I’m convinced it’s impossible for any white person, especially older white people, and most especially old white males like myself, to grasp the impact of racism on its targets. Some things have to be experienced to be understood.
Part of the larger problem is our knee-jerk thought, “But I’m not racist,” however true it may seem. Feeling victimized by the accusation brings our own discomfort to the fore, ahead of actual suffering by others. That instinct is in itself passively racist. We may feel like kind people, but our ignorance and inaction keep the machine running, to our benefit.
Fair warning, fellow whites, acknowledging this opens the door to much more discomfort. No matter what action we may take, our motives are suspect. As Jeremiah 17:9 puts it, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” How much are we motivated by guilt? Salving that guilt is selfishness. What solutions to the problem can we devise? Again a self-centered viewpoint.
So if whites can’t actually grasp the suffering, and we can’t come up with solutions, what can we do?
Shut up. Accept the blame. Accept the anger and frustration caused by our years of ignorance and inaction. Take our wounded pride out of the equation. Listen. Be vulnerable and accepting. Ask only “How can I help?” And then do it.
Don’t expect credit for it. Don’t accept praise for being a decent human being. Don’t get irritated if we’re still criticized about even our best efforts. It isn’t about our feelings. It’s life and death for others.
That’s all I know so far. I’m still learning. But I do have a hope: Supporting the Black Lives Matter movement may break the logjam of not just racism but of every sort of bigotry. Opening our eyes to one sort of oppression brings others into view.