Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Hopefully my readers will forgive my bluntness, but recently a friend of mine asked me why white people have such a hard time seeing racist issues. Full disclosure, I have had no education, no training, no formal credentials to discuss this issue. What I am, however, is an old white man, the least oppressed demographic in America, but I am a scientist. That makes me an observer and a thinker. All I can do here is present some of my observations, my thoughts, and maybe a hypothesis or two.
Back in the late ‘70’s, my friend Mitch and I were in high school. Periodically, we would get restless and go out for a late-night walk around the neighborhood. Recently, it occurred to me that never in these walks did anybody call the police. To be fair, we were polite and realized people were probably trying to sleep, and as such we were always careful to keep our voices down and avoid making noise. None the less, high school boys out walking around aimlessly, and not once did anybody question what we were doing.
We’re living in an age where we are seeing more and more incidents where somebody calls police on minorities for literally no reason at all. For example, in one such instance somebody called the police on a man in a public lobby waiting for a friend because of his race. The sad thing is that it’s not that these incidents are occurring more frequently, but rather, the technology has progressed to the point where they can be recorded and publicized more easily.
The reason, in my humble opinion, that white people have such a hard time seeing a problem with racism is because we’ve never had to face it. White privilege is not overt. There is no secret handshake or nod to say, “now is good.” Instead, it’s background, subtle, and often invisible. We have no idea when white men on hiring committees give us preference over another candidate because of our skin color. In fact, it might not even be obvious to the committee members who make that decision that their preference is based on race or gender. When you’re raised with such background privilege, it’s as hard to see as the air that we breathe to live.
If our privilege is invisible, how can we possibly hope to root it out of our society? I believe it begins with simple acknowledgment of its existence. Even now with protests against civil rights abuses going on for months there are significant numbers of people who refuse to even acknowledge the possibility of such race-based issues. This is the blindness of which my friend asked. The truth is that it’s just easier to look away and pretend like it’s not there, especially with so many public figures claiming there is no foundation.
Arguments demonstrating civil inequity run from videos, statistics, news reports, research studies and more, but if somebody does not want to see this inequity, no proof will force them to do so. It’s easier to simply use words, make ignorant statements and hold onto beliefs without check than it is to think about other people. This translates to making it easier to hold onto the racist and biased opinions with which we grew up than it is to actually evolve, learn and grow.
The central question, then, is if this snow blindness is intentional or not. Are people unable to see racial injustices, or unwilling? Personally, I think it is willful ignorance. If this is indeed the case, how do we overcome it?
We don’t. I do not believe it’s possible to teach anybody who is not willing to learn. I’ve seen plenty of attempts by many people to help somebody open their eyes, but never have I seen it actually succeed. Although it’s not happening as quickly as we might like, our society is changing. The secret is not in changing the older generation, but in educating the upcoming generations. Awareness seems to be increasing, and younger generations are becoming increasingly politically active. As these trends continue, the opportunity to turn this nation around increases, but it won’t come without resistance. Trump won the white house on a wave of fear, primarily by older, white men without a college education who are afraid they need to start censoring their words and actions, a censorship that should have been occurring for the past few generations. The Iching speaks of the Wind, a slow gentle force that can wear down a mountain but only if it continuously blow in the same direction. If we can maintain the constant flowing direction of the movement towards equality, eventually we can blow down the mountain of resistance we are facing.