My social circle is multi-ethnic and therefore includes some individuals who would identify as White. They are all, as the saying goes, ‘nice people’. We hang out. We socialize. We talk and text by phone with each other. Yet, every single person in my social circle who is White holds some aspect of the White-way-is-the-right-way (W-w-i-t-r way) mindset that rests on implicit preeminence of White culture and history and conversely imbedded anti-Black perceptions.
How can that be?
The scale and depth of race affectation that constitutes the foundation of modern Western culture means there would hardly be any person who has not been influenced by and inculcated with the W-w-i-t-r way. It pervades our way of life from the standard measurements for off-the-rack clothing to the demographics of prison populations to the quality of healthcare, and education curriculum content. Systemic, as the social scientists like to say.
More intimately, there are configurations of one-to-one racism:
- There are the overts. Wrong and strong, the overts make other White persons uncomfortable as well.
- There are the coverts – the subtle ones. The ones who, after an encounter with them, leave you asking yourself, ‘Did what I think just happened actually happen?’
- Finally, there are the unaware, of which there are basic categories.
- — Those who never have to give the matter a single thought; perhaps that comes with living in a part of the Western world where one never encounters diverse social groups.
- — The other group is where I locate my friends. These are people who would earnestly declare themselves anti-racist, march alongside in a protest, agree that policing has to change. Yet, because of the scale and subtle layers of the W-w-i-t-r way, they cannot escape being inadvertent functionaries. Again, multilayered and complex.
So, how do we awaken friends who are asleep to racism by circumstance – having been born into a social-psychological ecosystem that leans away from universal human equity in form and function.
Imagine an everyday situation: You are out in public and the tag of your shirt is sticking out. You can’t see it, but the person next to you can. They say, “Hey buddy, your shirt tag is sticking out.’ You don’t say, ‘No, I don’t even have a shirt tag, get away from me you shirt tag pedant.’
You reach around to the back of the shirt feel the tag and adjust it. Perhaps thank the person for their considerateness. Maybe the next time you wear the shirt, you would check for the tag first. Or, for better freedom of movement, remove it entirely.
As we are indoctrinated with the W-w-i-t-r way and can’t see it (yet engage in actions or words of which observant witnesses are aware), we may reflexively deny any such behavior.
It can be personally alarming and embarrassing to hear, ‘Hey, buddy that thing you just said or that thing you just did is racist.’ Being called to account for actions we are inured to can suddenly feel like a shaming experience.
But, as with the unseen shirt tag scenario, try using, ‘Oh, I didn’t even realize that, I couldn’t see it. Thanks for letting me know. I’ll look into it.’
With any luck, you will then have a keyhole into other previously unaware behavior. Or, ask a ‘Black friend’. If they are as the saying goes ‘woke’, they could provide some insight.
The result is that we will have grown in awareness somewhat, and more comfortably wear the mantle of a person who wants to be in a world where we greet one another more equitably and with healthy human regard.
Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens available through Amazon. Twitter @patprose.