Dear White Friends: Racism is Slightly More Complex Than What You Learned About in Primary School

Dear White Friends: Racism is Slightly More Complex Than What You Learned About in Primary School

By Liz Brazile

After several years of banging my head against the wall upon seeing the old American proverbs of “it (racism) goes both ways” and “slavery ended 300 years ago” in social media comment sections, I think it’s time we address an uncomfortable truth: the watered down, Cliff Notes unit on racial inequality you were taught in elementary school was a lie. And now it is your responsibility to relinquish your outdated understanding of black and white race relations and investigate deeper.

What do Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., segregation, and slavery all have in common? They’re all talking points in social studies classes when the unit on racialized historical conflicts rolls around—and that’s if it ever does. We learn that the most important faces of the Civil Rights Movement were an exhausted seamstress who refused to give up her bus seat and a reverend who just wanted little black kids and little white kids to be friends. We learn that Slavery was merely unpaid labor black folks did for white folks and that segregation was a result of blacks and whites equally wanting to shut each other out of their spaces. We also learn that black people won a bunch of rights and lived happily ever after without any lasting generational trauma, and that the doing away with overtly racist policies meant people just suddenly did away with their racist ideologies. And last but not least, my favorite: that racism is as simple as not liking someone because of their skin color, and therefore any of us is capable of perpetuating it—never mind the economic oppression, political control, or any other systemic roadblocks to upward mobility that no group in America other than white people could possibly have the power to impose on an entire people.

Well I’m here to tell you that slavery only ended a few great grandma’s ago and my grandparents came up in the Jim Crow era—which was not about willful segregation, but rather white fear of miscegenation and black economic progress. And, the Civil Rights Movement was propelled by nameless, faceless black folks who didn’t always garner fame or white approval—alive or posthumously.

If you’ve made it this far without angrily clicking out of this article and deeming me that racist black chick who hates white people, you’re on the right track. My beloved white people, here’s what you have to understand: you have the (white) privilege of allowing your comprehension of race in America to end at what you learned about in school; black people don’t. What we don’t learn in school about racism could be, at best a serious social impairment and at worst, a wrongful death waiting to happen. By that, I mean we are forced to learn to adapt to an anti-black world, while maximizing opportunities and minimizing harm.

I learned as a young girl that I am not allowed the same range of emotions afforded to my white counterparts. God forbid I experience a bad day at school or work, lest I want to be labeled as “the girl with the attitude problem”. I also learned that no matter what level of rapport I’d thought I’d built with an authority figure, I wouldn’t be given the benefit of the doubt when I needed it. When I was second grade, my “best friend’s” mom, who taught our computer class, kicked me out for a week because my computer stopped working and I must’ve “done something” to it—despite the fact that I’d been to her home multiple times and she and my mother had become quite cordial. I learned early on to monitor every move I make in public spaces so as to not arouse suspicions about my inherent suspiciousness. To this day, browsing while black makes me uneasy.

Some of you will say, “Well why not just ignore those people?” or, “Who cares what those ignorant people think?” But it’s deeper than that. I have to be on high alert about what people think about me because if I don’t defy what anti-black stereotypes would have them think about me, it could cost me greatly. The very act of me writing this essay is a risk.

So many of us have a hard time wrapping our heads around current race relations in America because we haven’t grasped the true history of race relations in America. As children, we have in our minds that the 1800’s and 1960’s were so long ago. And as adults, we don’t swap out our child-like perception of time for a more realistic one. The same ones saying “life is short” are the same ones who can’t comprehend that 60 years is not that long ago in the grand scheme of history.

Anytime an unarmed or legally armed black person dies at the hands of police, we hear a thousand reasons why it was justified and are told to simply “follow the law” if we wish to stay alive. Yet, when a young white man meets his end due to his failure to “follow the law”, he becomes an American martyr. To understand why this happens and the subsequent implications, one must first understand how disposable black life has been throughout American history.

We do not live in a post-racial society. We live in a post-socially-acceptable-to-be-openly-racist society—although that is changing under our current presidential administration. Until you’re willing to have an honest conversation with your black friends about their lived experiences and study the many examples of how systemic racism functions, you have nothing meaningful to contribute to the discussion on present-day racism in America.

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378 Comments

  1. “The very act of me writing this essay is a risk.”

    Ain’t that the truth.

