Thinking today about how numb we’ve become to simple wrong. About how declaring that we're sad about racism has become enough. Being white and woke is memorizing a list of names and posting on Facebook when awful things happen. I am glad that so many white people are denouncing racism and trying to understand it. This is necessary but not sufficient.
In addiction research, there is a theory that change happens in stages—that we carefully, subconsciously test out change one step at a time: Thinking about it before deciding to try before trying, failing, and trying again. Eventually maintaining the change. That model is helpful here for white people who are entangled and complicit in racism’s side effects, even if they aren’t addicted to the power that racism arms them with.
If your facebook post is a step towards doing something meaningful (pressuring politicians, actively protesting, filming in public when police interact with minorities, donating money, tons of other things), then good. But please recognize that it is only a step. There is a major difference between being not bad and being good. I, like most white people, have the privilege of taking it step by step, and this argument is as much for me as it is for them. Each step is hard, but it is a game played in your head, only becoming real and developing any stakes whatsoever when you decide to tell your racist uncle to shut up.
Minorities do not have this luxury. The psychological model that best applies to their situation is better known: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. When my Black students make a decision to go outside in the United States of America, they are putting themselves at risk. Not psychological risk. Physical risk. Not sometime. Every time. It may not happen today, and it may not happen tomorrow, but it happens to people damn near everyday to varying degrees.
The White journey towards anti-racism starts from the top of Maslowe and works down. The idea that I want to be dedicated to equity is a form of Self-Actualization. I can feel good about my Esteem needs when I do something I feel proud of. I can make a whole new set of friends to Love and Belong with. But this is not a problem of Love (sorry MLK, I side with Malcolm on this). This is a problem of safety. Until I step up and take a fucking risk, I have not risen to the level of this challenge. Black people are not safe in America because of a gradient of racism that goes from subconscious to interpersonal to systemic and sprinkles the apathy and inaction of woke facebook accounts throughout.
So dear White Reader, recognize that I applaud your attitudes and ideas. They’re great. But they are attitudes and ideas. Not actions. What are you going to do? If you don’t know what to do, ask a white person further along the journey for help (it is not a Black person’s responsibility to drag your ass towards the values you claim to hold). And sure, take a selfie while you do it. Post it somewhere. Get whatever affirmation you need to keep doing good things. But seriously. Stop reading the news and slowly forgetting the victim's names. Fucking. Do. Something. . . Today.