White People: Things You Need to Hear (from a fellow white person)

I have some things to say to white people (but black people and other minorities are welcome to join in). I am indeed writing this as another white person, myself (though I have some ethnic heritage, my upbringing and outlook is white). This may be one of the more controversial and potentially offensive posts I’ll ever make, but they’ve been swimming in my head for a while and I just haven’t gotten to a point where I felt compelled to write it all out.

In no particular order:

• Black Lives Matter is NOT about black lives mattering MORE, or black lives mattering EXCLUSIVELY, or black lives mattering to the detriment of white people. Black Lives Matter is about how black lives matter, TOO. Black lives have historically been devalued in this country, to the point of them counting as 3/5th’s of a person before the Civil War era. They’ve also been devalued in a myriad of other ways since then, too, from lynchings to segregation, to being denied access to the GI Bill after World War II and being denied bank loans to buy houses because they lived in so-called “red line districts” (aka black neighborhoods) that were deemed “too risky” for banks to issue loans on. This perpetuated black poverty and continued well throughout the 20th century. Electing Barack Obama did not settle any “white debt” to Black America.

• Stop insisting that the way black people were treated in this country is “in the past” and that they should “get over it”. It wasn’t that long ago when blacks couldn’t even share the same water faucet as whites. As in our parents’ lifetime. Jim Crow laws were still in effect, too. And slavery? A mere two human lifetimes back to back. My own direct family heritage is proof: my paternal grandfather—not great-grandfather, but my father’s dad)—was born in 1877 (yes, you read that right; he had my dad in 1939 when he was just a few months shy of his 62nd birthday). That’s just 12 years after the end of the Civil War. Two generations of my own family line takes me within a stone’s throw of slavery.

• White people: Think twice before using the word “thug” when talking about black criminals. There’s a legitimate argument to be made that “thug” is the new code for the N-word. Now, I’m sure some indignant person is about to fire off a link to the dictionary definition of the word to counter me, but that’s not what I’m talking about; I’m talking about how the word is used in a specific context. Would you ever use the word “thug” to describe a white criminal? Oh, NOW you would! Too late; doesn’t count. Any of my friends who are black are welcome to comment on it and correct me if I’m wrong, but it doesn’t take long for me to see comments about a black criminal devolving into descriptions like “thug”, “savage”, “monster”, and “animal” in a way that I rarely see applied to white criminals…who often seem to be described as merely “mentally ill” or at the most “sick”.

• The only time it’s okay for a white person to use the word “negro” any more is when you’re talking about the old baseball league and its associated museum. Don’t complain; you probably never use it as it is, and regardless, you don’t need to use that word in any other context, anyway.

• It’s easy and seductive for us to apply our own personal experience to the world and say, “well, we turned out okay!”, while refusing to understand why black people can’t seem to “get their act together”. If all we’ve ever known are police who are at the most inconvenient when issuing us a traffic ticket while we cooperated with no problem, we can’t really correlate that to a similar situation for when a black person is pulled over. We didn’t grow up in their situation; there are things about the Black experience in America that we just cannot ever truly grasp. The best we can do is acknowledge that fact and try our best to empathize and be fair.

• In my experience, white people and black people view the concept of what it means to be “racist” differently: white people tend to think it only applies to those who view minorities as inferior and are not worthy of the same rights and privileges as whites. So by that definition, whites are being completely sincere when they insist that they are not “racist”. Black people, in my observation, tend to apply it to all facets of the American experience, overt and subtle, including stereotyping and things like locking your car doors when a black person walks by. We each have two different, distinct definitions of that word and what it means. Again, my friends who are black are welcome to correct me or elaborate on that point.

• White people are deathly afraid of being called racist. (Especially considering the above bullet point.) Want to fluster a white person? Call them a racist. Within two sentences they’ll be stammering about how they have “lots of black—er, I mean—African American friends!!!!”. Speaking of which…

• Nobody cares how many black friends you have.

• Having black friends does not mean you can’t be a bigot. Neither does dating a black person. (And yes, the reverse applies, too.)

• Yes, I use the word “black” instead of “African American”. It really is okay, trust me. I prefer it simply because it’s easier to say as a one syllable word.

• Stop quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. to a black person when you’re debating social issues in this country. Just don’t. Seriously. At least try finding a different quote than the “go to” one every white person seems to have memorized from his “I Have a Dream” speech about content of character. You know, probably the ONLY MLK quote white people actually know. He gave many more speeches than that one in his life.

• On the other hand, white people do need to be allowed to articulate their views even when they may be offensive or off base. That’s a huge part of the Trump phenomenon, I think. There is a significant portion of the white population who feel like their views and way of life are mocked and that they can’t say what they think needs to be said without being shut down by the “R” word (“racist”). They resent what they see as being blamed for everything wrong in this country. The one remaining group of people it’s safe to mock are white people (especially rednecks). So then Trump comes along and tells them that there’s nothing wrong with them, that their views matter and that they are just fine the way they are. THAT’S why Trump has had the success he’s had. I think the best way to deal with uncomfortable issues in this country is for everyone to be allowed to be as frank and honest as they are capable of, without fear of being condemned for not being “politically correct”. If that means saying stereotypes about minorities, then accept their views as sincere and engage them on the subject to show them they are being heard.

• We are all prone to stereotyping; it’s just human nature. And not just exclusively other races, but even other groups of people within our own race; be it rednecks or hipsters; jocks or nerds; artsy types or fraternity guys. We all do it. The difference is in our ability to see past it when it happens and to be openminded about the likelihood that we’re mistaken.

• I’m half-jokingly wondering if I’ll be unfriended by people after posting this 😉

• I say that last tongue-in-cheek, but I am concerned this post has something in it that might potentially offend everybody, white and black. I’ve been called “pompous” in my posts, and maybe this is true. I’m not trying to be, and I’m not trying to be holier-than-thou or condescending. These are just things I feel need to be said.

• I’m sure there’ s more thoughts floating around in my brain on this topic, but I might add them later as they come to the surface. You don’t have to agree with any of the above, but try to be openminded and consider whether or not there’s some merit to what I’ve said.

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