The ignorance effect.

August 28, 2020

After five months in a new job, I’m tired. 

Five months into a pandemic, I’m tired. 

 

After five minutes of clips from the recent national conventions, lord knows, I’m tired. 

 

And two weeks into virtual learning, I’m so very tired. 
 

Seeing my kindergartner off for her first day of school… on her laptop? So not normal. It’s hard for me, but even harder for her. 

After 12 years fighting for my place in corporate America, fighting sexism, my own impostor syndrome, and resisting the urge to quit and live in a van down by the river, I’m so tired.

Don’t you dare feel bad for me.

 

We all have our struggles. And I’d take mine over the next person’s any day of the week.

But my struggles are NOTHING compared to those of the Black mother. Take my everyday anxieties and triple them. Actually – quadruple them.

First, she is 3X more likely to die giving birth than I was.

 

Add in that she and her family are 2X more likely to die from COVID.

 

Tack on the fact that her husband and son are FIVE times more likely to be stopped without a cause than mine.

 

Then add this: Black people have an overall 36% chance of going to jail at some point in their lifetime. Even scarier, dark-skinned Black people have a near 66% chance. Because they're darker. For real?! 

 

And don’t forget this doozy: 1 out of 1000 Black mothers will lose their boy at the hands (or gun, or knee) of a police officer.

 

Who's to blame?  

 

This is not a healthcare problem. Or a schooling problem. Or a police problem.

 

This is an AMERICAN problem. American greed, politics, and especially ignorance. For hundreds of years, the privileged few–who hold the majority of the power–have built complex systems that both enable and promote an underlying current of racism, one that forever safeguards the heightened social position of those few.

 

You see, discrimination doesn't arise from nothingness. Rather, the racism that built our country has been carefully camouflaged, nurtured and fostered so that it's forever embedded in our culture.

 

Most people don’t see. it. Or worse, they won't see it.

 

From that willful ignorance, bias and discrimination are born.  

 

So what are we to do? Defund the police? Elect a democrat? Quit life and move into a van down by the river? 

 

None of those will do. 

 

You can’t change one cog in the machine and expect to fix the thing. We must rebuild from the ground up. We must hire a different machine builder and use different equipment.  

 

But first, we must realize that the more we let politics and our Facebook feed divide us, the further we become from reaching the solution. 

 

White people: we are the majority. We have the numbers, the influence… the privilege that can move mountains. Sprinkle in some empathy and we can be unstoppable. Imagine if we stopped fighting against one another and started working together.

 

Imagine if we set aside our bias, our hurt, our ego, our privilege, our comfort, our status... just all of our whiteness. 

 

Imagine. White. Black. Asian. All of us. Together. One people. Working toward making positive change and rebuilding this thing, the right way.

 

Stop. Stop reading. Go back and think about what I just said and truly imagine it. 

 

Beautiful, right? 

 

So come on, let’s do the damn thing!

 

Turn your ignorance into acceptance

 

The problem, of course, is that we white people are only just now realizing that white privilege is a thing. A whole big thing that we all benefit from each and every day of our lives.

 

It can be hard to recognize a flaw in yourself, I know. I’m still grappling with it myself.

 

For example, just this week, I felt instantly defensive when someone said Black women have a harder time in the workplace than white women. Though the conscious part of me knows it’s true–and has had several conversations with peers on how to fix it–my first gut reaction was still “whoa, but I’ve had a hard time, too.”

 

WTF, Kate?

 

I had to check myself.

 

I am tired of having to check myself. I am tired of this being a thing. I am tired of feeling helpless in the fight against inequality.

 

If you're also tired of it, then work with me to fix it. Identify places in your life where you've ridden high on your white privilege, and recognize how far it's allowed you to come in life.

 

Have you ever been stopped by the police for no reason?

 

Do you have a family member in prison on a minor offense like possession of marijuana that turned into a probation violation that turned into prison time?  

 

Have you told your male son what not to do when he gets pulled over, simply because he's Black? 

 

Have you been grossly underpaid because of your skin color?

 

Has a job opportunity disappeared because of your skin color?

 

Have you had the cops called on you because of your skin color? 

 

If you don't have to worry about any of these – you have white privilege. Recognize it. Accept that it has helped you get to where you are in life. Further.  Accept that it hasn't held you back from anything the way darker skin has for entire generations of Black people. 

 

Blackface Barbie

 

Yesterday, I found Barbie, laying naked on the floor, her face entirely colored by black marker.

 

I called my daughter over to ask what happened. I was surprised by her answer. And ashamed (of myself). 

 

“Why did you color Barbie’s face black?”

 

“Well, I had to make her the bad guy that chases Mickie and Minnie,” she said, innocently.

 

This was the surprising part. The side of me that believes I'm a good mom was expecting a response like "I wanted to make her look like Princess Tiana," or the like. I was not expecting The Bad Guy.

 

“So, to make her the bad guy, you colored her face black?” 

 

She nodded, ever so slightly. She knows a lesson is coming on when I ask a lot of clarifying questions.

