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"Detour-Spotting," Jona Olsson's commendable essay listing the various reasons why white people, many of whom are very well meaning, well-intentioned supporters of equality among all Americans, can't seem to get a handle on helping stop racism is worth reading on its own. I have been taking each one of her points and giving it a separate essay, primarily because each one deserves a closer look. But I'm also doing it this way because it's a lot to handle in one swallow, especially for people who are not as familiar with many of these concepts as minorities have been. It's helpful to remember that if you aren't aware of an oppression, you might not even believe it exists until you start to hear from those who have suffered it. And even after your first exposure, you still might not fully comprehend that this is real, and not some imagining on the part of the complainer.

We have covered a lot of topics so far and I have to say, it would be bad if the issues already discussed were all of the ones we have to deal with when it comes to our failure of having our mythical discussion of race in America. But we're not even close to being halfway through this list. With that in mind, let's not waste more time... here's today's topic:

10) The End Run, Escapism

“Of course, racism is terrible, but what about sexism? or classism? or heterosexism?” or “Racism is a result of classism (or choose any other oppression,) so if we just work on that, racism will end, too.”


Reality Check and Consequence

I agree with Audre Lorde’s statement, “There is no hierarchy of oppression.” I would not establish a rank order for oppressions. At the same time, we cannot attempt to evade recognition and responsibility for any form of oppression. Statements like the ones above divert attention away from racial injustice to focus on some other form of oppression. They are usually said by white people (women, working class people, Lesbians, gay men or others) who experience both white privilege and oppression in some form. We are all more willing and more comfortable decrying our oppression than scrutinizing our privilege. Oppressions are so inextricably linked that if we allow our fear, guilt and denial to constantly divert us from confronting racism, even while we work to dismantle other forms, no oppression will ever be dismantled.



When we talk about racism, where white people and black people are discussing this issue with each other (a situation that really isn't as common a circumstance as any of us might believe), the initial reaction from white people is sometimes a posture of defense, as we have seen from Ms. Olsson's point titled "Don't Blame Me." It can then slide into "Bootstrap Theory" or "Reverse Racism." But if it goes to "But What About Me," the argument connected with today's topic is often the next point made: "I have endured homophobia and I manage to still do well in life." "I have had a very tough time because of sexism, but I have succeeded because I didn't let that stop me."

While the elements of the struggles each individual faces are notable, comparing those struggles, and worse, suggesting that overcoming one means you should be able to handle another, is neither fair nor accurate. But the bigger problem here is the diversion that occurs when someone makes those points. Instead of talking about racism, which was the intended discussion point, we're suddenly talking about an issue that is off-topic. And that is by design.

As Ms. Olsson points out, "We are all more willing and more comfortable decrying our oppression than scrutinizing our privilege."

And this discussion about racism is not at all "comfortable." Some white people are still likely concerned they'll have to find a way to give every black person in America forty acres of land and a mule or more seriously, might simply think that black people expect that reward somehow (no, that isn't expected, btw).

We are dealing with white people who implicitly understand they do have an advantage over black people in this country, and yet if anything is mentioned, they are the ones feeling personally blamed for a situation that has been going on for decades, and one that will continue the longer we delay in discussing it. But we can't seem to discuss it because white people feel personally blamed. That is the paradox we face when it comes to racism. Again, we can't possibly get to fix it if we can't even talk about it. And, from the discomfort talking about it causes white people, we still don't seem quite ready to talk yet.

I guess the question is when is there a good time to talk about racism? It's like asking when is there a good time to discuss gun control. You can't do it after a mass shooting. It's too emotional. You can't do it when there's no murders happening. Everything is fine. So, we continue on with nothing changed except the names of the latest victims and the grieving parents or fiances or spouses or children... and that's on both counts: gun control AND racism.

To state it directly, a case of white discomfort when discussing racism is preventing the talk that could potentially save black lives.

That's a tough fact to know.


Previous thinkposts in this series:

1. Day One - I'm Colorblind
2. Day Two - Bootstrap Theory
3. Day Three - Reverse Racism
4. Day Four - Blame The Victim
5. Day Five - The White Knight
6. Day Six - Lighten Up
7. Day Seven - Don't Blame Me
8. Day Eight - BWAME
9. Day Nine - We Have Overcome

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
penpusher
Aug. 2nd, 2016 02:30 pm (UTC)
Coming from a journalist of your caliber, this is very high praise indeed. Thank you for taking some time to follow along and for a wonderful compliment.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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