What I Now Know About Racism
By Nick Brzozowski
Ever since the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement has picked up great momentum. I have never seen anything quite like it. More voices than ever are speaking up against injustice and racism.
For me, I wanted to better understand the issues going on, so I delved into researching and must have looked into thirty or forty different sources about the topic. From that, I organized my findings into my own race encyclopedia.
With so much information out there, I thought that sharing these highlights would be helpful for you.
So, here are 30 things I now know about racism, in three different categories.
Ten facts I now know about racism.
By 2044, white people will make up less than 50% of the American population, changing the fabric of our whole concept of majority and minority races.
Despite the diversity in our communities, only 9% of the average white person’s friends are not white. (see White Awake)
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.”
African American, Hispanic and Native Americans on average have a household income of about $20,000 less than Whites.
Evangelical Icons (Billy Graham, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield) were moderates and did not do much to stand against slavery or segregation. (see Color of Compromise)
Of the about 10 million slaves who were brought to America, one third died within three years. (see Color of Compromise)
Even though Rosa Parks is portrayed as an elderly woman with weak knees, she was actually a young, radical black woman.
Whiteness is a social construct created during the time of slavery. (see White Awake)
My history books left out a few details. In 1492 Columbus did not discover America because it was already discovered by millions! From 1882-1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States. 120,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned after Pearl Harbor. (see White Awake)
Ten terms I now know about racism.
People of Color. The term “people of color” refers to people who are not white. For a lot of you, you probably already knew that. But, the reason I have this on my list is because I made the mistake of saying “colored people.” I thought there were just two ways to say the same thing. But, someone pointed out that "people of color" is respectful, while "colored people" harkens back to Jim Crow laws.
Color Blind. I always thought that the ultimate goal was to be color blind, to barely notice others' races that are different than mine. But, being colored blind, contains lots of problems. It will typically keep us white people from seeing the unique challenges and strengths that people of color have. How are we supposed to resolve racism without naming races? In fact, after the Civil Rights Movement, politicians became savvy to use color blind language to leverage racism for their own advantage. Lee Atwater, a campaign consultant: You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… Being color blind keeps you from seeing these acts of injustice. I like what Derwin Grey says: we aren’t color blind, we are color blessed.
White Privilege. Ken Wystsma, founder of The Justice Conference, writes, “White privilege doesn’t mean your life isn’t hard. It means that if you are a person of color, simply by virtue of that, your life might be harder.” This helps me because I had the hardest time admitting that I was privileged. The term used to bother me because I grew up in poverty, on food stamps, evicted from my house. I saw the term, white privilege as disregarding my own challenges. I thought the concept kept me from getting better scholarships for college. But, believing that there is white privilege does not mean that you as a white person don’t have challenges; it just means that people of color have unique challenges because of their skin color.
Redlining. Redlining refers to the practice of banks to withhold loans and insurance from minorities in particular neighborhoods. There’s a lot that could be said, but I just want to make the point that this was a legal practice that lasted past the Civil Rights Movement into the 70s. To me, I believed that all legal, explicit racism had ended in the 60s, but this shows how the Civil Rights of the 60s did a lot to end racism, but not even these obvious acts of racism.
White Fragility. Robin DiAngelo’s book may be the most referred to of all the resources today on racism. She defines white fragility as “disbelieving defensiveness that white people exhibit when their ideas about race and racism are challenged—and particularly when they feel implicated in white supremacy.” Of course, giving people a hard time for not wanting to talk about something and calling them fragile may not always be the best route to build bridges. But, it is good for white people like me to realize that people of color may feel a hesitation about talking about their own beliefs and experiences because they don’t know how white people will respond. One point DiAngelo makes that I thought was really helpful was that when we define “the idea that racism” as “conscious bias held by mean people,” it can be harmful to bringing solutions. The word “racist” is so harsh that none of us would claim to be one. Since we aren’t those mean, evil racists, we don’t feel responsible to help bring about justice.
