Q: In discussions on race & current events like Charleston, I keep seeing conservatives accuse the media and people of color of race-baiting. I know that is not what the term originally meant, and that it’s used in this context to shut down discussion and silence talk about racism that doesn’t benefit the racist power structure, but how do I explain that to the average white conservative?
Is there any way to get it through to these people that not talking about race can make racism worse and that treating everything as colorblind can help perpetuate racism?
A: White people insist that there’s no reason to talk about race anymore because we like to believe that racism ended with the Civil Rights Movement. In the minds of many whites (and frankly, this is how our schools teach these issues), America’s race problem concluded with the Civil Rights Movement (integration and voting rights, really). So, when the topic comes up, you get accusations of “race baiting” or making “everything about race” or “playing the race card”.
Of course, this is a terrifically convenient way for white people to let ourselves off the hook (Hey, my dad handled the race problem back in the ‘60s!). It also lets us feel superior, because when we see entrenched issues like poverty and income disparity, modern “ghettos” and mass incarceration, we get to yell “Bootstraps!” and not ask the hard questions about why these issues persist.
So. Where to start. I think the convo has to start with educating those who will listen to the reality that racial integration was a failure (which is obvious), and that our government and society continued to institute racist policies after 1968, all of which created today’s American nightmare. As minds wiser than mine have said, “Jim Crow didn’t end. It just evolved.”
Here are a few articles that do a great job of explaining, for example, how federal housing policy made it virtually impossible for black families to buy a home, creating the Fergusons and North Phillys and Baltimores of today by severing black families from the cushion of inherited wealth that buoys white America all the time:
The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Historian Says Don’t Sanitize How Our Government Greated Ghettos
Also, public schools. Education inequality is just an enormous issue. In Philadelphia, for example, there are now 10 librarians left to service the entire school district (230+ schools). Bootstraps don’t help a kid who has no access to books or a librarian to help him/her. Here’s a recent article about THAT situation: http://theconversation.com/the-calamity-of-the-disappearing-school-libraries-44498
I’m not sure there’s a way to make certain white people understand that race has never stopped being an issue in America and that claiming “color blindness” is really claiming blindness to this truth. I once had a dear friend say to me, “If you don’t see my blackness, you don’t see me.” Color-blindness, in this case, is a form of erasure. It is a denial of what POC are telling us. It’s also a denial of fact.