The Racism Virus: Questions for White People to Ask Ourselves by Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead
Like many white people in our nation and world, I’ve been thinking about the tragic, senseless murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. As I think about these men and their families, I am reminded that their deaths are just two of the murders in recent weeks that made national headlines. I have been listening to the voices of people of color and trying to learn from their stories, perspectives, and pleas for action and justice. As a white person, I should do more listening and learning. I believe we all should.
A couple of nights ago, CNN anchor Don Lemon began his show with: “I say we have two viruses in this country right now. We have COVID-19 and we have racism 2020 … The two viruses that are infecting our society and killing people. And we need to deal with both of them.”
It’s important for white people, myself included, to listen to such statements and to self-reflect. It’s important to consider the kinds of humans and citizens we aim to be. We must ask ourselves important questions and answer honestly:
- How many of us have considered the differences between racism and prejudice?
- How many of us are still saying “I don’t see color?”
- Have we reflected on our white privilege and the benefits it provides?
- Do we call out racism when we see it?
- Do you believe the public would have learned of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder if a video had not been released?
- How did you feel when watching the video of the officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck? Were you horrified? Did you think, “This is not America?” Did you wonder what Mr. Floyd had done prior to the video?
- Did you share information or images on social media of Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling, the looting in Minneapolis, Floyd’s killing, or Arbery’s murder? What was the intent of your post?
- What evokes stronger emotions for you: Seeing looters at Target or seeing a cop kneel on a black man’s neck for 8 plus minutes while he begs for his life?
- Have you ever rioted following a sporting event? Have you seen other sports fans do so? Have you considered what sports fans are trying to achieve when they riot?
- Do you discuss where/when/how people of color should protest? Do you listen when they express their motivations? Have you considered what people of color are trying to achieve when they riot?
- Do you cross the street or clutch your purse or lock your car doors when you encounter a black person?
- Do you see yourself as better than people of color? If not, do you care enough about their experiences in our country to do something?
In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote “… the white people of America believe they have so little to learn...” Upon reflecting on our answers to the questions above, I hope we will choose to listen more; we have so much to learn. Racism has not gotten worse since Dr. King penned those words 53 years ago; technology has gotten better. We have the ability to record injustice when it happens now; we have the ability to share it quickly and widely, which sometimes (though certainly not always) leads to action, as in the Arbery case (arrests were not made until the video went viral and people demanded justice).
I often think, and say, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” I’m not an expert on any of this and don’t pretend to be, but I am outraged. What if more white people were? We white people need to play a role in the dismantling of racism. We must acknowledge our white privilege and the benefits it affords us. We must check our privilege. We must speak up. I know I can better use my privilege to call out racism when I see it and be more active in my activism. It’s not enough to be “not racist;” we must be anti-racist.*
Please find some anti-racism resources (and definitions) below. This list doesn’t feel like nearly enough, but it may be a good place to begin:
- Colorblindness Is a Form of Racism, a Nemesis and a Barrier to Dismantling It
- Beyond the Hashtag: How to Take Anti-Racist Action in Your Life
- Martin Luther King Jr. Was More Radical Than We Remember
- Don Lemon Says There's Two Viruses Killing Americans: COVID-19 and Racism
- How to Be an Antiracist (Audiobook Picks)
- Community Anti-Racism Education Initiative (C.A.R.E.)
- 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice
- Amy Cooper Is the Kind of White Woman Black Families Warn Their Children About
- Anti-Racism Resources
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