Recently I have been inspired by the possibility that love holds and encompasses – in particular, within the context of racism. Bell Hooks writes in her book All About Love: New Visions, “To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients – care, affection, recognition, commitment and trust, as well as honest and open communication.”
This definition of love got me thinking about how many people who are part of the so-called “dominant” group do not discuss matters concerning race or racism. Often, when such conversations do take place, they are driven by fear, ignorance and guilt.
Although many people believe that race is socially constructed and truly does not exist, it is important that people who identify themselves as white come to terms with the fact that even the option of examining racism is a “privilege.” It is also important to acknowledge that a large part of Americans deal with racism on a daily basis, but not because they want to.
Thus, the “privilege” does not mean it is acceptable to turn a blind eye to racism – regardless of whether someone personally experiences its external consequences, everyone is negatively affected by racism. By taking responsibility, it allows society autonomy to heal and to make open connections with everyone in the world.
Last summer, while working at a camp with an anti-racist agenda, I participated for the first time in formal “white ally” meetings and caucuses. I use the term “white ally” to refer to the people who you can turn to for support, guidance and confidentiality about race. It is a person or group interested in social justice and ending racism, and is willing to openly discuss personal feelings, experiences and fears on the topic of race. Being part of a white ally group does not mean that you can’t talk to other people about racism, but it is a place where individuals may learn the appropriate language to do so.
It was during those white ally meetings in Vermont that I got my first taste of how pervasive racism really is. Coming from a very diverse neighborhood in Chicago, I was astonished by how uncomfortable, fearful, guilty and angry many of my peers were. Mostly, I was surprised by the fact that a majority of them had never discussed racism before, let alone what being white meant to them.
I say this not to sound self-righteous or to make other white people feel guilty, but to point out that, however awkward or hard it may be, it is essential that such conversations start taking place. These conversations do not have to be in formal settings but can happen anywhere – with friends, family or strangers.
In my life, there have been many times where I have heard another white person say something that was racist – and I didn’t say anything. The way my heart felt was not matching up with my actions. It is only now that I realize the importance of using one’s voice and listening to one’s heart and saying, “That really is not OK.” Avoiding conflict by not saying anything is essentially condoning racism.
It is necessary to note that such anti-racist actions do not come from an “I’m going to save the world” standpoint, but rather from the simple knowledge that racism is an oppressive force that hurts everyone, with some experiencing the external consequences firsthand – and that is simply not OK. Until white people are unashamed to speak openly about racial issues, they will not be able to get past this type of dualistic “us and them” thinking that is not helping to contribute to the evolution of humans.
Every morning’s awakening provides a choice to love. Graduate student Christopher Chell, who is part of the Multicultural Center at USF, said, “Diversity is a fact of life.”
Examining race and racism is just one way everyone can make a conscious choice to open up their hearts and minds to the interconnectedness of the world they live in.
Kristyn Caragher is a junior majoring in women’s studies.