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I think there are a couple of really crucial points to keep in mind, as we go through Jona Olsson's essay, Detour-Spotting. The first is that racism isn't something that any white people who are currently living created. So, this isn't exactly a litany against them. Rather, we are examining their willingness to listen to what is being said to them, and how they react to it.

But we do need to look at the elements of those reactions, which is what we are gauging when we go through this list of reasons we haven't properly dealt with the long-standing issue of racism. Today's topic is one that is all too familiar.

20) Teach Me or Help Me, I’m Stuck

“I want to stop acting like a racist, so please tell me when I do something you think is racist.” (Spoken to a person of color.)


Reality Check and Consequence

White people often assume that they can learn about racism only from people of color. We further assume that people of color have the energy and/or desire to do this teaching. My understanding is that most people of color are weary of educating white people about racism.

We will get stuck. We’ll get frustrated and impatient with ourselves and other white people in this struggle. We’ll stay stuck if we don’t seek help from other white anti-racists. Our inclination in the past has been to ask people of color to help us. We should seek out other white people BEFORE we go to people of color. Perhaps, as we become more trustworthy as allies, we will build genuine relationships with a few people of color who will offer their reflections for us when we get stuck. But this is at their discretion, not ours. We can’t assume or act as though people of color should be so grateful for our attempts at anti-racism, that they will be willing to guide us whenever we are ready to be guided.


You know, teaching has been severely undervalued in this nation. We hear it frequently: it's tough to find good teachers. And, when it comes to racism, asking for a teacher may well serve as another method of derailing the conversation.

Here's what I see. If you constantly have to ask if you're doing something wrong, you don't have to bear the responsibility of actually knowing what is and is not appropriate. So, you can just do whatever you want and check in later about whether or not it was racist with someone you trust to tell you. That's about as lazy and uncaring as can be.

Waiting to be told by some instructor how to avoid being racist is not an appropriate way to handle the circumstance and could create twice as many issues, as the annoyance of a bad comment or action gives way to needing an explanation of just how and why it was offensive.

Again, this is a simple case of not feeling the need to do the leg work. It apparently is not something that matters deeply to some white people to find that research on their own, so, rather than knowing, they just go ahead and take a chance that the joke they think is so funny won't be heard the wrong way, or that they just absolutely must use a stereotype to reference how a person looks in the course of their commentary.

Ms. Olsson is correct. There has been a never-ending amount of teaching that has occurred, certainly since the Civil Rights Act became law. And the problem is that the learning somehow never seems to stick, so the lessons are remedial, we go over the same issues week after week, year after year, generation after generation, It never ends. There doesn't seem to be any way to get to a point where minorities aren't handing out instructions on how to treat a fellow human being.

If we constantly have to stop and explain, that's time taken from our lives to correct a mistake you should have learned on your own. We all are working with a limited amount of time, so it's not fair to make a minority person that has been offended by a so-called ignorant white person spend part of their life correcting that. If it's important enough, you can do the research and figure it out.

It should be important enough.



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
10. Day Ten - The End Run
11. Day Eleven - Due Process
12. Day Twelve - By Association
13. Day Thirteen - The Penitent
14. Day Fourteen - White Wash
15. Day Fifteen - Not Here

XX. Intermission

16. Day Sixteen - Former Life
17. Day 17 - Straightening Up
18. Day 18 - The Isolationist
19. Day 19 - Blackwards

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