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Detour-Spotting is a challenge. Jona Olsson's essay requires everyone to face the facts that even when we intend to accomplish positive movement in the fight to end racism, we may not actually be making any progress at all. Today's topic is one I promised I would get back to examine on the very first day of this series of thinkposts.

26) The “Certificate of Innocence”

Some times we seek or expect from people of color some public or private recognition and appreciation for our anti-racism. Other times we are looking for a “certificate of innocence” telling us we are one of the good white people.


Reality Check and Consequence

If our ally commitment depends on positive reinforcement from people of color, we set ourselves up for sure failure. The first time a person of color is displeased with our actions, we could respond, “Well, if the very people I’m doing all this for don’t want my help, then why bother?” Clearly, we’re challenging racism for “them” not for us. We have not identified our self-interest, as a white person, for fighting racism. Until we do, we will not be able to sustain this lifelong journey.


When I began this examination of Ms. Olsson's essay, we had a lot of ground to cover, as we examined her personal history with racism and with the first topic of discussion. But in the midst of all that, I wanted to make one clear point. I said:

good work on avoiding racism really doesn't DESERVE praise from people who would otherwise suffer from it. This is a trap that many anti-racists fall into: the expectation of reward for not being racist.

While we discussed the concept of expecting some sort of "fair trade" concept for white people who offer support to minorities in yesterday's topic, that thought is somewhat related to this concept of looking for constant praise, rewards and ego stroking to encourage anti racists to continue to move forward.

Again, that's wrong.

If you see racism as an "opportunity" to do a little self-aggrandizing, you really don't understand any of this.

But this takes us back to the point of how white people perceive racism and what they think it is, based on their own limited perspective rather than listening to what those that experience it are saying about it. If your view of racism is just something "annoying" that you can "get over" in a day or two, it would make sense that you perceive it as something like a game.

Reflecting on today's point, we should remember that our culture has been one of instant gratification for decades: that somehow there needs to be a treat for everything we do that isn't in our comfort zone. That could spell trouble because there won't always be a direct reward for every white person's selfless act against racism as we work to clear these problems. If rewards must continually be doled out for every step forward, there is going to be disappointment, at best.

Again, we must look at middle and lower class white people who are the ones who likely feel disenfranchised, afraid or even angry over any attention given to minorities when it comes to this. It really does make sense that this is the sticking point. If there is success, there is no need to view other people as a cause of failure. But if there is a struggle, if things are not as easy or as pleasant as one would hope, there is a need to place blame. So, it's within that framework that we are attempting to have a conversation about race in America, when there is a whole group of people who are perpetuating it because they feel like this is benefiting them somehow, that they are doing something right, that they are doing this for their own survival and have no choice in the matter.

So, even if poor or lower/middle class white people do step up and support minorities, their efforts could be muted by family and friends who see that as going against their best interests. But this is the continuing problem: when people are in a desperate situation, you can't use logic, common sense or reasonable arguments to help them see what's going on, and that is a big reason why we aren't making any progress. It's how superstition, tradition and standard practice work to assure that no work gets accomplished in stopping racism for that segment of our population, and that can bleed into other areas as well, where people outside of the group focused on the oppression of minorities might get caught up in the machinery too.

How do we fix that mindset, when there are so many mechanisms that are there to make sure it stays in place? That it validates and informs people of what they should be doing? That it causes people to think that they are "giving up" their "rights" when all they are doing is treating their fellow citizens like the humans that they are?





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
20. Day 20 - Teach Me
21. Day 21 - White on White
22. Day 22 - Smoke and Mirrors
23. Day 23 - Personal Work
24. Day 24 - Whites Only
25. Day 25 - The Accountant

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