Once again, there’s a video that’s been making the rounds and I’ve found myself making the same response to it every time. I think it’s time to get my thoughts together in one place, and here it is. Before I start, here’s the video in question; it’s a clip of Morgan Freeman talking about his thoughts on Black History Month and talking about race.
I want to break this up into a few sections.
Black History Month
For starters, I want to acknowledge that I get where Freeman’s coming from. The ideal world is one in which Black History Month is unnecessary, the history of Black Americans so well integrated into the fabric and curriculums of the US that the idea of relegating it to a month seems ridiculous. I think Freeman and I share this desire.
The question, then, is how we go about achieving our goal. Is it canceling the institution of Black History Month and just hoping everything will just get better on its own? Or is it passionately campaigning for the inclusion of Black history in all the places it’s missing until Black History Month seems absurd?
The desire to see Black History Month gone now communicates that you think the world is either A) doing just fine as it is right now or B) at least headed in a good enough direction that we can trust it’ll get there soon enough. If you don’t, then your desire must be for Black History Month to be unnecessary in the future and then work for that future.
“Stop Talking About It”
I’ll be honest; I understand it feels great to hear Morgan Freeman–a famous Black person–say “let’s just stop talking about racism.” There are quite a few reasons for this.
First, it’s such a wonderfully simple answer. Do you mean that, simply by no longer talking about racism, it’ll go away? I’m not sure whether the uploader of this video intended the title to be ironic (although 1.2 million thumbs up suggests its viewers don’t take it ironically), but “Morgan Freeman solves the race problem”, the YouTube clip title, does seem to be how this video is usually proposed.
Second, it makes us feel comfortable for the answer to be to just ignore it. I know I’m not the only White person who often feels a little uncomfortable when we’re talking about race–like I’m not quite welcome, like I don’t understand the language, like I walked into a previously running conversation and nobody’s bringing me up to speed. If someone–an insider, nonetheless–tells me that the conversation is over, that makes me a lot more comfortable than someone telling me I have to stick it out and figure it out.
However, we’re running into the same situation as the previous point: we have to agree that either A) the world is fine as is or B) the world is doing well enough that it’ll just right itself on its own, without discussion. In a previous conversation I had about this, someone suggested that it’s unnecessary for race to be talked about so much, because “it may not even be a thought for most people on a daily basis.”
Here, I’ll have to step outside of my attempt at an un-biased approach and simply state: This is not the truth. The world is not fine. The world is not doing well enough on its own. And race is only easy to ignore if you’re White.
Bam. I said it. The concept of being able to just ignore race is a luxury particular to White people. (Since there are a lot of White people in the US, please know that I’m talking the majority here; I’m very aware that there are exceptions to this description.) We’ve spent our lives comfortably unaware of many of the racial dynamics at play in the US, and enjoyed being the recipients of race-based privilege that carries along with it a blanket hiding many of the experiences of people of color around us.
Racism and racialization are not gone.
Of course, the Trayvon Martin case is in the news right now. But that’s something that’s currently an issue of contention (although it’s very interesting to note the racial makeup of the different “sides” to the debate… take a look at that some time), and I’d rather work with something that has no contention.
Here are a few statistics to frame the conversation:
- The average net worth of White Americans ($113,000) is 20 times the average net worth of Black Americans ($5,600) and 18 times the average net worth of Hispanics ($6,325). (source)
- College-educated Black mothers have higher infant mortality rates than White mothers who dropped out of high school. (source)
- Black Americans represent 13% of drug users (paralleling the national racial demographic), but they account for 35% of drug arrests, 55% of convictions, and 74% of those sent to prison on drug possession charges. (source)
- More African Americans are under correctional control today (prison, jail, probation, or parole) than were enslaved in 1850. (source)
There are so many more elements to this conversation–education, hiring, health care, beauty standards, and much more–but this is a place to start. There is a problem, and it is very large, and simply not talking about it is not going to make it go away.
Also: this conversation extends to other people of color, too, but Black people are the most hard hit by the effects of racialization in the US.
Our Response To This Video
I know this has been long. I want to write pages more, but let’s just end it here: As White people (and as people in general), we need to step outside of our place of comfort and be loving, compassionate advocates for people who are treated unjustly. As Christians we find it very easy to have compassion and fight for justice for oppressed people outside of the US, but somehow struggle to fight for justice within the US. Again, there are a lot of reasons behind that, but let’s just start with this: rather than being the ones trying to shush the race conversations, Christians–White American Christians in particular–should be the ones who push outside of our comfort zones and stand alongside our sisters and brothers of color. We should be the ones who are willing to examine ways we might have personally benefitted from systems of injustice, and we should be the ones who learn to listen to people of color rather than always demanding to be heard.
My vision is that, when people of color in the US (Christian and non-Christian alike) think with pain about the past and present oppression of their people, and the many rifts between people along racial lines, they would see White Christians as humble, loving allies who stand up for them when no one else will, who build bridges to places of power and influence, and who, like many White folks during the Civil Rights Era, march with them to the world where we don’t, indeed, need a Black History Month.