The holiday season is fast approaching. Most of us will travel back home and endure that awkward thing we call Thanksgiving and Christmas. You know, where we are required to socialize with all those family members whom we see probably less than five times a year? Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners have always been a notorious opportunity for awkward conversations to arise. I predict that this year will be more so than usual. After all, we did just experience the most bizarre election period in U.S. history. It is likely that one of those distant family members you are going to see this holiday season voted for the opposing candidate. From a white family and background, I know these conversations will be added to the normal racist remarks that can be experienced on non-election years.
Having grown up in Moore, OK, my family has always paid attention to the current events at OU. In the last week or two the University has faced three public accounts of racism on campus: a student being suspended for sending racist messages to students at Penn University; racist posters were found posted in the Physical Sciences Center; and a non-OU affiliated Anti-Black Lives Matter protester occupied parts of the South Oval drawing a large amount of attention. We also must not forget the SAE incident which will have occurred two years ago this coming spring.
All the recent events have spawned the organization of multiple student-led protests. These demonstrations have directed our attention to the problems our campus experiences in regards to racism. Each of these demonstrations has had a positive call to action for our students, encouraging us to stop the racist bigots who only hold our campus back.
These events will likely be discussed by my family at Thanksgiving and Christmas. In the past I have been pretty quiet when someone said something that is racist or demeaning toward minority groups while at holiday dinners. I used to be afraid of the consequences for speaking out. I rarely see these people; how would this conversation change their opinions of me? This ability for me to remain silent rather than correct someone’s comment or remark is nothing less than an example of white privilege.
White privilege occurs anytime a white person receives a special benefit that a person of color would not receive because of a differing skin color. White privilege can occur in an infinite number of ways. Some of you might be wondering how I (a white male) can be receiving my privilege by remaining silent when in an all-white environment, such as my holiday dinners with family. I can go through life avoiding these sometimes hard interactions where racism finds its way into the conversation. Crysta Williams, a sophomore here at OU, helped me to better understand the topic of white privilege. Here is a small bit of what she had to say:
“Can you imagine how it must feel for the majority of the people in your country to not understand the injustices you face. Leaving people of color (POC) and the few that are open-minded enough to empathize and actually do something about it to handle it on their own? Everyone says we have to stand united but when the time comes, so many are scared to speak up. I honestly don’t think white people realize the power that they hold even with just their words. White people that do not speak against racism are more likely to be influenced by another white person. Too often we are labeled as “over-exaggerating” when we are in fact speaking about our own life experiences. Many white people see talking about racism as uncomfortable. It may be different for other POC but to me that seems incredibly selfish. How can you value your feeling of being comfortable over the racism POC experience every day? Overt and systematic. Or even worse, deny that it exists at all. That at some point in time we were all of a sudden absolutely free of all forms of discrimination. Do they not think that racism is uncomfortable to us?”
White people have this ability to speak to more stubborn-minded bigots on our campus and in our families. If they are racist, it is unlikely they would even listen to people of color (POC) about correcting their racist views. It is important for white people to become allies toward change. White people can start the conversations toward stopping racism with other white people. These conversations are what we need. It appears that in society today we firmly hold our opinions and remain unwilling to consider the other side. Conversations open the opportunity for us to learn about each other, providing us all with a more sound interpretation of the world we all live in. The better we understand each other the more likely everyone can find common ground.
Become an ally in the fight toward ending racism. Open those conversations by being an active bystander. If confident enough, you can directly approach that family member or friend. I refuse to remain silent ever again. When talking to Ms. Williams about there being white allies, she assured me that she knew they exist. “But when [allies] are nowhere to be found or remain silent when it is time to stand up, that’s when the feeling of being alone begins. That’s when we begin to question who our allies really are,” she told me.
I personally believe by choosing to remain silent on the issue I am no more innocent or less guilty then the person making the racist remark.
“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Continue reading the issue “Disrupting Racism at OU.”