White Supremacy. When we think of “white supremacy,” we think of angry, violent people looking to kill people. That is too limited. White supremacy means the belief that white people are superior. Which, again, you probably wouldn’t claim that either. But, we have to be aware of how our history and our environment is impacting us in ways we may not notice. For hundreds of years, it was the majority view that minorities are inferior. And just because laws were passed 60 years ago does not keep those deeply held beliefs from surviving or being passed on. When I watch the movie, the Blindside, I see white supremacy being subtly and unintentionally being promoted. On the surface, it is a good white family caring for a black teen. Isn’t that the opposite of racism? But, throughout the movie, white people are the ones in power, they are smarter, better looking and more generous. But, black people in the movie are portrayed as dangerous, drug-abusers, who struggle to get by, to communicate or control their own behavior. So, what’s happening? Movies like that are reinforcing in our minds a view of the world that white people are superior. It’s subtle. You may not be conscious of your bias.
Black Lives Matter. In an interview with Carey Niewhof, Albert Tate and Kay Warren talked about the two meanings of the expression. Tate argues that it’s actually a statement of value, opposed to a political statement. You are saying that your black brothers and sisters matter, and that the world needs to function like they do. Warren has actively been stating that black lives matter and is receiving a lot of criticism for it. But, she says, “I’m willing to risk being misunderstood by some in order that I might be seen as an advocate and a friend to my brothers and sisters that are hurting.”
Law and Order. More explicitly, when we use the expression, we are talking about keeping our community safe and bringing criminals to justice. The documentary, Thirteenth, argues that this expression was used politically to appeal to white people who saw black people as dangerous and wanted to lock them up. So, today, when “law and order” is brought up politically, it carries that racially charged nuance.
Complicity. In the book, Color of Compromise, Jemar Tisby convincingly argues that the Christian church throughout American history had multiple opportunities to do something about injustice, slavery and segregation, but, the majority failed to do anything. He calls this Christian complicity. If you have the opportunity and power to do something about racism and decide to neglect that responsibility, you are complicit with it. This concept of complicity shook me more than anything else I read or heard. Christian leaders throughout American history who were heroes to me for their commitment to proclaim the gospel, felt that standing against oppression was not the role of the church. And they missed the opportunity to use their influence to help hurting people.
Justice. The Bible Project produced this incredible video on justice. They say that the reason we as humans care so deeply about justice is because we all see the value in each human. The Bible begins by saying that we are made in the image of God. And because of that, each person deserves to be treated with dignity and fairness, no matter who they are. As Christians, we have a theological imperative to work toward justice because we believe in the value of each individual person.
Ten steps I now know to take to fight racism.
Become more aware. Keep learning and growing.
Keep the conversation going. Spread awareness without putting people on the defense.
Be slow to anger. According to James (Jesus' brother), we cannot bring about justice by only being angry, we have to listen as well.
Lament. When our country experiences tragedy, we need to grieve, remember and support people, not look for quick fixes.
Show support. Post something. Send out a text saying that you are thinking and praying for someone. Join a demonstration or protest.
Practice the Platinum Rule. Do for others as they would have you do for them. Have the cultural sensitivity to treat people different depending on their needs.
Use your platform to elevate minorities. Teach about people of color and their achievements. Hire people of color.
View people who are different from you as friends and family. When we label people (illegals, savages, the n-word, racists, criminals, creeps, etc.), we justify dehumanizing them and not loving them.
Expose yourself to positive minorities. Malcolm Gladwell shows in his book, Blink, that this can help fight against unconscious racial biases.
Do a friend inventory. How many of your friends, pastors, doctors, mentors, neighbors, authors, etc. are of the same race? What can you do about it?
So, I put a lot out there. This was helpful for me to organize some of my thoughts and I hope it was helpful for you!
Please don’t just read this without committing to taking one action step.
Comment below with one action step you will do!