Calling All White People, Part 57: Is personal racism still worth fighting?

TODAY’S EPISODE: Taking it personally…racism, that is

Personal racism is not the problem.

To be clear: It is a problem. A big one.

Also, it is a huge contributing factor to the bigger problem, which is systemic racism, institutional bias, and the other big-picture items that adversely affect Black people, Indigenous people, and other non-white people.

But personal racism, as bad as it is, is not the core issue. No matter how much the needle moves on more people recognizing racial bias and bigotry in their own lives and actions, it doesn’t change the fact that racism is baked into the politics, the business practices, and the institutions on which the country is based and through which it operates.

Changing the bigger picture and truly ending racism in society requires a ton of changes beyond awareness and altering our individual actions and feelings. It requires top-down and bottom-up reconstruction. It requires white people being willing to give up strangeholds on power and resources for the greater good.

It’s a big job. It will take generations probably.

And as that fact is pointed out more and more—and as Black and other people of color note that changing individual hearts and minds isn’t enough—how important is tackling individual racism?

It’s still really important, actually.

Challenging people who are racist in your friend and family groups still matters. Confronting public displays of racism is still important. Countering right-wing groups who march in favor of racism and fascism is still important.

It’s true that none of this will do much, if anything, to deal with the systemic and institutional parts of the equation. But we still must call out racism on smaller scales and in individual encounters.

We cannot allow racism to go unchallenged. We cannot allow people to be comfortable—as they have become in very recent times in very large numbers with four years of a president who supported bigotry and hate publicly—in expressing their racism.

When a person is caught on video, as so frequently happens these days, being hateful because of racism, they should be identified if their identity isn’t clear. They should be shamed publicly. They should in many (or perhaps most) cases lose their jobs. They should hurt. Their hate should be punished.

This isn’t about revenge. It’s about reinforcing that these racist behaviors and actions will not be tolerated in a country with so many different types of people. It’s about showing them their white privilege and racial advantages do not entitle them to act like mini-gods over people’s lives. They don’t get to act with impunity and without repercussions.

We still must call out racism, as hard as it is for many people to do, as part of the larger process. If we allow racism and racist actions to go unchallenged and unpunished, it emboldens the people who put in the most effort and do the hardest work to prevent systemic changes.

They need to know that they are not the majority.

Yes, the majority of white people in this country are very comfortable with the current systems because they don’t like change or don’t see the problems. But the people who actively want to prevent or turn back progressive and fair and morally correct change are not the majority.

We cannot allow their very loud voices and sometimes violent actions to set the agenda and stall progress—that progress is already moving so slowly that we cannot allow derailments.

Personal racism and other bigotry will always exist. Even before “race” in terms of skin color was invented (and there have been huge portions of human history where skin color mattered little if at all), people have found reasons to hate one group or another for senseless and cruel reasons.

It is possible to erase or sharply reduce the racism and other bigotry from our systems and institutions. If will take an incredibly long time, but it is possible.

Erasing racism and bigotry within people will never go away. That’s a sad fact of human nature and how some people will view the world.

But we cannot allow ourselves to willingly give them power. We cannot hand free ground to them nor allow their momentum to grow. They must be pushed back. If they won’t stop being racist, they need to learn to keep quiet or retreat to the shadows.

We must stand up for each other when fellow humans are subjected to unwarranted hate or abuse for nothing more than the color of their skin or country of origin (or sexual orientation or whatever else). Standing up for our fellow humans means actually standing against those who embrace hate.

Calling them out, revealing them to the world, and handing out consequences is our responsibility. Evil doesn’t stop evilling except when it is confronted with strength and determination.

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

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