We deny it, then we flaunt it. What gives?
by Chuck Ramsay
Many of my friends who also disdain prejudice, bigotry and racism have said loud and clear, "There’s a lot of white folk work to do yet." While our Black Lives Matter colleagues are protesting, getting arrested, even roughed up, and some killed, white allies are less effective in those roles, I believe. Not saying that we shouldn’t be there shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters. It’s just that we also have another important responsibility.
This past week two good examples of what I am talking about occurred. First, the story that made the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the black family who moved into a home they recently purchased in St. Charles, Mo. Some neighbors are taking exception to them moving into the neighborhood. Complaints about the new family’s four dogs barking was the first salvo. Then other calls to the local police were made. According to the Post-Dispatch article, “The caller reported several black male subjects ‘walking down the street with dogs and a couple of them are snapping pics of homes. Caller (advises) that this is an all-white neighborhood and they do not belong.’” Read the newspaper account HERE.
Stop right there. There is no such thing as a legally all-white neighborhood. Restrictive covenants are now illegal. And the United States of America is not a Christian-only nation. Second myth. If you doubt these two facts, please carefully read the U.S. Constitution. We can live wherever we can afford to live and we can worship or not worship whichever god we choose. We cannot keep people out of neighborhoods because of their color, religion, race; and we cannot impose our religious beliefs upon others who do not believe the same as we do.
In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a massive white flight from St. Louis County to St. Charles County and Franklin County, and elsewhere because white folks did not want to live with black folks. They gave up wonderful homes and neighborhoods in North County, mostly, and fled. Kind of silly looking back now.
But, it isn’t just in the St. Louis region where white folks continue to be prejudiced while denying their white privilege. It’s bigger than that. This is a national problem that recently became all-too visible on a private train headed to the Napa Valley wine country in northern California. You can read HERE how a book club consisting of 11 African American women, and I believe, one white woman, were headed for a fun afternoon at a winery, on a train. They were having fun. They were laughing. They were enjoying themselves like most groups do on an outing of this sort. Isn’t that the purpose of a wine excursion? But, evidently, there were white passengers who did not appreciate their laughter, their having a good time. So, complaints were made and soon the train was stopped and they put the book club party off the train for laughing and talking too loud. For this group, it was humiliating. It was, in essence, a racist attack upon them and who they were. The train company has since apologized, but that won't be the end of it.
So, when people say there’s a lot of white folk work to be done yet, that means that as white people you don’t have to give up your privileges as a white person necessarily. It means you need to learn how to share them. To extend them to others who look different than you, may not be as well-off as you, may not even be as educated as you.
I can tell you this. When an African American with an eighth grade education is insulted by a white person with a college degree, you would be correct in saying that one has more education than the other. But, you’d be dead wrong to assume that the African American is not smart enough to recognize the prejudice and racism you extend toward them. They know it all too well after centuries of second class citizenship. I remind everyone reading this that the second paragraph of our Declaration of Independence reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
There’s something else white folks can do to help redeem and raise up our fellow Americans who for too long have been mistreated and abused because they happen to look different that us. We can stand up, grow a backbone, and when we see bias, prejudice, racism or any type of unequal maltreatment of anyone of color, we can say something. We can call out the offending person or persons for what they are doing. Need a few hints how to do that? Look HERE.
Our white forefathers, we have always been told, fled oppressive European countries where monarchies reigned, where there were few freedoms, where indentured servitude was widespread. They established a great country with a Constitution. But there were two great flaws in our history from then until now. Our successes were built upon the establishment of slavery – the buying, selling, controlling, whipping, raping, killing, and separation of families for profit. And, even after the Emancipation Proclamation, a great Civil War, then through Reconstruction and into the Jim Crow era that is still pervasive, systematic efforts have been made to keep the black man down. If America is to ever achieve it’s promise of freedom and equality, we have to start treating all Americans equal. That means some changes, big changes, in how white folks behave, operate and exist.
The other flaw was that the European settlers, in addition to the crime of slavery (which most recognized as something bad in their worship of the Old Testament with Egypt’s captivity of the Jews, was their participation in the greatest incidence of genocide of the indigenous population of Native Americans. More than all those exterminated by Hitler!
The usual blame game where a privileged white person says black people deserve something bad that happened to them because they made bad choices just doesn’t fly. Under today’s new Jim Crow, the problem is that they just don’t have the choices you and I have. Their choices are limited by oppressive public policies, systematic racism, and our collective reluctance to become more fair, more equal, and more human. In the two cases mentioned above, people have shown their white privilege is still active to the point of embarrassment. What are you afraid of? Being equal to someone else?
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