I’ll know that things have really changed when I regularly see white women pushing black babies in strollers. I’ll know things have changed when a white person is accused of playing the “race card” when he or she mentions something related to race. I’ll know things have changed when they stop locking up young black men for a couple of ounces of marijuana, while young white men with a history of wife-beating end up in positions of power. I will know things have changed when we have no need of a Black History Month, but that Black history is just part of American history.
Before the civil rights movement of the 60’s, many white people wore their racism on their sleeve, proudly. After that, it became uncool, at least in public. Some things did get better, as certain forms of blatant racism became illegal. As Dr. King said, “the law cannot change hearts, but it can restrain the heartless”. However, white people since then who think that racism, institutional or individual, has been eliminated are kidding themselves. It’s gone underground, become more sophisticated, and is likely to be expressed in code words like law & order, welfare queen, state’s rights, and personal responsibility. We now have more black people imprisoned than were enslaved at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation. Our neighborhoods, our schools, even our houses of worship, continue to be segregated along racial lines. If there had not been a President Obama, there would not have been a President Trump. Trump has made all kinds of bigotry cool again. While white people may be surprised at the depth and viciousness of racism being expressed and acted out, people of color alas are not.
When I became involved in interracial partnerships and had the opportunity to become close with more and more people of color, a hole in my heart began healing –a hole I never knew was there. Though still mostly unrecognized, black people have been so indispensable to the formation of our national zeitgeist, our culture, our music, our science, that we white people could not be “American” without them. The contributions of African Americans have kept pace with those of European immigrants beginning in the 1600’s. To devalue, ignore, or denude our culture of the influences of African Americans is like trying to be French without wine and cheese, or Norwegian without skis. If you’re white and don’t believe me, try some intentional “race mixing”. You’ll see.