    Some of the comments I’ve seen speak to that; you’ve taken a risk and some have taken to the attack. You have handled them with aplomb, by the way. With class. We appreciate that out here.

    At the end you had to point out that we don’t live in a post-racial world. The fact that you have to is unnerving to me. I live in a very conservative, predominately white county and I can tell you, we haven’t grown up yet. As a white man living in this town I am privy to the uncensored thoughts of bigots who feel they can say anything to me, incorrectly assuming we are of like mind. And the president has made it cool to be bigoted again.

    My favorite comments come from people who start their sentences with “I’m not a racist, but …” because I know the next words are going to be carefully articulated racism. We haven’t changed. With all the enlightenment handed down to us, and the entire bank of world knowledge at our fingerprints, we haven’t changed.

    I don’t know why.

    Persist, I say. Persist indefinitely. I will continue to persist from my vantage point, as well, and who knows … maybe we do change the world, in time. Even if we don’t, the fight is worthwhile.

    Thank you for a wonderful essay. It was a pleasure stumbling across it. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for reading! And thank you for sharing your observations on present-day attitudes towards race.

  2. Congratulations on a great article. So much of this resonates in a similar way in Australia. I have great difficulty explaining that, even though laws have changed, racism (let alone intergenerational trauma) is alive and well here, today, and every day.

  3. You know what galls me? I remember (not read about) the day MLK was assasinated and JFK, RFK. I remember. I was in school when JFK was shot. I remember the days of segregation and I remember Little Rock Hall and the kids who defied the school and government. I remember Malcolm-X. I was 14 and seeing Woodstock and the Vietnam. I remember Walter Cronkite and he told people about the Injured and killed. I remember playing with black kids and we were too young to remember but I do remember the Moonwalk.

    OK let’s break this down. I was there and inspite ( I am not ashamed) of being white I matter, just as you do. You aren’t going to tell me how it was and is. My favorite baseball player named Bob Gibson. He was an All-American at Creighton, played with the Globetrotters and then decided on being a pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals and look it up. Record that will not be broken. ERA 1.12 and 28 HR as a pitcher. In his book ‘From Ghetto to Glory’. He was in Chicago’s Cabrini Green. He had it hard like you never will. My cousin died at 22 and had a full-scholarship to Syracuse U but died before he got the chance. Now this is where it is kind of cool. His parents adopted a black kid and one day was interviewed by TV and Radio and they asked about his black brother. Joel said He was his brother, not his black brother. You see, give people some credit. These indivuals makes it better for all. I was born in 1956. It was changing back then. Oh no, I do not need millenials telling me how it was. I was there and pretty sure you weren’t.
    Regards Larry

    1. I’m sorry you felt slighted by this essay. But unfortunately, it was written for a broader audience than just you. In fact, I didn’t know you existed until two minutes ago. My take on this history may not come from personal experience but it comes from years of studying it both academically and through the anecdotal experiences of my very black and very American family members who lived through these times in the Deep South. And while those anecdotes you gave are beautiful, they do nothing to speak for the collective experience of black people living during Jim Crow.

      Btw, who told you that you didn’t matter? I need a receipt.

      1. I do not feel slighted but know that many will. I do not judge them, even the bigot. When Hank Aaron was going after Babe Ruth’s record, Henry Aaron’s grand parents received death threats. As time ticks on, as it does for all, we are humans. Not White, not Asian but a dichotmy. And by the way, I am 14% African. There is so much shame to go around and I will NOT perpetrate more. I also rember Jim Crow and those bigots. They do NOT represent me.

    2. Really strange response to the essay.

      1. I have a cousin that is black and a nephew you too. I remember my Mom being horrified at that, but once she got over that, she loves that kid. My mom who is 81 learned something and did well because Kaden loves my mom. Us fickle humans. I am 14% African. I do not care about all the hubris, being pushed upon us all.

      2. So why did you come here? To tell us that there are still white people alive who were alive during the Civil Rights Movement? We already knew that. And what does you having been born in the 1950s and having two black relatives have to do with any of the history I talk about in this essay? Sounds like you just wanted to center something that isn’t about you on you.

  4. I think Larry is trying to say he know’s more about Black America than Black people know. Arrogant.

  5. Thank you for sharing this masterful peace for the rights of all people know matter your gender or race

  6. A well written piece. As a historian a fully understand that it is easy to look at the outer surface of something and accept that (incorrectly) as the whole story. Peoples actual lives are not reflected in what is written as fact, even if the fact might be accurate. Emotions and perceptions are not easily wiped clean even if the direct causes are eliminated. You highlight very well that nothing is simple to explain, define, resolve or eliminate.



