Are You Sure You’re Not Racist?
Jodi Picoult writes in Time magazine:
When my son was 4, we were crossing the Dartmouth campus when we passed an African-American student. “Mommy,” Kyle asked, “Who is the tan man?” He said this loud enough for the young man to overhear. I turned 10 different shades of red, and fell all over myself trying to diffuse the awkwardness. I told my son that although people came in different shades, we’re all the same. I told him I was colorblind, and he should be too. I was sure this was the right response.
I was wrong.
But then, I was wrong about a lot when it came to race, and it took 48 years of my life to start to figure it out.
A few years before that encounter on the Dartmouth Green, I had tried to write about racism. I had been working in NYC and was deeply moved by a news story of a black undercover cop on the subway who was shot four times in the back by his white colleague. Whenever I’m troubled by a topic, I start a novel — it’s how I process difficult issues and hopefully get my readers to do the same. But this time, after I started writing, I struggled daily. I just couldn’t find manage to find authenticity, and eventually I shelved the manuscript. I wondered if maybe my difficulty was because I had no right to write about racism — after all, I am not African American. Then, I’d play devil’s advocate with myself: I’d written multiple books from the points of view of people I was not — Holocaust survivors, rape victims, school shooters, men. Why was it so hard for me to write from the point of view of someone black?
Because race is different. Racism is different. It’s hard to discuss without offending people. As a result, we often choose not to discuss it at all. . .
Later in the article (but read the whole thing):
. . . Here is the grievous mistake I had made for the majority of my life: I assumed that racism is synonymous with bias. Yet you could take every white supremacist and ship him off to Mars and you’d still have racism in the world. That’s because racism is systemic and institutional, but it is both perpetuated and dismantled in individual acts. Racism is the white lady standing in line at the bus stop who moves her purse to the opposite side when a black man comes to wait beside her. It’s the fact that if you’re black and convicted of a crime, justice may not be so just: although African Americans are not even 13% of the U.S. population they are 37% of those arrested for drug offenses; black drug defendants are 20% more likely to be sentenced to prison than white defendants. It’s the realization that although people of color can likely name three shampoos that white people use, the reverse is rarely true.
It’s easy to see the headwinds of racism — the obstacles that make it harder for people of color to achieve success. It’s more challenging to see the tailwinds of racism — the ways that being white makes it easier to achieve success. . .