White Silence: I’m Afraid to Be Called Racist

by Rebecca A. Watson on December 5, 2014

in beliefs, change, government, life, media

If you’re an American (or anyone in the world who pays attention to the news) you’ve probably heard about the stories in Ferguson and Staten Island. I can’t even recount them without bursting into tears.

I have felt more helpless than I have in a long time. Even Googling “Staten Island” to make sure I’m spelling it correctly brings me to my knees sobbing. Here I sit, so far away from my country wondering, What the hell is going on there? And then I wonder, Even if I was there, what would I do? What could I do?

What have I done so far? Donated to the Ferguson Library (Donate button in upper right-hand corner), which has stayed open during the protests providing activities and safety for many. Shared that information. Shared articles on Facebook about what white people can do about all of this.

And for me, that’s really a big part of why I’m not talking. I’m white. I’m speechless and am afraid to say anything. Not because I don’t think anything is wrong but because I’m afraid that something I say may be construed as racist. (Because everyone is a little racist.)

And maybe that’s on purpose. Maybe people who like things the way they are are counting on people like me to keep my mouth shut, because I’m afraid someone will call me racist.

Because I don’t know what I’m talking about. Because I’m a white girl who grew up in a northern Minnesota town that had a few Asians and one black family in it. Because the majority of my friends are white.

I couldn’t possibly understand what’s happening to black people so I’ll just keep my mouth shut and let the black folks do the protesting — do the talking. And then things will continue like they always do because we know how easy it is to ignore the minorities. It’s a brilliant plan really. I guess those in power do know how to stay there, don’t they?

But I’ve decided to write this post anyway. I’ll be damned if a little fear that I might say the wrong thing — the insensitive thing, the ignorant thing — is going to keep me from speaking up about what I do think. I know this:

  • Every human life is precious and should be treated as such.
  • America’s justice system doesn’t seem to be blind. Or maybe it’s in a choke hold too.

1204toonwass

  • My country is turning into a police state. And it frightens me.
  • A lot of people seem to be more worried about Obama “shredding the constitution” with his immigration reform than police trampling on our First Amendment rights. How is it possible that people are more afraid of immigrant workers cleaning toilets than police detaining journalists for doing their job or beating protesters to death?
  • First They Came … has never felt more relevant to me.
  • A lot of my Facebook friends say racist things. I don’t know if they think they’re being racist. I know I never think I’m racist, but I’ve caught myself unwittingly (oh my god the horror that I’m actually admitting this) grabbing for my purse on the bus when a black man sat down next to me.
  • Most people are kind at heart. They want to see equality, love and peace prevail. They just don’t believe it’s possible.

I think most white people are like me: afraid to say the wrong thing and afraid of their own prejudice. So instead of speaking up for what they think is wrong, they stay quiet, silently supportive but paralyzed by fear. That has got to change.

Things like #CrimingWhileWhite are a good way to talk about white privilege and the double-standards police have. Of course, some have said it’s also just white people gloating and embellishing.

And while I can see that side of things, it just seems like every time white people try to get involved in this discussion, in a way that they might feel comfortable sharing, the movement/idea/trend gets called racist.

Do you see what’s happening here? That’s why it’s hard for me to write this. Because I’m afraid of being called racist for trying to express support for equal rights for all.

There are two words here that ring loud and clear for me: Fear and Comfort. 

I’m afraid of being called racist. I’m afraid of offending people. I’m afraid.

The only way I want to share is in a way I feel comfortable. Sharing my own stories of white privilege on Twitter appealed to me, but I didn’t, knowing that the movement would be called racist sooner or later. The idea that I might be called racist made me uncomfortable, so I stayed quiet.

I think that’s the key. White people have got to start getting uncomfortable. Joining in the discussion even if it only exposes our own prejudice.

Those hidden racist beliefs don’t make you evil. They make you human. We’re not perfect, and we can make change. But the only way to deal with it is to step out of denial. We can’t heal if we won’t talk about the problem. We can’t solve the problem if we’re afraid to get our hands dirty.

But that’s only part of the issue. We’ve got to be open to having these discussions with less judgment, anger and rage. I get it. I’ve uninstalled Facebook on my phone because I just can’t read another ignorant, evil comment or shitty news story coming from a certain cable “news” organization. That attitude is a problem of mine (and others) as well.

If we continue to act holier-than-thou, rage-ful and rude toward people who make racist comments, post racist news stories or generally seem ignorant, we’re doing nothing but perpetuating the problem. There needs to be meaningful dialogue, and that starts with the comment, not the person.

I’ll be the first to admit that I told someone I was unfriending them in the comments of their racist remark. Honestly, I wish I hadn’t done that. It was an opportunity for me to have a real discussion about race. Even if I wouldn’t have changed his mind, other people might see it and think differently because of it.

Unfriending him (and self-righteously telling him about it!) did nothing but bring more hate to the party. Nothing’s changed.

I encourage you to share this article of course. But more than that, I encourage you to post your own opinions about what has been happening in our beautiful country for far too long. Bonus points if it makes you afraid or uncomfortable.

Because I think that the only way things are going to change is if we stretch ourselves. Lord knows those in power can’t be bothered, and many of them are hoping you won’t be either. Let’s prove them wrong.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Okon December 5, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Thank you Rebecca. I enjoyed reading it. I think you have put your thoughts down very solicitously. I will write something too when my head is a little clearer.

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Bridget December 5, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Thank you for posting this Rebecca. I really appreciate your transparency. Change is going to come. We thought we had it in 1965. Obviously, the US still has a lot to learn.

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Monica December 5, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Slow clap for this! I’m from the inner city and I’m used to my pale skin being in the minority. My friends looked like the rainbow coalition. Love what you said about it becoming a police state here. Thanks for the speeding ticket as a result of you lying in wait behind some bushes officer, but can you do something about the meth problem in this area? You’ve certainly taught me a lesson on safety. LOL. Black men are shot on sight, they are assumed guilty until proven innocent beyond a shadow of any POSSIBLE doubt, and no one out here in white bread Colorado gets it, so it’s SO refreshing to read that it’s a provincial disorder and that there are sane people who see the injustice for what it is. We just booked a trip to New Orleans, I can’t WAIT to talk with some black people! GOD DAMN I miss them!!

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Becky December 9, 2014 at 8:11 pm

“I think most white people are like me: afraid to say the wrong thing and afraid of their own prejudice. So instead of speaking up for what they think is wrong, they stay quiet, silently supportive but paralyzed by fear. That has got to change.”

Umm, this is me. I found myself the other day saying to my son, I can’t give you my opinion on this issue b/c I choose to not read the articles or find out what really happened.” I rather live in my bubble b/c the whole thing is upsetting. I am white also, grew up in the suburbs on the East Coast in a town predominantly white. Now living in the same town as an adult it is more racially equal but still there are some “racial feelings.” I don’t post anything on social media in regards to my opinion on either cases and choose not to research for my own knowledge. Last week my son had a debate in junior high on the Ferguson case and I said to him, make sure you have all the facts before you speak~ I never seen him so excited and spent days researching. I swear he did more homework that week than in 3 years. He was passionate to express the facts and his opinions based on the facts. I was proud he went into the discussion prepared and not just spewing opinions based on fiction or hate.

This is the scary part~ just like you stated, people are being quiet and afraid to speak their opinions b/c they are afraid of being judged or treated differently b/c of our opinions or thoughts.

Yup, that is me scared to express so I watch before I comment, post, share and like certain things in race issues that currently plague the US.

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