  7. Liz,

    This was a great article. I guess the only thing I’d say is that I had a white friend (and I am white as well), who was targeted and physically abused by some policemen because he was economically disadvantaged (and must have appeared as such to the police), so there are ways in which life can be unfair for all of us, regardless of race.

    1. Thanks for reading! Not sure if you’ve explored the comment section here or seen any of my other pieces, but I explore many intersections of oppression and privilege other than just race.

  8. The way it is presented , the modulation of words and everything else is so perfect hats off to you seriously excellent

  9. We need to keep a continuous dialogue on this in hopes that every generation gets a little better. Well written… I enjoyed reading your perspective!

  10. Wow, post-socially-acceptable-to-be-openly-racist society is the best way to describe it I’ve heard yet. This post speaks a multitude of truths! Thanks for sharing your experiences with the world. We need more stories like this to come to light.

  11. Hello Liz, I was born in South Africa in one of the explosive times of racial tension. I believe it was our country that first gave expression to the word, “aparteit” basically meaning “apart’. In other words in my country, white and people of colour were kept apart by legislation.
    Being raised in this environment, I accepted that white was supreme.
    As time went by I realised that this was an absolute lie.
    But along with this realization I discovered that what I believed in my mind is what will, give me peace or anxiety and furthermore, dictate my direction forward.
    Because of the evolution in my county, we whites are now considered as ‘lessor citizens’ and people of colour to be more important.
    What I also learned as time went along, was the fact that my colour does no define me.
    Every day I look into my my mirror, I say, “You are beautiful”.
    Can anything be more important than that?


  12. Very well said! I appreciate you pointing out the fact that now is not a post-racial period. It is amusing, yet deflating, to see how many readers missed the entire point of your post. That is the problem, instead of reading and trying to understand, some people are busy debating every valid point you voiced. Keep on expressing yourself! It seems hopeless, but you are inspiring many.

  13. I am a second generation immigrant in Sweden (my parents are both Hungarian). I have the good fortune to look Swedish (because of my German ancestors who emigrated to Hungary). Because of this, I have have been never been the target of any racism.

    Even so, I can fully appreciate it what it is like to have to live life having to always being careful with how you behave and what you say because of race or ancestry (something that you as an individual can’t change and shouldn’t even have to think about), as Hungarians are very different to Swedes when it comes to behavior (generalizing here; Hungarians: gregarious and outspoken always believing they are the best and know everything, Swedes: rather silent and cautious, anxious about being different from others).

    Even my very mild version of what you have to go through is painful and a heavy burden, I have never understood how anyone can say that race is not an issue in the US – it is an issue in most other countries as well. Thank you for shining a light on this as this is something we have to fight against on a daily basis until the problem is eradicated from earth and we all see each other as nothing else but humans.

  14. Wow and more wow. So glad to find honest, critical thinking bloggers. Hope everyone finds this post.

  15. Totally engaging post, beautifully written. White privilege is the ability to hide our heads in the sand to the truth, systematic racism exists and was promoted in every area of “America”. Well done, thank you.

  16. I agree. This is not the post-racial era. When so many white people vote for a tool whose only consistency is his bigotry, we are far from post-racial. We all realize that “Make America Great again” meant “Make America White Again”. He is dividing poor people by scapegoating people who look and pray differently, and blaming them for the hopelessness we’ve been feeling since Reagan’s neoliberalism and Clinton’s slightly more palatable neoliberalism. Then there’s systemic racism in the judicial system with minimums and 3 strikes. Black people still suffer from racism. And I refuse to stop fighting for unity, love, hope, and economic justice.

    1. Paul, did Obama make it black? What is your point? Because that was a racist comment.

  17. I’m new to blogging and this was one of the first I’ve read, I loved it, so informative and inspirational all at once. Thank you.

  18. “We live in a post-socially-acceptable-to-be-openly-racist society—although that is changing under our current presidential administration.” Spot on. This is a powerful piece.

  19. This was a beautifully written essay. There’s not much that I can add that others certainly have not, but I wish you success in your endeavors =)

      1. No problem!

  20. I love this read , I am new to WordPress but this was the first thing I read. Thank you for writing such an honest piece. They may understand after we break it down for them a couple times. But not really because they don’t live in our shoes .

