Since President Obama’s historic election, there has been a lot of talk about race. As many Americans celebrated the election of the first non-White president since our country’s inception, others began launching an insidious campaign to “other” Mr. Obama and strip our country of this momentous achievement.
To the casual observer, racialized incidents have seemed to increase these last few years. From Right Wing protesters demanding the President’s birth certificate and depicting him along side inflammatory images of monkeys, watermelons, and circus clowns, to the recent divide exposed by the varied reactions to George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict, race has reared its ugly head yet again.
These days, many African Americans have been labeled racist for simply pointing out the fact that racism still exists in America in both subtle and systematic ways, and it seems some White people are tired of being saddled with our country’s history all together. While some have argued that people of color can put an end to racism if we just stopped calling it as we see it (or pull up our pants) , scientist and activist Joseph Osmundson is imploring his White brethren to become allies in the fight against racism.
In “Love Letter to White People,” published by the Feminist Wire, Osmundson challenges his fellow White folks to not only talk about race, but do something to foster equality.
White people, I love you. I really do. Not because I am a white person myself. This is not a story of self-love, although those can be important. This proclamation is not an attempt to subvert power structures that disavow love of white bodies. No, love of white bodies and selves, that is the norm, so hidden in plain sight that it is rarely given a racial identity at all.
We are so afraid of talking about race. We almost always believe racism is a thing that other people do. Talking about race and our own racism is ugly, and it implicates us in terrible things. But love without honesty is infatuation. If we want to love ourselves and each other we have to admit to the worst amongst us and claim the worst within us. I want to do this work.
White America, America full stop, I am trying to love you in a different way, an honest way, a way that provokes a dialog, a way that requires progressive change. I love you, and we need to do better. James Baldwin said, “Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.” White people, it’s time we grow up.
Osmundson says he began to question himself after reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X when he was 28. During one passage, Brother Malcolm called out seemingly well-meaning White folks for their willingness to be friends with Black people without challenging their White brethren on their prejudices.
“I tell sincere white people, ‘Work in conjunction with us – each of us working among our own kind,’” Malcolm X wrote. “Let sincere white individuals find all other white people they can who feel as they do – and let them form their own all-white groups, to work trying to convert other white people who are thinking and acting so racist. Let sincere white people go and teach non-violence to white people.”
Osmundson took Malcolm X’s words personally, realizing that while he was close friends with several people of color, he was doing very little to challenge White people to be less racist.
To this end, Osmundson tells his White compatriots, “I love you and I want to tell you the truth.”
White people, it’s time to learn to listen. Not just to studies, but to people who aren’t us. This is what it means to love. Let us learn to trust truths that we cannot live in. Let us question our own implication in these narratives. Do we get uncomfortable when we’re around large groups of black men? Do we assume that a black mother wearing hoop earrings is on welfare? Does that make us devalue her? Would we assume that a black job candidate might be less qualified than a white job candidate based on their race? We might. We could. We often do. It is ugly to admit, but it is also the truth. Studies tell us so. So do stories.
Love requires accountability. We must admit that we see race and that we see it in ways that can lead to discrimination and violence. We must hold ourselves accountable not only for sins of the past but also for the structures we uphold in the present.
While I appreciate Osmundson’s efforts to further this conversation, I wonder how many White folks are really ready to deal with the fact that they continue to benefit from the systematic oppression of others despite their income, education level, and every other slight they may or may not experience on a daily basis.
I wonder how many of Osmundson’s White brothers and sisters will not only understand that they have a part to play in confronting and extinguishing racism, but realize they’ve got to take the lead (don’t believe me? Watch this).