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 And now it is your responsibility to relinquish your outdated understanding of black and white race relations and investigate deeper.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.



    1. Thanks for reading! And yes I have. I’m excited to see what happens with season 2.

  1. I loved your post. And your response to negative comments! I agreed with all of your points and it allowed me to think about looking at systemic racism from a larger perspective; as well as the roots and reasoning behind the laws. For those people who disagree and tell you that you are wrong, it might be contradicting, but nobody can be wrong nor can they be right because humans have made up these ideas to just create a hierarchy—be it by race, age, social class, etc. Creating this hierarchy of wrong and right is just another attempt to place one’s superiority over another person, to make them inferior. For those who have trouble understanding systemic racism, I recommend reading some YA literature because there are some amazing books out there that can open your perspective, but also bring it down to a level that is easy to sympathize with the main character and social issues as well. Angie’s Thomas’ “The Hate U Give,” or even Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” There are many more, but to say that this fantastic post is flat out wrong is somewhat ignorant, is it not?

  2. Beautifully written, Liz. And while I understand it’s a risk, it’s one that is worth it I think. How can we learn and grow if no one speaks? I wish the term “white privilege” existed in different form. I think when a lot of white people hear the word “privilege,” they misunderstand and divert to looking at how poor they themselves are or how rich some black people are. They misunderstand what that word means and what that privilege actually is. My husband and I saw a video the other day of a young couple who were being harassed by the police. They had done NOTHING wrong. The man was black. He was explaining his rights to the officer and my husband said, “How does he know all of that? Who knows all of their rights like that? I wouldn’t know what my rights were in that situation.” To which I said, “Yes!! EXACTLY!! Because you don’t HAVE TO. And THAT is white privilege.” I think we are all still learning, all still growing and all still making progress. Your article is important. I believe that the conversation has to continue to happen until we are all in the same place of understanding. And I am hopeful that it IS happening, that it is getting better. That progress is being made. You are brave in sharing your thoughts, please know that it is appreciated.

  3. My husband grew up in the 60’s in a small town in South Carolina, prior to that his grandmother was head chef at the White House for President Eisenhauer, yet she had come in and out the back door, ride the back seats of buses to get to work, use segregated bathrooms in the White House for “The Help.” My husband lived through integration of the schools and tells of teachers spitting at them, people throwing rocks, adults urinating at them as the kids walked into the school doors. This history is American history and needs to not perish because it paved the way for these generations. My husband’s grandmother and generations before had no privilege and no one to fight for it. My daughter moves forward with the weight from her ancestors on her back who had to overcome everything in their lives. Maybe there will be a day when privilege is just a human allowance and does not come with colors and boundaries and rules.

  4. This was a brilliantly written essay! It pains me to see that when we strive to share “the black experience” others seem to defensively remind us that “it’s not a black and white issue” or “others have it bad too”. Those statements are true, however, they do absolutely nothing to solve the problem. I look forward to the time when racism will be a thing of the past and we will have true equality on the earth. Revelation 7:9,10 says, “After this I saw, and look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes; and there were palm branches in their hands. And they keep shouting with a loud voice, saying: “Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.” All nations, tribes, people’s, and tongues will soon one day live and serve God together in harmony and all wickedness will be done away with (Psalms 37:10,11).

  5. Watched the movie Hidden Figures the other day. Amazing wonderful but heartbreaking at times movie.
    I totally agree with you on this. It’s still alive and the worst thing is…we aren’t ignorant to it any more. It is on purpose. That’s what makes me sick. Everyone is an individual and it’s so wrong to stereotype people due to their race. I totally get being “smart”, etc – but I think they use it as a crutch for their prejudices and racism.

  6. Dear LIz,
    Thanks for a good read and some food for thought. There is so much anger, set so prominently at the forefront of our (American) society, that we are all rolling the dice whenever we speak. I hope we can find a way to break the cycle of resentment and animosity that holds us all back from what we can and should become. Seven come eleven.

