I am white, I am 67 years old, I am a woman, and yes, I am a racist. Often unconscious, but a racist nevertheless. How can anyone who has spent a lifetime with privilege and access to economic, educational, political, health, nutritional benefits and generational wealth not be a racist? How can anyone who has endured a lifetime of indoctrination of entitlement, even from well-meaning people, not be a racist? People like me have lived our whole lives blind to the reality of parallel universes that exist in opportunities and prospects between white people and people of color. So yes, I am a racist.
While we sit in our living rooms watching the racial unrest unfold across our televisions, the problem is not out there on the streets of America. It’s right here, in our houses, in ourselves, in our silence. When the news media interviews the parade of black activists, scholars, clergy, where are the white voices? Where are our political leaders, our corporate leaders, and most importantly, all of us? We are the ones who built these institutions, enacted these laws and policies, safe guarded these assets. We are the ones responsible. We are complicit.
If we look toward solutions, the first step is to acknowledge our own defensiveness, recognize our common humanity and find a will to work toward change. And, as always, the change can only come with substantial and imaginative investments and shifts in resources. History shows us some examples, through the WPA program, the GI Bill (although notably, that was not accessible to black veterans) and the Marshall Plan, showing how the world can be made better through investments in infrastructure, education, political structures and international collaboration.
There are other signs that we are ready for collective action. For many months, the entire country heeded the warnings brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, demanding a call for personal responsibility. The rallying cry has been “shelter in place, wear a mask, do your part to serve the common good.” For months, most people were willing to do their part.
As is often the case, our younger generation is the one showing us the way. In environmental issues, they are the ones who push us toward less consumption, more responsible environmental restrictions and stewardship of a healthier planet. In the present demonstrations, it is often the young people who organize. In my hometown of Winston-Salem, Olivia Moore, an African-American high school student, organized a peaceful demonstration, joined by a burgeoning coalition of interracial and intergenerational people. They are all shouting loud and clear. These young students, black, brown and white will all need to shout their way to the ballot box in the fall if this movement is to have any forward impetus.
I am getting old. And I am tired of silence. I am ready to shout. Yes, I am a racist, but I am trying to change.