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The reason racism is so difficult to deal with for minorities who are on the receiving end, is painfully obvious. But why it's challenging for white people to understand is really what this series is about. Jona Olsson's important Detour-Spotting essay is a comprehensive listing of the excuses our society has collectively offered up for why we have made no significant movement in the age-old issue of race in America.

While yesterday's topic was a pretty easy one to understand, today's issue is a much more complex one.

18) The Isolationist

“I thought we resolved this issue (racism) when it came up on the board last year.” or “We need to deal with this specific incident. Let’s not complicate it by bringing other irrelevant issues into it.” or “This incident only happened today because the TV news last night showed police beating that Black kid.”

Reality Check and Consequence

Attempts are made to isolate a particular incident of racism from of the larger context. We blame a publicized incident of racism outside our organization to rationalize an internal incident and to avoid facing the reality of racism within. When trying to resolve an accusation of racism within an institution, we often see the incident in a vacuum, or as an aberration, in isolation from an historic pattern of racism in this institution and nation. Racism has been institutionalized so that every “incident” is another symptom of the pattern. When we continue to react incident-to-incident, crisis-to-crisis, as though they are unconnected, we will find genuine resolution only further from our reach.

When white people discuss racism, there are several problems that occur. The first, of course, is they have never experienced racism, so they have no real context for what it is. Because of that missing context, their view of what racism is, how it works and what it does is also skewed. And because they don't have any real sense of the elements that racism creates, they view any issues of racism as singular cases, as anomalies, or possibly as not being racism at all.

This is what we're talking about with Ms. Olsson's point for today. If you don't believe racism exists, you aren't going to view any case of racism as what it actually is. That's another reason why discussing race in America is so incredibly challenging. It's like attempting to communicate meaning to the people we must speak with in a language they do not comprehend.

We, as a society, have to understand some basic things. One of these would be: if someone is unfamiliar with a topic, they should yield their opinions to those who are familiar. Certainly a patient wouldn't advise a doctor on how to treat their illness. Same thing here. Minorities are the ones who are expert at what racism is. But, all too frequently, white people give their opinion on what they believe racism to be, which can then dissolve into the argument about "reverse racism" or other points we have previously discussed in this series.

Additionally, white people may take any accusations of racism as a personal attack, meaning that they feel they are the ones being blamed, when, what needs to be examined are the institutionalized elements that have been causing the problem. You can begin to see how various elements of the points on Ms. Olsson's essay, work in concert to block many of our chances of discussing racism in any useful way.

If you take each incident as a separate issue, unrelated to any other trend or system, it's much easier to characterize them as being something other than racism. That is what is desired by many white people, who are either simply tired of discussing race (even if they haven't actually had that conversation), want to deflect any blame or feelings of guilt in the circumstances of others, or perhaps want to make examples of the people who were victimized, as a method of justifying their beliefs.

This is where we have that communications gap. How do we get beyond these issues?

It will take work - energy and thought and a serious step back from ego. We have to listen to the experts and not attempt to drown them out when they tell their truths. We have to look at the overall picture, not at any one individual case, and understand how it fits into the concept of the narrative of racism overall.

But will we?

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

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