Ever since Black Lives Matter really began to gain traction as a movement, white people have come out in force to diminish its significance. We co-opted the hashtag, changing it from the political #BlackLivesMatter to the watered-down nonsense of #AllLivesMatter. Everyone’s favorite White Feminist™, Hillary Clinton, has been running with logos appropriated from Rosa Parks, Run DMC, and Nguzo Saba candles reflecting principles of Kwanzaa to name a few. Presidential candidate and former Umpa-Lumpa Donald Trump has been tacitly encouraging violence against the protestors (mostly people of color and their supporters) who show up at his rallies while Anne Coulter has opted to encourage it outright. We have such a long history of ruining shit, there’s a Twitter account dedicated to tracking our failings. Some of you feel inclined to ask—what the hell is going on with white people?
Luckily, I’ve been quietly observing white people for some time now. Racist apologism is a tradition as old as apple pie or drenching random ingredients in mayonnaise and calling it “salad.” As much as we hate being painted with the same brush (and man oh man, does that grate some people’s cheese), there are really only 3 different ways white people act when it comes to race, 3 categories that encompass reactions to racially charged topics. There are, essentially, 3 ways to be white.
First, we have the Obvious Racists. You know them when you see them. These range from your active white supremacists all the way down to that one relative you have who stubbornly refuses to stop using the n-word in casual conversation. By and large, white people agree that this level of racism is inappropriate. In accordance with respectability, we chide those who would engage in it. This type of white person doesn’t merit much discussion unless someone takes their endorsement unabashedly.
The second category, and definitely the largest are the Casual Racists. These are folks who usually say things like “I don’t see color” or “We’re all human.” It sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? After all, if discrimination based on color is what got us here, then ignoring color entirely must be the way to success. These are the white people who don’t realize that, at the end of the Civil War, only 10% of the American population believed slavery was a moral wrong. These are the people who think that the Voting Rights Act and the end of Jim Crow culminated in the destruction of racism in America. These are the people who don’t understand Affirmative Action’s purpose or its effectiveness. These are proponents of “reverse racism”, an ignorant conception of progress that is centered on white feelings. These are people who will start sentences with “I’m not racist, but” and expect to be alleviated of any indemnification for whatever comes out next. They’re as racist as our society will let them be, which is actually still pretty racist.
Claiming to be ignorant of color isn’t going to solve a significant number of racial problems, the same way claiming ignorance of the law doesn’t actually keep you from going to jail for committing a crime. Life’s funny that way. [some shitty white dreads?]
The last category of white person is Anti-Racists, an imperfect group of people who are actively trying to disengage their privilege. There’s a whole new world of understanding to open up when you consider the idea of anti-racism as a white person. What most white people learn is about not being actively racist—which appears to be a combination of having one or two black friends and having really good justifications for your use of the n-word. Anti-racism is reliably learned outside of the regular school curriculum and removed from most institutions dominated by white people. It’s developed from reading words written by black people, listening to them speak, or studying their art. Others have grown their understanding by shutting the hell up and listening when people of color describe their experiences. Importantly, most if not all anti-racists are still racist in some ways. White children grew with some encoded racism, ideas we never thought to question. As adults, anti-racists want to identify these racist thoughts and actions while they’re happening and change their thought processes so that they aren’t as susceptible to their implicit racial bias.
Other white folks want to broaden these categories and insist that there are others (in the typically white sentiment of hoping to bend reality around our perception). Sadly, there is no evidence to suggest anything to the contrary. Most of the people who want to expand this are Casually Racist and feel that not bringing up race is the same as being not racist. Most of them want to continue to be casually racist and let this system of beliefs go unchallenged. They point to racial prejudices in people of color as evidence of how right they are—as opposed to evidence of how deeply our white supremacist roots are embedded. The times, they are a-changin’. It’s long past time for Obvious and Casual Racism to go the way of the dodo and GTFO.