“Good white folks” was a term used by African Americans in the South to refer to whites who treated them with humanity, dignity, mutual respect and friendship. One of the loudest protestations heard from a majority of white Americans today is that they are not racist. They despair and despise the in-your-face racism of the KKK, Nazi Party and other overtly racist groups. But what confuses many African Americans and other people of color is this: if the majority of white Americans are not racist and believe in equality and justice for all, why haven’t “good white people” had more of an impact in changing institutional racism in America?
The most honest answer is twofold. First, it may be that those who believe they don’t harbor racist beliefs actually do at an unconscious programmed level. Second, and perhaps more important, is that many liberal, progressive and non-racist whites are afraid of white racists. Good white people know that those whites committed to white supremacy can be dangerous to even other whites.
What do good people have to fear? Good white people can fear their loss of social standing with other whites. Ostracism by other whites who might not share the same non-racist views works to keep one’s mouth shut. Who wants to lose social standing in their group, not be invited back to cocktails and dinner because they spoke out against racist comments and jokes?
Good white people know that those who believe in white supremacy can be vicious. They know that genocide was committed against indigenous people in this country and that violence was used to keep Africans enslaved. If they look at the different shades of African Americans, they must know in their hearts and minds that helpless African women were repeatedly raped and brutalized. Good white people have surely heard stories of lynching’s in America. Some may have been and still are repulsed by the racism of family members, but good white people have every right to be afraid of those who believe in white supremacy. They can be killed for having the courage to take active steps against racism. During the Civil Rights era, whites such as Viola Liuzzo and Rev. James Reeb, were murdered in Alabama after participating in the Selma Voting Rights March in 1965; Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were abducted and murdered along with African American James Chaney in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer campaign of 1964. These brave whites are remembered as those who dared speak out against white supremacy.
Why African Americans Don’t Join Conversations on Racism
Good people often complain that African Americans don’t join classes or discussions about racism. There are several reasons why. Besides being tired of talking about and reliving their daily pain, African Americans have lost faith in good people because of their visible lack of courage. They wonder why good people can’t have the courage of six-year-old Ruby Bridges, who in 1960, had to be escorted by federal marshals to integrate a school, who sat alone in a classroom, ate lunch alone, and was not allowed to go to recess or eat lunch with other students because it was deemed too dangerous. Have good people not the courage of the four black students who were spat upon, jeered, and brutalized in 1957 as they integrated Central High School in Little Rock? Can they not dig up a measure of the courage of African American children who faced fire hoses and attack dogs as they marched the streets of Birmingham during the Civil Rights campaigns of 1963?
African Americans have displayed the courage necessary to help all Americans understand what this country could be. But now they are tired. They have marched, endured and died to demonstrate what democracy should be, only to see a resurgence of overt racism in these times. They are wondering where are all of the good people who have power to change this dynamic. It is now the turn of good white people to address the issue of racism and prove that America is a true democracy.
Race Consciousness Evolution
What can good people do to end racism in America?
On an individual level, good people need to engage in self-reflection and self-inquiry to examine their personal beliefs about race. They need to examine the beliefs they hold about people of color. Good people need to recognize, acknowledge and face stereotypes they hold that operate at a programmed unconscious level.
What do the good people think about blacks ruining the neighborhood and actions such as white flight? Can the good people accept that Affirmative Action was competition often only between the most talented and accomplished African Americans; and it actually benefitted white women most. What do they think when they learn that in some cases, blacks were deliberately chosen to prove the inferiority of blacks?
Good people can read and learn more about how the history and culture of African Americans in the United States has been distorted or omitted.
Good people can explore how the economic system, educational system, health care system and justice system all operate to discriminate against and disempower people of color in what Blacks identify as institutional racism.
Good people might dredge up the courage and the will to look critically at our country, confront its weaknesses, repute the untruths and see how all Americans of all colors and classes are prisoners of racism.
If you have evolved to this stage of Race Consciousness Evolution, the next step for you is to take action. Do you have the strength of character to show your courage? Do you have the courage to confront employers, colleagues and friends who help institutional racism to continue? Is your esteem at a point that you can detach from racist family members and friends if necessary? Are you at a point where your esteem does not depend upon your being designated as “white”? Can you comfortably describe yourself in ethnic terms, i.e., Irish, Italian, German American instead of white? Can you check “other” on forms and insert your ethnicity? Good people are the majority of people in this country. Good people know the truth. Good people know that the truth will set one free. It is the silence of good people and the lack of visible action that keep all Americans imprisoned by racism.
Good people, the future of America depends upon you. Know this to be true: when good white people demonstrate courage, people of color will have your backs, will not desert you. You will have earned our admiration and respect... as well as your own sense of integrity.
Do good people have the will to step into the courage zone?