I spent a lot of time on last Monday night’s panel discussion. Along with my friend David Bailey I challenged the city to read the book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. I had read the book and loved it. I thought, “If we could learn to talk about racism we might actually be able to do something about it.” So David and I challenged the city to read it and then come to a panel discussion on Monday, March 2.
I put the panel together, and I must say: I got lucky. The people I invited said yes, and the people I invited were the best and most knowledgeable people I could find.[i] My opening question was this: “Why is it so hard for white people to talk about racism?” The answer came in a lot of different forms, but it might best be summed up like this: White people have learned (mostly through the Civil Rights Movement) that racism is a bad thing and racists are bad people. If you suggest to white people that their words or deeds might be perceived as racist, they often become very defensive, because they assume that you are accusing them of being racists. They know racists are bad people, and they do not believe themselves to be bad people.
In other words, white people are “fragile” when it comes to this subject.
The problem with racism, however, is that it is more than an individual thing. It is systemic. It is built into the structures of our society. To use just one example: a white high-school dropout typically earns more money than an African-American with a college degree.[ii] That person might say, “I don’t care how racist you are, personally; just pay me as much as you pay white college graduates.” So, we white people fret about how we are perceived in the black community while the black community struggles with inequity, segregation, substandard education, and crushing poverty.
I’ve been trying to write from my heart lately, and not my head, and I know I’ve just written a lot of things that sound “heady,” but I want to assure you: this is a heart issue for me. It’s not because I “have a lot of black friends” or because my father “marched in the Civil Rights movement.” It’s because I believe—with all my heart—that every human being is made in the image of God. We’ve got to see that image in others. We’ve got to celebrate it. And we’ve got to speak up when we see or hear someone putting others down. This short video, above, makes that as clear as anything I’ve seen, and if you’ve read this far maybe you’ll take another three minutes and forty-eight seconds to watch it. If you don’t have time, I hope you will remember that I see the image of God in you,
And I celebrate it.
[i] David Bailey was there, who runs Arrabon, a non-profit devoted to racial reconciliation; Sheryl Johnson was there, who co-chairs the “Pledge to End Racism” campaign in Richmond; Tiffany Jana was there, who runs a consulting firm specializing in workplace diversity; Rabbi Michael Knopf was there, an outspoken champion for social justice; and Corey Walker was there, an academic who has taught at some of the finest schools in the country.
[ii] “Education is not the Great Equalizer” (https://rollingout.com/2017/08/13/average-white-high-school-dropout-earns-more-than-black-college-grad/).