“The way to right wrongs is to shine the light of truth upon them.”—Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Is systemic racism in our nation only a “Black problem?”
Some believe so. Politicians, social scientists, and pundits often couch the challenges racism presents in terms of “What is America going to do about its ‘Black problem?”’ Before going further, we need a time-out. Full stop!
Racism is not a Black problem. It is an American problem! Framing it otherwise is cynical and misguided, missing the most important point of the analysis. The problem is with the system itself. Yes, it is a problem for Blacks as they must navigate that system. But it hasn’t been Black Americans who have created the problem. The problem is the system created, fought for, and maintained by White males. It is akin to blaming the pollution of a river on a particular chemical released into its waters. Yes, the chemical may be a problem because it’s carcinogenic, but it’s not the problem. The problem is lax environmental laws and regulations and uncaring polluters who dump chemicals into our waterways. The chemical is the mean, but laxity of laws is the cause of the problem.
Further, casting racism in America in such terms dehumanizes Black folk. It allows people to dismiss the unique humaneness of people of color completely. As my mother never failed to emphasize, human beings—all human beings—need to be affirmed. Looking at racism as a Black problem allows us to look the other way or cover our eyes and assume no responsibility to change the status quo. It allows Whites to justify their indifference by convincing themselves that it is not their (White people’s) problem but rather their (Black people’s) problem and thus to believe they have no responsibility to address the issue.
That’s the real problem.