  21. HI Liz, thanks so much for the educational post. I found it really beautifully written, although I worry the tile may have caused the people who need to read this the most to click away! Something I have been looking into is the additional disadvantages people who have multiple protected characteristics can face, for example, being a black transgender woman places you at higher risk of experiencing violence than any other minority group. Statistics like this make me wonder how anyone can think that racism is a thing of the past.

    I think that many different minority groups can relate to that experience of anxiety and adjustment of their behaviour to avoid being stereotyped, I’ve noticed that I have become overly assertive and loud in my wheelchair because otherwise I get ignored and assumed to be unable to think for myself. I am sorry that you have been made to feel like this too, especially as a child who should be able to explore their emotional expression without being labelled.

    I was interested in your views on slavery, like you say, many do assume it was an issue that ended 300 years ago, and also that slavery was when a white person enslaved a black person, but in reality there are people all over the world today whose life amounts to slavery and it is not dictated by skin colour. I think we have to keep talking about this terrible part of history that makes many white people uncomfortable so that we can look harder at not only how it has impacted stereotypes that still exist today, but also how people are still treated, especially in the wake of such massive refugee migration through Europe where so many women and children are known to have gone missing. I would love to know if you have any thoughts about how to use conversations like this to help end modern slavery.

  22. @lifeofasinglemother, and others that have read this post as their first read, This is the first one I read as well, and I can’t be happier to have found it.

    Thank you Liz. I pray you succeed in teaching us who want to know.

  23. It’s amazing how so many people can read the same article and all get a different meaning. Some listen with there hearts, some with an open mind, and lots with an attitude. Read, and mull it over for a bit. But never come back with hate, it gets us nowhere always.

  24. Just reading few of the comments you’ve received is making me feel second-handedly uneasy: the same ol’ same ignorance poorly disguised as “logical”–attempt at–“dissent”. *Sigh*. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem so strange that some people will deliberately avoid socializing with white people. How can you ever feel comfortable in the presence of someone who has so much ignorant sh. to say about you, which is the case for a lot of white people? That a lot of them tout obsolete ideals about IQ and whatnot, (despite repeated displays of obtuseness) makes this all the more ironic.

    1. I just jumped ten feet out of my seat because finally somebody sees the irony of it all! Thank you for reading.

  25. I found a lot to sympathize with in this post, but I must stop at full agreement when you write:
    “Until you’re willing to …, you have nothing meaningful to contribute to the discussion about …”

    With respect to your thoughtful points, powerful prose, and obvious expertise on this subject, I reject your absolute authority to shut another point of view down.

    I hope for society to move toward ACTUAL diversity and inclusiveness on many fronts, not just an era where a new group oppresses one that was formerly prominent. (Note that I’m not asserting that this is the current state of affairs. My skin tone is not what earns me oppression.)

    It infuriates me more than almost anything when groups-out-of-power are pitted against each other. Socioeconomic status, gender, religion, race,… Not better; not worse. Power might be a zero sum game, but equality is not.

    1. I honestly wasn’t seeking out any sympathy with this post, so no hard feelings there.

      You cannot have a meaningful conversation about racism without ever speaking to the people who are on the receiving end of it, period. And I firmly stand by that. So many white people think that POC need their permission and approval when it comes to talking about racism and that’s an issue.

      How can a man have any true understanding of sexism if he’s never engaged with the women affected? How can you have a conversation about transphobia without having heard transgender people weigh in on their oppression from their POV?

      I think you took offense to that line because you perceived it to be me saying that white people are not allowed to talk about race. But that’s not what I said–I said that you cannot have a productive dialogue about racism without acknowledging non-white people’s experiences. And “weighing in” doesn’t mean there physically needs to be a POC there moderating every conversation white people have about race. It simply means you need to take into account those voices and perspectives as you engage in those conversations.

      1. “I think you took offense to that line…”
        If it sounded like I took offense, I didn’t express myself well enough. My intellect is engaged here, not my feelings. I took no offense. Nothing you’ve said has insulted or offended me in any way. I’m really glad to read your work. I hope you continue to allow my comments in reply, as is your privilege. I want to share a dialogue with you. What you’re saying is important. I wouldn’t respond if I didn’t feel that my reply had some merit, too.

