If we value humanity, we white people must co-create and work in spaces that aspire toward antiracism.
If we work in these spaces, our family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors of color will, at some point, call us racist or white supremacist, will say that we have taken racist or white supremacist actions, or will tell us that we are upholding white supremacy.
We will probably have a negative reaction to this because we have been raised in a culture that rightly teaches us that racist and white supremacist actions are wrong.
But instead of reacting in anger, we should sit with what we have been told, with our reactions, and with our feelings. We have had a racist impact on people of color. That is what we must sit with and seek to understand.
If we are more upset about being called a racist than about the action we performed that was perceived as racist, we have some work to do.
In my experience, my family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors of color are not looking for an opportunity to hurl accusations of racism at white people. But there are injuries in any relationship, and in cross-racial relationships, some of those injuries will involve race. For too long, people of color have been told to deal with those injuries silently, and especially that they should not mention the racial nature of those injuries.
There are many issues we still need to heal in our society. But one positive in this time is that more people of color are able and willing to speak out when someone has caused them an injury related to race.
Could there be cases where a person of color calls a white person racist just to hurt them, with no basis in reality? Of course there could, in the same way that someone can fabricate accusations of sexual harassment. But in fact and in truth, such false allegations are very rare, and by giving undue weight to the rare false allegations, we minimize the reality of the vast majority of true ones.
Fellow white people, if a person of color calls you a racist or white supremacist, in almost every case it is because you have had a racist impact on that person. You can choose to ignore it. You can choose to turn accusations of name-calling back on that person of color. But that just perpetuates a culture in which white people get to decide what is correct behavior and what is not.
Dan Moroney, Matt Baron, so many other white Oak Parkers reacting in Facebook threads — when a person of color calls you a white supremacist, when a person of color says you did something racist, what if you felt your reaction in your body and then moved into inquiry? What if you asked, “Could you tell me more? Why do you feel that way?” What if you thought about your own actions and how they could have had a racist impact?
Throughout history, we white people have asked people of color to adapt to our desires and demands. Let’s not make the same mistake again.
If we pause, live into our own emotions, reflect, and move into inquiry, we will have a chance to build deeper individual relationships. These rules apply to relationships in general, and they apply as well to our family, friend, colleague, and neighbor relationships across racial difference. If we do these things collectively, I believe we have the chance to grow healthier families, friend groups, workplaces, and communities. We have the chance to grow a healthier society.
Jim Schwartz is an Oak Park resident, an educator, and a blogger at Entwining.org.