Talking about race may be easier than seeing race, especially when it could hit close to home. Despite the increased visibility of racist interactions or racialized incidents (to the credit of cell phones and social media), seeing the race problem around us or even within us might prove harder to see. And it does not matter the number of times that we are faced with unfortunate exchanges involving police officers and citizens or unthinkable tragedies fueled by a racist belief system.
This kind of blindness seems historical as I am reminded of the phrase “the Negro problem” and the writings that included it. Could it be a case of “that’s your problem, not mine”? I am also reminded of the powerful poem penned by Pastor Martin Niemoller titled “First they came.” In it, he confesses that he did not speak up for those who were taken and when persons came to take him, there was no left to speak for him. Still, we are unable to find our voice when it comes to vulnerable communities.
We might convince ourselves, “It’s on the television. It is a national problem. That doesn’t happen in my neighborhood and certainly not in my home.” But, how does this mindset impact our interest in the stories of suffering that are shared? Do we have to see it firsthand before we get involved? How close does the problem have to be to us before we feel called to take part in its solution?
An article published last year by the Huffington Post said frankly, “Majority of White People Say There’s Racism Everywhere, But Not Around Them.” This leads me to question what do European Americans see? Where do they see the problem if not with race? With what or whom do these persons take issue? And if there is no problem, then how do you and I help those for whom this invisible problem is impacting?
It is a familiar request for persons to walk in the shoes of another in order to understand their perspective and experience. How can I help you see where the problem is?