        I want this discussion to take place. America needs it. My version of patriotism is to work toward making our country inclusive and respectful of all citizens, and a courteous host to sojourners.

        I wholeheartedly support each individual’s possession of whatever opinion s/he has. I want to hear EVERYONE’s opinion, so long as it doesn’t devolve into violence. I reject violent speech and actions, though I often understand the motivation.

        I agree with everything else you are saying in your reply. I don’t think any person of color needs any approval from me (or anyone else, including other people of color) for anything, except where s/he crosses into communication with someone else about their perceptions. If you shut down someone else’s perception, you are behaving in an oppressive manner. Maybe you have power (to cause a negative effect); maybe you don’t. That’s a completely separate issue.

        Everyone should be thoughtful. Everyone should be respectful. I’m writing here with every intention of operating in that mien myself. If I’m failing, tell me. You’re a young woman of a different generation, so perhaps I fail to communicate clearly. Then again, you might understand precisely, but disagree completely. That’s your right, of course.

        I agree that the experience of non-white people is necessary to have a meaningful conversation about racism. I don’t agree that any one person or group gets to define whether or not someone else of sufficient authority has chimed in.

        You stated that I must consult my “black friends,” which might offend my Chinese or Native American relatives, or my Indian or Muslim friends who are various shades of red and brown. What about my immigrant husband? Is it his color, or his foreign origins that determine his worthiness to have an opinion?

        I even went so far as to “study the many examples of how systemic racism functions” in college. I’m not ignoring this! But never, ever, will I say that you (or any other person or institution) has the right to deny completely the voice of another (peaceful) individual.

      2. Me asking people who have no understanding of systemic racism and its impact on black people not to interject an uninformed opinion–by way of derailing the dialogue and denying that systemic racism exists, like people have had the nerve to do on this post–is not oppressive. I’m not shutting out people who have genuine questions, concerns, and comments; only those who come to gaslight under the guise of having a “dissenting opinion”. If the people experiencing the oppression are not authorized to define it then who is? Because history has shown that oppressors typically don’t take accountability for their actions unless compelled by those affected.

        As for your question regarding the perspectives of other non-black POC, this piece is specifically about anti-black racism and relations between white people and black people in the United States. If a Native person decided to write about their history and issues affecting their community, I wouldn’t take offense to them calling for white people to get some perspective from their “native friends”. Because I don’t take offense to not having conversations about other people’s oppression centered around me.

        Lastly, you being open to hearing everyone’s opinion on racism, no matter how psychologically or emotionally exhausting it may be to a POC, is a privilege. As a woman, would it not exhaust you to no end to have men come forth with “dissenting opinions” about whether the sexism you’ve experienced personally, as well as well-documented systems of patriarchy are real or imagined?

      3. “I wholeheartedly support each individual’s possession of whatever opinion s/he has. I want to hear EVERYONE’s opinion, so long as it doesn’t devolve into violence. I reject violent speech and actions, though I often understand the motivation.”

        Whose motivation are you referring to here? It’s a bit unclear. But part of the problem with talking about race relations today is that people think they must be perpetuating over-the-top, overtly white supremacist ideals in order to be harming POC. People really underestimate the emotional trauma of being gaslighted over and over and over again by people–well-meaning or not–who come to argue and deflect the issues that the POC brought forth.

  26. “We live in a post-socially-acceptable-to-be-openly-racist society—although that is changing under our current presidential administration.”

    That is probably the best description I’ve ever read regarding where we’re at. Hands down, the best. I was confused as hell growing up about why people should hate each other because of color, and was always told to look at all people as equal…but as I got older, their facade started to slip.. By the time I graduated high school, I had parents and family that didn’t feel the need hide their so-called “casual racism” anymore and when about to lecture me, often started it with “those people…”

    That always pissed me off, and it’s something I try hard to tell students when I volunteer at the Holocaust museum. I’ve never heard anybody start a sentence with “those people” and anything good come from it (and I recommend they perk their ears up and pay attention, because all it is is stereotypes coming to the fore–and some of them get to thinking on it, thankfully).

    And it confused me, and made me believe we were past the racial issues (much the same way you described), until they showed up all over the news. I’m admittedly socially awkward and naive as hell at times, but it hit me that if the attitudes that allow “casual racism” to still occur, that it means there’s still freaking racism any way you slice it.

