“I’m learning how to see. I don’t know what the reason is, but everything enters into me more deeply and no longer stops at the point where it used to come to an end.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Poet
Police activity around the January 6th Capitol insurrection and the 2020 marches for racial reckoning looked very different. In less than 24 hours, mainstream media was comparing responses. Peaceful protesters vs. armed insurrectionists. BLM vs. MAGA.
The image that aired most often showed National Guard troops stationed last summer on the Lincoln Memorial’s steps, protecting the monument, compared to a complete lack of the same to defend Members of Congress as people climbed the walls of the Capitol in January.
While January 6th sickened and angered me, I had two positive thoughts:
- For the first time in recent history, at least that I can remember, no Black person was killed or severely injured to focus white America’s attention on disparate treatment based on race. No George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake….
- Black people didn’t have to point out that there was a different police response to a primarily white crowd than to a largely BIPOC one. That difference was widely and almost immediately noticed and became a vital and consistent part of the story.
Does this mean that racism is becoming less invisible? I think so, and that’s good.
But it is not the entire story.
Racism—personal racism and structural racism—is becoming more visible. I’m just not sure that’s true for most of America. Consider these three categories of folks:
- The large segment of our country that denies racism (remember Ambassador and former SC Governor Nikki Haley on the first night of the Republican National Convention: “America is not racist” she extolled as she claimed her immigrant status and Indian heritage). These folks believe anyone can succeed in America if you play by the rules and work hard. No need to look deeper. Racism is not the problem. Work harder.
- The group that thinks they understand racism and disparity. They want to help, but they often focus on the surface, on prejudice and bigotry, not on the vast, hidden iceberg of injustice below.
- The truly segregated white Americans who rarely think about Black and brown people. Out of sight, out of mind. Not on their radar at all unless prompted by a media story (media stories that often contribute to fear of the “other”).
It’s that last category I want to focus on a bit.
Many white Americans live, work, and play in segregated parts of America. Not just rural America, as you may think, or suburban America, but all of America. They have limited contact with people who don’t look like them and rarely think about it. Racial segregation is their norm. Others proudly claim they live in a racially diverse community/city. Still, when you probe a little, you discover that’s not so. They actually live in a racially homogeneous enclave within that city, in the next county over, or even 20 miles away from the part of the city — typically the inner city — that makes it racially diverse.
I mention this because we are far more likely to understand people different from ourselves when we live, work, and play with them. Not just one environment (usually work), but all of them. Live and Work and Play. When different people come to your home, work with you, and regularly enjoy leisure activities with you and your family, those are your friends. Those are the people you care about. Those are the people you want—really want—to achieve the American dream. It is those folks you seek to understand, and it is for those people that you will see what prevents them from achieving their goals.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you have to be best buddies to understand the humanity of people who don’t look like you or to work for racial justice. Clearly that is not the case. The racist behavior of individuals or racially unjust actions of groups seem clearer to many now and is regularly called out. White allies are seeking truth and working actively for societal change. However, for many, it seems that something must prompt you to delve into understanding a people or a topic far afield from your everyday existence.
Yes, the invisibility is diminishing. I was glad for the two positive signs last month. But racial ignorance remains powerful in many corners of America. Until we address that, my fear is that racial justice will remain far away.
10 Replies to “Is racial injustice becoming clearer?”
well stated my friend
So true. Many more people in this country can live their entire lives without ever encountering of even thinking about Native Americans.
Or they think about Native Americans as people of the past, not today.
Tamara- more in depth analysis that makes me continually rethink where I am on the racial awareness and injustice spectrum and how much farther I need to go to truly understand what’s still eating away at our potential as a fair and equal opportunity nation . The insurrection and Mob violence on 1/6/21 was a travesty purpitrated by a coward and traitor and his sycophantic fellow travelers . Reaction and response by law enforcement even compared to the Lafayette Sq fiasco at the Capitol puts in clear perspective what’s still very much wrong with our Country. By the by , maybe if DC WAS GRANTED statehood , the attack on a peaceful rally across from WH LAST year vs the new day of infamy on1/6 /21 both could have avoided and retrumplicans would have stayed in their self created swamps across the US .
Thanks for your comments, Jay. As DC’s demographics change, there seems to be a greater receptivity to the possibility of statehood. Gentrification and racism.
Another excellent post. Yes, racism is becoming much more visible to those of us who recognize the necessity of change. But…..January 6 was awful on so many levels, and it exposed the number of people who are racist, ignorant, completely at odds with the truth, and just plain crazy. I’m glad you can see some positive, and yes, you’re right that more and more people do see the inequity. Keep on moving us forward with your excellent blog.
Spot on and well said, Tamara. Your posts always give me something to pause and consider. I know we have far to go, but there are glimmers of progress that I hope continue and grow. We all must nurture the light, help it grow and keep it ‘shining’ as you do so well.
Thanks Tamara for your comments here and in the past. The Capitol riots were so obvious and as you remark, in great contrast to the preparations usually made for protestors of color like BLM demonstrations.
I so enjoyed your book. I recommend “Managing White Supremacy” by Douglas Smith as a really good account about the elites in VA and their maintenance of white supremacy in the 1930s-60s — Even as a lifelong Virginian (and student of history, I thought), I learned a lot. I was just a few years ahead of you at Douglas Freeman HS in Henrico County (and Smith’s book described DSF that they never taught in school). The book also tells about the continual pushing forward and brave resistance from the African American community.
Thank you for your comment and for the book recommendations. I hope you will share the book and the blog with others who you feel might find it interesting and revealing. Best, Tamara