As a woman of color who is passionate about racism studies and teaching anti-racism, I cannot recall how many times I have heard people say, “Racism will go away if we stop talking about it.” Though this claim is nothing new to me, it never ceases to leave me almost dumbfounded at how someone could possibly believe in it. It’s like saying, if we all pretend we’re rich, and stop talking about being poor…that one day, we will all be rich! Or, if we stop talking about the economic depression, the Swine Flu, AIDS, and homosexuality…it will all magically go away! If things were that simple, and if erasing racism were that simple, wouldn’t you think we’d already be living in the ideal world?
I recently had a conversation with a woman I work with. We chatted about various intelligent things, such as sexism in the retail industry, and things were going quite smoothly. That is, until this woman (who we shall call Jan), brought up the fact that she is sick and tired of “President Obama and the lefties playing the race card”. Intrigued by this statement of hers, I asked Jan to be more specific, and to elaborate on what she meant. She went on and on about her sheer disgust at “the liberal agenda” and the “accusations of all whites as racists”. She concluded her rant with the classic line, “Racism will go away if we just stop talking about it!”
Racism is already like the big ol’ pink elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. It’s a touchy subject that often can end up causing accusations, offenses, and the like. So how are we supposed to address the issue? By not talking about it, we are all guilty of passively perpetuating it and of giving a free pass to those who spew racism, or who benefit from institutions built on racism. But by talking about it, we are making ourselves vulnerable to being blamed for somehow actively perpetuating racism, or even worse, being labelled as trouble makers or racists ourselves. Seems like a catch 22 either way.
Discussing racism and racist remarks, attitudes and beliefs is not about creating a dichotomy of racist/non-racist. It’s not about placing blame or pointing fingers, but more about taking the opportunity to learn and educate. Racism is a huge, complex problem because it matters. It affects all the social institutions around us. It affects the quality of life we can expect. Racism matters, and no one should be able to say “Oh, it will just go away if we stop talking about it”. So what if it makes a few people uncomfortable? We need to address racism when we see it and do it in an effective, educational way. That is the only way to really help racism on its way out for good.
The bottom line is, racism was created by humans. It was and is being perpetuated by humans every day, everywhere. If racism was created by humans and continues to thrive because of humans, we as humans are responsible for progressively talking about it, just as we are able to erase it.