Yes, everything does have to be about race

posted by Jeff | Sunday, April 25, 2021, 5:02 PM | comments: 0

Seeing a conviction for the murder of George Floyd felt like a moment where the nation could at least let out a breath it had been holding for too long. We've seen too many occasions where murder was recorded before our eyes and the people who did it were not held accountable. The verdict doesn't bring George Floyd back, it doesn't fix the system of institutional racism baked into the criminal justice system and it doesn't fix police training. At best, it serves as a point of recognition that there are problems that most certainly need to be fixed.

There have been broader conversations about whether or not police violence against Black people is worse than white people. Black men are in fact 2.5 times more likely to die by the hand of law enforcement than white men in the US. There's nothing to debate, it's objectively true. We know shooting people is not the first step, as Newark has proven with zero shots fired last year, while crime went down. Furthermore, supporting the role of law enforcement in our society is not a binary decision against wanting accountability and training. We can do both. But a non-trivial portion of white people are generally made uncomfortably by the race aspect of the problem, and they say things like, "I don't see color, so why do people have to make everything about race?"

Yikes. Let's break that down a little. This is hard for me, because my gut reaction is not to try and explain why that's an icky thing to say, but rather judge the person hard for being seemingly oblivious to the world around them.

First off, when people talk about "white privilege," they're talking about having the ability to not worry about race as a factor in your daily life. I know the word "privilege" sounds as if you earned something for being white, but I can't find a more appropriate word. The spirit of the phrase stands though, because if you can "not see color," great, you're believing that you can treat people of all races equally, free of bias (a dubious claim for any human), but you're also invalidating a massive number of people who are oppressed or repressed every day for little reason other than the color of their skin. The same problem applies when you say, "all lives matter." That may be true, but "all lives" are not equally valued in American society, and you're invalidating the sentiment.

Why does everything have to be about race? Well, the risk of police interaction is only scratching the surface. The entire criminal justice system convicts people of color at a higher rate and with more severe sentences. We could talk all day about how resumes with the same jobs on them tend to pass screening more readily with names like "Todd" and "Jenny" than those with "Tyrone" or "Shanice." We could talk about red lining and home lending practices. The quality of education across races has been an issue for decades. Access to healthcare has never been equal along racial lines, something we're seeing in the midst of this very pandemic.

So if you wish everything could not be about race, imagine how a non-white person must feel. Most morally just people would love for things to not be about race, but our society is not ready for that because it is not equal. It never has been. We can't wish our way into "all men are created equal," we have to act like it in every single thing we do. Until then, everything must be about race.

I don't have the answers. I enjoy white privilege in a hundred different ways, every single day. I may have worked hard and earned my prosperity (whatever that even is), but the point is that society has never worked against me for the color of my skin. I feel that it's my duty as the "white moderate" that Dr. King wrote about from the Birmingham jail that I commit to justice over order, as the way forward for a more equal society. We won't get there if we don't make everything about race.


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