two mass shootings, hundreds of Latinx kids returning home from school in Mississippi yesterday to find their parents taken by ICE, hundreds of kids still in ICE cages and the border, and probably a million other awful things I’m trying to block out right now.
We’re also just past Lammas, deep into the harvest, and I can’t help but think that what we’re reaping now as a country is the bitter fruit of an overdue reckoning with our history we’ve been unwilling to face for four hundred years.
I had taken a break from heavy reading to catch up on a bunch of novels I’ve been wanting to get to.
[When I spot a novel that looks interesting, I pop it onto my Amazon wish list, which really functions as a “to read” list. Periodically, I open up my local public library’s Libby app and search to see if they have any of my “to read” picks available as ebooks. I put maybe 5-10 on hold – or check them out and download them immediately, if they’re available – and then get little presents from Past Me when I get that email notification that my ebook has become available and is waiting for me to download it. But maybe that’s just me…]
But eventually you have to get back to the work of reading Serious Shit That Will Make You Think, which I have, with:
- Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race
- Jonathan Metzl’s Dying of Whiteness
- Robin D’Angelo’s White Fragility
All three have me thinking about the United States’ unexamined original sin of racism. The chickens, as they say, are coming home to roost, only because this is the US, the people who are suffering are mostly people of color.
One thing that Metzl’s book makes crystal clear, though, is that the policy choices white voters support because they’re afraid of black and brown people (unlimited gun purchases for everyone! open carry everywhere!), or because they’re resentful that black and brown people might possibly get a piece of a public good (well-funded public education, affordable health insurance) HURT WHITE PEOPLE, TOO.
Metzl looks at guns in Missouri, the ACA in Tennessee, and public education in Kansas, and clearly and persuasively documents the ways white people can be persuaded to die, literally TO DIE, to prop up white supremacy.
And, per D’Angelo, when you look at all the ways we’re utterly unwilling to engage around race and racism, it’s not surprising. Every time we white people define racism as only deliberate, individual actions directed by particular evil white people who are motivated by personal animus at particular people of color, we decrease our chances of being able to understand white supremacy as a systemic problem that requires a systemic approach to rectify. Every time “progressive” white people claim to be color-blind, we invalidate the lived experiences of the people of color who are unlucky enough to be subject to our bullshit – experiences that are VASTLY different than ours, that are likely hidden to us in our daily lives, that we can only hope to begin to understand if those people of color are willing to risk trusting us enough to share them, that they will 100% NOT trust anyone who “doesn’t see color” with.
As Maya Angelou said: “When you know better, do better.”
So how can we white people begin to know better?
Oluo can help. To quote the National Book Review review: “[Oluo] explicitly raises questions and provides talking points and counter-arguments for both people of color and white people.”
She is firm, and unsparing, but speaks from a place of love. Ever thought, “But I don’t know what to do?”Oluo gets specific.
And no matter how long you’ve been doing this work – whether it’s decades or “this book is the first thing I’m picking up” – you will learn, and begin to know better, so you can start doing better, which is the first step toward healing the wound that’s been suppurating for generations.
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