Tuesday, July 12, 2016

an open letter to people who think they're white

Dear "White" America,

(That includes me.)

We have two options.

Option 1:

Go ahead, tell yourself you can be silent because "all lives matter."
Keep imagining that this is a fictional problem, created by the media to divide our country and boost ratings.
Excuse yourself from the conversation because Black Lives Matter is not inherently "gospel centered."
Assume that this is someone else's problem because you have no black neighbors and no black friends.

Option 2:

Resolve to understand what others call injustice.
Determine to listen to their cries so you can be part of the solution in some small way.
Decide that you are not content to carry on without friends of other colors.
Develop empathy by trying on other shoes.

Above all, look deeply into your own soul and be brutally honest — racism starts with me. It starts when I cross the street to avoid close proximity with someone who is not part of my "tribe." It starts when I value the lives lost in Paris more than the lives lost in South Sudan or Syria or New Orleans. It starts when I assume that someone has nothing to offer me that I need, simply because our skin tones don't match.

It's time to wake up.
It's time to listen to the urgent cries of our brothers and sisters.
It's time to recognize that there is no such thing as "white." White is no more an ethnicity than yellow or red or blue. "Caucasian" is no more scientifically defensible than "Aryan." Both terms (now abandoned by anthropologists) served Hitler's eugenics project nicely to separate "us" from "them," while a simple DNA test would reveal our common humanity. We are cousins, each created as God's image.

American history should make all of us wary of our own rationalizations and good intentions. Abolishing slavery, as important as that was, did little to rectify the disparaging attitudes toward those of African descent. When those in power decide that the exploitation of another human being is essential to the smooth operation of our economy, that certain people are better suited to menial labor and that they aren't worth educating, then it will take generations to undo the damage. Generations. The damage is still not undone.

When we consistently define people as either "white," "black," "Asian," "Muslim," or "Mexican," we betray our cultural blindness. When we perpetuate stereotypes rather than cultivate sensitivity, we compound the problem. When we speak of immigration as "infiltration" and refugees as dangerous, we foster the very fear that creates the hostile environment in which extremism takes root among the isolated and victimized. Let me say it plainly. Our extremism fosters theirs.

Can we move beyond this?
Let's not turn our backs now, when we're needed most, and assume there's nothing we can do about it.
We can all do something.
We can start by caring.

By reading this far, you've shown that you're open to option 2.
May I suggest a next step?

Read Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me. I suspect it is the Uncle Tom's Cabin of our generation — the book that will awaken all of us who think we're white (he calls us "the Dreamers") to the plight of blacks in America. He didn't write it for us. He wrote it for his son. But if we want to be part of the solution, we need to listen in, too.

I'm no expert on dissolving racial tension or resolving the immigration crisis, but from my vantage point both are heart issues that can no longer be ignored.

A Fellow "White" American

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