White awakening: What we’ve missed

Photo of a black and white palm print on a frozen window.

Photo by Flickr user Simeon Berg

This text was originally posted by me on Twitter 2/24/2017 in reaction to this tweet by Vann R. Newkirk II, @fivefifthsTweet by Twitter user Vann R. Newkirk II, @fivefifths, that reads: "I think it's now more important than ever to interrogate the American institutions you hold dear. A lot of them were never that awesome."

As many of us white people are now awakening to the meanness, violence, and fear propagated by our current government, we need to remember that our country has a very long history of oppression and systemic racism. It was literally founded on it. And the meanness and fear we’re just discerning now has been suffered by and resisted by oppressed and marginalized people for centuries. My privilege has allowed me to avoid experiencing this oppression first-hand, and thus to avoid seeing and understanding it.

Willful ignorance.

To own up to that is not called guilt. It’s called empathy, responsibility, humanity, compassion, a willingness to care and learn. And it also requires understanding the difference between individual racism/transphobia/x-ism, and systemic racism/transphobia/x-ism. “I have black/latinx/etc. friends” and “my country is founded on and systemically oppresses black and brown people” can and do very happily coexist. “I’m nice to trans people” and “My country’s leadership does/says things that put trans people’s lives at great risk” can and do very happily coexist. In fact, not understanding that these things are not antithetical is what allows the systemic oppression to flourish.

Again, willful ignorance.

So as many of us are now coming to awareness of the power and willingness of our government to oppress in dreadful ways, let’s recognize that for many, this has always been manifest, and they and their communities have suffered horrendously. Let those of us awakening to this fact recognize our growth and continue it. But let’s also humbly recognize that we’re late to the game and own the responsibility to inform ourselves, learn from oppressed communities, listen to the experiences of others, and not be dramatically performative about our shock! shock! as we recognize the truth that has always been there.

To be shocked is to have been ignorant of the truth that we were spared because of a system that relies on that ignorance. Let’s appreciate our awareness and growth, but combine that with a generosity and openness to what others have to teach us about what we’ve missed.