    You’ve hit the nail pretty well on the head. Hugs to you and all the hope in the world that we can change the world for the better, and get rid of this racism bullshit. I don’t want it to take several more generations–it needs to happen now…before more “leftovers” like Dump decide to up the ante even more.

  27. Very interesting. I just read a post on facebook from my friend from Zimbabwe and all the “micro agressions” she receives day by day, most of the time this is seen as a normal comment from the person saying it, but is definitly not. Who gives you the right to tell to the other person that her hair is too much and should apply certain product, or her lips too thick, or wtv racist comment between lines. As a mexican I also need to hear and realize a lot of stuff against latinos, but I just do my best to try to educate people and open their minds as one of my favourite topics when I train the staff in my company is Multicultural Diversity. I know that your post goes much further than that but.. I am just sharing my little seed to this world.

  28. In college, I learned about the invisible backpack of privilage that white people (like myself) carry. It reminded me that I had a luxury that people of color do not, and this has stuck with me. Your post reminds me that the portrayal of history continues to be skewed toward a predominantly white audience, which is unfair and disrespectful to those who lived (and live) it. This must change. I really hope this can change. Thank you for your wonderful post! It was very insightful.

  29. Hi Liz, I’ve nominated you for a “Real Neat Blog Award.” Thank you for sharing your words with the world!

      1. You deserve it! From what I have read so far, you and your blog are amazing! Thanks for sharing yourself with all of us!

  30. This is a great piece of work you have written here. In english class we had a unit called “Blacks” and we too learned about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X (Rosa Parks wasn’t mentioned – I learned from here through novels) and I think that was important, bit it would have been even more important to read articles like the one you wrote, because racism is not over. I wish you all the best for the future and hope this issue will be getting better. And I’m sorry for my terrible English. I’m from Austria and English classes ended quite a time ago for me.

    1. Thank you for reading! And your English isn’t terrible at all. I greatly appreciate your feedback!

  31. Well said. I wish I could read something like this from someone here in Australia – it would be really interesting to hear their perspective.

  32. Liz, I just found your blog this morning, via WP ‘discover’ leading me to this entry, Dear White Friends.

    It is beautiful honest even when painful writing. You have said things more clearly than I thought possible. We don’t live in a post racial society. I’m 67 now, grown up in rural pretty white Northern California. I know I have privilege of all sorts. I also appreciate from reading some of your other posts, you are willing to stick up for the queer world. There have been a lot of lesbians in my sphere, for 40 years or so, and I feel very aware how often their issues have been ignored.

    I wonder if one element of your post might be overstated. I was a fifth grade teacher, and I know none of my students thought slavery was just unpaid labor, or that racism was over. I would guess that many of them did not yet understand how careful a black person has to be in public, to avoid difficult or even violent outcomes. They did know the civil rights movement was massive and mostly anonymous brave volunteers. You seem to me to be someone who would want to be very accurate; perhaps ‘what you learned in primary school’ is in part an expression of frustration more than a statement of fact. I invite you to consider it.

    I am following your blog now, reading past entries and looking forward to new posts. I can see you are a gifted writer and a fine human being.

    Thank you!

    1. Thank you for reading! I appreciate the feedback. To address your concerns about the title, I phrased it the way I did for a reason, so hear me out.

      Many Americans do not take initiative to learn about the history of systemic racism as it pertains to chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement beyond the very brief and very sanitized accounts we learn during Black History Month as kids. And while that may not have been your particular experience as a teacher, I’ve had several elementary school history teachers weigh in, in agreement. And as a mentor helping young students with homework during Black History Month, I’ve seen the misinformation with my own two eyes.

      I wrote this essay because of a hypothesis I reached about why so many people become fragile and unreceptive during conversations about race in 2017. I strongly believe that people often become stuck in the perspectives they develop as children about certain things, especially history. We are taught to display unwavering patriotism as little Americans reciting the pledge of allegiance everyday and learning about all the great things America has accomplished. However, we don’t really get the raw truth about all the dirt that has been done in and by the United States until we start taking university level history courses or begin reading up on those topics on our own.

      People tend to shut down when it comes to processing the darker side of American history and thinking critically about its impact on modern society. And it’s because of the cognitive discord of having to acknowledge that perhaps this country isn’t and hasn’t been as wonderful as we’ve been programmed to believe.

