Protesters march in memory of Trayvon Martin. (Frank Reynolds.)
Last week, I argued that a repeal of so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws and the outlawing of racial profiling are necessary but insufficient to prevent murders like that of Trayvon Martin. On Twitter, someone asked me, “What’s your solution?” My short answer: white people have to give up racism.
As complicated an issue as race has become in the United States, that might sound like an overly simplistic answer, but it’s the root of it all. While we’ve all come up internalizing racism, since it’s all around us, only one group of people actually benefits from its existence. Not every white person is a racist, but the genius of racism is that you don’t have to participate to enjoy the spoils. If you’re white, you can be completely oblivious, passively accepting the status quo, and reap the rewards.
Over time, those living on the other side, whether black, Latino, Asian, or Native American, have fought back and shamed white people into sharing the power and the spoils of capitalism. A few people of color have managed to achieve levels of success, as we typically define it, that rival their white counterparts. So, a popular narrative has become, “These few tokens beat the odds, why can’t all of you?” In fact, no one defeats racism; they just succeed in spite of it. But most don’t.
No, it’s not the job of people of color to win over racism, it’s the responsibility of white people to abandon it altogether. We’ve reached a point here in America, though, where we believe the worst of racism is over and the remaining animus is either not worth mentioning or dying off. Neither is true. Racism is the foundation; it literally built this country. It’s going to keep showing up. Denying that doesn’t solve the problem, it exacerbates it, making it so we can’t ever achieve real solutions.
Then Trayvon dies, or Rodrigo Diaz dies, or we debate protecting Native American women from sexual assault, and the promise of America doesn’t match up to the reality. But we've accepted the falsehood of equal opportunity. We’re a nation constantly lying to ourselves instead bettering ourselves.