Dealing with Everyday Racism
Originally Published in the Reclaiming Quarterly #79, Summer 2000
Starting in 1992, the year I joined the Sojourner Truth Congregation of Unitarian Universalists, till 1999 when it ceased to meet as a congregation, I gave a series of lectures and sermons on the topics of racism, sexism, homophobia, and diversity. This particular talk started as an hour long lecture as part of our 1994 seminar series on African Americans and race relations. It was later shortened to a sermon and delivered to a suburban congregation the following year.
Mine was the last lecture in the series and the topic was chosen as a provocative ending to a hugely succesful six month run. When I sat down to write this talk, I realized that there was nothing about racism that wasn't everyday and every waking moment from my perspective. And that realization poignantly set the tone and tenor of my talk.
What audience should I address with this talk? Well, there is not much I can tell other African Americans or Native Americans about racism or how to deal with it. And I cannot speak for the experience of Asian, Latino, and other oppressed groups. We all, in some sense, deal with oppression every day of our lives and all of us have developed complicated strategies just to live out our everyday life. Each and every one of us is an expert on our oppression. No there is not much I can tell victims of racism about how to deal with it. I can only share my personal strategies in dialogue.
So if I cannot target my talk at victims of racism, maybe I should target my talk at people who benefit from racism. The problem is that most who benefit from racism, are not aware of it. There are no announcements, such as "We do this because you are not black", or "not Latino."The "For Whites Only"signs are gone, and just about no one uses the n-word in polite conversation nowadays. It is all very hush hush, buried in coded words, and under wraps.
So much in fact that many well meaning white people in this country sincerely believe that (a) racism is an isolated phenomenon restricted to poor uneducated whites and the Nation of Islam; (b) Black people have just as much access to opportunities as whites, although they seem not to take as much advantage of it; or my personal favorite (c) Black people are prone to immoral behavior but it's not their fault really it is a pathology caused by the anti poverty programs of the 60s and 70s'. So targeting a talk on dealing with racism to a group that doesn't even acknowledge it existence is kind of difficult.
It was when I contemplated these dilemmas and others, that I decided to focus my talk on strategies for allies. What is an ally? An ally is someone who although not the target of an oppression, is outraged by its existence and is willing to act on that outrage. We are all potentially allies in the struggle against oppression. We may not always know what to do, and sometimes what we do is not helpful, but our actions are rooted in a sincere wish to stop oppression. And so I am directing my talk to anyone who is or can be an ally in the fight to end racism.