 

“Okay," I said. "How do you think that makes your [Black] friend Malia* feel? Or Natasha*? Or Tiara*?”

 

 She frowned. 

 

“Sad,” she whispered, sadly.

 

I told her we need to be very careful about the way we think about skin color. That black skin is beautiful, and it doesn’t make someone “bad.”

 

Would I have given this same lesson a year ago? No. But that would have been wrong. Drastic change needs to happen to all of America, and it must happen at home first.

 

I’ve had a lot of tough conversations with the kids lately, and I know this is just scratching the surface of the many that still need to be had. Trying to teach little kids what racism is? That’s hard. So is teaching them about their own white privilege. But I can do hard things. And I will be damned if I don’t teach my kids how to do hard things, too.

 

Fellow white parents: what have you done differently? Have you had these conversations with your kids? Why or why not?

 

Great if you have. I think that’s the right thing to do.

 

If you haven’t, think about why you haven’t. Are you uncomfortable? Would you be uncomfortable if your kid sat back and watched a Black child get bullied, saying nothing? Or worse, did the bullying himself? Which is worse – an uncomfortable conversation with your kid now, or an uncomfortable conversation about your kid being racist later?

 

Remember this: if you aren’t having the conversation with your kid, they are learning it elsewhere. Maybe even from Mickey Mouse.

 

Racism is deeply rooted, people. See that. Do the right thing.

 

Black parents: I am so sorry. I will never have to tell my kids that some bad people see skin color as a warning sign. That some good people see skin color as a warning sign. I won’t have to explain the subtle difference between a hateful racist and an ignorant privileged white kid. Or how those subtleties have shaped our entire political and socioeconomic system. I will never have to teach my kid exactly how to behave to avoid being killed by a cop.

 

I am so sorry for my role in perpetuating racism. 

 

An important clarification: this is not a denunciation of the police. In fact, I fully support them. (I know, bold move.)

 

Just think of the average police officer. He very likely is doing the best he can. He wants to protect all people, but he doesn’t recognize his own deeply-rooted subconscious beliefs – those that have been instilled in him by the system, by the world we’ve created. He grew up surrounded by white people (probably) and spent about a week of each school year learning about Black history (probably). I'm sure he paid attention, and he goes to church, and all of those things... but still, he (probably) lived a very white life in our very broken society. 

 

He doesn’t know how dangerous his embedded beliefs are. He doesn't know that when his adrenaline pulses and his unconscious need to survive kicks in, he'll be driven to act with unreasonable, maybe even deadly behavior.

 

Blame him, absolutely yes. But first, address the system in which he was raised. 

 

The system that has quite literally, whitewashed our society.

 

 

Be the change.

 

Dear humans, please listen to me. Think deeply on this subject for a day or four. Read and listen to articles, podcasts, and videos to learn more (plenty included at the bottom of this post). We need all our focus on fixing this. Because a society that champions love, focuses on human growth and development, innovates its culture with the times, etc., etc., etc., is a thriving society.

 

None of that is possible if we all keep doing the same thing we've been doing. Drastic change is needed. D-R-A-S-T-I-C.

 

DRASTIC

CHANGE

NOW.

 

Because a society that hinges on the likability of memes that summarize entire socioeconomic norms into historically and grammatically incorrect eight-word sentences is a broken society.

 

Don't be a meme-vangelist. Be an actual human.

 

Be the change. 

 

Because (as a reminder of why we're here today): 

 

White hiring managers see “Kenisha” on a resume and subconsciously detract 10 points.

 

White people cross the street before they cross paths with black people.

 

Our prison systems are overwhelmingly filled with Black people.

 

White people lead longer, healthier and wealthier lives than Black people.

 

White police officers kill Black males at an alarmingly high rate.

 

And because: 

 

Gerrymandering.

 

Redlining.

 

Political divide.

 

Inherited racism.

 

White privilege.

 

It’s all so very deep. It’s in every system. Every city.

 

It’s in everybody.

 

Recognize it. Change it.

 

----------------------

 

*Names changed for privacy.

 

Sources:

 

Racial and Ethnic Disparities Continue in Pregnancy-Related Deaths

 

COVID-19 Hospitalization and Death by Race/Ethnicity

 

NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet

 

The darker your skin the more likely you’ll end up in an American jail

 

Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race–ethnicity, and sex

 

Calming Your Brain During Conflict

 

What Is Gerrymandering? And How Does it Work?


Redlining's legacy: Maps are gone, but the problem hasn't disappeared

 

Further reading:

 

'Not Racist' Is Not Enough: Putting In The Work To Be Anti-Racist

 

6 ways to be antiracist, because being 'not racist' isn't enough

 

And listening:

 

Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History, Season 1, episodes 4, 5, and 6 (three part series examining how hard it actually is for underserved populations to even get to college)

 

And watching:

 

How to recognize your white privilege – and use it to fight inequality (from 2012, BTW)

 

Health Equity Considerations and Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups

 

What it takes to be racially literate

 

How to resolve racially stressful situations

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