White people don’t like watching hardcore racism. Even some law-and-order conservatives are uncomfortable seeing a white cop hold his knee on a black man’s neck and squeeze the life out of him.
But somehow, white people always find a way to get over it. You post your angst on social media to show which side you’re on. And while the stories make their way through the news cycle, you and your friends lament how awful racism is.
Then before you know it, your drive-by rage is over. You conclude that the terrible incident doesn’t affect you directly. So you drift back into oblivion, convinced there’s nothing you can do about racist cops or the racist society that breeds them.
But you are wrong. White people, you are the problem.
Regardless of how much you say you detest racism, you are the sole reason it has flourished for centuries. And you are the only ones who can stop it.
White people who fought alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. knew this. The young white women who formed a barrier between black activists and the police during a protest in Louisville, Ky., last week understood it, too.
Racism is no different from any other chronic problem. It recurs as long as it goes unchecked. Black people, for the most part, are powerless to stop racism. If we could, we would have done it a long time ago.
American racism is a uniquely white trait. Black people cannot be racist toward you. Racism, by definition, is “prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”
Black people cannot exude a sense of superiority that we have never experienced.
America cannot rid itself of this curse unless white people accept responsibility for it. And, frankly, most of you aren’t willing to take that leap.
There is no need to rehash the sordid history of America in order to understand how racism took root here. You already know that the legacy of slavery feeds into the systemic racism that deems African Americans second-class citizens, unworthy of the same rights as white people. Only staunch racists deny that fact.
We’re not talking about those people right now. We’re talking about those of you who see yourselves as intolerant of racism — those who were sickened by that video of George Floyd pleading for mercy.
Too many white people are satisfied doing nothing to bring about substantive change. Admit it. You enjoy the opportunities and privileges that white supremacy affords you. Yet you want to distance yourself from the racist individuals and systems that keep you at the top of the hierarchy.
You are well aware of the racial injustices that occur every day. Certainly, you were not surprised that a black man like Floyd could meet his death just weeks after Ahmaud Arbery died at the hands of a father and son who apparently decided it was their duty to put a black man in his place.
If someone were to ask why you did nothing for Breonna Taylor, Laquan McDonald, Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, Botham Jean, Walter Scott or Atatiana Jefferson, you might say it is because you did not know what to do. Now, you’re probably looking to a black person to tell you how to fix it. I’m not going to lie. I don’t have all the answers.
You should talk among yourselves and figure it out. In the midst of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, you managed to put a man on the moon. You could make the same commitment to stomping out racism.
It would be wonderful if white people took to the streets like you did during the 2017 Women’s March, only this time holding signs and chanting, “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going tolerate racism anymore.”
You would never do that. But the transformation can start within you.
First, just listen. When black people talk about racism, don’t automatically accuse them of “playing the race card.” That’s merely an attempt to stifle meaningful discussions about race and maintain the status quo.
Admit that you are uncomfortable around black people. Stop pretending that you don’t have any black friends because you don’t come into contact with them. The truth is that you have never made expanding your circle a priority. By the way, that one black friend you met through work doesn’t count.
Take an honest assessment of your attitudes. Admit that you would be less likely to believe Floyd did nothing wrong without the video to prove it. Acknowledge that your initial inclination always is to trust that the police always tell the truth.
Ask why doubt creeps into your head when you find out that the victim didn’t live a perfect life. Think about how easily you buy into the notion that the officer must have feared for his life rather than accept that some cops flat-out hate black people.
Question why you allowed the Amy Cooper story to distract you from the issue of police brutality. Her lie about a black man attacking her in Central Park was repulsive and she deserved to be rebuked, but it was only a blip in the larger arena of racism.
White women have been telling lies on black men since they were first brought to America in chains in 1619, and white women have been complicit. The most famous liar was Carolyn Bryant, who claimed Emmett Till whistled at her.
One of the main reasons racism thrives is because white people too often miss the most important point. The biggest issue isn’t that a white woman lied. It’s the racist system that allowed Bryant’s husband and his friends to drag Till out of bed, beat him to death and toss his body in the river — without repercussions.
That racist system still exists. That’s why Derek Chauvin refused to take his knee off Floyd’s neck even though he knew he was being filmed. Racists, especially those in uniform, know that the system almost always is on their side. And 400 years of history proves that most white people aren’t in a hurry to reverse it.
Racists are counting on you to continue doing nothing. They are certain that before long, you will return to your blissful state of denial, where racism is somebody else’s problem. And you will not disappoint them.
Racists know some of you better than you know yourselves.
Dahleen Glanton is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.