To write is to have words in your soul that matter deeply to you; words that ultimately you hope matter to someone else. Over the past decade I have been blessed to have my words read by others and I like to imagine that they add something of value to my readers. However as more people read my words there is a specific type of reader that I keep meeting who frankly exacerbates me. After months of not knowing what to make of this type of reader, I have decided to call this type of reader “prove it reader”. I write about race, a topic that for many white Americans is about as comfortable as a root canal with anesthesia gone wrong.
Prove it reader while annoying is representative of many white Americans who when faced with real dialogue on race relations in 2013 tend to shy away and often without conscious intent fallback on behavior that is part of the very fabric of structural inequality that I am talking about.
Ours is a culture where white values and morals are the default setting of what is seen as acceptable and right and when people of color fit into the model of white values they are viewed as normal and when they do not fit the white lens they are seen as problematic. But why are white values and ways of being the norm especially in a nation where people of color are rapidly moving to a majority minority position?
In choosing to ask a person of color to prove racism, you are essentially saying that I don’t believe you or your claims. I often wonder if these same people ask rape survivors to prove that they have been victimized. I would imagine in many cases the answer to that question would be no.
As I have said before, today’s racism is less likely to be personal than in decades past. Today’s acts of racism are no longer as overt and obvious to all except those struggling under the weight of inequality. When a well-meaning white person wonders why crime rates are so high in the Black community, have they bothered to ask are the resources in those communities equal to what is in my community? Instead it is easier to assume that Blacks are more violent, make poor choices and basically are reaping what they have sowed than it is to question the system that is not fair and just to begin with.
Case in point, the educational system in America is designed to be unfair because the quality of your very schools depends on proximity to wealth and whiteness. One need not be a scholar to figure out that a model that uses tax revenue to fund local schools will result in schools in wealthier (and often white) areas having better resources. While this is not always an absolute and there are exceptions, it trends that way more often than not. Instead we focus on the symptoms of inequality and continue to miss the actual problem.
In addition to education, we have decades of data in housing, healthcare and criminal justice for starters that show that things are not equal no matter how much we wish it were. Yet for many white Americans this data is ignored and the fallback is that racism is gone and if it is real, you…person of color need to prove it.
In choosing to ask a person of color to prove that inequality is real, you are part of the system that is intent on dehumanizing anyone who falls outside of the unspoken rules of acceptable and right. It is also intellectually lazy and even dishonest when a white person chooses to put the burden of proof on a person of color, data is easily accessible, if you truly want to learn and see, you need to put in the heavy work of learning.
So to all my prove it readers and acquaintances, I am asking you to start doing the heavy lifting in your life which means investing your time and energy into learning more. I am an ally in the fight for change but I live it, so please stop asking people like me to do all the work.