So You Want to Talk About Race

So You Want to Talk About Race

Ijeoma Oluo

When we look at racism simply as “any racial prejudice,” we are entered into a battle to win over the hearts and minds of everyone we encounter—fighting only the symptoms of the cancerous system, not the cancer itself. This is not only an impossible task, it’s a pretty useless one. Getting my neighbor to love people of color might make it easier to hang around him, but it won’t do anything to combat police brutality, racial income inequality, food deserts, or the prison industrial complex. Further, this approach puts the onus on me, the person being discriminated against, to prove my humanity and worthiness of equality to those who think I’m less than. But so much of what we think and feel about people of other races is dictated by our system, and not our hearts. Who we see as successful, who has access to that success, who we see as scary, what traits we value in society, who we see as “smart” and “beautiful”—these perceptions are determined by our proximity to the cultural values of the majority in power, the economic system of those in power, the education system of those in power, the media outlets of those in power—I could go on, but at no point will you find me laying blame at the feet of one misguided or even hateful white person, saying, “and this is Steve’s fault—core beliefs about black people are all determined by Steve over there who just decided he hates black people all on his own.” Steve is interacting with the system in the way in which it’s designed, and the end result is racial bigotry that supports the continued oppression of people of color. Systemic racism is a machine that runs whether we pull the levers or not, and by just letting it be, we are responsible for what it produces. We have to actually dismantle the machine if we want to make change.

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