  7. Fantastic piece!! I have more to write and will return to finish!!! Thank you for your raw honesty.

  8. I can’t read racist stuff like this, I find racism whichever way directed to be not only deely sick, but usually indicative of low brows. Ss Morgan Freeman said when asked by an interviewer ‘How do we combat racism?’ said ‘Stop talking about it’. Morgan is a wise man, a pity you don’t pay attention to him.
    This is just more social justice worrier posturing, and I find your anti-white racism unpleasant and shallow; skin deep in fact. But then I’m a Brit and live in a country where racists are a tiny minority, and where most people just get on with their multiracial lives. I’m sure you’re aware anyway that white men didn’t invent slavery, and that African slavery was run by Muslim Arabs for centuries before Europeans arrived. I’ve never understood why so many African Americans became Muslims, the religion of slavery.
    So I won’t be saying ‘how brave’ and ‘wonderful writing’ although I’m sure you’re capable of both bravery and wonderful writing, but this nasty piece is at the same level as the anti-black racism you apparently object to.

    Me? I don’t hate nothing much except hatred. [Who said that?]

    1. Except you did read it, so thank you for your readership! You need to ask yourself why you’re mad about me talking about racism in America all the way from Europe. Ignoring an illness doesn’t make it go away, beloved. Me talking about racism might hurt your ego but that’s not what I’m here for, now is it? I’m here to bring awareness to a serious issue that affects the lives of POC here. Now have a nice evening/morning/afternoon or whatever time of day it is where you’re located and find someone else’s blog to patronize.

      1. Don’t patronise me, I dispensed with ego before you were born child. I only read part way, got the flavour, and wanted to tell you that you are what you hate, racist.
        I easn’t patronising, and if you don’t want any criticism [snowflakes are terrified of adult debate aren’t they?] then keep your thoughts and musings private where no one can read them. It’s easy, like having a safe space at university where free speech can be banned and critical thinkers prevented from speaking. Yeah, I know all about your principled attempt to ‘treat your illness’but first you have to recognise you’re suffering from it and at present you haven’t made it that far. Yes, you live in a racist society, and no it isn’t just white people, it’s everyone who doesn’t stop thinking about colour talking about colour obsessing about colour. Grow up and find something to do in your life which isn’t about the colour of your skin, because only really stupid people give a shit. And your anti white man pose doesn’t impress, it’s just juvenile posing. Like the racist woman who co-founded BLM, who spouts racist filth whenever she opens her mouth yet is paler skinned than me, and I’m a white man! She is maybe 10% something other than white, yet that little bit makes her black? Really? How come she’s not responsible for the 90% of her ancestors who were white like white people are for 100%?
        I cut my political teeth on fihgting apartheid until it was defeated, you remind me of the Boers, who saw only skin colour.

      2. Congratulations on being the 999th angry white person in my comments section! Unfortunately for you, your deflections and cries of reverse racism don’t phase me. I’m going to keep writing the same way I have been and you can stay mad about it for the rest of eternity.

      3. Oh a racist, why am I unsurprised. I’m not mad you stupid bitch, I would need to care about you and your diseased racist brain, which I don’t. Of course you’re going to continue, your ego won’t allow self doubt. But what do you mean by ‘reverse’ racism isn’t against one race moron, you think racism is only against you! Pathetic poser with IQ in double figures.

      4. *Swears he’s not mad and shed his ego long ago*
        *Proceeds to project with meaningless, unoriginal insults*
        Stay “not mad” then. If you “don’t care” so much, why are you still here? Oh wait…

    2. I am surprised you would want to comment on something when you can only speak from a place of ignorance as someone who is neither an American nor a black person, how could you possibly have an opinion on this? I’m a white American and I assure, the more we talk about this, the better. This racism is underlying and not always blunt and in your face. I assure that it absolutely does exist, and that until these conversations are had, nothing will change. How can people change when they are unaware of the issues? I don’t find discussing the things to be racist against me, or any other person. Stating facts and having a discussion to move toward progress is how we can begin to change as a society. And that is a good thing. 🙂

Leave a Reply