White People Can’t Be “Not A Racist”; They Must Be “Anti-Racists”

I’m a member of the Anti-Racism Ministry team, or “ART” as we call it. Let’s talk about race, shall we?

As a white person, I experience race and racism in ways that are completely different from my husband and our daughter. All three of us were born in Boston, raised in Melrose, attended public schools here, went to college locally – yet, not once have I been told how well I speak English. Not once has anyone asked me “where are you from, originally?” Racism can be subtle, but it is always hurtful. And often it’s blatant, systemic, and violent.

This book, “So You Want to Talk About Race”, by Ijeoma Oluo, is a New York Times best seller. This book will help us talk honestly about race and racism. It’s just come out in paperback. ART invites you all to participate in a book discussion in mid-November. I have copies of the book at a table during coffee hour. Please stop by.

Ms. Oluo says that widespread video proof of brutality towards people of color has brought the urgency of racism in America to the forefront; it’s not something people can choose to ignore any longer.

But, she also says, we can still find our way back, towards each other. We just have to have those uncomfortable conversations, to learn how talk about race and racism, openly and honestly.

For a white person like me, these conversations will be uncomfortable. It’s not enough to say “I’m not a racist! I’m color blind!” For white people like me, we can’t be “not a racist” – we need to be “anti-racists”; we can’t be color “blind”, we need to be color “aware”. Anti-racism is NOT about making white people feel better about themselves. And it’s not just about people who look like me being kind to people of color, although that is important. It’s about everyone working together breaking down the barriers that promote systemic racism. People of color are exhausted by the micro-aggressions and systemic racism they encounter every single day.

We can’t just battle the symptoms. We have to fight the systemic disease that is racism. It’s affected all of our lives and has been used to intentionally separate us. For those who don’t look like me, who have been disenfranchised by systemic racism, you must be acknowledged and validated when you speak your truth. For those of you who do look like me, who have inherited the benefits of white supremacy, we must listen to and believe the words of those who have been most impacted by racism.

And on a personal note, many of you know I am interested in genealogy. Here’s a very paraphrased excerpt from the will of my 8th great-grandfather, who lived in Schenectady, NY in the 1700’s. Some of the names here are Dutch, but you’ll get the picture.

“I give and bequeath the following property to children: My Negroes named Caspel. Charles. Prince. Tobie. Ned. Gin. Rood. Hen. Saar. Mary.”

10 human beings. Owned by my ancestors. In Upstate NY. It’s important to speak their names aloud. I hope to make a difference for their 8th great-grandchildren. Thank you.