      1. Ok, I get what you’re saying. I mean, I had my experiences as a teacher, but I can see these might not be terribly common. I do appreciate you taking the time to write replies. The energy you put into communicating is an inspiration. I think you are a very insightful and expressive person. Thank you.

  33. Wow, thank you for writing this. As a mixed-race woman working in a mostly-white (mostly white male) field, I found that you articulated exactly how I have felt many times over. Keep it coming!

  34. So well written – fantastic job; I’m hoping I can share this with certain people who will find it accessible and actually get through it because you have such a clear, direct but ‘easy’ – as in not overtly confrontational – style.

    As a white guy who’s traveled a bit of the world and seen how white priviledge exists and operates even in non-white cultures, now that I’m back teaching in the States, one of the points that I find myself having to clarify continuously is that racism isn’t as simple as we’ve been taught to believe; there’s more to it than white hoods, that it’s not ‘in the past’.

    I look forward to more of your insights – all the best to you!

  35. I greatly appreciate your perspectives, but the overall impact of your essay was muted by condescending attitudes toward white people starting with the generalized and stereotypical headline above this piece. Fighting racism is important to all people, regardless of race. You are doing the effort to combat racism a huge disservice by playing into the hands of those who seek to keep us divided. You are denigrating and dismissing those who are not like you. I hope one day you will not only speak for those who are like you, but also truly seek to understand others. All will benefit.

    Many people from a wide spectrum of cultural backgrounds and historical experiences anguish over the many problems — including racism — that we now confront because of the damage being done on so many levels by the current U.S. administration. Communication, an honest search for truth, and greater understanding are the answers, not dismissiveness, disrespect and disregard. There is value in all expression, but your points are seriously weakened by attitudes reflected in these words you have written: “My beloved white people, here’s what you have to understand: you have the (white) privilege of allowing your comprehension of race in America to end at what you learned about in school; black people don’t. ”

    You don’t know what I’ve learned, how I’ve suffered or how I feel.

    Keep writing. Keep caring. And keep growing as an important member of our shared society.

    1. There were plenty of people for which the impact of my essay was not “muted”. And those are the people I care to have a discussion about these topics with. I am not in control of your perception about whether or not my essay or subsequent comments are condescending, but I will say this: talking about these issues already requires so much emotional labor, yet people expect me to be a mule for hurt feelings about this essay too. Why? It’s not my responsibility to carry others’ fragility about this subject.

      Furthermore, this essay was primarily written to speak to the lack of transparency about race relations in the education system. With all due respect, this essay wasn’t written about you or what you did or didn’t experience. It was written based off my observations about how the subject of race is approached in elementary school and a hypothesis that people often carry the perceptions they developed as children about the subject through life–until someone like me comes along and disrupts their comfort and complicity.

  36. A wonderfully insightful post filled with knowledge and courage, great read!!

  37. Past few days Ive been researching on the American Civil War. Being a brown woman from South Asia, specifically Maldives, Ive been blessed to grow up in a country that is extraordinarily sheltered from Racism. However, the signs of it still exists here as well.
    Coming across this essay and reading about the struggles of racism today from your perspective is enlightening.
    After reading about the reluctancy to remove the confederate statues and every other racist incident out there, I keep wondering how long will people keep denying that although the Jim Crow laws and slavery is long gone, the racists never left.

    Thank you for sharing 🙂

    1. Thank you for reading! I really am amazed to see the reach of this essay.

      1. Sometimes the most unexpected things leaves the greatest impressions :).
        I only started blogging yesterday…and came across ur essay today. Pretty amazing eh?
        Keep writing. Look forward to more 🙂

  38. Hi Liz, I’m new to blogging, but I can recognise good writing when I see it. Great piece, just a pity you had write it in this day an age.

  39. Thank you for causing me to reflect that I may have underrated the complexity of a historical process. I’ve generally taken the view that there is some point at which a historical resentment is no longer viable. If somebody’s ancestors oppressed my ancestors 100,000 years ago it’s foolish for me to carry a grudge. On the other hand, if that injustice happened just last week I’d be foolish NOT to carry a grudge. What your article brought home to me is that these considerations are not just functions of the time that has elapsed. but also of the residue of that historic oppression that is still functioning in the society today. Your post is a great example of how true answers are always more complex than spurious ones! (If I ever have a tombstone I’d like it to bear the inscription: It’s not that simple).

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