Episode 8 The
problem
with
White People

America prides itself on being a place of equality for all, but that’s never been true for Black people. Slavery and its legacy have informed virtually every institution of American life, and that’s forced Black people to fight so hard for basic equality that they’ve been irreparably set back in the pursuit of equity.

This country needs a real racial reckoning, but it’s white people that need to confront their role in perpetuating white supremacy and figure out how they’re going to make things right. It won’t be easy, but read on to learn more about how we can get there.

If you were anywhere near a television during the summer after George Floyd's murder, you know that America was badly in need of a Racial Reckoning. But as we saw in the episode, we ended up with more of a Reckoning Lite™ where some brands did away with their overtly racist personas and we all pledged to do better. But the thing we heard over and over and over again was how white people needed to start listening to Black people.

White people are ready to listen (200 years too late)

Here's the thing, though. Black people have been talking for a long time about how bad things are for them in this country. They've been shouting it from the rooftops for *checks watch* centuries. White people just haven't wanted to really hear it, and so they've ignored it. Things have improved in some ways (hello, 13th Amendment!), but in too many ways the same old shit is still happening. 

There's a bigger wealth gap now than there was 15 years ago. Black home ownership is down from where it was in 2000. Segregation may not be the law of the land anymore, but plenty of de facto segregation still exists. How much more talking can white people really expect Black people to do?

THIS IS A WHITE PEOPLE PROBLEM

All it takes is a quick look at the way the news media covered the crack epidemic versus the opioid epidemic. Or poverty in "black ghettos" versus Appalachia. And there's a huge number of white Americans who believe that Black people are responsible for the struggles they face. As Jon said on the episode, "America has always prioritized white comfort over Black survival. Black people have had to fight so hard for equality, that they've been irreparably set back in the pursuit of equity."

Structural racism isn't a Black people problem to solve anymore than Kid Rock is a white people problem to solve... Ok, maybe Kid Rock is a white people problem to solve, but you get the point. It’s up to white people to figure out how we’re going to fix this and make things better than they are right now.

Confronting White Supremacy

If we have any hope of acknowledging our racist past and fixing our current systems, we have to grapple with the realities of white supremacy. Just so we're clear here, since there seemed to be some *ahem* confusion on our panel, let's lay out what that means. Lisa Bond defined white supremacy succinctly:

"The power and privilege that we hold as white people in society, the way in which our structures, our institutions, our systems, [...] everything was designed with white people in mind, and only white people in mind."

It underlies so much of our society that it can be hard to even see it for what it is. A lot of white people believe that race doesn't matter when it comes to opportunities, that we live more or less in a meritocracy. But as Chip Gallagher explained, "[That narrative] makes white privilege invisible, and it also makes whites feel that whatever they did, whatever success that they had had nothing to do with what happened 50, 100, 200 years ago."

Racism and Resentment

It can, of course, feel very unpleasant to be told you're upholding a racist system, something which Lisa elaborated on during our panel: “If we say you're racist, it's a character flaw." But the fact is that white supremacy does exist, and every white American needs to actively confront what it means to be racist if we want to have a real racial reckoning. As Lisa said, “I think I'm a nice person. And I know that I am racist. And I know that I'm racist, because I, every single day, uphold the systems and the structures of racism." 

When it comes to actually fixing this, many white people resent the idea of closing these racial gaps — they think of helping Black Americans as giving handouts. This is often connected to a feeling that it'll mean that white people will have to give something up in return. Here's the thing, though: this isn't a zero-sum game! Improving the lives of Black people, giving them equality and equity, will benefit everyone.

How do we solve this?

If we want to truly rid our country of the toxic legacy of slavery, confronting our individual roles in a racist society is, of course, deeply important. But we must also address systemic inequalities. That means admitting that the entire structure that we exist within as Americans has been set up to advantage one group over another, and then we need to move to reform it. If you want to dive in deep on the best way to change things, head over to our Take Action page

Talk about it, for real

Jon talked to prominent civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson about this on our podcast, who said we need to confront our racist history head on, or we are never going to cure it. In our episode, Lisa echoed this sentiment saying, "All of us white people have a responsibility to engage in these conversations regularly.”

Un-guard Your Resources

The issue of resource allocation to achieve change can be thorny, but the heart of the issue here is that racism has denied Black people a chance to build equity. There are plenty of straightforward ways to address that — even if America has proven consistently resistant to do that. On our panel, Chip Gallagher suggested creating something like a new New Deal or a Marshall Plan, a large-scale investment in infrastructure, schools, and more. 

(Whispers) Reparations

The most direct way to give Black people equity is to give them actual money in the form of reparations. This solution is not without its opponents — it sure seems to set off a lot of white people's "They're coming for my shit!" alarm. But there is an incredibly strong case in favor of reparations, and it's worth educating yourself about why they're so critical.

Racism is a big problem — really America's biggest, most long standing problem, when it comes right down to it — and undoing it feels daunting. But it's impossible to hear Bryan Stevenson or Senator Booker about the effects of white supremacy on this country and NOT want to make things better. As Senator Booker said to Jon:

“Patriotism is love of country. You cannot love your country unless you love your fellow countrymen and women. You don't always have to like them. You don't have to agree with that. But love is this radical idea that I am going to put your well being in line with mine and understand that they are actually bound together.”

Really taking that to heart is a good place to begin, and beyond trying to challenge the racism and racist systems in your family and your community, there are groups doing great work on a national level. Here are just a few to get you started:

SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice)

Race 2 Dinner

NAACP Legal Defense Fund

NAACP

Brennan Center for Justice

Funny Shit