I feel like my last post needs some kind of follow-up. I have a back-log of “regular” posts (at least in my head), but jumping right into, “and here was my experience making soy milk,” doesn’t quite seem right. So, here we go . . . .
Claiming that one “doesn’t see color” is a cop-out. First, unless you actually have some type of visual impairment, it’s total B.S. Claiming that I walk down the street and don’t notice the color of a person’s skin would be like claiming that I don’t notice whether that person is male or female. Our brains automatically take in and process this information. Noticing skin color is not good or bad. It just is. It’s what we do with this information that is important.
Second, claiming to be color/race blind actually undermines progress in addressing racial disparities. This article in Psychology Today breaks it down well:
Colorblindness creates a society that denies [minorities’] negative racial experiences, rejects their cultural heritage, and invalidates their unique perspectives . . . . And if you can’t talk about it, you can’t understand it, much less fix the racial problems that plague our society.
Claiming to be “colorblind” insulates us from wrestling with difficult topics like white privilege; disparate police practices, like racial profiling and unequal use of force; and a broken justice system.
Back in September, I requested a copy of Shelly Tochluk’s Witnessing Whiteness. I was not able to be part of the YWCA-led group that was reading the book. I started reading the book, but I just couldn’t get through it. Not because I disagreed with Tochluk or struggled with the concepts, but more due to the writing style. I think having a group would have helped a lot, in large part because the book just felt so academic. I wasn’t expecting a “fun” book, but I just couldn’t get into it. I’m wondering if Tim Wise’s White Like Me, would be a better starting point.
That said, I think one of the better analogies for thinking about white privilege is running a marathon (would like to give credit, but don’t remember where I heard this). We’re all running the same marathon, but white privilege means that you get to start the race at mile 10, while someone else, just because his/her skin is a different color, starts at mile 0. And then maybe your course looks a little different as a white person: fewer hills, or at mile 20, you get a “skip to mile 22” card. Or maybe you’re white and born into poverty, so you don’t quite start at mile 10, but perhaps you start at mile 5 and experience some of the other benefits along the course.
Objecting and speaking out against minority deaths at the hands of police officers doesn’t make one “anti-law enforcement.” The reality is, we have serious problems. This is not one “bad” officer, in one city. This is a systemic problem throughout the United States. The expectation that law enforcement exist to “serve and protect” should not depend on the color of one’s skin, but it does — here are the names and faces. And it’s enough of an issue that it’s caught the attention of the United Nations. We have a problem.
In our current “justice” system, police officers are often treated as if they are above the law. There is little incentive for trying to diffuse situations rather than immediately resorting to force. If you follow one link here, please read this article, written by a former St. Louis police officer. It speaks volumes about the issues we face.
If you want to take action, sign this petition to reform how we investigate police misconduct, so police officers are held accountable for their actions. There are legitimate alternatives to using lethal force (including avoiding escalating things to the point where it’s even considered), but it is becoming clear that without real disincentives to using lethal force, police have little reason to discontinue business as usual.
It would be nice to live in a cozy little world where “police aren’t the bad guys.” Have I benefited or received help from police officers? Absolutely! But your experiences, and the degree to which you agree or disagree with the statement that “police are the good guys,” probably depends in large extent on the color of your skin. That’s white privilege. That’s racial injustice. And it needs to change.