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"Detour-Spotting" relies on the understanding that we are, all of us, together, unable or unwilling to take a clear look at our racist society, what it is doing to citizens of every sort and how that changes both the individual lives of people and the direction that we are going collectively as a nation.

There are a lot of people that don't want to believe this, and have used many of the excuses we have already named as support for why they think racism is not an actual problem anymore. But there are still a lot more areas to explore in Jona Olsson's essay. Here is today's topic:

14) The White Wash

“He’s really a very nice guy, he’s just had some bad experiences with Koreans.” or “That’s just the way Uncle Adolf jokes. He’s very polite to the Black janitor in his building.”


Reality Check and Consequence

This “detour” is another manifestation of our guilt. We attempt to excuse, defend or cover up the racist actions of other white people. We are particularly prone to this if the other person is a family member or friend, or if we feel their actions may reflect on us.


Uncle Adolf. That's cute. I previously wrote an essay on my Tumblr account suggesting that the vast majority of white people will fall into one of four different categories when it comes to this issue, each one beginning with one of the letters of B.A.R.E. - B for Blind - people that neither have any dealing with racism, nor actually see any racism in anything that happens. A for Aware - people that understand the we are all human beings and that no one is better or worse, just that we have had differing experiences of life. R, obviously for Racists - people who believe white people are superior and black people are inferior. And E, which is the group we need to note as crucial to today's topic: Enablers.

In an earlier essay in this series, I made the point that the choices we make and the things we do are based on the atmosphere of the culture we collectively live within. Whipping a slave who didn't perform up to expected behavior was perfectly acceptable if the majority of people involved in society agreed that it was so, or at the very least, did not speak out against those that did it. So, while we in 2016 would balk at someone breaking a heavy wood cane over the back of a slave they owned because those hundred pound sacks of grain weren't carried to the storage house quickly enough back in 1850, nobody at that time suggested that this was bad or that the master should even be criticized for such action, because that was how things were done. After all, it's not our place to tell someone how to treat their own property.

It cannot be underestimated how devastating enablers are when it comes to perpetuating racism in our society. Enablers can be blind, unable to see the issues of race and how they function clearly. But I suspect more of them know that racism and the behaviors associated with it are wrong. They just choose not to do anything about it. Perhaps they feel unable to speak out against someone they care about, a person who provides them with safety and security, love and tenderness. Maybe they are afraid of retribution themselves if they stand against racist behaviors and prefer to let them vent against a group of people they don't know and have no intention of ever meeting. Possibly it's just a case of being almost racist themselves, but not quite ready to go that far.

No matter what the reasoning, enablers allow the racist behavior to continue without criticism and instead of being corrected to act like a reasonable human being, the racist becomes emboldened, and continues or maybe even expands their racist beliefs. Maybe they recruit friends and set up an online chat board or meet in a neighbor's basement to discuss these issues. It becomes an empowering element in their lives.

To me, this is the most horrific fact about racism: at any point between the Emancipation Proclamation and the moment you are reading these words, racism could have ended completely. If everyone finally agreed that this is wrong, that it flies in the face of everything we claim is human, it violates the concepts of the Constitution (never mind that the Founding Fathers owned slaves themselves - we can do better than that), and it creates a vast number of problems for everyone in our world, racism would be over.

Clearly, that isn't what is happening. A big reason why it has not is due to enablers, the "swing votes" when it comes to racism. Honestly, I don't expect many enablers to speak out that strongly against racism. Everyone is trying to live their lives as best they can, and many of the people who might take a stand against this would be risking relationships, their homes, maybe even their own lives to fight for a cause that, though just and correct, isn't going to necessarily benefit them in the short term. I understand that completely.

But there are enablers who aren't in a position like that - parents of kids who display hateful tendencies, teachers who observe comments on the schoolyard or in the cafeteria or locker room, counselors who know too well how anger and abuse can turn into pride and power. It is the enablers in those positions who are implicit in allowing this kind of behavior to continue.

And really, the frightening thing that seems to be happening is that people are feeling comfortable enough to say some pretty horrible things to their fellow human beings - on social media, at political rallies, even face to face. That suggests that enablers have decided to take a long coffee break. The hate is starting to percolate.

Looking at this particular issue allows us to realize just how intricate the web of racism actually is when it comes to rooting it out, how backbreaking finding all of the sources are and how unsolvable putting a stop to it seems to be. There are so many elements, so many people involved, so many excuses to deflect and to divert that just getting to a point where we can have a rational conversation about racism is an exhausting effort. But that's still all by design. If we can't weave our way through the labyrinth to a place where we can talk about racism, we can never, ever hope to end it.

Yes, we know Uncle Adolf is wrong. But if we aren't the ones to tell him, he might try to use his ideas to take over the world.


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

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