It's Not Our Job: An Open Letter To Well-Meaning White People Who Might Be Racist But Aren't Sure
If you have to ask...
Dear well-meaning white people who want me to tell them if they are racist,
For hundreds of years, black people have been burdened with the task of educating white people. We have served as the gatekeepers for your ignorance, dangerous lack of racial awareness, and covert and overt acts of racism far too long. There have been numerous times in my life when I have called attention to prejudice and implicit bias only to hear "Wow, I didn't know that." or "That was not my intention." Following their come to Jesus revelation, the white person in question often agrees to change their actions and commits to being more “inclusive”...at least until the opportunity presents itself for them to once again say or do something they "didn't know was racist." In this millennial age, my patience for racial illiteracy and blind intentions is wearing thin.
Well-meaning white people expect black people to know exactly how to deal with plaguing racial injustices and to "call them out" if they do something that perpetuates systems of white supremacy. They wait until they have been caught engaging in racist acts to admit wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness and mercy. While this is an easy and painless cycle for white individuals, it is tiring, traumatic, and hurtful for black people.
Let me make this abundantly clear: black people do not go out of their way to educate white people on their microaggressions, microassaults, and other "unknown" sources of underlying racism for the benefit of white people. We do it for ourselves. We do it for our own protection because we know that white people are inevitably complacent with their power and with systems of white supremacy. We know that if we do not educate white people on their racism that they will continue to say and do things that hurt us, oppress us, and kill us. We educate white people for safety...not for service.
Because it is a popular belief that conversations on race and social justice are difficult to have, allow me to make a fluffy analogy for your fragile comfort. When two consenting parents decide to bring a new child into the world, there are several preliminary actions they will take to ensure their ability to nurture and support the child. Some parents may choose to take "new baby" classes at a local community center. Others may read dozens of books and articles on infant and childhood development. Some may even play Beethoven to the unborn child, in hopes that they will develop into a musical prodigy.
It is universally understood that because these parents chose to have this baby, they are responsible for providing the baby with all the resources needed to thrive. When the baby is crying, a parent will do everything in their power to ensure its safety and comfort. The parents know that the baby cannot effectively communicate the issue because the baby has not yet learned how to speak their language. The parents take on the burden to fix the problem.
As the child grows older and wiser, eventually reaching adulthood, the parent-child dynamic must change. The child no longer needs to depend on the parents and can now see the world from their own perspective. Even after the child has learned to effectively speak the language and defend themself against their parents’ previous and current wrongdoings, many (mostly other parents) will still shame the child arguing that no matter how old the child gets the parents still have positional power. While the child is fully aware of their independence and legal adulthood, the parents are reluctant to recognize this or view them as anything other than their “baby”.
In case you haven’t made the connection for yourself: this is how black people are treated in America. Although the master-slave dynamic legally no longer exists, many white people continue to engage in racist and derogatory acts. Acts that are as American as apple pie. Why is it that white people are responsible for our being here, but expect us to tell them how we should be treated? White people are the ones who consciously decided to take black people from Africa and force us into slavery for their own selfish benefit. They expect us to fight for our own justice inside of a system where we have no power, a system that was created to oppress our existence, and a system with no intended termination date. How is it that black people have been nominated for this job and are held responsible for dismantling racist systems when they were created by and for white people?
The cost-benefit principle of economics states that rational people will not take any action unless the benefit is greater than the cost. White people have made it clear that the benefit of maintaining racist systems is greater than the cost of their eradication. Apparently, racial equity is too expensive to bargain so white people instead continue to purchase the off-brand substitute, racial “tolerance”.
Before we move further, I need to address what some of you are bound to be thinking. Yes, maybe your direct ancestors did not own slaves, however, you don't have to be a parent to abuse children. White people, regardless of family heritage, benefit entirely from white privilege and are more than capable of being racist individuals, intentionally or not.
Just like a baby will keep crying until they are fed, black people have been crying out. We have been crying for hundreds of years because we are still in pain. The fight for racial equity has not let up because we will not and can not let go. Black people will continue to cry out until we have been fed the feast of justice on a platter lined with reparations. If white people stopped asking "how soon will it be over?" and instead started asking "how soon can we help?", there would be no stop to our progress.
Here’s the point: It’s not our job to educate you...it’s your own. We do it because we have to, not because we want to.
I am fully aware that white individuals reading this letter are uncomfortable. It is possible that some were unable to get to this point. You are allowed to experience discomfort and if you want to join our fight you will run towards it. Sadly, the story of black people in America is a story of discomfort from the very beginning, be it chained to a ship, on a plantation, hanging from a tree, marching down a street, or burying our children. We are experts of discomfort. Despite this, many black people have reached levels of success and acclaim our ancestors couldn’t have dreamed or imagined on their best days. Although we continue to build this country and carry its burdens on our back, overall, we as a people have not benefited from the labor.
So, as you begin to analyze and ponder what I’ve said in hopes of finding glaring faults, distracting you from the purpose of this piece, please hear me clearly. If you want me to tell you whether or not you are racist, either directly or indirectly, the answer is yes...yes you are. It is a fervid yes because you are requiring me to do the work for you when you are fully capable of doing it for yourself. This is the summit’s peak of white privilege where the comforting nest of white supremacy is cradled for safe-keeping. You are asking me to make your life easier pro bono while simultaneously occupying my time and requiring my emotional labor.
Why then do I continue to entertain your wonder and inform you of your shortcomings? Because blackness and sacrifice are synonymous. I will take the pain, do the labor, and face the trauma if that means you won’t be able to cause the same to members of my community or my family. If white people, since the beginning of time, can take land, take people, and take resources, then they can take time to educate themselves and answer their own questions.
A well-meaning black person who won’t tell you what you want but what you need.
P.S. - I do not write this letter on behalf of all black people past, present, and/or future, but as an individual with his own singular experiences. Blackness is not monolithic and to assume that we all have the same beliefs, thoughts, and values is to support a racist ideology. Additionally, do not assume that because I only spoke of injustices directly impacting Black people that I am not concerned with or informed on those issues facing other racial minorities as well as women and members of the LGBTQIA community. I spoke my truth and my experience because that is the most authentic voice I have.