Once again our nation is hit by a violent terrorist attack with clear racist motivations. The perpetrator is a 21 year old white resident of South Carolina. The internet is alive with debate about the root nature of the attack. Conservatives attempt to paint the incident as an attack against Christianity. Post after post refer to the attacker as a "troubled youth". The clear dialectic between how our nation views whites and people of color is clear.
When a black youth is arrested the media refers to them as a "thug" or a "Man," yet when the offender is white the language used clearly paints the offender as "mentally ill,' troubled, or a misguided youth.
As I read the plethora of stories it occurs to me that there is a personal "Mea Culpa" in all of this. You see if I honestly examine my own reaction, I am as guilty as the media is. In my private thoughts this offender looks like me, my brain seeks an explanation, my compassion is triggered by recognizing the individual as similar in appearance to myself. Frankly these thoughts sicken me!
This is privilege, insidious, always present and in need of being confronted. Our nation will not change until people across the country are able to look at their own reactions and have an internal conversation about the thought processes that occur which lead to racism, discrimination and unjustified systematic violence directed at people of color.
Collectively people have greater empathy for people we perceive as somehow like ourselves. This is a part of human nature that needs to be confronted. If we ignore these feelings we move from a person with privilege to a perpetrator of adverse racism. Ultimately, the idea that people are blind to color is a cancerous concept that allows the continuation of a racist culture that has no hope of becoming just, equitable and based on reality.
Yes, when I look at photos side by side of a young black man and a young white man my unconscious tendency is to have more empathy for the individual who looks like me. It is in my personal awareness of this that I am able to balance the scales and develop a realistic view that does not oppress people. Racism and privilege live in every Americans psyche, our collective challenge is to admit and confront such thoughts.
Our nation has a cultural sickness as a result of decades of racism, we who profess to support justice and racial equality will never be successful unless we are able to confront our own part in this oppressive system.
It is difficult when addressing racism to confront our own unconscious contributions to the collective racist culture, yet there will be no progress until this becomes a personal issue for white Americans across the country.