A not-so-imaginary conversation goes this way after I don my BLACK LIVES MATTER t-shirt.
Elderly white friend: “Why are you wearing that t-shirt? The message offends me because All Lives Matter.”
Lora: “Of course all lives are important and deserve equal respect and love. BLACK LIVES MATTER doesn’t mean the lives of African Americans are more important than the lives of white people. It simply means we (all of us) need to pay attention to what’s happening to black people. It’s a wake up call.”
Elderly white friend: “Well, the phrase (BLACK LIVES MATTER) is so divisive. I think it undermines what protesters are trying to do, to bring justice to the victims and heal wounds. BLACK LIVES MATTER is not a healing or unifying message.”
Lora: (thinking, but not saying, that the sensibilities of white folks doesn’t really matter in this context) “Think of it this way. All the houses in your neighborhood are equally important but the house at the end of the block is on fire. Should the fire department respond to all of the houses, or to the house on fire?”
Elderly white friend: “That’s a silly analogy and doesn’t fit what we’re talking about.”
Lora: “Yes it does! In every aspect of life in America (family wealth, real estate, educational achievements, criminal justice, health outcomes, etc.) the objective measurements show that African Americans don’t matter as much as white Americans. Their house is on fire while the rest of us are oblivious.”
Elderly white friend: “It’s complicated and there are many reasons for the disparities you’re talking about.”
Lora: “It boils down to systemic racism that permeates our institutions, our laws, even the way we think and act. It goes deep, it goes wide, but healing begins by talking about it.”
This not-so-imaginary conversation happens every day in every community but most Americans prefer to avoid it. If we can’t even talk about the reality of the black experience in the United States, how do we begin to address the systemic injustices?
I’m trying to learn how to talk about it, to educate myself, to not shy away from having the tough, uncomfortable conversations.
My education begins with this podcast recommended to me by a friend from Malaysia. Seeing White on Scene on Radio. All 14 episodes are available here. I’m half way through and plan to listen to the entire production. I highly recommend it to all of my white friends, whether you think you’re “woke” or not.
Seeing White — Just what is going on with white people? Police shootings of unarmed African Americans. Acts of domestic terrorism by white supremacists. The renewed embrace of raw, undisguised white-identity politics. Unending racial inequity in schools, housing, criminal justice, and hiring. Some of this feels new, but in truth it’s an old story.
Why? Where did the notion of “whiteness” come from? What does it mean? What is whiteness for?
Scene on Radio host and producer John Biewen took a deep dive into these questions, along with an array of leading scholars and regular guest Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, in this fourteen-part documentary series, released between February and August 2017. The series editor is Loretta Williams