Amy Roberts: To truly be anti-racist, get comfortable with being uncomfortable
I want to write this column as much as I want an elective root canal without anesthesia. There are a lot of reasons I don’t want to write about racial inequality. Mostly because I wish it didn’t exist. But also because I don’t think the world needs another white woman offering her thoughts on the matter. I am certainly not better positioned to explain the impact of racist behavior than those who actually live it. That said, how is it possible to come of the week we all just went through as a nation and not opine about it? At best, it seems irresponsible, if not entirely tone deaf, to devote this ink to any other topic.
So I am going to try, as a white woman, to write about racism. And in doing so, I have to begin by acknowledging it’s something I will never understand; in the same way I will never understand what it’s like to be the tallest person in a room because I barely cover five vertical feet. I could be the world’s greatest empath, but I can’t truly grasp what it’s like to be something not written into my genetic code.
For those of us who want to be allies, who recognize our privilege and who are well intentioned in our desire to root out racism, I think that’s where we often go wrong: We fail to understand that we don’t understand. Instead, we think just talking about racism, saying it’s wrong, even being openly disgusted by it, is adequate. It’s not. Obviously. Most of us have been talking about it, and been ashamed of it, for decades. And that’s where the conversation has ended. Admittedly, it’s a pretty tough one to have. But if the last few days have taught us anything it’s that simply not being racist isn’t enough. We have to be actively anti-racist. Even when it makes us uncomfortable.
It’s not comfortable to tell a coworker that his or her claim they “don’t see color” isn’t the goal. The goal is to honor another person’s color, learn about their experiences, and recognize the harm racism has done to them.
It’s not comfortable to use our white privilege to advocate for people of color, especially when so many people still believe white privilege is nothing more than a politically correct myth. It’s easier to say things like, “Let’s agree to disagree.” But what we really need to say is, “Having white skin doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been difficult; it means that the color of your skin hasn’t contributed to your life’s difficulties. That’s not the case for people of color.”
It’s not comfortable to explain to our parents or grandparents why their perspective that, “The looting and property damage have to stop” needs to shift to, “The killing of black men has to stop.”
It’s not comfortable to hear a friend rationalize, “This is the action of a bad cop, they’re not all like this,” and challenge them with a response like, “I believe that is true, but some professions can’t have even one bad egg. If you need to have surgery a hospital advertises, ‘Most of our physicians are great, only a very small percentage will take photos of your naked body while you’re unconscious and post them on social media’ would you chose to have your surgery there? Of course not. The expectation is, and should be, that those doctors are held accountable and immediately dismissed from their position, never allowed to practice medicine again or care for the sick and vulnerable. The standard for law enforcement can’t be any different.”
It’s not comfortable to hear someone ask, “How could this happen?” And remind them they’re about 300 years late to the anti-oppression party. “It’s been happening for centuries. Perhaps it’s time to educate yourself about the legacy of slavery.”
It is always easier to be proud we aren’t racist and assume we’ve done our part. Taking a stand for something that doesn’t directly impact you is the highest form of selflessness and it is sometimes followed by confrontation and ridicule. It’s always easier to ignore a problem that seemingly belongs to somebody else. But here’s the thing — white people are all involved. They are either involved in resolving the injustice or involved by being complicit. For those of us who hope to dismantle the status quo, it’s time to get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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Columnist Amy Roberts says schools need a comprehensive plan if they are going to reopen next month. “Because telling kids to ‘avoid getting cooties’ isn’t going to cut it.”