Racism exists, and I have the scars to prove it.
But when we hear a racist remark, it doesn’t automatically mean this person is a Nazi who reads Mein Kampf for breakfast. When we confront racism, we often confuse “overbearing Hollywood-type racist portrayed in movies” with buried, implicit, culturally conditioned racist attitudes. It means that most of us have layers of systemic, racist dogma that have been indoctrinated over years of apathy and ignorance.
If we attack racism with the force of a sledgehammer, it’ll preach to the choir and win internet-points — but it will change no one. We need the subtle skill of a surgeon to extract and kill a racist attitude. It doesn’t mean we’re pampering or wearing kid-gloves. It doesn’t mean we overlook the very real violence of hate crimes and racist-affirming groups. But all throughout history, the undercurrent of culturally ingrained racism was dismantled by patience, firm conviction, and open dialogue. It’s how Daryl Davis, a black musician, effectively helped to end the Ku Klux Klan in Maryland. (Give the podcast a listen, it’s incredibly moving.)
The reason I believe Martin Luther King Jr. had such a sweeping effect on our national psyche is because he managed to be both compassionate and just. He asked the right questions and navigated with the right surgical touch. He reached across dividing lines to the people in authority and was able to negotiate without haranguing them. He believed that people could change: not by smug, snarky, sarcastic eye-rolling or throwing lyrical grenades over a fence, but by challenging others on common ground without capitulating to hateful, reactionary methods.
Systematic change began when someone entered the system through wisdom instead of slamming against it from the gates — and I believe we can be wise enough to do this today.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the patience or perseverance. Here’s the truth. Most bloggers are using Social Justice and “cued buzzwords” to go viral and get attention. It doesn’t help anyone and it only diminishes the actual issue of racism. It turns it into a circus carnival, and I’m begging you: if you’re another blogger who just randomly reblogs SJ stuff with zero context or care, then please stop. We need more depth and not shallow sound-bites. You’re actually parodying the whole thing into a laughable hand-wave.
It’s almost impossible to gain any traction with guerilla tactics online or even face-to-face. It’s simply yelling as loudly as possible to point at our own platforms. And I’m saying this for every side. We all do this. I think the majority of Social Justice bloggers are making it worse.
If MLK was a blogger today, I think he would be embarrassed and ashamed to see that no one was trying to reach outside their polarized box; he would see a lot of little unorganized choirs with zero consensus squabbling for each other’s attention and then closing their browsers to watch the next episode of the Kardashians. MLK, Gandhi, Thich Nhat Han, Mother Teresa, and Jesus would all see blindness, on every side, and most of all, starting with me.
Here’s what I suggest if you’re talking to someone who might be racist or blind to their own racism. It’s a modified hybrid of Aristotelian philosophy and Jesus’s approach to wealthy upper-class men.
We can ask two questions.
1) What do you mean by that?
2) Why do you believe that?
When we only make propositional statements from opinions, we immediately put another person on their automatic preprogrammed defense. I’m not above this; I do it too. It goes nowhere. You can’t possibly peel back years and layers of racism in another person during a heated exchanged of ideas versus ideas.
But when you ask questions about a person’s belief, several good things happen. You then put the other person on equal footing so they can explain themselves, and instead of defending, they’re now confessing.
The hope is that they’ll hear their own ideas out loud as you continue to ask “what” and “why,” and they’ll realize that their own ideas are not as sound as they had once believed. It’ll start to sound silly, even to them. I can almost guarantee you that most people have never been openly challenged this way and have only perpetuated their ideas with like-minded people. By questioning them, you are entering softly while still turning over stones.
This is not a trick, by the way. People can tell when you’re pulling a fast one. People can tell when you don’t love them or you’re using a formula. So please do love them. And be open to hearing them out, because maybe they have a painful story behind their anger and prejudice. Maybe they simply need to tell it to be set free.
It’s easy to stand up for something.
There are enough soapboxes to go around.
I’m waiting for the person who will actually kneel down with me in the trenches, roll up his sleeves, and hurt with me.
I’m waiting for the one who will listen to my story as a victim of racial abuse and prejudice.
I’m not interested in debating, because talk is a cheap dress that you can buy with a free blog in your basement, and I’m done with people preaching pretty words without doing what they preach first.
I hope we can each take a long real look at our own platforms, and then ask, “If the ‘other side’ had my exact tone and argumentation and methods, would I even care to read them? Would I even listen to myself?”
That sort of self-honesty is painful: but so it begins the way to healing.