So, many of you have probably heard about Sharon Osbourne’s “explain racism to me” rant on “The Talk” last week. And there’s a lot I could say about it but I’m going to try to stay focused on two things: How ignorant it is to keep demanding explanations of racism and how toxic it is to shout over those explanations once you get them.
There’s a decent recap of things here, but here’s the basics. Piers Morgan is a loudmouth over in the United Kingdom who is well known for being sexist and racist and doing it in a way that allows many people to say, “He didn’t actually say anything sexist or racist.” He recently expressed total disbelief about comments by Meghan Markle in her interview with Oprah Winfrey, among which was that she felt suicidal while in the royal family and that at least one member of the family expressed concern about the color of the skin of her child, Archie (and it’s pretty bold to say someone is lying about their life when you aren’t there in it). And like many racist commentators over there, he’s been on Markle’s case in ways he hasn’t been on Markle’s sister-in-law Kate Middleton. Sharon Osbourne, who is friends with Piers Morgan, defended him. People suggested that Osbourne was racist for doing so.
So, Sharon in her role on “The Talk” decided to double down by not only insisting that Morgan isn’t racist but that her defense of him isn’t racist either—and then demanded an explanation from Black co-host Sheryl Underwood as to what was racist. Now mind you, Osbourne at one point whipped out the “I’m the least racist person around” line (not the exact phrasing, but that was basically the wording), which is a pretty bold statement to make in a world with so many people in it. And it’s usually a bad sign, much like when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist, but…” which is almost a sure sign racist words are about to be spoken.
So, aside from glossing over the fact Piers Morgan is obviously sexist and racist and wondering how her friendship with him could have anyone thinking she might be racist (or have internalized misogyny for that matter), she says at one point during her demand for an explanation, “How can I be racist about anything or anybody in my life? How can I?”
Well, ma’am, it’s like this: If you are white living in a society ruled mostly by white people and created largely on the basis of white supremacy and classifying all “non-whites” as “others,” a lot of your thoughts and actions will be racist. Maybe not big-time racist, but they will still be racist. All it really takes is things like assuming non-white people did something to deserve poor treatment while ignoring the ways that white people generally get passes on such things. Or clutching your purse when a Black man approaches but never doing so when a white man does. It’s not overt racism. It’s not dramatic. But it’s racist. And letting such things go and not doing anything about them is racist. Truth is, it’s easy to be racist when you’re white in a white supremacist system.
But what really gets me is how Osbourne ramped up the anger. After “The Talk” co-hosts came back from commercial break, she angrily told Underwood, “Don’t try to cry because if anyone should be crying it should be me” and angrily demanding “Educate me. Tell me when you have heard him say racist things. Educate me!”
At that point, Underwood was still calm, and started with, “It’s not the exact words of racism. It is the implication and the reaction to it. To not want to address that because she is a Black woman and to try to dismiss it or to make it seem less like what it is. That’s what makes it racist.”
Instead of allowing it to be a discussion and recognizing that Underwood was giving her the calm explanation that she had demanded, Osbourne simply stayed angry and escalated things.
This is unacceptable in this day and age.
First off, do not demand explanations of racism. It is too damn late for that. Too many videos of Black people and other BIPOC folks being harassed and killed in ways white people are not for reasons that white people are not.
No, it’s time to start talking about why things are subtly racist. It’s time for discussions of dog whistle comments and sneaky racism. It’s time to start really talking about voter suppression and lending practices and so many other things that target people of color. It’s time to start having talks about the intersection of racism with other ‘isms and ‘phobias like misogyny or transphobia or whatever. It’s time to have discussions about how to dismantle our many broken systems.
In this age of Google and phones that can record everything, it is too damn late to demand explanations of why people or things are racist and then have the gall to get mad when you are calmly provided what you asked for.
I’m tired of white people getting defensive when racism is pointed out or suggested and acting like they are the victims when they still hold most of the power and privilege. I’m tired of white people being openly angry and then accusing Black and other people of color of being unfair or angry when they remain much calmer.
Asking for racism to be explained is, like 90 percent of the time, asking for baby food. Because you can look it up. You can dig deep into your own perceptions and preconceptions. You could do the work instead of looking at someone else’s test because you don’t want to study. There are plenty of articles and video and tools out there to help you.
It’s time to stop asking for baby food. We need to get into the tougher meat and the raw veggies and talk about how easily racism slips into pretty much everything and how much we need to tear down and rebuild of our systems to make things truly fair and equitable in life (racially, economically and more).
And I don’t ever want to hear another white person say “I’m the least racist person you’ll meet” or “I don’t have a racist bone in my body” because that’s not only almost certainly untrue—it’s arrogant and cocky as hell.
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